Blog

Learning from DeWayne Peevy, DePaul Vice President & Director of Athletics

You can’t expect your employees to “go above and beyond” if they don’t clearly understand your vision and roadmap. Whether you’re leading an entire athletics department or a group of interns, you must create a clear “destination postcard” for your team. Without painting a vivid, emotionally compelling picture for the future, your team will simply maintain the day-to-day. 

DeWayne Peevy and his team at DePaul Athletics recently created their own “destination postcard” in the form of a new strategic plan. The new strategic plan coming from DeWayne and his team highlights a few different elements. Competitive Advantage, Values, Common Purpose, and Operating Principles, Vision, and Guiding Principles.

If you’re not into all the woo-woo of the different nuances between these things, I get it. If you’re just showing up to work and taking your orders from your inbox, these things are less important. But if you’re trying to take your organization to the next level, if you’re trying to provide meaningful contributions to your organization bigger than just your task, these elements are your roadmap.

Quick highlight on how to actually use these elements in practice:

  • Competitive Advantage – Larger themes to double down on when creating your guiding principles
  • Values – The non-negotiable core charateristics of people you look for when hiring and building your team
  • Common Purpose – Your rallying cry to help motivate and empower staff to do more than just the tasks and responsibilities listed in their job description. We’ve helped many organizations build thier own purpose, don’t underestimate the power of this one.
  • Operating Principles – These can sometimes be referred to as service standards, but they are in priority order and guide practical, daily decision making.
  • Vision – This shouldn’t be current state, it shouldn’t describe what you do. It should describe an aspiration for where you want to go.
  • Guiding Principles – This the is actual plan for how you’re going to achieve that vision. When I worked Disney, we might have called these Annual Operating Priorities.

Helping schools create and bring their strategic plan to life is one of the things we love doing here at EngageMint.

In the conversation that covered setting a vision, creating values, and DeWayne’s leadership philosophy, (see the full show notes) here were three of our top takeaways from the conversation:

Great leaders proactively establish values

DeWayne and his team established not only where they want to go, but how they want to get there. Values are the characteristics you use to hire coaches and staff, and they should be factored into your day-to-day behaviors as you pursue your goals. With their strategic plan, the Athletics department’s values are clearly articulated to staff. By including them in the outward-facing plan, they’re challenging themselves to stay accountable.

Simply creating a vision is not enough; you must communicate it with passion and conviction

DeWayne and his team didn’t just publish a memo. They put the same type of energy and effort into the rollout of their strategic plan as a schedule release. Complete with a press conference/webinar, sizzle video, and high-quality graphics, they’ve labeled the whole plan as “Dream Big.” This language should serve to break staff out of their traditional constraints as they look to innovate. It informs fans they are going to be swinging for the fences. 

Make your vision and values more than a pretty sign on the wall

Yes, DeWayne and his team made gorgeous art for the walls highlighting their vision and values. But in their strategic plan, they have clearly articulated action plans on how to bring each one to life. Items like “create a 5-year revenue generation plan,” or “redesign of DePaulBlueDemons.com, including the launch of a new, official DePaul Athletics app.”

If you’re trying to create your own strategic plan or bring your current plan off the shelf and into life, here are a couple of quick recommendations:

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Learning from State Farm Arena & the ATL Hawks, 10% to 100% Capacity

One of the biggest challenges we’ve heard from venue operators this summer is the fear of gameday staff availability. For a myriad of reasons, such as fear of COVID returning, stipends continuing to be issued, the availability of remote work, and more, it’s going to be hard to staff your full capacity venues this Fall.  

In the midst of an NBA playoff run, we sat down to talk with Kevin Gober, the head of learning and development and employee experience at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. We discussed this very issue, as the Hawks went from 10% capacity to 100% capacity in a matter of days. Great for the fans, tough for the events and operations team. 

Listen to the full conversation here.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation to help you deepen emotional connections with the people you serve.

Partner with your third parties and host a hiring fair

We helped one of our MLS clients with their hiring this spring, and we’re working with one of our Power 5 partners to do this now. Kevin and the Hawks have done this with great success. Using your brand’s marketing engine, you can attract a higher quality and quantity of qualified candidates.

When you use third parties for staff event days, they bring their staff. And depending on the third party’s headquarters, reach, staff on their contact list from previous events, those staff members may or may not be from your city or even state. In that case, to the employee, they work for the third party, not your brand. But I believe you want people working in your venue who are passionate about your brand, not people who are content collecting a paycheck to check bags no matter the venue. 

If you want gameday staff to be excited about your brand, it helps for you to get involved in the hiring process, even if you’re not directly paying the employees. Here’s what KG and I talked about on the podcast. 

As the brand behind the venue, host a hiring fair. Coordinate a date with your third parties that they can come out and be heavily involved in. Market the event through your own social channels. As you advertise the event to your fans and followers, make the language about coming to work at your stadium or arena, or coming to represent your brand on the event day. When potential new staff arrive at your hiring fair, have them check their preferences for which position they’d like to work. 

When you’re interviewing staff to work with your third parties, make sure the third parties are interviewing in a consistent way, trying to find people that embody your brand’s value. Most gameday event roles aren’t hyper-technical and don’t require much background knowledge or expertise in a particular job function. So you can write your interview questions to really understand if the potential candidate has the right mindset or has demonstrated the right behaviors in the past to work at your venue. 

With each third party operating off the same interview questions, and the employee’s job function preference noted, you can decide quickly after the interview which team to place that employee on. Now, you’ve got employees who are passionate about your brand working with third parties.  

Craft your content and distribution for the staff personas you want

If you want part-time staff who are passionate about your brand, job postings should be promoted from your own social channels. If you want staff who exhibit specific behaviors, ask them to tell you “about a time when _____,” and see if those behaviors are core to that person.  

From a content perspective, think about the type of people you want to attract to work your venues. Do you want people who are great at taking tickets and you’ll try to teach them to be excited about your brand? Or do you want people who are excited about your brand and you’ll try to teach them to be great at taking tickets? Depending on that answers, your marketing language should be very different. 

We believe for gameday staff, you should be hiring staff who are first and foremost excited to work for your brand. So put yourselves in their shoes. Where do those people receive their information? How might we find those people? It’s likely those people follow your social media accounts, so make sure you’re advertising there. 

But further than just being passionate about your brand, what characteristics do these ideal gameday workers have? Are they retired men and women looking for something to keep occupied? Or are they young student workers who want to work in sports? Those two demographics, as an example, are tapped into two very different information streams. If you’re trying to attract retired employees, you might want to put up flyers in communities where that demographic exists. If you’re trying to find young people who want to work in sports, you might partner with the University sports management program or post the job on Teamwork Online

Your staff hiring advertising channels should change based on the ideal employee you’re looking for. 

When we’re helping our clients create consistent interview questions that ensure you’re hiring people who will add value to your culture, we use a method called the STAR method. 

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Response

We help our clients formulate questions like “Tell me about a time when you had to tell a customer ‘no’,” or “tell me about a time when you delivered customer service above and beyond what the customer expected.” Once you understand the situation, you’re looking for the task that had to be done, the action that was taken by the potential candidate, and you want to make they tell you what the response was afterwards. 

Formulating your interview questions in this way will help you attract the candidates you’re looking for.  

What if we spend time & money to train staff, but they turn over?

What if you DON’T train them and they STAY?  You only get one chance to welcome fans back to your venue after this 18-month hiatus, are you developing and equipping your staff to make an emotional connection with your customers who’ve stayed loyal to you?

As the learning and development director at State Farm Arena, it’s obvious KG and the leaders at the Hawks’ home arena value training. They’ve spent an inordinate amount strategically thinking about what new skills they can equip their gameday staff with, and they’re constantly creating new training sessions for the staff to learn those new skills. And that’s why they’ve won “best fan experience” in the NBA multiple times. In fact, seventy-nine percent of the Hawks gameday survey respondents categorized their overall experience attending a game as “Great” or “Outstanding.”

KG and I talked about the difference between a big stadium with 1000+ gameday workers versus a smaller venue with only 100+, or a venue that hosts 100+ events per year versus a venue that only hosts a few football games each year. Here’s what he had to say. 

“Does it make a difference if you’re doing 200 events or 50 events? It doesn’t make a difference because you think about it, the bigger venues are going to have triple the people. Right? And so you’ve got triple the opportunity for even fewer events to make that emotional connection, to connect with the people and create a great experience so that they come back, come back.

In the aggregate, it’s the same thing because of the numbers of people. So if you don’t invest in your leaders, if you don’t develop them, if they don’t develop their part-time staff to make that impact… I think you’re missing the boat.”

Kevin Gober on Flip the Switch (podcast)

Right now, our team at EngageMint is actively helping athletic departments and pro sports teams around the country hire and train their gameday staff to deliver on the brand promises of serving fans. Whether it’s through a one-time pre-season big group training, or a more robust learning and development program, complete with rewards and recognition, we’re happy to help you achieve your goals and equip your staff to put a smile on the faces of your fans.

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Lessons from Leaders – Jen Rottenberg

This week we sat down with Jen Rottenberg, the CMO for Fan Controlled Football. We dove deep into how this innovative league has made virtually every decision around the fan, and we’ve distilled some of the top lessons from the conversation, below. 

Just as it sounds, this new professional league gives fans the ability to select everything from team names, colors, and logos to the plays that were called on the field during the game. To make that all happen, data is at the heart of everything FCF does, attracting unique audiences and crafting every aspect of the game for active broadcast viewing, as opposed to the traditional emphasis on the in-person experience.

From the conversation, here are three key takeaways to create deeper emotional connections with your fans.

For demographics, think behavior and goals > age

When the average person thinks of the term “demographics,” many people think in terms of age, race, gender, and other pre-determined characteristics. But to get to the next level of connecting with your fans, you must think about demographics in a different way, in a way that constantly needs to be updated and revised. It’s more work, but it’ll help you make more accurate decisions. 

I’m talking about demographics more in terms of behavior and goals. Fans aged “18-35” isn’t specific. Walk down the street, identify 10 different people between the ages 18-35 and you’ll find 10 different consumption patterns. There are too many choices today for how an individual person can choose to consume content or engage with a brand. To make assumptions based on a broad age range is to set yourself up for failure.

Focusing on behaviors and goals, we can begin to really dive in. We talked about this at length first with Zoe Scaman, in our podcast episode on How Fandom is Evolving. Jen talked us through how the Fan Controlled Football league built their league around target demographics: 

“So we broke them out into four segments… 1) the general football fan. 2) your more avid football fan, meaning somebody that’s doing something besides just watching. So they’re playing fantasy or they’re betting on it or they’re playing Madden and there’s a second tier of fandom and then 3) gamers in general 4) and then actually the fans of our celebrity team owners.”

Jen Rottenberg, CMO of Fan Controlled Football league

Think of your own fans. If you work in college football, you have the professional tailgater who is local and shows up every game. You’ve got the out-of-town alumni coming back for nostalgia. You’ve got the corporate partner or sponsor looking to entertain his guests for business. You’ve got the student, who is just there to cheer her face off. Each of those demographics has crossover when it comes to age, race, gender, but very little crossover when it comes to the activities they do on gameday and the way they want to engage with your product.

As a result, it’s more effective for you to craft your services and offerings by focusing on the different goals and motivations of your fans (which are always changing), rather than predetermined characteristics.

In the episode, Jen talked about their “pie chart” where they could actually visualize and break down this data. That’s where most sports organizations fall short. You may be able to map out a pie chart of predetermined characteristics, and you may be able to anecdotally describe the different types of fan personas you have, but can you accurately chart those new demographics with any kind of reasonable accuracy? If not, you must begin exploring how to capture that data. 

Move from “how do we get fans to watch?” to “how can we allow them to participate?”

Jen described the Fan Controlled Football league as “Madden in real life”. To expand on that definition, she said, “what we’re really doing is taking live professional sports and giving fans an opportunity to consume them and interact with them the way they would a video game.”

In the Fan Controlled Football league, fans can vote on plays and watch the camera angles they prefer. They earn badges and points for participating in surveys which unlocks the ability to vote on unique experiences, like naming the championship event or choosing the team logo. At the core of what the league is doing, their trying to get users to spend more time with them and get more emotionally connected to the league. 

And it’s a smart play because it taps into “the IKEA effect.” The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. In a 2011 study by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, Daniel Mochon of Yale, and Dan Ariely of Duke, they described the IKEA effect as “labor alone can be sufficient to induce greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor: even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations.” 

The same goes for Fan Controlled Football. While the football itself may not be as high quality as the NFL, fans will tend to have a deeper emotional connection to it, merely because they helped build it. When it comes to your fandom, are they merely consuming content you produce, or are you actively encouraging them to help you build?

Improve or Die

From the Fan Controlled Football league’s website: “unlike traditional leagues, our focus is on optimizing everything on the field and through the entire fan experience. If something sucks, we’ll work with the fans. Heck even if something’s awesome, but we can make it better, we want to know.”

Do the senior leaders in your organization have that mindset? Or are they afraid to run a survey because they don’t want to hear negative feedback? 

As it relates to negative feedback, I get it. Especially from rabid fans. When I worked at Disney, a decade after we removed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from the Magic Kingdom park, we still would receive letters from guests who were upset we had removed it. And that’s okay. We want that type of passion and feedback from our guests. It forces us to have a great reason for why we removed that ride and be able to clearly articulate it (it was to make room for rides with characters that resonated with the next generation of kids). 

But if you can’t explain why a recurring pain point exists, and you’re not doing anything about it, your fans will be there to hold you accountable. Better to get a letter from your fans telling you what they’re upset about than silence. Because silence is a sign of indifference. And with the amount of new places for fans to spend their share of heart and time, indifference in your fanbase is something you quite literally can’t afford. 

No matter what your continuous improvement method of choice is, embrace the feedback, make adjustments, test, and learn. The organizations who have a culture where it’s always “Day One”, like Amazon, will be the organizations who succeed. And if you find yourself with people throughout the organization saying “we’ve always done it this way, and it’s worked before,” it may be time to give us a call. 

To hear the whole conversation with Jen and hear how Fan Controlled Football are using these insights to drive deep emotional connections with their fans, listen here.

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Blog

Lessons from Leaders – Jason Fox, Founder of Earbuds

As we recorded our podcast episode with former NFL-player turned sports tech founder, Jason Fox, my mind was racing. We jumped from one topic to the next, covering everything from cryptocurrency and social tokens, to the similarities between high-level athletics and the business world. As I reflected on the conversation, there were three core principles that stood out as relevant to all sports & entertainment organizations. 

But first, a little background on Jason. After playing in the NFL for 6 years, Jason got the itch to join the business side of the sports industry. His launchpad idea was around something that came natural to him as he took the field. What if fans could be inside his headset as he warmed up, listening to the same hype music together? As time went on, it became clear to Jason that fans wanted to get inside those headphones. Michael Phelps as he sat by himself, preparing to win a Gold medal. What was he listening to? I personally think of Dak Prescott and his warm-up that has now been memorialized in the proverbial meme hall of fame. What was he listening to? 

As athletes wearing headphones to warm up grew more common, the demand of fans wanting to know what their favorite athlete was listening to grew. So Jason created Earbuds, a social listening platform and sports tech startup, connecting fans to athletes, celebrities, and influencers in real-time. 

While there were tons of tactical ideas discussed, here were the overarching three principles I took away from our wide-ranging conversation. 

Exclusive experiences, feeling like “I’m an insider”

Geared towards current fans, this is about moving your fans up a level in fandom. Think of the fandom pyramid. (Inverted pyramid). Your goal should always be to move an individual fan from the outside circles to the next inner circle, one level at a time. The strategy of making fans feel like an insider is limited only by the number of tactics your team’s imagination can create. 

Think of the Experience app. The entire app was designed around this strategy. Have fans who can move up seats, mid-game, if the seats were available. Have the mascot come visit you in your seat. The list of tactics goes on. And whether you’re in collegiate athletics working with donors, or in professional sports working with corporate partners and premium suite holders, you’re constantly focused on going the extra inch to make a high-paying fan feel like they’re more than a regular fan. They get to see things other fans don’t, they get a backstage tour, they get their own entrance, they get field passes, etc. All of those are tactics to ultimately make the fan feel like an insider. 

Earbuds is built along the same strategy. By allowing the fan special access to hear the same music their favorite player is listening to, you’re giving them a peek behind the curtains. It’s the same concept behind why JuJu Smith Schuster is one of the top selling jerseys in the NFL, despite not even being a Top 10 player in his position. He makes his fans feel like insiders through his presence on social media, his ability to peel back the curtain and let fans in. By doing so, he creates deeper emotional connections which leads to economic outcomes.  

Tapping into secondary interests

Whether you consider Earbuds as more music tech than sports tech doesn’t matter. What matters is the technology’s ability to allow you to create deeper emotional connections with your tribe. In order to create deep emotional connections, you must understand more about your customer than their buying history and information deemed traditionally relevant. As technology to sync and store data on consumer profiles becomes more democratized, you can create more relevant and personal experiences for your customers if you know what else makes them tick. Companies that will succeed in the future understand customers better than the customers themselves, a la Netflix prioritizing categories they believe you’ll be likely to watch. Or Spotify with their year-end Wrapped campaigns and playlists. Or Disney serving personalized ads for merchandise based on your favorite characters. The more you can learn about your customers, the deeper you can embed yourself in their lives. 

Sports organizations, like music artists and fashion houses, are part of the small group of brands that people tie their identities to. Yet in too many conversations I’ve heard senior leaders say “well, we don’t want to overwhelm them with communication.” If you were the brand director for Clorox Bleach, I could understand that sentiment. But you have customers with tattoos of your logo on their arms! 

Listen to the full conversation with Jason here

Do you really think if you’re sending out relevant, value-adding communication, it’s going to be “too much”? The problem is your communication has a one-track mind. It’s about direct sales. Renew your tickets. Register for your parking pass. Here’s the game schedule. Check out the game recap. It’s all focused on you, and not focused on your customer. 

By understanding your customers secondary interests, such as the food they love; the music they listen to; the causes they care about; the movies they watch; you can find new, natural avenues to infuse yourself into your customer’s attention sphere. It’s what big brands do with your organization. Sponsors like Dr. Pepper align themselves with college football to get deeper into the college football fan demographic, or to expose their product to a new customer set. 

The same logic applies as you expand your brand. Let’s use this hypothetical. You’re trying to create deeper connections with Gen Z. You’ve got an aging fanbase, and you know you have to get younger to survive. Your star quarterback listens to Juice Wrld to get warmed up. (For context, Boomers aren’t listening to Juice, but he’s quite popular amongst Gen Z). By having your star quarterback stream his warm-up music, one of two things will happen.

1) A casual fan who also love Juice Wrld will deepen her connection with your brand, because “the QB is like me.” Human nature is to gravitate towards other humans who have shared interests. Hearing her favorite athletes listen to the same music as her validates both her passion as a fan, as well as her choice of music. And she’ll like your brand more for it.

2) People who aren’t fans at all can now stumble across specific playlists or sets on Earbuds. A fan may stumble across your starting center’s playlist, and decide to become a fan of the player purely because of her choice of music. As the fan follows your starting center’s journey, the fan will find himself rooting for your team sooner than later.    

Tapping into secondary interests can deepen emotional connections with current fans and creates loose ties with customers who weren’t fans at all.

Collaboration over competition

One of the keys to success for Earbuds has been having access to consumers across platforms. Meaning bitter rivals like Apple Music and Spotify have all come together to reach the end consumer effectively. It’s one of the many cases where adversaries realized that collaboration, in this specific instance, was a better business strategy than competition. 

The same goes for most sports & entertainment. On the field, be competitive. Disguise your plays, lock down your practices, compete to win. But off the field, you’re usually not competing from the same customer. A customer in Sacramento isn’t debating whether to buy Sacramento Kings tickets or New York Knicks tickets. So share, collaborate, and work to win over your ideal customer. Even within the same market, ideal customers usually aren’t the same. And with teams in the same market, usually a rising tide lifts all boats. The more you can lift your head up from your work and come together to share ideas, share thought starters, share failures and obstacles to avoid, the deeper emotional connections we’ll all create with our tribes. 

One way I’d love to see more collaboration is between traditional rivals. I’d love to see a Home and Home marketing strategy. Let’s pick two bitter rivals in the college athletics space, University of Florida vs. University of Florida State. They rotate home-field every year. In 2021, FSU is playing in Gainesville at UF. Why not have FSU’s marketing team and talent pair up with UF’s in 2021 to drive attendance and excitement around the game? Then the next year, UF’s team helps out FSU? All that matters is that you get the fan bases buzzing and talking about the brands, why not collaborate more instead of trying to go it alone? 

Hopefully, these three insights help you think differently about the way you serve your tribe. To hear all of the other ideas Jason and I batted around, check out the full conversation here

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Tip of the Day

Investing in Research

In a recent podcast episode with Rachel Jacobson, President of the Drone Racing League, we asked Rachel about the best investment they’ve made as an organization over the last twelve months. 

“Definitely on research. We’ve invested to learn more about our fans and we’re now a data and insights-driven organization.” 

Rachel Jacobson, from Flip the Switch podcast Episode 65

Understanding what makes up the core DNA of their fans, their goals, motivations, emotions, and stereotypes, has allowed Drone Racing League to grow rapidly over the past year.


Does your organization truly know who makes up its fan base? Have you identified your current fan segments and aspirational target audiences (deeper than just age ranges and ticket-buying history)? What are the non-athletics-related activities they love?  What has changed for them in the course of the last year?

When we build out customer personas for our clients, before we begin customer journey mapping, these are some of the first questions we look to answer.  

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Tip of the Day

Customer Service is Not Customer Experience

Customer service is NOT customer experience. And vice versa. We’ve written about this before, but I was reminded of the difference between the two in a conversation last week.

Customer service tends to focus on behaviors and problem resolution. Customer experience digs much deeper into the processes and tangible items guests can see, hear, smell and feel.

  • Customer service is your ticket takers greeting fans as they walk into the stadium.
  • Customer experience is the process for fans to open their mobile tickets on their app.
  • Customer service is making sure you repair the relationship with a fan when they call in upset about the new parking policy. 
  • Customer experience is constantly assessing the parking policies to make them as hassle-free as possible. 

While both customer experience and customer service seek to deepen emotional connection with your tribe, customer experience tends to be more proactive while customer service tends to be more reactive. Customer service is an extremely important part of the overarching customer experience, but it’s still just one part of many.

While one person may own customer service in your organization, customer experience expands across many different teams within your organization. From ticket sales to community relations, from operations to the sponsorship activation team, everyone owns their own part of the customer experience but there is usually no one person looking at the entire customer experience.

For the next week, we’ll be posting a series of tips on how you can prioritize the entire customer experience, deepen emotional connections with your tribe, and ultimately drive more revenue. To the insights delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter. Otherwise, check back here tomorrow!

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Blog

Future of Athletics Departments

Insights from our Flip The Switch podcast:

We hosted a live podcast recording with some of the most innovative leaders in college athletics. The topic of discussion was what the athletics department of the future looks like. What new skills should be infused into the talent pool? What activities should departments be focusing on that are not a priority now? How will athletic departments adjust to changing consumer behavior and preferences? All of this and more was discussed.

Here were some of the highlights:

11 minutes: Drew Martin on data collection and connecting third party data as an area where he anticipates departments focusing on more:  

“We know who you are. What we don’t know or haven’t known is who were the other three people that you brought with you to the stadium? Who are those folks? How do we collect that data?” 

In the current state of sports & entertainment, interacting can often have the same result as the doctor’s office, where you have to fill out the same information form every time. Just like a frustrated patient, too often our fans say, “I’ve interacted with you before, don’t you already have this information?” 

By creating overarching customer profiles, can we marry third-party data from concessions, merchandise, ticketing, donations, etc. to build a holistic profile of who our customers are so that we can better provide relevant recommendations and offers to them?   

33 minutes: Garrett Klassy, on the rate of change with technology: 

“I had a coworker send me an article about an NBA top shot about three months ago. And I wrote back that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And then two months later I find myself buying 10 packs… So it’s crazy how times changed, something in the news three months ago, and now it’s in your world every single day.” 

This is one of the greatest challenges we see facing the sports & entertainment industry today, especially for more leading teams who have relied on tradition and heritage to attract fans. There’s a massive difference between honoring tradition and ignoring innovation. While your fans may want to feel nostalgic when they come to your venue, they don’t want to go to a museum. Fans are real customers outside of your events. As their expectations evolve because of the experiences they have outside of your brand, they expect you to keep up.  It’s great to say “keep up,” but in practice, it can be difficult to sort through all of the vendors and new technology tools in the sports & entertainment industry. That’s why we’ve dedicated a team within EngageMint to help you find the best technology tools to solve your everyday problems or opportunities. Whether you’re trying to find the right partner to help you make NFT’s or trying to decide which vendor to help you build your mobile app or CRM, we’ve got you covered. We’re staying on the cutting edge of trends, talking to vendors every day, sitting through demos, talking to end-users of the products, and putting together assessments to help you make more informed decisions and spend more time on aspects of your job that you love. For some of the trends and sports tech projects we’re excited about, check out Chatting Sports Tech w/ Charles, the leader of our team focused on this area.  

44 minutes: When talking about revenue generation, here’s what Drew said:  

“We don’t place the emphasis on revenue generation as our main ultimate goal. We believe if we do all of the right things with our fans, by our fans, create the environments, create the culture and continue to elevate the brand, make strategic decisions about what we do with our brand, where we engage with our brand, the revenue is going to come.” 

For Drew, tactically, this means bringing different departments together to see how their contributions impact larger goals and finding ways for the departments to collaborate and share information. As a senior leader, uniting your organization under a common purpose is huge. But that’s not just about words on the wall or a catchy mantra. You must constantly help team members understand their role in the show and build actual processes to encourage working towards a common goal. 

Too often, leaders can get hyper-focused on achieving their own goals at the expense of the larger organization. That might manifest itself as a ticket sales rep who won’t pass off a lead to the premium department because he’s trying to meet his own quota. Or it could mean an important complaint is received by the operations team and it never trickles to the relevant department because the operations team said “that’s out of my control.” 

At the end of the day, a complaint received about one department is a reflection on the whole organization, and revenue generated by one department is revenue for the whole organization. As a leader, you must continuously bring your team together to understand the larger purpose. Only then will the revenue come. 

47 minutes: Monica Lebron on KPI’s she’s paying special attention to… 

“Obviously you want to put the right infrastructure in place in your football staff, but I can’t control what happens on the field, but I can control what type of event we’re going to put on; what type of entertainment we’re going to provide you. So when we host Bowling Green, that first game, and we have people walking out of the stadium after a win, I want to hear them say, ‘Man, I can’t miss next week, I’ve got to see what they’re doing next week’” 

Monica’s thoughts are aligned with ours. Focusing on building emotional connections over revenue numbers alone is key to building a lasting organization.

Coming from our Disney days, we know that everything can be measured, even the sentiment Monica expresses wanting to see. One way we’re helping our partner schools measure this sentiment is with Happy-or-Not terminals, where we’re measuring fan feedback at specific touchpoints in real-time

There is a danger with relying on overall experience feedback. If a fan says they ARE NOT coming back, you can’t pinpoint why. And in reality, the reason a fan won’t come back is likely not because of one giant misstep, but a series of hassles and friction. It’s more likely to be “death by 100 mosquitoes” rather than “death by one tiger.” So how might we better identify those mosquitoes in the experience?  

50 minutes: Drew Martin on turning football games into a mini-vacation and superfan destination:  

“All of this comes from the DNA and the expectation of a traveler. How do we make this a vacation? You come to a city, you expect certain things. When you come to Austin, you expect street festivals, great live music. You expect food trucks. Great cold beer. And the taco stand that’s got the best tacos. We’ve got a lobster roll stand. I don’t know what that’s about, but it does really well.

That’s what you expect out of Austin. So how do we make sure that we are continuing your experience if you’ve come in from out of town or if you’re a visitor? How do we make sure you’re getting the Austin vibe around the football game and we’re creating this symbiotic relationship between Texas football and the city of Austin and that whole experience?” 

As you think about your own experience, what’s the story of your city or town? How might we leverage the unique aspects, the traditions, the heritage of your surrounding region and play those elements up on gameday? Events should draw influences from the surrounding areas they occur to provide something new for travelers and create nostalgia and a feeling of home for recurring visitors. 
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Tokenization & The Future of Fandom

At EngageMint, we spend considerable time investigating the overlap of innovation and customer experience and how new technologies can be applied in college athletics. It’s a large reason why we’ve had multiple guests on Flip the Switch over the past several months to discuss non-fungible tokens (NFTs).  

 But NFTs only scratch the surface of what tokenization allows. 

Thomas Euler, CEO of Liquiditeam, released an op ed this week which included 10 tokenization use cases outside NFTs. 

We’re going to dive into all of the different applications across future publications but let’s focus on fan engagement and what a program could look like with tokenization.

Team A wants to start a new loyalty program. Fans can earn Team A tokens for active participation (going to games, watching videos, posting on social – Team A defines the criteria). Tokens then provide its holders with different privileges (discounted season tickets, exclusive access to merch drops, selecting songs at games). Fans are incentivized to grow their fandom, benefitting all Team A stakeholders in the process. 

Now you may be asking, how is that any different from a traditional rewards program? Great question. Here are three main ways:

  1. Smart contract functionality within tokens increases the possibility of trade-in benefits and removes the back-end accounting component (100 points = 1 t-shirt).
  2. Creates a resale market where fans can sell their tokens to other fans, providing opportunities to profit off good fan behavior.
  3. Traditional rewards programs are mostly transactional. Trade-in values need to be established up front (100 points = 1 t-shirt, 200 points = 1 hat, etc.). In a tokenized environment, you have more flexibility to adapt reward values throughout the program (i.e., add a new prize category). 

Who are the companies at the leading edge of these types of programs?

  • PointsVille has partnered with the Pittsburgh Pirates on a new program for season-ticket holders to earn and spend loyalty points, redeemable for merchandise and memorabilia. PointsVille has a digital wallet where users will be able to store points. 
  • Liquiditeam has its own product, a custom tokenized fan community for sports clubs, athletes, and others that allows users to connect and interact with other fans in innovative and collaborative ways.
  • Socios creates novel experiences for sports fans by allowing them to buy and trade FanTokens, essentially club-specific crypto tokens listed on exchanges allowing fans to participate in certain activities.

In five years, expect to see crypto-type rewards programs to become the norm among sports teams and college athletic programs. 

If you enjoyed the above blog post, subscribe to EngageMint’s Tic-Tacx newsletter for similar weekly insights around innovation and customer experience. 

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Leaders Make Tough Decisions

Insights from our Flip The Switch podcast:

We had a great discussion this past week with Jim Cavale, the Founder of INFLCR. If you’re unfamiliar with INFLCR and how they’ve taken the sports world by storm in the last 3-4 years, go listen to the full conversation here. 

Originally an app equipping college student-athletes with licensed photos they could post to their own social media, Jim and his team have turned INFLCR into a behemoth, helping sports organizations and their athletes to become better storytellers. 

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about leadership, which Jim discusses at length during the podcast episode. It’s impossible to hear Jim talk and NOT think of the word leader. From how he carries himself physically, to the way he clearly phrases his words. His leadership isn’t all show, either, as he’s grown and scaled multiple companies from the ground up, INFLCR as his latest project. 

Jim specifically honed in on the topic of decision-making. In his final words of advice and calls to action, Jim told listeners, “ Leadership takes making hard decisions. Whatever market you’re in, making tough decisions is really important. That’s my call to action. Just make tough decisions. That’s what leaders do.”

We actually cut a segment from the podcast where Jim talked about a tough decision made by Greg Sankey, the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). While every other conference was canceling their Fall sports, Sankey made the unpopular decision to play. Without that against-the-grain decision, who knows what the sports & entertainment industry would have been like this past Fall? Just like Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID in the NBA set off a chain reaction of cancellations, Sankey’s unpopular decision did the opposite and set live events back on track.  

I believe God gives us the message we need to hear at the right time. Jim touched on this right when there were tough decisions I needed to make as a leader, as well as some tough decisions I was advising on. In one case, there was a situation where money was being offered for a project that didn’t align with specific core values. Had the project been accepted, there would have been an immediate influx of revenue, but a small tear in the fabric of company culture would have occurred. In another case, it took going to bat for an employee when it could have had negative financial implications. In both situations, tough decisions had to be made. That’s what leadership is. 

In one of my favorite books I read during quarantine, “The Hard Things about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, Ben hits on this topic of unpopular decision making. He wrote, “People always ask me, ‘what’s the secret to being a successful CEO?’ Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”    

Too often when it comes to making decisions, as Jim discusses, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “that’s out of our control,” or “that’s not my job,” without acknowledging the influence we can have on that outcome.

Too often, we leave tough decisions up to someone else. Another leader, perhaps, or another department. We may throw our hands up and wait until the league office gives us guidance, or in Jim’s case with Name, Image, and Likeness, the NCAA has passively chosen to let Congress decide what to do. 

Our daily lives are fraught with leaders who take the easy way out and let someone else make the tough, unpopular opinion. But at the end of the day, the leaders who stand for something and make tough decisions will be the ones who win out. They may end up with less quantity of followers due to those unpopular decisions, but the followers who remain will be more fervent and willing to go the distance.    

Each and every one of you is a leader in some type of way. Not because of your title, but because you influence change. Whether you’re the leader of a pro sports team or athletics department, the leader of a small team, the leader of your household, the leader of a group of fans, or just the leader of yourself. You’re going to be faced with a difficult decision at some point today or later this week. Avoid convenience, make the tough decision. 

And go listen to the full conversation with Jim.  

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Nittany Lion Feedback Program Launch

A first of its kind customer experience program in college athletics just launched today at Penn State. 

For the last few months, the EngageMint team and the Penn State team have been working on this. It’s going to have big impact externally & internally.

https://t.co/B3tyWfTx3f?amp=1

Imagine it as an expanded fan council, focused more on quantity & frequency of feedback, rather than quality and depth. We’ll have a diverse group of 2k fans who volunteer to be surveyed on a frequent basis, on a wide variety of topics, throughout the year.

It’s not a new concept by any means, but it is one of the first in college athletics at this scale (that we know of). It’s a testament to Penn State’s investment in innovation and trying to become more customer-centric every day.

Here are some of the impacts from this program I’m excited about:

Deepen emotional connections w/ fans by allowing them to weigh in on department decisions. That doesn’t mean we’ll always do EXACTLY what fan sentiment tells us, but we’ll always listen & provide updates.

Strengthen trust with fans through transparency. We’re taking a “You Said, We Listened” approach, sharing key insights from the surveys with the group. We’ll try to be just as transparent about what’s NOT being done with the data as what is.

Breaking down silos internally by allowing all departments to submit survey topics. If F&B wants to understand pregame eating habits, we’ll run a survey on that. If development wants to understand deeper motivations towards charitable giving, we’ll run that.

Surveys will be focused on specific, focused topics, but we’ll share that data across the department to make better decisions as one team. It shifts the entire department to become more customer-centric by making decisions grounded in data.

This allows us to make smarter financial investments by testing how the market feels before committing resources to specific projects. Rather than merely thinking a Pet Club is a good idea, we’ll run a survey to understand PSU fan relationships with their pets. (hypothetical)

The experimental nature of the program becomes a vehicle to shift the department culture towards “done is better than perfect.” Too often in traditional industries, everything has to be perfect before it goes out, which often does more harm than good.

With this frequency and high touch, we’ll inevitably make a small screw-up at some point. And we’ll have to recover. But we won’t let that risk detract from our desire to build genuine relationships with fans.

The speed and frequency will force us to improve the efficiency of internal approval processes & workflows and increase employee empowerment. I believe a hassle-filled employee experience is often the biggest barrier to delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Penn State Athletics is already is one of the best in the sports at delivering incredible fan experiences, and I’m excited to see them take it up even one notch more. 

If you’d like to find out more about this program, or are interested in starting a similar program at your organization, please reach out. https://t.co/B3tyWfTx3f?amp=1

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