May 27


Future of Athletics Departments

David Millay

May 27, 2021

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. 

David Millay

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