Sports Organisations: Don’t think NOW, think FUTURE – think CRM

In a world where we tend to get blind-sided with our focus on selling tickets, it was great to meet a group of sports executives who correctly identified CRM as a catalyst for the future.

MESGO is an executive master’s degree in sports governance, supported by academic partners including Birkbeck London and the University of Limoges, along with sports partners including FIBA, IHF, ERA and UEFA.   The course takes a multi-disciplinary approach to professional sport and examines economic, political and legal perspectives around issues facing the global sports industry.  Last week focussed on marketing challenges and so I found myself in Paris at the Parc des Princes, home of Paris St. Germain (a treat in itself!) discussing the role of CRM in sport.

Most encouraging for me was that while none of the participants themselves had any great exposure to CRM, instead of identifying ticket sales as a key driver, they talked of legacy and the community.  Of course, the more sports organisations engage with the wider community and use CRM to plan for the future, the more tickets they’ll ultimately sell anyway – but the fact that they started out thinking mid- to long-term made for an interesting workshop.

The sports industry is notoriously known for its short-term thinking – short-termism becomes sport-termism – we tend to focus on the next 3 points or the next event and with all the will in the world, a 3 to 5 year business plan ends up gathering dust.  Indeed I once met a vastly experienced marketer who switched sectors from the telco industry to join a Premier League Club with a brief to help expand their brand internationally.  She spent her first few months learning about the business and planning her assault on Asia (no surprise that the focus would be there) and then the season started and she found herself knee deep in perimeter advertising!

OK so I’m generalising a bit but I’d say that for every sports organisation that plans for the next 3 years, there are 10 or even 100 that don’t even plan for the next season!  So in our CRM session we discussed not just segmenting data and tailoring communications, acquiring email addresses and exploring social channels , we talked about the importance of legacy and the community.

But what did that actually look like?  Well for the British and Irish Lions – topical right now with the recent announcement of Warren Gatland’s squad– the MESGO students proposed a digital communications schedule for 2014 to 2017 using the imminent 2013 Tour to Australia to provide the initial content.  Unsurprisingly, the rest of the schedule consisted of historical content and future internationals/major cup competitions but at least by putting a framework together, the students were saying “you need to think beyond the now, you’ve got to think of what happens next”.

The nature of the sports industry is such that we naturally have levels of brand loyalty that most businesses would die for – but when it comes to CRM we’re way behind other industries.  We naturally have the foundations for creating, maintaining and developing relationships with our customers – yet many of us believe CRM is for everyone else.  And we know that our businesses, established sports clubs, leagues and governing bodies, are going to be around for a long time – so why aren’t we planning for that future?

We are making progress, albeit slowly, but I for one left Paris and the glorious Parc des Princes feeling confident that in this group of 20 sports executives, CRM has the same chance as goal line technology.  And they said that would never happen!

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss the role of CRM and data in sports.