CRM trends that will be big for the sports industry in 2021

If you read my recent post about the history of CRM, you’ll know that I don’t like using the term CRM. This is because the acronym’s meaning has evolved significantly since the mid-1990’s when it was first introduced as contact management software, to now, when we can use it to refer to the widest definition of digital transformation.  But I’m not going to let that stop me writing a post about #sportsbiz CRM trends in 2021 – I’m just going to look at the different areas that, to me, represent the different ways we apply CRM today.

More, more, and more

My first expectation – or rather my first suggestion – is that we should be doing lots of the same, but we should be doing more of it. What do I mean by this? Well, if you’re collecting customer records, you’ll know how valuable they are and should focus on collecting more. If your focus has been adding more data points to each of your records, you’ll be thinking of how you can get more of them. And, if you’re using email marketing, you’ll be thinking about more campaigns to more segments with more personalisation and more automation. And you may even be thinking about more channels – how you can go beyond email marketing and think about the cross channel.

But that’s a general statement – we should always be looking to make progress – so let’s look at a few specifics:

1) Email marketing trends

Email marketing will continue to be the absolute cornerstone of anyone’s data-driven communications strategy. I believe we will see more hyper-segmentation and personalisation as rights owners aim to deliver that one-on-one experience.

Using AI-powered analytics, we can apply the algorithms to our campaign response, transactional, and demographic data – this will allow us to more easily decide what content to serve, predicting what our fans will want to read. The more campaigns we send and the more data that is available, the more accurate, personalised, and valuable the results are. Machine learning will allow our emails to evolve and improve over time, and with the right campaign platform, we can do this without it being too labour-intensive.

2) Post-COVID customer personas and propensity models

This one isn’t a trend we’ll see in 2021 because we’re making progress in the use of data, it’s something that will happen in 2021 as a result of the Coronavirus. Rights owners will be redesigning their customer personas, or amending their lead scoring and propensity models, to account for the change in behaviour driven by the absence of ticketing/event attendance data.

I interviewed Aaron Le Valley, Senior Vice President of Business Operations and Strategy for the LA Kings, for the forthcoming second edition of my book, Winning with Data. He made the point succinctly: “A lot of the customer data models that we created pre-COVID-19 may be irrelevant when we do come out of lockdown, so we really have to understand what data we can utilise. I think about a friend of mine who was furloughed but wasn’t part of the [US government’s] stimulus package because he made too much money last year. That’s where I think the challenge will be – we have a lot of the data that says ‘this person can definitely buy, or this person bought in the past’ but we don’t know where their life’s at now because of COVID-19.”

3) AR and VR

We’ve seen some great examples of the use of both virtual and augmented reality in sports – from products that provide 3D imagery of ball trajectories or recreate an entire race, to fan engagement apps that unlock exclusive content – but what I’d like to see in 2021 is how we use the masses of data we generate from these innovations to advance our CRM or data strategies.

CRM trends that will be big for the sports industry in 2021 Winners FDD
The use of AR, Tour de France 2018 recreated in the studios of TV 2, Denmark.

4) The Internet of Things

We’ve been talking about IoT for a long time now – in fact since 1990 when John Romkey connected his toaster to the internet – and as of today, there are 50 billion IoT devices (including my washing machine – which by the way, I’ve never used the wifi connection to control!). But what about the CRM of Things, or the Data of Things? My point is, anything that’s connected to the internet is generating a lot of data and that’s where we should be focussing in 2021 – how we’re taking that data and applying it to our wider strategies. In the sports industry, the most common fan engagement examples we see are in smart stadiums, and apparel with sensors integrated directly into the fabric. We should be using the data generated from these applications to improve our fans’ experience, learn more about them and their needs, and apply it to sustainable business strategies.

CRM trends that will be big for the sports industry in 2021 Winners FDD
Manchester City Fan Smartband with AI and NFC (near field communication) Tech Source:

5) Applying a value to our data

Many rights owners are already familiar with customer lifetime value analysis that helps us understand how much a customer record is worth to us. Still, we haven’t yet gone as far as including a database in our company P&L. Gartner has already defined the term infonomics as “the discipline of managing and accounting for information with the same or similar rigour and formality as other traditional assets and liabilities (such as financial, physical and intangible assets and human capital)” and adds that while “information itself meets all the criteria of formal company assets, and, although not yet recognized by GAAP, it is increasingly incumbent on organizations to behave as if the information were a real asset.”  Is 2021 the year we’ll finally see a football club or NFL franchise add this to their list of assets?

Note: if you’re interested in this concept of data as an asset, you might be interested in this 2017 book by Douglas B Laney, Infonomics: How to Monetize, Manage, and Measure Information as an Asset for Competitive Advantage.

6) Blockchain

This is my favourite field when it comes to forecasting trends for CRM because I know so little about it and I’m hungry to know more. Still, the one thing I tabled when I first learned about this peer-to-peer network technology is its possible role in the data ETL process (extract, transform, load) and/or data storage. When you think about the value of athlete performance data or player contracts when it comes to the transfer window, maybe 2021 will be the year we see blockchain supporting more than supply chains and cryptocurrencies.

More CRM trends in 2021

There are so many articles out there that discuss various CRM and data-related trends in 2021 so I’ve listed three of my favourites.

Top of the list is Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021, my favourite, and not just because it’s from Gartner but because it introduced me to a new concept: the Internet of Behaviour. And the line that brings this back to my interpretation of CRM is “The IoB is about using data to change behaviours”. Well worth a read.

Next is Forbes’ Top 10 Digital Transformation Trends For 2021 which covers quite a lot of ground but refers to both COVID and AI, while also highlighting CDPs (customer data platforms) and the role of data, before bringing in the principle of quantum computing. Intrigued? It’s a much longer read at 2.7k words but again, well worth it over a coffee break.

Finally, it’s Top 10 Forecasted CRM Trends in 2021 provided by Forcetalk, a huge community of Salesforce users, fans, followers, etc.  Their 10 trends also reference AI and IoT but also go into mobile and social CRM along with customer experience and self-service.  As you might expect, the article very much focuses on the processes that their suite of modules supports, but it nevertheless makes for fascinating reading.

Whatever CRM trends the sports industry is going to see this year, I can’t wait for Winners, our team, and our clients to be at the heart of them. Get in touch, join our Linkedin group, or sign up for our news if you’d like to join us.