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Personalization

How To Create the Ultimate NBA Fan Experience When the Stands Are Empty

How do you market to fans when there are no fans in the stands? That sounds like Dr. Seuss, but it’s the challenge that the NBA faced this summer.

This post is written by Kyle Teague, Marketing Cloud Manager, and Jill Marchick, Vice President, Customer Insights and Engagement, at Pacers Sports and Entertainment. It’s part of our Moment Makers series, which takes a deep dive into how marketers use technology to build data-driven customer experiences that feel natural, relevant, and right on time. Pacers Sports and Entertainment is a Salesforce customer. 

 

How do you market to fans when there are no fans in the stands? That sounds like a line from a Dr. Seuss riddle, but it’s the very real challenge that NBA and WNBA organizations face this summer.

In July, sports fans celebrated the return of live basketball after nearly five months off due to COVID-19. But like every other activity sidelined by this pandemic, our return looks anything but normal.

As part of a strategy to protect players’ health and complete the season, NBA and WNBA teams are quarantined in separate bubbles in Florida and play in mostly empty arenas. Fans cheer on their teams from their living rooms instead of packed arenas.

It’s not the season any of us expected, but our mission at Pacers Sports and Entertainment is the same: creating the ultimate fan experience for everyone who loves the Indiana Pacers and the Indiana Fever. Before the pandemic, that experience centered on live events, so our digital marketing efforts focused on driving ticket sales, engaging with fans during the game, and growing our fan base. But with the shift to the web and television, digital marketing now creates the fan experience.

Here are three ways our new digital-first engagement strategy helps us connect with our fans, gain meaningful insights, and improve our workflows during this unique time. Maybe it can help you in your business, too.

1. Keeping a (virtual) pulse on our fan base

Hearing from fans has always been important to us. When we host live events, we survey ticket holders after every game about their likes and dislikes. Today, we can’t target those surveys with the same level of certainty because we don’t know who’s watching. 

This led us to approach fan feedback differently. Now we draw from our email database to send surveys a few hours after the start of a game. We ask people if they watched, what might have kept them from watching, and how we can improve their viewing experience. We also host virtual focus groups so fans can share what they like about viewing games happening “in the bubble” and what they miss the most about the traditional experience.

We’re using this time to build closer relationships with our fans. And it’s working. Our response rates are higher, and we’ve even received thank-you notes from fans who appreciate that we’re seeking their opinions. Listening to our customers helps us make relevant short-term pivots until sports entertainment fully opens up again. And when that happens, we’ll have more, and better, data to help us engage with fans on a deeper level.

2. Using personalization to create real-time marketing moments

Communication is another key to creating a great fan experience. Before the pandemic, when our teams were playing in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, we used Marketing Cloud to send personalized push notifications and emails to ticket holders that helped them locate their seat or the nearest concession stand. During live events, we also used Service Cloud to solve problems fast. For example, if a fan tweeted their seat was broken, our digital team flagged it for the guest services team to resolve in real time. 

In today’s environment, we still personalize our touch points — just under very different circumstances. Now, we wait to send push notifications until the game is over so we can cover the broader experience: “How did you enjoy the game? What did you think of forward T.J. Warren’s 53 points against the Philadelphia 76ers?”

We use Marketing Cloud’s Journey Builder to build relationships. We can start with email and build out their experience to include relevant ads on their favorite social media platform. And when it’s close to game time, we can send a mobile push notification — all in one journey.

We also serve messages on fans’ preferred channels. For example, if I know one group in our fan base is more likely to engage over email, while another is more responsive to social ads, I can use a “decision split” to deliver the right content to each group on the platform they prefer.

Artificial intelligence also supports our personalization efforts. Salesforce products like Einstein Engagement Scoring and Send Time Optimization help us deliver tailored content at the right time to fans who are interacting with us. Service Cloud continues to help us address digital experience errors and other customer issues, like season-ticket refunds.

From a metrics perspective, we have annual benchmarks to measure email marketing performance, and engagement has grown every year we’ve used Salesforce. We still see high open and click-through rates this summer. Numbers on our apps, websites, streaming platforms, and social media pages are up, too.

3. Empowering internal teams to collaborate better

Ticket sales are paused, so our marketing, sales, sponsorship, and digital teams are using this time to bridge process gaps, increase efficiency, and collaborate more. Recent wins include:

  • Positioning our customer engagement team as a liaison between sales and marketing to understand how each team uses our CRM
  • Retraining sales staff on Sales Cloud and Service Cloud so they can get the most out of these tools
  • Improving the lead generation process so our teams have a 360-degree view of data and a better understanding of how to convert leads in real time when ticket sales return

As part of the marketing team, it’s been rewarding to help our teams unlock their full potential with digital tools. This is extending outside our department too. Our public relations team now uses our CRM to manage community relations contacts, track donations, and capture employee service hours. So even though we’re not in the office together, we’re working more closely than ever before. 

Act now to succeed later

When we build surveys, we’re driven by a desire to understand what our fans need from us so we can create experiences that surpass their expectations. Understand your audience, build strategies to keep them engaged, and invest in the digital tools you need to optimize the customer experience, for any environment. If you wait until the new normal arrives, it’ll be too late.

Are you ready to get personal with your content?

Marketing Cloud offers solutions for digital marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, customer journey mapping, marketing analytics, marketing automation, and B2B marketing to help you personalize customer communications across every digital touchpoint — from anywhere.

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