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Bucs, Lightning, Rays not playing games when it comes to analytics

Fans buy collectibles at Tropicana Field. The Rays are starting to figure out how crowds move through the Trop so they could, perhaps, move a concession stand or team shop to a better location. But the capability to do that is still limited.

Times (2008)

Fans buy collectibles at Tropicana Field. The Rays are starting to figure out how crowds move through the Trop so they could, perhaps, move a concession stand or team shop to a better location. But the capability to do that is still limited.

TAMPA — The technology does not yet exist that can tell the Tampa Bay Buccaneers which quarterback to take with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft or show the Tampa Bay Rays how to fill the David Price-sized hole in their rotation.

There is data, however, that could help the Tampa Bay Lightning figure out which season ticket holders they might be in danger of losing or which parts of Tropicana Field fans (and their dollars) are avoiding.

Moneyball-style analytics isn't just being used on the field anymore. Off the field, data analysis is increasingly being used by sports franchises to keep fans engaged, loyal and spending money.

"This is not a science, this is an art," said NBA executive Matt Wolf. "But we have been able to use analytics to be smarter."

Wolf and his fellow data analysis experts talked about their craft at the University of South Florida's first Sports & Entertainment Analytics Conference at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

The top data experts from the Bucs, the Rays, the Lightning and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino spoke Thursday and Friday, as did their counterparts from ESPN, NASCAR and NBC.

The conference was organized by USF business professor Michael Mondello, associate director of the Muma College of Business' sports and entertainment management program. He said collecting and analyzing data is helping sports teams do something they never had to worry about before: compete for customers' attention and dollars.

"The days of just saying 'Hey, we're going to have a sporting event and let's open the gates and people will come' are gone," he said. "What happened was sports teams, like a lot of businesses, got complacent. The economy was good. People were buying tickets. They didn't have to do a lot of marketing. They didn't have to engage their fans.

"But now sports teams have to figure how can we not only keep fans engaged, but bring them back and make sure they have a great experience."

Teams can do that by figuring out which games fans do and do not go to; who is visiting the team website and whether they're browsing for merchandise or season tickets; how they respond to team emails and social media; and even by tracking the movements of smartphones inside stadiums and arenas (which is a big reason why more and more venues and businesses offer free Wi-Fi.)

That data can also help teams analyze trends and set up predictive models so they could figure out, for example, who is most likely to buy season tickets?

"If we see anybody we know looking at our ticketing page they will get a call from a sales rep," said Bucs manager of Insight and Strategy John Breedlove.

But teams are also still adapting to new technologies, like using Wi-Fi to track customers. The Rays are starting to figure out how crowds move through the Trop so they could, say, move a concession stand or team shop to a better location. But their capability to do that is still limited.

"We've starting to see where the stadium flow is and where people are going," said Jason Gray, Rays director of financial planning and analysis. "But we're basically nowhere near where we need to be."

Brian Bauer, who co-manages a Nashville marketing firm and works with NASCAR and Formula One, warned teams against using social media and Facebook to reach people.

The reason: then Facebook, which was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, ends up collecting their fans' data — not the teams themselves.

"Zuckerberg is not your friend," Bauer said. "You are renting fans from Facebook.

"The more that we can pull that fan data off of Facebook, off of Twitter and social media, the better."

Instead, Bauer and other speakers said, email is a far better medium for reaching fans.

"Those emails are recurring revenue," Bauer said. "That's data ownership."

Analytics can also help teams detect which customers' interest is waning and try to retain them. Wolf, associate vice president for team marketing and business operations for the NBA, said his league can track what season ticket holders do game to game.

"If we see a ticket not being used in real time, if that person hasn't shown up for two straight games," Wolf said, "then what can we do to get this person back into the building?"

Analytics can also help correct flawed business perceptions and practices. Bauer recalled a story about a NASCAR race track that completely misunderstood its target demographic.

The track thought most of its fans were males ages 18 to 20. Instead, the data revealed that 65 percent of its fans were actually women ages 35 to 55.

"Data beats opinions seven days a week," Bauer said. "You can't argue with the numbers."

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Bucs, Lightning, Rays not playing games when it comes to analytics 04/10/15 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2015 10:09pm]
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