The role of Big Data in sports marketing

Big Data analysis has changed sports marketing forever. In this post, we explain why, how to make the most of it, and we’ll take a look at the newest frontiers. Big Data is a buzzword that you see everywhere. But what is its true meaning and scope? And, even more importantly, do we know what opportunities lie behind this “label”?

For sports marketers, these are fundamental concepts that must be understood, and not just at the surface level. The true way to gain competitive advantage is through a deep understanding of what constitutes big data, and the role of Big Data analysis in sports marketing? And why is it so fundamental, especially in this industry? Let’s see the answers in this article.

 

Big Data

First of all, let’s start from a very technical definition, which is provided by Gartner: “Big Data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.”

Now, how does this definition translate into daily business practice? In a very wide range of ways. 

For one, it’s about optimizing processes, that, thanks to this huge amount of data can be kept under control in a pervasive and dynamic way, with the result of improving the data. Having more data at your disposal means that you can build more effective business strategies. But, at the same time, also better strategies for employee retention and satisfaction, for example (we have dedicated an entire ebook to this aspect, which you can download here).

However, there is one side that has benefited more than any other from this real revolution: marketing (to which Customer Care is also closely linked). Through Big Data, you can really get to “know” your audience in-depth, even when it comes to potentially endless and deeply varied audiences, such as those typical of the Sports industry. Such in-depth knowledge allows you to know their characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors, which can therefore allow you to predict their actions, what they will do next. To be even more concrete: big data can help you have a very precise and detailed “map” of your target, moreover, one that is in constant evolution. Consequently, to be able to target this varied audience in the right way, with the right timing, and with the right actions.

All this, after all, applies to all sectors. Later in this post, we’ll go into more detail and into the specifics of the Sports industry. We will investigate the role of Big Data in sports marketing starting from its unique audience, how you can use it for predictive analysis and personalization, and finally, we’ll look toward the frontiers of wearable devices.

 

The starting point: an increasingly wide and diversified audience

Let’s start from a popular example: soccer. Until a few years ago, the Italian soccer team with the most fans, Juventus, had a pool of fans that consisted mainly of males, most of whom were Italian or European, with few exceptions. The same could be said for all the other teams in the Italian championship league. Today all this has changed and it will continue to change: more and more women follow soccer, and more and more people living outside Italian and European borders follow Juventus, and its champions (Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has 241 million followers, compared to the ”just” 38 million who follow his team). Today, the pool of fans has opened up in the USA and Asia, and the margins are huge.

The same is true for all sports: the growing trend of female sports fans is unstoppable (see here), as is the expansion of interests, without national borders. More and more children, moreover, practice or follow sports; and, at the same time, more and more people in the older segments of the population.

With such a huge and diverse audience, big data in sports marketing becomes absolutely essential. Having more information means being able to address a large number of target segments with messages that are increasingly tailored, geographically, by age, by social platform; in other words, more “personal”.

 

But where is the data?

The quickest answer is: online. But everything is online. So what does this mean?

Big Data is the most valuable fruit of digital transformation for companies large or small, “the new oil”, some say. Put simply, Big Data are the traces that we all disseminate online

But, back to the initial question, where exactly? On search engines, first of all. Tracing search keywords, for Sports Industry companies, is the first step in building a great SEO strategy, for example. An even more important area? Social networks, with their 3.6 billion users and growing. That’s not all: there are portals and even social networks that are dedicated solely on sports, in its various forms (think of Fubles, a social network for organizing football games). And then there is an almost incalculable amount of apps dedicated to sports and fitness. A new frontier? Wearable devices; we’ll focus on this later in the post.

Let’s take an even closer look. What is the real usefulness, the real value that you get from knowing as much as possible about the characteristics, attitudes, behaviors and “stories” of your fans, your customers, your users?

To put it simply and directly: to understand their needs and predict their future behaviors. In this way, brands can match these questions with tailor-made offers. Put another way: to intercept the desires and expectations of fans and, based on these, to build targeted marketing actions to satisfy them.

This is the heart of “predictive marketing”, which has an absolutely central role in the Sport Industry.

Consider this data from the USA: 97% of Major League Baseball teams are using predictive marketing. 80% of NBA teams (the National Basketball League) do the same (for this data, and for an in-depth look at the world of American football, see here). 

 

Beyond Big Data, there is personalization

We’ve already mentioned the fundamental role of Big Data in sports marketing. How essential it is to collect as much data as possible, from as many sources as possible, to track your actual and potential customer base. Such data can be kept under control and divided into many small segments, composed of people with similar characteristics and behaviors. These increasingly focused segments therefore constitute as many micro-targets, to be hit with targeted and extremely effective marketing actions (often predictive marketing).

Can you do even moreCan we go beyond segmentation, and tighten the focus on individuals? The answer is yes. And it’s personalization.

But what are we talking about, in concrete terms? It’s about collecting data from individuals, from individual customers, and based on this data, creating customer-oriented operations, in a truly one-to-one perspective.

Nike, a giant in the sports sector, has long since realized that personalization is the real turning point for marketing. It has put many personalization operations on track. There are apps like SKNRS and NikeID, and Nike+ programs aimed at individual loyal customers. There was also a specific campaign for the FIFA World Cup 2018 (multichannelmerchant.com). Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO, recently stated that his company’s goal is to be “increasingly personal, on a large scale”. Translated: use the data to treat their millions of clients around the world as unique individuals. Not surprisingly, Nike acquired Zodiac two years ago, a company that deals specifically with Big Data, analytics and personalization (news.nike.com).

 

Data, today, is worn…and tomorrow even more so

We pointed out above how Nike is putting personalization more and more at the center of its business and marketing strategies. It is not surprising that another area where the company is investing significant resources is in wearable devices. We’re talking about smartwatches, pedometers, smart clothing, and a whole range of other wearable devices that can help you monitor your workouts.

The most well known are the Nike+ sensors for running, developed together with Apple, which are already adopted by 7 million running enthusiasts. A very important and constantly growing number. In addition, according to a recent survey, sales of “wearable” products will reach $95 million by 2021

It is understandable how all this will result in a further increase in the availability of data that is more and more personalized, and in an increasingly close relationship between brands and individuals.

In short, the real challenge is all here: to enlarge the audience of its customers, making it increasingly diversified. At the same time, the challenge will also be about knowing how to analyze this data with great precision in order to address everyone according to their individual characteristics.

 

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