One of the most exciting elements in putting together the XLIVE Data & Analytics Summit has been the opportunity to interview our expert faculty on how they entered the fascinating world of data and analytics. Through these interviews we also have been able to get a better sense for how our speaker faculty balance data-driven decision making in a corporate environment where some of their colleagues have a less advanced background in collecting and utilizing data to better understand their fans and corporate partners.
Today’s interview is with Alex Kerr, Director of Strategy & Research at Monumental Sports and Entertainment. Monumental Sports and Entertainment is the parent company of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards, WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center which plays host to over 220 events a year in the heart of Washington D.C.
What were the main factors that inspired you to pursue a career in the sports industry?
Honestly I got into the industry by accident. I didn’t aspire to work in the sports industry growing up like so many people that I’ve come across over the years. I was between my first and second year in graduate school getting my MBA and thought I was going down a different path. For a number of reasons I ended up going a different direction and discovered an alumni connection with Monumental Sports & Entertainment. After a few meetings I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in their internship program. The rest is history so-to speak. My concentration in business school was in strategy and decision sciences. As someone that had grown up as an athlete it was an interesting experience to be working behind the scenes in the sports industry. Ultimately my career path with Monumental has been a function of the job more than the industry itself, but creating a happy marriage of job function and job passion in this position that has been a revelation to me on a personal level.
How is your organization utilizing data & analytics as a means to more effectively engage and retain both fans and corporate partners throughout the course of a season?
From ownership and senior management all the way down to our interns, we have a strong, hard emphasis on data-driven strategy. Not every organization in the sports industry has that same commitment to using data and analytics in every aspect of their business operation. As such it’s definitely helpful to have senior executives who are very passionate about implementing data-driven decision making into our organization.
I work in our business intelligence department that functions as the internal consulting group for all of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Our department has four major sub departments – email marketing, ticket marketing, CRM, strategy and research. The email marketing division looks at everything from open rates and unsubscribe notifications to AB testing our content marketing and sales messaging. Our CRM team works on prospecting and sales leads for all levels and parts of the organization. Our ticketing analytics group focuses on our dynamic ticket pricing and optimization models. My group, the strategy and research team, is the lead for all of our consumer insights (focus groups, surveys, empirical research), and corporate partnership research, pricing, forecasting, and reporting.
The sports industry has been at the forefront of data & analytics for the past decade as people who were teenagers or college students during the “Moneyball” era are now working in the business, often in senior-level positions. How has this industry-wide data & analytics revolution impacted your organization’s ability to hire and develop talent in an increasingly competitive space within the sports landscape?
I would say that the “Moneyball” approach to working in sports hasn’t really impacted me since most of those people you mentioned are more focused on what’s going on within the locker room as opposed to what’s taking place within the actual business operation of the team. You have to remember that business analytics was just starting to enter the lexicon of sports organizations when I joined Monumental five years ago, first as an intern, then a year later full-time. That concept didn’t really exist for most teams so we’re still playing catch-up in a sense to the “on the field’ analytics concepts that have existed for a longer period of time.
From a hiring standpoint, it’s very much a “double-edged sword” from where I sit. One of the great advantages that I have is that I don’t necessarily need to hire new employees that come from traditional sports industry backgrounds. Oftentimes I’m looking for people that have more data-driven and strategy type experiences. I’m just as likely to hire someone from Deloitte or McKinsey as I am to bring on a former analytics intern with the Red Sox. The sports industry is seen by many as a glamorous world and that allows us to attract a lot of top talent for interviews, but it’s also an industry that doesn’t always pay as well as what’s available on the open market, and that can hurt our ability to hire. At times it becomes difficult to hold onto talent over the long-term when they know that oftentimes they can make more money doing a similar job elsewhere.
Are there any specific emerging trends or technologies in the data & analytics space that you believe will be particularly impactful to marketers in the sports industry?
Creating impactful reporting is very exciting to me. We used to be able to only do this on an ad-hoc basis but now we use tools such as Tableau to automate all of our “proof of play” reporting for assets across the business – social data, LED displays inside and outside of the arena, email newsletters, website & TV/radio coverage, etc. We can pull reports up to the week and have instantaneous monthly and yearly reports to share with our corporate partners.
This also allows us to tie valuation into everything we give our corporate partners. We can measure the number of people that walk by an activation during a Tuesday night game in one area of the main concourse versus another in the second level, and assign a unique value to each asset. Same goes for our social assets. We can put a partner ad on a pre-roll of a highlight that is being shown on our Twitter or Facebook pages and tie that back to a valuation with audience numbers on each of our social channels. We’re even able to take that a step further and tie value to how long a logo appears within a video play. This allows us to not only show value to our corporate partners, but also means that we can price our sponsorship assets more effectively and accurately moving forward.
The XLIVE Data & Analytics Summit will convene festival and live event producers, leading data and analytics executives, in addition to brands hosting their own corporate events and festivals. With digitization of the live event experience – event organizers can now harness the power of their data to more effectively engage attendees, understand customer behavior, increase revenue, analyze competition, identify talent trends, monetize assets, enhance sponsorship activation and more!
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