Professional sports is, as I’ve written before and will probably write again, a funny old business. The customer is not a customer but a supporter. The Club is a place where the sporting spectacle unfolds, live and un-intermediated, never to be repeated but available, subject to sporting competition format and culture, once a week or so on average if you missed the last one. The bond or affiliation between the supporter and the Club runs deep and is, generally, exclusive and for life, forming an important component of social and individual identity. Supporters are in general a loyal and tribal bunch. They wear the shirt, they sing the song, they share in the journey, and many choose to get married, divorced and have their ashes scattered in the ‘temple’ and centre of activity – the Stadium.
I’m not, as you may have already perceived, a particularly strongly affiliated sports fan or supporter in any private way. Which is lucky, as the company I work in has over 50 individual or separate clients and I feel morally and socially unequipped to deal with the levels, tiers and currents of emotional attachment, reattachment and guilt that such manifest polygamy might entail.
I’ve been privileged, however, to participate in my own way in a number of ‘Stadium Migrations’ in my time at Sports Alliance. ‘Stadium Migration’ refers to the process undergone when a Club chooses, whether by accident or design, to move home from one location to another. This need not be a significant geographical translation – many Stadiums are re-developed ‘in situ’ or adjacent to the original. But whatever the distance, the process is, for most supporters and the Club staff involved, a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ experience.
Clubs choose to ‘migrate’ for a variety of reasons. The old place is looking tacky, falling down, not big enough or not the right balance in terms of levels of product and service they can offer, or it may have been only a ‘temporary’ home due to external circumstances and a short-term sharing arrangement has come to an end. This side of the Atlantic the ‘Club’ at least will be an original organisation with probably over 100 years of history, culture and attachment. They don’t ‘invent’ Clubs, at least as a rule, in Europe as they do in a franchise system. So for the supporters involved it is a ‘migration’ from one place to another, the focus is on the existing supporters seamlessly and not on attracting any new ones. Here at Sports Alliance we do data and marketing, so we’re involved in the ‘Customer Experience’ and very definitely nothing to do with concrete, steel, or grass.
My ‘first’ migration was in many senses the biggest, for Arsenal in the move from Highbury 1 or 2 miles down the road to what is now The Emirates in North London. Here is an example from the 2005 Brochure for allocation of seats to existing supporters.
Since then I’ve worked on or am currently involved in projects for RCD Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona in Spain, Swansea City in Wales, and Saracens Rugby, Tottenham and West Ham in London. Each of these is, of course, different to each other and unique in some way or another. Here I want to talk about the shared or in common elements.
What’s involved? First, we look at Ranking, Relationships and Relocation…
Virtually all migrations we’ve worked on involve creating a ‘Queue’ based on a Ranking system. The Queue needs ordering or ranking according to some agreed criteria – how long you’ve been a member for, how much money you paid for your existing or old seat, whether or not you have an interest or shareholding where applicable, or a more genteel approach so that elders, or women and children, go first.
Relocation is related to the physical location of a seat occupied as part of a season ticket or membership product. This often involves animated discussion and analysis of ‘equivalency’ between two very often very different stadium layouts. These can differ massively according to the number of seats, and more importantly the specific layouts according to stadium design for tiers, blocks and rows, and where exits and other stadium features interrupt or not in both ‘old’ and ‘new’ locations.
Here is an example of a stadium layout that shows ‘missing’ seats from an old to a new stadium – seats that ‘disappear’ when a notion of equivalence has been applied. Blue shows seats that do not have directly equivalent seats, here mainly due to the different layout of the aisles and ‘vomitorios’ or exits.
The criteria decided for individual entitlement or ranking must also work for ‘groups’ of supporters who choose to apply or sit together, either so that new people are encourage to apply and join in or so that existing supporters do not feel that their entitlement is being diluted. Groups may be inferred – based on inference on existing sales or behavioural data for seating or family. Here is an example of a stadium layout representation looking at Age Band. The colour scheme or pallette has been chosen to represent ‘age bands’, where blue is ‘youth’, green is ‘adult’, red ‘senior, purple the transition between youth and adult. For each age band, a darker shade or hue is intended to show increase in age.
The next example shows an additional dimension of ‘grouping’ based on inferred relationships between adjacent seated customers. The groups are based on grades of proximity or closeness of relationship – from degrees or probability of family relationships to neighbourhood location.
Lurking behind any ‘public’ criteria of ranking will be a Club’s opportunity or desire to ‘up sell’ customers to premium products, if they so desire.
How long does it take? From a few months to a few years… The longest from the list above completed was for Arsenal, taking place over a two year period in the run up to the Emirates opening. The shortest has probably been Athletic Bilbao, which took a turn for the worse or better when the Club shortened the timeline to the coming September when they realised that the physical build was advancing sufficiently. Here is a view of the shiny new San Mames stadium from across the river.
Once the ‘rules’ for customer or supporter engagement have been agreed, its then time to turn this in to a sales and marketing plan. Because this involves a seat selection in what is often a non-existent venue, this almost always involves a face-to-face visit in a specially constructed or administered sales centre, allowing for the supporter or group of supporters to confirm their choice of seat and for reservations and deposits to be taken at the same time. It’s also important as an ‘experience’ that for many is cherished and downright emotional. At Bilbao, for example, the ‘eldest’ socio (member or season ticket holder) was ceremoniously invited to begin the process. Cue flag waving and tears, and for good reason!
Our role here is also to prepare and furnish a sales and appointment management system that interfaces with existing Club systems for ticket or seat booking and reservation and any marketing or internet applications for communication or grouping assignments. We usually do this in a customised version of an ‘off the shelf’ CRM system such as Microsoft Dynamics, using where possible existing functionality for contacts, groups, service resources and service appointments, and the marketing list and outbound communications that result from this.
We’re currently in the process of planning for 3 new proposed migrations in the UK and Europe, so more will follow.