2 Weeks Without Games: What are Sports Teams Focused on Now?


Mar 24, 2020


March Madness is taking on a much different feel this year. As COVID-19 presents unprecedented disruptions to the sports and entertainment world, there is a feeling of “what now”. We’ve talked to dozens of partners and other teams over the past week and here’s what we’re hearing they are most focused on now.

Communication – Lots Of It

This is as important internally as it is externally. During this time, you must over communicate to both your staff, who are now likely remote, and your fans. You don’t need to have an answer to every possible question but honesty about what is currently known, what remains uncertain, and how your organization is handling new developments is as important as the consistency of your message.  

Everyone is dealing with uncertainty and the best thing you can do is to be transparent with your teams about decisions or changes that affect them. Over Communicating at a time like this helps reassure your staff that they have the most valuable information necessary to continue to do their jobs, while also getting the most up-to-date answers to your fans. 

To stave off some of the incoming calls and emails, teams we’ve talked to are not only trying to get in front of questions early with email communication but they are also updating their website’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) page to make it easy for fans to find information such as to how to use their credits, defer their tickets, or get a refund.  For teams, the hope is that this helps set expectations and reduces surprises when fans do call about things like ticket options. 

Tickets – Refunds, Deferrals, or Credits?

With games and seasons in limbo right now, fans and service teams are asking the obvious question – what now? While we’re seeing cautious optimism around the industry, how tickets, and the messaging surrounding it, are being dealt with is incredibly important. Should you defer tickets to a later date, offer a credit, or provide full refunds? We’ve asked our partners and other teams how they’re dealing with tickets for postponed or cancelled games and here are the emerging trends:

  • Wait and See Mode – if you’re here and don’t feel like you have a plan, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Due to the climate, many teams (and fans) are still in a holding pattern, and looking to their league offices for guidance and clarity.  It’s okay to still be figuring out what will work best for you and your fans but go-forward plans need to start to be in place soon.

  • Deferrals – this is the most optimistic approach and it has teams shifting tickets from canceled or postponed games to comparable ones when play resumes. Teams are still working to determine how deferrals will be tracked and definitions for ‘comparable’ games’ but right now, the simplest answer we’ve heard is to defer a ticket for the next time that opponent comes to town. What is going to be interesting is how ticketing systems are going to manage postponed/cancelled seasons and how that is going to come across in the data.

  • Credits – with so much uncertainty, teams are focused on fan relationships and recognize that there’s an opportunity to build some wow moments into season ticket members’ experience even at a time like this. A couple examples that have stood out for us are:

    • Receive 140% credit for next season’s package and use that extra 40% value at the concession, in the team shop, or to upgrade seats or packages

    • Receive a credit for every game that goes unplayed to put towards next season’s package

  • Refunds – we’ve heard that this is the last resort solution both for individual game tickets and packages alike however there are situations that do require it. It’s important to communicate with those refunded ticket buyers or package members to identify potential win-back opportunities when play resumes. We’re seeing teams start to plan those nurturing strategies now. Again, it’s going to be interesting to see how this data is tracked on the backend to keep accurate records.

  • Secondary Market – on the flip side of all this, teams are using their need to over communicate with ticket buyers as an opportunity to talk directly with fans who might be historically purchasing on the secondary. As deferrals, refunds, and credits are issued, fans who normally buy on the secondary will be looking for answers too. Use this as an opportunity to start a new relationship with them.

Marketing – Get Personal and Creative

Marketing and digital teams adapted quickly to the current environment and have come up with or are planning  more creative, positive content. Here’s some advice from teams and our Stellar Digital Labs partners on what this last week has meant for them:

  • Digital ads – unsurprisingly, most teams we spoke with have paused all their in-flight digital sales and marketing campaigns in this current climate and seem to be opting instead to focus on organic content and reusing older content that’s performed well in the past.

  • Re-imagine sponsor activations – we’re hearing of teams moving their sponsor’s in-game activations online in order to help them maintain value. Activations have no doubt changed, however it’s an interesting way to keep sponsors and fans engaged.

  • Post impactful content – quality over quantity has never been more important. Whatever your strategy, add value, not noise. Already, we’ve seen teams do a tremendous job creating a sense of virtual connectedness between fans, the team, and their players.

Strategy – Using This Time to Catch Up

As immediate needs and fan concerns are being addressed, teams are starting to plan and prioritize other business items that will help them prepare for when play returns. If history is any indication, when games and seasons do return, the demand will be extremely high; the NHL for example saw 87% of their teams with an average attendance of 90% or more after the lockout in 2013. Although we all understand that this is much different than a lockout or previous suspension, teams are preparing for busy times ahead. Here are a few areas that teams are addressing now, to get them ready for the future:

  • Website Updates – now is a great time to analyze historical website traffic, page conversion rates, and make sure pixels and tracking are set up to allow for proper attribution. While fans may not be purchasing tickets right now, understanding how they’ve navigated through your website along with identifying any friction points will be increasingly valuable when play resumes. When the time is right, one way to identify friction points in real time is through things like merchandise offers. 

  • Data Projects and Data Cleansing – organizations we’ve talked to are taking the time to review, consolidate, and cleanse data systems right now in order to more fully build out and understand their single customer view. Analytics teams in particular are taking this time to focus more on projects that they’ve been wanting to tackle or get a head start on off-season projects.

  • Database Building – related to data projects and cleansing, teams are spending time reviewing and working on ways to build their customer database. Increasing known customers by strategizing on how to efficiently capture more data has come up in many conversations.   

As we all adjust to the current situation, a  respectful and considerate approach in this time of unprecedented change and concern is necessary. No matter who’s interacting with your team now or how, it’s a time to remember how valuable relationships are. Sports has the unique power to bring people together and it’ll be more important than ever in the coming days, weeks, and months. Use this time to strengthen those bonds and get to know your fans on an even deeper level.

More fans.

Better Engagement.

Stellar Results.

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