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Analytics in Sports – A Growing Business


Super Bowl time in the United States is a good enough reason to take a re-look at the technological improvements in the world of sports, especially at the business end. Like any other discipline, or profession, or business, sports, too, spews out big data, necessitating the deployment of analytics to tackle things better. In fact, most sports organizations in the US and the United Kingdom have set up their own analytics departments, and have either employed their own teams of analysts and data scientists or outsourced the work.  According to one report,  for the four major sports in the US, over 97 percent of MLB teams and 80 percent of NBA teams already employ analytics professionals. Monetizing sports fans is the name of the game.

Thus, clearly, the business of sports is big, much of it now coming to revolve around big data. While a large percentage of this data today is being used to grab talent or understand play moves, the business of sports marketing analysis, too, is growing with every season. After all, the business of sports aims to attract traffic, or in sports lingo, fans or spectators, and analytics is a tool that provides near-accurate reports on how fans would react to a certain inducement.

That explains, for example, the high advertising rates at the Super Bowl as everybody vies for a piece of the action, which is the captive, in-stadia audience for the duration of the final game, not to mention those watching it ‘live’ on TV and social media. This season, advertisers are reportedly spending the US $5 million for each 30-second Super Bowl commercial.

Here are some statistics:

  • The total number of Super Bowl viewers is going up; one report has pegged it at an increase of an average of 5 million per year
  • Over 110 million people watch the game in the U.S. and many more in other countries
  • The Super Bowl itself draws nearly 80 million more viewers than an NFL Sunday night game
  • A huge chunk of the American viewers, somewhere between 30-45 percent, admit to watching the Super Bowl only for the commercials and not the actual game

How the Super Bowl is consumed

A January 2017 research conducted by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) in partnership with Burson-Marsteller and Fan Experience showed that technological advancements and social media were slowly changing the way people were watching “the game”, giving marketers interesting insights.

Some of the report’s findings:

  • 55 percent of viewers say they would be interested in streaming games online instead of watching on cable, including 77 percent of Millennials
  • 60 percent of viewers and 87 percent of constant social media users say they are interested in the extra content brands to provide on social media in addition to their commercials
  • One in three viewers say that a commercial is what they are most likely to post about on social media during the game
  • 33 percent of viewers say that a commercial is what they are most likely to post about on social media during the game
  • Nearly two out of three Millennials say they prefer the game itself to the commercials or the halftime show

For marketers of companies and sports leagues, to use the platform of sports to appeal to prospects means to be able to leverage the latest marketing techniques. That includes marketing analytics. Like in any other business, they need to use analytics to gather and analyze data about existing customers, segmentize them, and then, market their products across multiple channels.

Predictive analytics and game theory are some methods of leveraging information about where, when, and how sports fans engage with sports, and to understand which campaigns are a hit and those that are under-performing. Using this tool, sports companies can determine the most effective product offerings and then launch personalized marketing initiatives to extract lifetime value from fans.

So, in sports, where does the data flow in from? There are many so let’s look at a few of them:

Promotions are a method of data collection. Team-held events such as sweepstakes, in real life and online, can generate a lot of information about the participants. Another method is apps, quite common by now in NFL, that provide team news, views, and video clips, with adverts to online shopping. Loyalty programs are another way to collect data, and even to offer discounts or freebies. Even the stadium Wi-Fi can provide a valuable type of data to marketers on user behavior at a granular level.

Some predict the global sports analytics market to grow from the present-day US $123.7 million to as much as the US $616.7 million by 2021, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 37.9 percent. North America is forecast to have the largest market share in sports analytics in this period, followed by Europe. Growth will be driven by the need of marketers and management of sports organizations to gain historical as well as real-time insights into data generated on and off the field.

If you are one of those interested in marketing through sport, you need to first spell out the goal(s) of your effort. It could be one or many of these – increasing attendance or viewership, attracting prospects, enticing customers, and increasing your marketing base. Analysts can then help you derive a statistical model that factors in all this, and ingredients such as sponsorship data and social media activity to help you target the right kind of audiences/fans to help you achieve your objective(s).

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