Cincinnati Bengals Use Marketing and IT to Improve Customer Experience

Data analytics is a topic on almost all top 10 lists of strategic technology trends for 2015, especially for driving business in today's digitalized world. Harvesting the full value of analytics requires knowing what data is important, finding a way to collect it, thoughtfully analyzing it, make rapid decisions and take actions to create value, and finally, monetizing the results. Digital savvy businesses recognize that business intelligence and analytics is key to driving successful business outcomes. And it all starts with improving the employee and customer experience.

Looking over the network analytics that poured out of Super Bowl XLIX (In-Stadium Wi-Fi Analytics Reveal Fan Engagement at Super Bowl XLIX), it is clear that collecting fan data can be extremely valuable, but only as the first step to fully understanding how it can be used to improve the fan experience, generate additional revenue streams and create an opportunity to bolster customer advocacy. Maximizing the business value of data analytics requires close collaboration between marketing and IT, the topic of my Interop keynote, The CIO & CMO - Adversaries No More.

For more insight into how marketing and IT can work together on data analytics, I spoke with Pat Nieser, senior corporate sales manager for the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition to his work with the Bengals, Pat has experience with the NBA and MLB. With the Bengals, he develops business partnerships, assists with game day presentation, and produces pre-season television. Pat's group is focused on implementing a new marketing campaign for the club, as well deploying a new Wi-Fi network at Paul Brown Stadium.

Pat Nieser, Cincinnati Bengals

Here's what Pat has to say about marketing and IT collaboration.

As technology continues to shape and influence business decisions, we have noticed the line between IT and sales/marketing blurring. Fans are using mobile devices more and more, forcing marketers to become tech gurus. Just in the past few years with the Cincinnati Bengals, I have worked closer and closer with our IT director and social media team.

Information Technology (IT) is no longer viewed as support staff, but are now an integral part of the revenue-generating departments including ticket sales, premium sales, and sponsorship sales. This is even more obvious when you realize that our digital and social media staff reports to the director of IT.

Look closer at the NFL as a whole; the league is partnering with technology companies in more specific ways and these relationships are changing the way we market to fans. Extreme Networks is the Official Wi-Fi Analytics Provider and Wi-Fi Solutions Provider of the NFL, NetApp is the Official Data Storage Partner of the NFL, and SAP is the Official Cloud Software Solutions, Business Software Solutions, and Business Analytics Software Sponsor of the National Football League. These partnerships are meaningful to both parties and again, technology and marketing have become fused. The days of the IT professional being on the other end of the hallway from the CMO are over. I believe CIOs and Vice Presidents of IT can command a seat at the decision-making table within their organizations.

Major League Baseball also has spent significant time and budget during the past several years on technology. Installing Wi-Fi at ballparks around the country, creating Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), and adopting instant replay equipment are all examples of how MLB has kept up with the times. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated, "We own a world-class technology company. Forget about a sports website. Our world class technology company is a great vehicle for engaging younger people with the game through the use of technology." All of the major sports leagues in the country have recognized the change in how fans consume their sports entertainment. The same can be said for collegiate athletics. Schools with great on-field products are struggling to fill the stands; college students need to remain connected, so they can share photos, watch instant replays, and communicate with their friends.

The in-stadium experience is being challenged by in-home technology and the best way to combat that is through innovation at the arena, ballpark, or stadium. At some venues, fans can now order food via mobile device, check for the quickest way to get to their seats, and see which restroom has the shortest wait time thanks to iBeacon™ transmitters. These devices can send out marketing messages based on location, coaxing a memorabilia or soft drink purchase. As Vala and I discussed at an Extreme Networks event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, teams and venues can start customizing the fan experience. How great would it be if season ticket holders could go directly to their seats and have their favorite food delivered to them, unprompted, in the first quarter and throughout the remainder of the game? This service will happen soon and bodes well for sports venues. These venues are struggling to satisfy the generation of instant gratification seekers, which is why colleges and universities are deploying technology to improve attendance. Their focus has been to incentivize fans to go to less-attended sporting events with data-tracked rewards programs. These reward program marketing tools would not be possible without iBeacons and backend software technology.

How else is the line between technology and marketing blurring? With the constrained budgets of sponsors coming under increasing scrutiny, technology allows us to quantitatively show a return on investment. Sponsors, recognized as sports team business partners, are looking for something actionable by the fan base. Mobile apps and iBeacons allow teams to send actionable messages to the fans, whether they are in the stadium or 50 miles away watching on TV. This drives not only an immediate return on the sponsor's investment, but also helps to build a deeper relationship for future activities and purchases. Again, this is made possible by technology and justifies the marketing spend by the sponsor.

Technology is nothing new to the broad entertainment world, but it is still in its infancy within the sports world. The blurring of the line between marketing and IT has led to a blurring between sports and entertainment. Business leaders in sports and other fields need to stop excluding their IT departments and integrate them into the strategic planning of the business. Communication between departments has always been vital, but the need has grown as technology has gained importance. Your IT department can collect critical data faster than ever, analyze it, and use it to correct imperfections in your daily business processes. The days of slow adjustments and delayed decision making are over.

Do you know your customers? Do you REALLY know your customers? If you don't, you must strengthen your partnership with your technology staff. IT and their technical staff can push your business to the next level. Let your IT team spot the hidden business opportunities so you can better market to your customers, increase revenue, and keep costs low. Productivity levels will grow and you will move away from a shotgun approach to become a systematic sniper knowing exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

While Pat's experience and expertise is in the sports world, his advice can equally be applied across all industries. I've seen first-hand the benefits of closely-collaborating IT and marketing staffs within higher education, primary education (K-12), healthcare, and manufacturing, where every day is game day.

This post was co-authored with Pat Nieser, senior corporate sales manager for the Cincinnati Bengals.