The Shift to Digital: What It Means for Fan and Customer Engagement
As a veteran sports marketer, Steve LaCroix has had a successful career spanning three decades across minor league baseball, NBA and NFL teams, including nearly 20 years with the Vikings, most recently as Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer.
Just prior to leaving that position, Steve joined host Jim Andrews for an All Access Interview to examine the role of digital content in connecting with fans, and the importance of developing and applying insights from the data produced by digital platforms. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: The events of 2020—in particular not having fans at games—accelerated the importance of digital content and experiences. What do you see as the most important outcomes and developments from digital fan engagement?
Steve: We learned across the entire organization that we could do business differently and a lot of that will stick going forward. There are many advantages, whether it’s the cost savings of doing things remotely or the customization of content that you can offer to the fan base, etc.
Jim: All of the data and insights about fans that come from those digital platforms clearly provides teams and other sports organizations with tremendous direction on how to market to them, improve their experiences, etc. It also could be used to help corporate partners with their marketing and activation to fans. Do you see that happening more in terms of teams using their data to help sponsors achieve specific business objectives?
Steve: Absolutely. Starting with digital tickets, we now know exactly who is in the stadium on game day, even if a season ticket was sold by the account holder on the secondary market.
From a partnerships perspective, we can build our database to the point where we know if a certain portion of our fan base is shopping for a new vehicle, or a new bed. That’s powerful information for our partners Northland Ford or Sleep Number. We’re getting better at that each year. We are growing more sophisticated with our data analytics, including an in-house team of several people that did not exist just a few years ago.
We are able to group our fan base into fan personas based on their behaviors, such as do they attend home games, do they consume content via email versus the app, do they spend time reading stories on Vikings.com. We can customize and target messaging to those groups based on those behaviors, which increases engagement with the content.
Jim: You were involved with the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium four years ago. Since then, new NFL stadiums in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Los Angeles have opened. All of those buildings, not to mention other venues in other sports, have added innovations and technology that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. From a competitive perspective, what type of impact does this “arms race” to build bigger and better sports venues have on the sales and marketing efforts for other, older stadiums both in-market and across the country?
Steve: In our case, the fan experience was at the forefront of every decision we made in terms of the design, amenities and technology at U.S. Bank Stadium. Connectivity has to be there so that people can use their phones and especially for them to be able to generate and share content on social platforms.
But you also want to pay attention to the other parts of the fan experience. For the Vikings, our fans know to be in their seats 15 minutes before kick-off to enjoy our pre-game rituals, including the Skol Chant and the Gjallarhorn.
Jim: At the Vikings, part of the strategic plan was empowering every employee to think about how they can contribute to on-field success. I think that’s a very interesting leadership and cultural position for a professional sports organization and I’d love to hear more about how that was manifested.
Steve: On-field success is our number one priority, so how can we motivate and engage our entire staff to think about what they can do to contribute to that?
Certainly parts of the organization are much more involved with the players and for others it’s a bit more of a reach, but we want everyone thinking, “How can I impact success?” For example, our game presentation group can impact fan behavior, which can impact the sound level, which could lead to an offsides penalty against the opposing team, which could be the difference in the game.