There may be no arguing with the success that some sports and entertainment properties are finding by using AI to generate qualified sales leads, but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely good thing.
Put another way, I would not suggest that teams such as the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Wild, along with entertainment giant Live Nation, should not be availing themselves of such technology, but as an industry we should be aware of the ramifications of outsourcing work once done by humans to machine-learning tools.
According to Sportico, those properties and dozens of others are working with tech startup Demand Sports to use AI to identify and arrange meetings with prospects that are likely to buy sponsorship, premium seating and season ticket packages. The reported results are impressive, to say the least:
- The Predators “created about $500,000 in realized sales with $750,000 to $1 million in the pipeline for the upcoming 2023-24 season.” The club estimates it has secured 400 meetings through Demand Sports in the past year.
- The Wild “closed revenue of more than $4 million in five months on sponsorship and premium ticketing”
- The Rams’ “return on investment with Demand is more than 1,000%”
- Live Nation “used Demand to secure a naming rights partner (Credit Union 1) for its amphitheater in Tinley Park, Ill., a deal worth about $1.1 million a year for seven years.”
Demand Sports’ tech appears to be solving for three significant pain points.
First, it searches and mines data at a speed no human can match and adds “machine learning, or finding statistically relevant connections between pieces of information, to this search process,” according to Sportico.
Second, it can more easily identify well-resources but obscure prospects outside the pool of usual suspects and well-known brands. That was a significant challenge that led the Preds to trial Demand Sports’ services. “I felt like there was this world passing us by, the team’s vice president of corporate partnerships Jack Burk told Sportico. “There are so many non-traditional brands coming into the sports space that I felt strongly we didn’t have enough coverage in terms of volume.”
Third, it is typically able to deduce the right contact person and their information more quickly than traditional methods.
While all of that leads to profitable revenue for Demand Sports’ clients, there are bigger-picture repercussions that are worth noting. Here are two:
- Researching and finding qualified leads, sourcing contact information and setting up meetings have long been key responsibilities for entry-level sales positions. Automating those roles eliminates opportunities for young professionals seeking to break into the industry. Without that type of educational on-the-job training, how will we develop the next generation of deal closers and team leaders?
- AI tech comes at a price, which not every rights holder will be able to afford. While not a barrier to pro sports teams and other major players, smaller, grassroots organizations may not be able to afford such services, creating an even wider gap between sponsorship’s haves and have nots and potentially threatening small properties ability to remain competitive in the competition for brands’ partnership dollars.
I don’t expect that recognizing those consequences will stop any rights holder that can from using these advanced tools. Each organization is responsible to their own stakeholders and it would be reckless to pass up an opportunity to improve the bottom line.
But as the collective industry, we must consider the above ramifications and plan for how we respond to the potential impact AI can, and likely will, have.