NFL making major gains in customer database

By Ben Fischer
A training camp event this year offers a chance for further data capture.getty images

Earlier this summer, NFL teams were told what the league wanted from them as they created the July 31 “Back Together Saturday,” a new tentpole event that aimed to build a “Midnight Madness” style training camp launch. The list included musical acts, legends appearances, celebrity influencers — and new data capture efforts.

It is the latest effort by the league to gather more information about its potential customers. It comes on the heels of adding 13 million names to its customer database in the last year despite a 93% decline in ticket sales during the pandemic, another sign of how sports gambling and the digitization of fandom are revolutionizing consumer marketing.

The central customer database now stands at 120 million names, which is about 67% of the 178 million Americans over the age of 12 who claim to follow the NFL, according to the SSRS/Luker on Trends Sports Poll.

The growth mostly came from promotions by business partners that call for fans to share their personal information with the league, such as EA Sports’ Madden game or free-to-play prediction games through broadcasters or sponsors like Rocket Mortgage. E-commerce through partners such as Fanatics also surged during the pandemic.

“Especially in a year where the ticketing wasn’t really there, we might have expected some softness, but we actually saw this tremendous growth that we anticipate will continue,” said Justin Friedman, NFL senior director of fan data and analytics.

More than half the league’s teams consistently sell 95% of their ticket inventory or more, but there were warning signs even before the pandemic, with total attendance hitting a 15-year low in 2019.

Experts believe the database is already pushing back against that trend, allowing club sales teams to make better pitches to existing customers and find new ones. Bobby Gallo, the NFL’s head of club business development, said the data points to a recovery in total attendance this year.

The diversity of customer information that sales teams are now able to access allows them to pinpoint people who have demonstrated an actual habit of gambling on football or buying products or tickets — not just people who fit the general description of those who might, said NFL Chief Strategy Officer Chris Halpin. The database is populated by more than 100 data feeds.

Recently, the NFL cross-referenced its database with a purchased business-to-business leads generation tool, and found 3 million NFL fans already known to the league who were viable targets for corporate group tickets or suite sales — half of them at the executive level or higher.

Officials said having more intelligent targeting also allows them to better communicate in non-sales contexts, including details on evolving attendance protocols. On average, teams have 2 million more fans they can market to than before the database.

Russell Scibetti, the New York Giants’ vice president of strategy and business intelligence, called the growth of the league database a “great accomplishment.”

“It’s not just the increased size of audience we can directly engage with,” Scibetti said, “but the depth of insights they provide on engagement rates, fan clusters and other modeling efforts that then allow us to be strategic about the messaging we deliver.”

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