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Data Maturation: Building a Connected Fan Platform Strategy for Sports

Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed one of the great evolutions in sport: teams, leagues, and federations have largely succeeded in developing data infrastructures that capture complex on-field data and have built delivery systems that pipe that data to digital platforms, sportsbooks, media, and fans.  It has truly revolutionized everything from how teams use data to make on-field decisions to how broadcasters narrativize games to how sportsbooks determine live betting lines to how fans now follow their favorite teams, athletes, and sports.  

While this achievement cannot be understated in its impacts, sports organizations have not taken a similar approach in evolving commercially impactful off-the-field data infrastructures.  It is rare to find organizations who have fully unified all the databases their fans intersect with, both inside and outside of the stadium.  As a result, these data-rich platforms measuring fan engagement are ineffectively existing in complete isolation from one another.  While a team, league, or federation may be collecting data to identify every ticket buyer in-attendance at games, they may be separately collecting merchandise vendor transaction data and failing to connect it back to the original ticket buyer information.  

We must acknowledge that there are many challenges to unifying data sources through a connected fan platform.  Simple put: data maturity is a continuous journey.  Even the most digitally sophisticated organizations, like the MLB, cannot avoid the many incremental steps needed to unifying data sources to a point where fans can feel the impact of that evolution.  

What we currently see with the MLB didn’t happen overnight, a daunting reality for those now just beginning to chart a future of complete data interconnectivity.  The MLB Ballpark app, which serves all 30 franchises, enables at a league-level to track game attending behaviors of every fan.  No longer does that data remain siloed to each club and their ticketing platform vendor: the MLB has established an infrastructure that enables them to track every fan’s attendance whether they are at Camden Yards watching their hometown team, or at Dodger Stadium while visiting Los Angeles.  The reward: more comprehensive profiles of fans that unlock new audience insights.  These insights can be further leveraged to personalize the relationship between said fan and the team(s) or league. 

Taking steps to bridge connections between data sources provides a single source of truth around fan engagement.  A fully connected fan platform will enable organizations to develop a robust understanding of its audience, extract insights that inform future strategies, and deliver exciting, premier fan experiences.  Fans can now be seen as the individuals they are, each with a unique history with the teams and leagues they follow.  

At Infront X, we have worked with our clients to develop data maturation strategies that guide them on a path toward holistic fan data profiles across all fan touchpoints.  As a result those organizations are now better equipped to understand the collective habits of their audience cohorts across all fan touchpoints (digital and non-digital), while using automated solutions to facilitate more memorable 1:1 interactions with millions of individual fans.   Every organization will have their own journey to take toward building a connected fan platform.  This reflected in the programs we've structured, which enable sports entities to redesign their data infrastructures, capture more commercially impactful fan data, and utilize those insights toward deepening fan affinity. 

Below are specific milestones key to beginning this pursuit:  


Platform Vision and Mandates

Early on a vision statement to strive toward should be established, before evolving datasets and the backend systems that manage their capture and deployment.  Defining “Platform Mandates” will solidify the main purposes of a future connected fan platform, such as generating revenue, delivering personalized experiences for fans, or improving operational efficiency.   

Database Audit

Sports are uniquely impacted by often needing a range of disparate databases, which capture different sets of data in often unconnected contexts.  An average team is probably collecting valuable fan data through its website, mobile app, various social media channels, ticketing platform, on-site and online merchandise partners, food & beverage systems in the venue, location SDKs, crowd control monitoring systems, OTT video platforms, and more.  Each of those resources is likely capturing additional sets of data with their own data dictionaries attached.  

A database audit should include a review of all data sources, an identification of gap areas (data source, data completeness and data quality), as well as a total infrastructure assessment.  Understanding the different data sources fans intersect with and how that data is structured and repurposed is a paramount step in uniting those into a holistic connected fan platform.    

Stakeholder Interviews

We believe tapping into a team or league’s institutional expertise and their desired outcomes is crucial.  Stakeholder interviews should be conducted to understand how data is currently being collected and leveraged across departments, and to identify anticipated needs, priorities, and concerns of internal business stakeholders, customers, and key partners.  Interviews can be conducted in both one-on-one and group sessions, but they should extend to a range of disciplines.  Digital media and content, analytics, ticketing, customer service, partnerships, marketing, technology and merchandising and licensing teams and fans themselves should all be potentially engaged for these sessions.  

Strategic Data Roadmap

Now that we have conducted audited data sources, stakeholder interviews and fan research, we can begin determining the connected fan data platform’s high level architecture, and roadmap.  Often we categorize this maturation as having three states, each with specific milestones of functionality.  They are “Data-Aware”, “Data-Proficient” and “Data-Sophisticated.”  For example, an organization might want to spend the first year just to become “Data-Aware” or having a foundational data infrastructure to collect and connect data for just onsite fans.  

Access to Organization

Ultimately as data sources become more interconnected, there needs to be an internal push to make that data accessible throughout the organization.  Data, if left to its own collection, can become siloed to individuals and limit its potential to increase revenue and provide valuable customer insights.  Data is only as usable as it is shareable and accessible, something we’ve discussed in our previously published series on “Enabling Product Strategy with Real Time Analytics.”  


To learn more about designing your organization’s data infrastructure to build a connected fan platform, feel free to reach out through our contact form.