How the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team is engaging fans at away games and personalising the experience

Date: 31-Jan-2024
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is widely regarded as one of the top five sporting leagues in the world. The organisation has achieved this ranking largely because of its appetite to embrace and experiment with innovative technologies. On a recent trip to the USA, Cam Vale, the General Manager of the Australian Sports Technologies Network, visited an old friend - Dennis O’Connor, VP sales and service at NBA team, The Memphis Grizzlies.
How the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team is engaging fans at away games and personalising the experience

Cam recently spoke with Dennis about the brand’s impressive commercial improvements, in particular its innovations to fan engagement and sales functions, and his views on the role sportstech has played in propelling the team’s growth. Dennis also shed light on some of the opportunities the Grizzlies are chasing into the future to ensure the team stays at the top the game.

Fan engagement from home to your seat

For more than 22 years, Dennis O’Connor has overseen the ticketing and sales service functions of the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the smaller market NBA teams, that compete against the big franchises, such as the LA Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, both on and off the court.

Sports technology has dramatically changed the fan experience in recent years, with new technologies across everything from ticketing, venue arrival and in-game experiences. One of the challenges The Grizzlies have faced is how to digitally transform while ensuring the transition is as seamless as possible for the fan. This has been achieved predominantly through leveraging a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and integrating major technology partners such as Salesforce and KORE Wireless to establish a comprehensive 360-degree view of the team’s customers.

“Our well-equipped CRM system has been critical to determine an accurate customer profile. In the last decade, we’ve significantly invested in our CRM and related systems, leveraging the technology to collect more data, analyse trends and uncover key interests of our fan base. This has enabled us to personalise the experience for every fan to increase engagement,” said Dennis O’Connor, VP sales and service at NBA team The Memphis Grizzlies.

Fortress pulls data from Ticketmaster (ticketing) and Fanatics (merchandise) and tracks the fan journey from attendance at particular games and non-game events, to purchasing specific merchandise and redemption of giveaways. Once this data is inputted into the integrated CRM is spits out a view of that customer and allows for bespoke re-targeted direct sales opportunities that take into consideration intricacies like the person’s arrival time, favourite players or other events of interest.

“Technology integration is critical. It has taken time and we have had a few missteps but rolling out technology that has the capability to interact with other platforms and applications, rather than have silos of separate information, has significantly contributed to our success,” said O’Conner.

Sales technology: The ticket to success

Sales from tickets and associated areas around tickets accounts for 60-65% of the revenue across the business model. In Australia, club commercial goals can largely be achieved from team uniform sponsorships, whereas the NBA has a significant reliance on revenue attained through tickets and corporate hospitality sales.

“Fan engagement technology also allows information to be collected beyond the primary ticket holder. Through group sales or via the strong resell market, a ticket may change hands three times before it falls into the hands of the actual person attending. We can now track that journey and identify potential new sales and customers,” said O’Connor.

The Grizzlies’ adoption of sports technology has fuelled job growth, with the establishment of a new team – the Business Intelligence (BI) department – comprising around 20 staff that have been employed to enable better efficiency and effectiveness. The BI team works closely with finance, marketing, sales and the in-house media team across digital and social media.

“We deal with countless data points so figuring out how to simplify, analyse and sort through the information to make it easier for our staff has been a key focus. We’ve invested in growing our business intelligence capabilities, embedding the right experts and solutions that will enable us to understand, interpret and leverage the insights the data provides.”

Technology growth predictions

Staying abreast of technology trends and future growth areas is an ongoing focus for an established major sporting team like the Memphis Grizzlies and incremental improvements are always front of mind.

“AI is clearly on the horizon. The Grizzlies currently leverage Artificial Intelligence for customer service frequently asked questions through the App and website to assist fans quickly and save staff time. But we have a close eye on emerging AI direct sales technologies which some NBA teams are already exploring. For a smaller team like the Grizzlies, we want to ensure we hold on to the personal touch, so any AI adoptions that help improve sales outcomes will be very carefully considered.”

Enhancing the venue experience

The Grizzlies home venue is the FedExForum multi-purpose area that the city owns but the Grizzlies manage all year. The Grizzlies plan to prioritise investment in its venue and facilities next, to drive fan engagement into the future.

“We control our venue FedExForum for 365 days a year and we are exploring opportunities to upgrade the food and beverage facilities utilising technology to optimise how fans can pay for food and how it’s delivered. We have a packed event calendar with the venue utlilised for a range of acts including music, comedy and other sporting codes. Whether it is Chris Rock or the College basketball team, the audience is primarily from the Memphis region, so we can tap into the data from these non-Grizzlies events to uncover more sales opportunities and to understand our potential fans better.”

Reaching fans on the couch

The brand is looking at ways it can use technology to better connect to fans watching the 41 Grizzlies’ away games in a six-month period. Broadcasting rights make it complicated to engage an away fan as viewing data goes through a centralised platform, but the impact of adding value or increasing revenue off away games is a significant opportunity that technology help grasp.

“Our fans are so engaged at home games, and whilst an away game means they’re not in our venue, it doesn’t reduce their importance to us and our partners. We need to find a way to improve this engagement with them and believe technology is the way to bridge this gap and add additional value to our away fans, not eliminate it, but make it smaller. It’s important that we can consistently show how much we value a fan that is still giving up time to watch the Grizzlies whether from home, a bar or wherever they choose to tune in.”

Australian sportstech startup engaging fans outside the stadium

The Grizzlies’ challenge is not unique, and on home soil the Melbourne Renegades, an T20 cricket team in the men’s and women’s Big Bash League, recently set out to also connect its fans outside of matchdays and in the off-season to build.

Through a “Pitch to the Renegades” Open Innovation Pathways pilot program facilitated by the Australian Sports Technologies Network, the team selected Playspark (formerly Sparkup Studios)for its SportzFan solution. The platform supports sports organisations to drive better year-round engagement and commercial outcomes and provide fans with an enriched experience that rewards them for their attention through innovative gamified technology.

Sports across the globe are without a doubt being transformed by new technologies. The fan, athlete and club experiences are continually being reshaped and the Grizzlies are in a good position to score a three pointer. With the global sportstech industry expected to grow by 13.8% per annum to US$41.8+ billion by 2027 there’s plenty of opportunity for the taking.

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Dennis O’Connor, VP sales and service at NBA team, The Memphis Grizzlies