My family and I more than welcomed the return of professional basketball during the long summer months of 2020. While my beloved Seattle Supersonics are, sadly, no longer around (and rooting for their new incarnation as The Oklahoma City Thunder won’t be an option), a recent conversation with Matthew Jafarian, EVP of Business Strategy at the Miami HEAT and American Airlines Arena taught me about the HEAT’s impressive digital journey and made an avid fan out of me.
The need for digital transformation
From the founding of The National Basketball Association in 1949 up through recent years, most of the teams were family-owned operations that knew few specific details about their fan base.
That’s all changed. The median value of an NBA team has tripled over the last decade, and teams like the Miami HEAT have undergone deep digital transformations to overhaul the way they relate to their customers, maximize sales, and optimize the fan experience.
Jafarian’s business strategy team is a start-up-like group of 30 data-driven marketers that play a major tactical role within the wider HEAT organization. But it wasn’t always that way. He says that things really started to change a little over five years ago, when the President of Business Operations expressed that he was tired of asking simple questions like, “How many season tickets have we sold?” and not getting a simple answer.
“He used to wait several hours just to get three different answers depending on whether he was talking to Sales, Finance, or the Box Office. He set out to find a fix for this, but there wasn’t anything on the market,” said Jafarian.
In 2016, The HEAT set out to build exactly what they needed using Azure’s fully-integrated cloud computing network. Whereas most platforms require consulting services for integration, Microsoft’s solutions are self-service and can be up and running from proof of concept in hours.
Optimize brand engagement with Azure
The HEAT now use Azure data services for end-to-end data management which enables them to connect disparate sources of internal and external data to build a unified brand engagement for customers, partners, and employees. Combined with AI and machine learning for predicative analytics, these insights allow the HEAT to estimate how many people will be in the arena for any given game down to the seat level.
Within that ecosystem, the HEAT have analytics that talk to Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power BI, and Microsoft Power Apps, which all pull from the same data warehouse. This helps the team to gather data from multiple sources and make it available to the business in one place—improving their marketing agility, customer service, and ticket sales in one fell swoop.
In my discussion with Jafarian, he shared, “When I joined the HEAT and American Airlines, we had a ticketed building, so I thought we should know who’s walking in the door, right? Well, we didn’t. That’s because we used to use paper and PDF tickets, which were largely anonymous. I could take that ticket bar code and give it to my friend, my family, my customer—and that person is a fan who comes to the game, but we didn’t know who they were.”
In order to mitigate the bar code issue, the team became one of the first in sports to switch to all-digital tickets that are tied to the identity of a fan. Using digital tickets through their Miami HEAT app, the team gains an impressive amount of data about each fan and can even track if a ticket has been transferred to a different recipient after being sold on the secondary market.
Streamline customer insights with Dynamics 365
By using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, a customer data platform, Jafarian’s team has a deep understanding of their fans in a 360-degree view with every touchpoint. Combining data sources like external ticketing, food and beverage systems, point of sales, and e-commerce in one place provides the insight on what concessions fans visit or what jersey size they buy. Using this unified data to send contextually-relevant messaging throughout the fan’s clear, cyclical client journey yielded more new customers and more loyal customers. For instance, a few seasons back, they were able to send targeted push notifications to season ticket holders who were attending a game but had not yet renewed their season tickets. The notification was so relevant, over 90 percent responded.
With Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales, the HEAT can manage all fan-related information including engagement and purchase histories. In addition, each profile is scored with predictive machine learning to determine the likelihood of future purchases. This helps the sales team identify top sales prospects and personalize offers, increasing win rates.
This data-driven end-to-end experience not only allows the HEAT to market to a very specific targeted audience, but it helps their customer service team, working in Microsoft Dynamics 365, to know more about their fans and offer truly memorable customer service. This helps the HEAT retain existing fans, strengthen ongoing relationships, and add new fans who love the team. While Jafarian has no control over the team’s winning, the HEAT are exceeding fan expectations on many fronts.
Deliver proactive and relevant fan experiences
There are several different ways to measure success in sports. Winning championships is, of course, the first benchmark everyone thinks about, but a team must also offer broader fan satisfaction and perform well as a business. Nearly every department within the organization and the arena uses Power BI to access the metrics that are important to their operations. With real-time information about ticket sales and advanced business intelligence, the HEAT can make on-the-fly decisions to improve flow and reassign resources to manage ingress.
We at Microsoft are honored to play our part by helping teams leverage customer data and deliver proactive experiences that are relevant and natural and, in turn, improve the fan experience. After all, we’re fans ourselves. Learn more by watching the conversation with Jafarian.
Now, back to the playoffs. Go HEAT!