The Funnel Needed to Guide Sports Executives’ Retention Strategy

Retention Funnel


Sep 13, 2020


The Retention Funnel


The acquisition funnel is essential to sports organizations looking to grow their fanbase, but the value of those fans increases dramatically when the retention funnel is optimized. As mentioned in part 1 of our Bowtie Funnel blog series, 70% to 95% of the lifetime value comes after the point of the sale, making the retention part of the funnel incredibly important.

The retention, or backend, stages of the bowtie funnel focus on winning back those single game buyers that you worked so hard to acquire. Winning-back these single game buyers is a huge opportunity as sports organizations routinely lose 75-90% of single-game buyers every season. Retaining fans can also contribute to additional revenue that comes from a number of additional sources in both cross-sell (ex. concessions, merchandise, concerts, etc.) and upsell categories (ex. upgraded seat locations, number of games, add-on seats, etc.).

To start, taking what you’ve learned about your fans (their behaviors and preferences) in the acquisition funnel should continue to be put into action in the retention funnel. However, before making changes to your retention strategy it’s important to benchmark your existing efforts and year-over-year churn rate. To do this assessment, some organizations analyze engagement scores on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Other organizations utilize a customer data platform to automate the process. Built-in customer journey mapping and predictive scoring capabilities to identify engagement levels allow organizations to see how likely fans are to return and why at each stage of the backend of the bowtie funnel.


WIN-BACK your new fans

The cost to acquire a new customer is much higher than re-engaging those who have already been to your venue. These fans have already shown an interest in the game day experience, and recently interacted with your organization. Your goal is to bring these fans back to another game – either this season or next – and begin to transition them into becoming multi-game buyers.

The first step is to start that nurturing process immediately after these fans have attended a game. We stress segmented post-game emails, sent within 72-hours of the event, as a great first step. Not only does segmentation allow you to tailor your message (your message to a first-time attendee versus a season ticket holder should be different) but fans who receive a post-game message are 30% more likely to repurchase a ticket later. As mentioned previously, the information and insights gained during the journey through the acquisition funnel should be used to personalize messages and relevant offers.

As you continue to learn about various segments of your fans in this stage of the retention funnel, you should also continue to test messaging and start to gauge product fit. After someone attends their first game, repeat visits to your team’s website or clicks on emails related to ticket offers can be great indicators, especially together, that someone  is interested in attending another game.


Build LOYALTY into the fan experience

You’ve successfully brought a fan back to another game – congrats! Now your goal is to educate and nurture them to the point where they don’t need as many marketing touches in order to stay engaged. The key to maintaining or increasing their engagement is to make sure your brand value aligns with their expectations. At the loyalty stage, fans start to purchase on their own, not because you put an offer in front of them. These fans seek out the products and packages that interest them and purchase on their own timeline. Their interactions with your organization become almost a habit.

Tools that measure loyalty, like surveys, can provide insights into the perceived value a fan places on their experience and can be a good indicator of a fan’s engagement level. It can also flag if there’s an issue and provide an opportunity to investigate the problem.

A good retention strategy doesn’t just apply to single or multi-game buyers, it can also be tailored to mini-plans, partial-season and full-season purchasers, as well as the various segments within those designations. In order to help understand engagement and loyalty of package buyers at scale, automated retention scoring is a great solution (StellarAlgo’s CDP does this really well). Teams that are able to track and then action on the insights that retention scores offer often have a tendency to see more engaged and loyal package buyers over time.

Without these pulse checks, it’s impossible to gauge whether someone is moving back to the win-back stage and requires more targeted marketing efforts.


Find and nurture your ADVOCATES/ SUPER FANS

Not all loyal fans become advocates, but advocates are an incredibly powerful group. Advocates are the fans that voice their support, excitement, and dedication for the team both online but also offline. They’re bringing your team up in conversations and telling friends and family that they “just HAVE to come to a game” or commenting on and sharing team news online. This is the ultimate fandom.

Identifying these super fans online can be done by engaging in social listening – either anecdotally or with social listening tools. By monitoring what people are saying about your team and the fan experience on social media channels, the true advocates will stand out. These people should be considered part of the team and treated accordingly.

Once you’ve identified your advocates, let them know you value them. When they are part of your social media conversations, keep them talking. Do the same for other public digital channels and you’ll see not only an increase in the engagement of your advocates but a growing loyalty in the rest of your fanbase as well.

Keep your advocates feeling valued by offering them exclusive opportunities that give them an insiders type of feeling.  Advocates also help fill the front end of the bowtie funnel as they share their positive experiences. They are highly invested in your team’s story and create the kind of awareness that can’t be gained with marketing alone.

Ultimately, your curiosity and commitment to learning about your fans never stops. Your tactics just change depending on how aware, engaged, and loyal your fans are.

As organizations begin to incorporate both sides of the bowtie funnel, various tools, such as a customer data platform, can support these efforts by automating the analysis of fan interactions. Identifying when and how behaviors are changing is important to identifying which stage of the bowtie funnel each fan exists and where there may be unnecessary friction in your current strategies. Armed with the knowledge that customer retention is vital to the health of a sports organization and produces measurable benefits, reach out to find out how a CDP can help!

More fans.

Better Engagement.

Stellar Results.

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