With no preseason games due to the COVID outbreak, the 2020 NFL regular season is perhaps the most anticipated in its 100-year history. But for the NFL’s Minnesota VIkings, the 2020 offseason led to the creation of customer experiences that had just as much to do with community as catches, and just as much to do with social justice as scoring touchdowns.
“As we transitioned to the offseason and [COVID] set in, we were seeing how serious the issue was and how much it was going to impact the economy, then at the same time in April we had to worry about how to deal with fan outreach for the virtual NFL Draft,” said Genette Seske Amar, Manager of Engagement and Sales Analytics for the Vikings, who also led the strategy for the team’s first ever mobile app development. “Then we are located only three miles from where George Floyd lost his life and we knew we had to communicate with fans as a community, even though every fan does not want to be engaged at a community level.”
Creating a new fan DX
The death of George Floyd and the COVID outbreak were two unanticipated factors as the Vikings planned to establish an enhanced digital experience to deliver content-led engagement to its fans for the 2020 season and beyond.
“Most NFL teams only talk to fans when it is about the game,” said Vikings Director of Analytics Rich Wang. “But we like to think we have a different dynamic here because we are an international brand steeped in midwest culture, and with a heavy U.K. presence in our fan base. We knew we had to deliver something different with our digital experience.”
The Vikings selected omnichannel marketing cloud Selligent to leverage data to uncover fan insights, create new ways to interact with players, build community and camaraderie, while using relevant content to ensure memorable and purposeful touchpoints with the organization.
In the cause of enhanced engagement, Wang had led a research project over a four-year period to identify the personas of Vikings’ fans, coming up with six distinct fan personas to build outreach around:
- Generational fan that roots for the team as part of a a family legacy;
- Football lover who is engaged with the entire League;
- Intense ex-athlete who enjoys the competition of the sport;
- ‘Season Sid’ who is a season ticket holder and bases his summer, fall and winter social calendar around Vikings’ games;
- ‘Sidekick Sally’ who goes along for the ride to the games, enjoys the game experience, and also enjoys wearing Vikings apparel, especially unique and hard-to-find items; and
- Community/social fan who views the Vikings as an extension of the community first and foremost.
Marketing based on the personas has doubled the team’s conversion rate.
“We did a lot of research with predictive models and how to engage each fan persona,” said Wang. “Our emails have to look different now and really demonstrate that we care about our community. Simply asking for credit card information for transactions will not work.”
Providing a platform
The Vikings are using Selligent’s AI engine, Selligent Cortex, to deliver personalized content using their Smart Content platform. Personalization is based on fans’ activities across channels.
“Our goal is to provide tools and capabilities for simple integration,” said Troy Smith, North America general manager for Selligent. “We have been working with the Vikings for a while to help build this marketing automation platform.”
The platform tracks Site tracks fans as they engage with sites, sends data directly to the Vikings organization, and uses AI capabilities and real-time learning to create a more robust journey in multiple channels.
“It allows the Vikings to serve their fans in a real-time dynamic and offer further personalized content,” said Smith. “We have in-depth experience working in entertainment sectors as we deal with casino and gaming platforms. That experience has been key in building our relationship and resources with the Vikings.”
The Vikings’ built their relationship with the fans during the unprecedented offseason with virtual events for the NFL Draft in April and the release of the 2020 NFL regular season schedule in May. The events drew over 5,000 viewers and gave the team an opportunity to connect with its fans during turbulent times. It also allowed the team to build upon its omnichannel strategy.
“The NFL is giving us more leeway with content right now,” said Wang. “We now have a pregame show an hour before kickoff and have free games to play in our Vikings app.”
The increased offseason engagement with the virtual events, and custom emails to address Minnesota’s social justice issues, connected with fans from all six personas, leading to a 99% season ticket renewal rate while collecting payment from over 80% of fans. The recent reopening of the Vikings museum has allowed the team to begin the process of in-person experiences.
The team’s additional channels for retrieving fan data include social media, email responses, and responses to social and community outreach content.
“Having transactions-based communications was never our goal,” said Sekse Amar. “It is all about driving personalized content and engaging [the fans] with unique experiences.” Such experiences include personalized surveys, community outreach projects and opportunities, behind-the-scenes player updates, Social responsibility financial donation opportunities; and fun virtual experiences for young fans.
“We have seen great success from these interactions,” said Sekse Amar. “It really set the stage for our fans as they prepared for the regular season.”
Building a satisfying stadium DX
Long before COVID existed, the Vikings and their state-of-the-art stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium (opened in 2016), were committed to trying to provide the best onsite digital experience and reporting in the NFL.
The digital experience begins as soon as fans enter the stadium. Since the stadium’s 2016 opening, the Vikings implemented a digital ticketing system to track a ticket as it is resold, given away, or transferred to different individuals. This replaced the outdated PDF ticket method that was used at the old Metrodome, which had no way of tracking a ticket after being purchased. Now they can track each person who physically walks through the stadium.
“When we opened the new stadium we ripped off the bandaid and went straight to a digital system right away,” said Wang. “And the information we learned has been extremely valuable.”
The team only knew the real identities of about 20,000 people of its over 64,000 capacity at the old Metrodome. Now they know every person that enters the U.S. Bank Stadium, collecting well over one million profiles from attendees since the facility opened. They also now know that seven out of 10 season ticket holders do not attend the game themselves; eight out of 10 game attendees are at their first game at U.S. Bank Stadium; and on average fans attend two games per season.
“It has helped us elevate our game day experience,” said Wang. “Our game day presentation has to be top notch.”
That game-day experience includes embracing the cold Minneapolis winters and the fact that the stadium will not be at full capacity for the 2020 season. The Vikings have partnered with Sleep Number beds, Miller beer and U.S. Bank to create “homegating” experiences, and are sending homegating packages to season ticket holders. The Vikings are also creating hashtag campaigns for fans to share their homegating experiences.
“We have no choice but to embrace this season for what it is,” said Sekse Amar. “Our fans embrace the elements and we have to go out of our way to create a fan experience that is different and dynamic at the same time.”
A key part of the Vikings CX strategy is the continuous testing of messaging to see what resonates with their fans.
“We are already looking at what omnichannel marketing looks like for 2021,” said Sekse Amar. “We are looking at best ways to sell and market virtual events while maintaining consistency between a viewer experience and an in-person experience.”
The team is also reviewing tactics such as what pay-per-click advertising may look like in 2021 as well as non-traditional digital advertising methods that could connect with a fan base that should be mostly at home during the winter months because of COVID and cold weather.
“Everything is a blank canvas right now,” said Seke Amar. “Some of our fans feel like they are helping us on the field when they are at a game, so it is up to us to maintain that enthusiasm by using all of our digital resources.”
This story first appeared on MarTech Today.