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Survey Says: How to Accurately Survey Your Fans to Collect Information That Sposors Need to Know

Dan Migala's picture

The difference between a successful sponsorship presentation and a failed pitch or correctly approaching a new fan development opportunity can sometimes be attributed to not having the right data to making an educated decision.

These are just a few of the reasons that a growing number of team sponsorship and marketing executives are putting an increased emphasis on research that not only allows them to increase their potential to secure new sponsorship dollars but to make more educated marketing decisions.

The aim of this Report is to outline how teams are approaching and using fan research to grow their business objectives.

Establish a vision

At the core of the Baltimore Ravens multi-year business growth strategy is a commitment to building new lifestyle brands and content.

While the team is aggressively pursuing these new fan interaction and sponsorship opportunities, the level of risk is greatly reduced thanks to the team’s dedication to have a better understanding of their fans and how fans ultimately relate to the current and prospective experiences offered by the organization.

Through research and an understanding of what knowledge the team and sponsors need and want to know, the Ravens are able to increase the predictability of their own and sponsors potential for success.

“There’s so many staples of our business that we have created that wouldn’t have been successful without knowing in advance what our fans wanted,” said Dennis Mannion, Senior Vice President of Business Ventures for the Ravens. “To do this, you need vision and discipline on the front end because it greatly pays dividends on the back end.”

For the Ravens, the process to reducing risk and understanding fans’ needs begins with two key initiatives.

First, the team creates a strategy to access and collect the desired information. Secondly, they create a plan in advance on how they plan to use the information.

Included among the first step is to work with appropriate internal and external executives to make sure the proper questions are asked and to the right people.

For example, a survey of fans participating in the team’s special events asked fans to answer both traditional statistically focused questions as well as answer topics that are more personality driven.

The statistical questions that gauge percentage of fan interests in a given topic or event are designed for internal measurements of success.

However, personality driven questions are established largely from feedback from sponsors looking to get a better idea of what programs are reaching the fans.

“These types of questions help give an idea of what colors to paint the picture and get down to the hard to answer ‘why’ part of the decision-making process for a fan,” Mannion said.

For example, a statistical question might ask if a fan likes the music being played during the games. A personality question would ask what type of music a fan would like to be played.

“It’s so important that all of our research, down to each question, has an actionable goal attached to it,” Mannion said. “The biggest challenge after synchronizing the data is getting people to use the data and you have to think about that before jumping in because if you don’t the information will not be as valuable to your team or your sponsors.”

The data, Mannion says, relates to something he labels as the team’s “passion quotient” or the “heartbeat of the franchise.”

“In sports, when things are going well, it is really easy to start patting yourself on the back but even if you are sold out, there are other opportunities to go after,” Mannion said. “It’s no different than game film. If you are passionate about winning on the field, you study game film. If you are passionate about maximizing opportunities off the field, you continue to have research and focus groups shape your vision.”

Act One

While the Ravens have made fan research a staple of its marketing strategy over many years, the Chicago Bears have only begun this off-season to survey their fans.

The desire to actively survey fans is there for a lot of clubs but the catalyst for the Bears was the opening of a newly renovated stadium last season.

The Bears scheduled four hour-long sessions of eight people earlier this Spring comprised of season ticket holders and other avid Bears fans collected from online and event lists. The team invited 12 people for each session the first eight that showed up were allowed to participate. All invitees were paid an undisclosed amount for their time.

Much like the Ravens, the sessions focused on asking questions the team could act on immediately. The focus of the queries was why a fan felt something was considered good and what could be done to make to make it better and not just a simple percentage of opinions.

“The challenge, we realized, is to be prepared to probe deeper below the surface answers,” said Scott Hagel, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for the Bears. “You have to avoid the temptation to ask about certain areas you already knew were problems and try to find other areas that are not as immediately recognizable. Part of doing this is knowing what you are looking to accomplish and the knowledge you are expecting to gain.”

Hagel said the team is in the process of analyzing data to make immediate and long-term analysis to improve the overall fan experience and business opportunities. He confirmed that the team is more than satisfied with the process and will make it a necessary component to future seasons’ initiatives.

Timing is everything

There are many variables that contribute to a successful fan survey.

Just ask the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins who found out the hard way.

The Griffins scheduled a series of focus groups in August to learn more about the fans feelings towards its sponsors and the programs they are support.

Surprisingly, a large number of registered participants did not show up as planned and the team actually cancelled the event.

“We realized that you have to do your survey during the season when the team is top-of-mind,” said Lance Hartman, Director of Corporate Sales of the Griffins. “Our fans wanted to do this and our sponsors wanted it as well but the timing was just off.”

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This story was originally published on Sep 1, 2004.

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