Off Topic: Who Are NFL Fans?

Today is the first Sunday of the 2016 NFL season. (Go Pats!)

So I tapped into our Q1 2016 benchmark of U.S, consumers to look at the make-up of NFL fans, examining the consumers who say they like watching the NFL (and other pro sports) on TV. As you can see in the chart below:

  • NFL is the king of U.S. pro sports. The appeal for football is more than 20-points higher than baseball and basketball.
  • Older males love the NFL. Males of every age like to watch football more than their female peers, and the level of interest increases with every increase of age. For females, 45 to 54 is the prime time for NFL interest.
  • Gender gap jumps at 35. For consumers who are 35 and older, the gap between male and female NFL fans is more than 20 points.
  • More income means more NFL. Consumers who earn $100K or more are considerably more active fans of the NFL on TV than are those who earn less.
  • Sheraton’s customers are NFL fans. We examined the customer bases of 318 companies across 20 industries. The level of NFL fandom ranges from a high of 74% of Sheraton’s customers down to 48% of Empire BCBS’ customers.

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Off Topic: Young Adults Turn Off Baseball, Turn On Soccer

One of the things I noticed at this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is that teams were not as focused on the issue of losing younger fans. So I decided to see if there’s anything to worry about. While we don’t have data on kids, we do have lots of data on young adults.

I tapped into our 2012 and 2016 consumer benchmark studies to examine the percentage of of 18- to 24-year-olds who enjoy watching sports on TV. It turns out that:

  • The top 3 major league sports across all U.S. adults this year is football/NFL (56%), baseball/MLB (35%), and basketball/NBA (33%). For young adults, the top three are the NFL (46%), the NBA (38%), and soccer/MLS (23%).
  • Over the past four years, young adults have lost some interest in five of the eight sports we examine.
  • MLB has dropped the most (down 3.4 %-points) followed by NASCAR (down 2.6 %-points).
  • MLS has increased the most (up 7.1 points) followed by the NBA (up 2.5 points).

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14 Highlights From the 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

This week, I made my 5th annual pilgrimage to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As always, I really enjoyed hearing players, owners, general managers, members of the press, and experts discuss two of my favorite topics: #sports and #analytics.

This was the 10th year of the conference. I want to say congratulations and thank you to the two co-founders and leaders of this great event:

  • Jessica Gelman (VP of Customer Marketing & Strategy, The Kraft Sports Group)
  • Daryl Morey (General Manager, Houston Rockets)

Moneyball Reunion

The conference opened up with a session called Moneyball Reunion, looking back at the book that fueled the sports analytics movement. Jackie MacMullen led a panel with Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball), Bill James (godfather of sports analytics), and Paul DePodesta (key player it the Moneyball story and now Chief Strategy Office of Cleveland Browns). Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the Moneyball movie:

Interesting comments from Michael Lewis:

  • He started out researching an article on financial inequities in baseball, wondering what the Oakland Athletics’ right fielder (who made $100K/year) felt about the fact that the right fielder was making $4M/year.
  • Bill James referred to a picture of the baseball diamond that was on his wall as a “field of ignorance.”
  • “Billy Beane had to learn not to trust his intuitive judgement.”
  • When he looked at the Oakland Athletics coming out of the shower for the first time, he was shocked at how fat and un-athletic they looked. He went on to say that the trick was to “find people with some defect that was overvalued.”

Interesting comments from Bill James:

  • I was just trying to get from a question to an answer. I never thought of the use of the data by baseball professionals.”
  • There was a lot of discussion about what people can’t do, which is irrelevant. What’s important is what people can do…. You win games with what people can do.”
  • When MacMullen asked how to speed up the game of baseball today, James said to get rid of the balk rule. He said the balk rule slows down the game the same that basketball would be slowed down if the fast break was eliminated.

14 Key Highlights From the Conference

Here are some other key themes that I heard during the conference. They don’t represent a full view of the event, because I only attended a subset of the sessions.

Read More …

Off Topic: Sheraton, Mercedes & GM Customers Will Watch The Super Bowl

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. While my Patriots aren’t playing, I’m still planning to watch the game, as will many, many more people. I tapped onto our research of 10,000 U.S. consumers to look at the popularity of the NFL.

Football is clearly America’s primary sport. Nearly 56% of the US populations likes to watch professional football, dwarfing the next sport on the list, baseball (35%). Over the last year, however, the NFL has lost a bit of its popularity, dropping almost 2 %-points. The only sports to increase their fan bases over the previous year were hockey and soccer, and they were both very small gains.

Sportsfans

One of the exciting parts of the Super Bowl Sunday is the television ads. It made me wonder about which companies would get the most value from buying those expensive commercial spots. So I looked at the degree to which different companies’ customer bases are NFL fans. My analysis spanned 318 companies across 20 industries, and the range of NFL fandom went from 48% to 74%.

At the top of the list are Sheraton (74%), Mercedes-Benz (72%), GM (70%), Hertz (69%), Alabama Power Company (69%), Quiznos (69%), Travelers (69%), and Merrill Lynch (69%).

At the bottom of the list are Empire BCBS (48%), DTE Gas Company (50%), Cablevision Optimum (51%), Subaru (51%), Cablevision (52%), Orange Julius (52%), Consolidated Edison of NY (52%), Southern California Gas (52%).

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Download the entire list of 318 companies 

Off-Topic: NFL Is King of Pro Sports

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I am an avid fan of our New England sports teams: Go Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins! So I periodically take a break from customer experience and write something about sports. With the start of the NFL season, I thought I’d examine who likes to watch pro football.

As part of Temkin Group’s consumer benchmark study in January, we asked 10,000 U.S. consumers about the professional sports they enjoy watching. As you can see below, NFL is BY FAR the most popular sport, especially with older males. Here are some specific observations of the data:

  • 57% of consumers like to watch football, outpacing the next highest sport (baseball) by 20 percentage points. Basketball is a close 3rd, and then it falls off after that.
  • Men of all ages like to watch football more than their female peers.
  • Football popularity with men increases with age, going from 55% for the youngest adults to 80% for the oldest.
  • Football popularity with women peaks between 25- and 44-year-olds, and drops to 39% for the oldest women.
  • The football gender gap is largest with consumers who are 75 and older (41 %-points) and lowest with 18- to 34-year olds (12 %-points).

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The bottom line: A lot of older woman are being left alone on Sundays

Off-Topic: Yes MLB, You Have an Old Age Issue

As a diehard Red Sox fan, I love the opening week of baseball. That’s why I decided to dig into our consumer benchmark data, which includes information about sports preferences.

I took a look at the difference in MLB fans across genderations (a term I use for the mix of gender and age). No surprise, men like baseball a lot more than women across every age group.

Baseball knows it has an age issue (see my notes on a session I attended with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred), and it certainly does. Its strongest base of fans is with older consumers. There’s a very noticeable drop in fans who are younger than 55 years old and then it drops off a great deal for anyone younger than 35 years old.

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I also examined which companies have the most and least MLB fans in their customer bases. While this data is probably valuable for firms thinking about investing in commercials and sponsorships with MLB teams, I didn’t do it for them. I just did it for fun.

I analyzed the customer bases of 328 companies (the ones for which I had at least 100 consumer data points) to find the percentage that said they enjoy watching professional baseball. As you can see below, the range of MLB fans goes from a high of 66% for AirTran Airways and ACE Rent A Car to 33% for Medicaid.

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11 Highlights From the 2015 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

This week, I attended the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Once again, I really enjoyed hearing players, owners, general managers, members of the press, and experts discuss two of my favorite topics: #sports and #analytics. Here are 11 highlights from the sessions that I attended:

1) The Van Gundy family is entertaining. My highlights from last year’s conference included several memorable quotes from Stan Van Gundy (Coach of the Detroit Pistons). While Stan didn’t speak at the conference this year, his brother Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN Analyst and Former NBA Coach) who said that his brother “Stan has steel balls” filled the void with his very outspoken approach. One of the funniest moments was Van Gundy’s rant about how to coach a 4th grade girls basketball team [in response to something that I heard Vivek Ranadivé (Majority Owner, Sacramento Kings) say last year]. He pretty much said that the trick is to get two of the lower performing girls not to show up so that you can have your two best girls play for most of the game.

2) Shane Battier was basketball analytics’ ground zero. Let me start by saying how impressed I was with Shane Battier (College Basketball Analyst, ESPN; Retired NBA Player). Not only was he styling some sharp green pants (see below), but he was incredibly smart and articulate. Daryl Morey (GM of the Houston Rockets), who traded for Battier, said the trade was the first one based on analytics and he got killed in the press for it. While Battier didn’t have great numbers, Morey could tell that his game was a strong complement to the Rockets’ key players, Yao Ming and Tracey McGrady. Michael Lewis, who wrote a great exposé on Battier in the New York Time called The No-Stats All-Star), described Battier as a “lab rat who understood the experiment.” Battier refined his game to focus on the places where the analytics said he added the most value to his team, defending opponents’ best player and shooting 3 point shots. Read More …

Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Creates Fan-Centric Culture

I recently had the opportunity to hear Derrick Hall, CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, speak at the Arizona State University, Center for Services Leadership (CSL) Compete Through Service Symposium. Hall was extremely passionate about customer experience. His goal: “Treat our fans, employees, and players better than any team in sports.”

Hall’s perspective as a senior executive was so refreshing that I scheduled a follow-up interview. The call started with some baseball talk (I confessed to being a passionate member of Red Sox Nation) and included a brief interruption by Tony La Russa, the Diamondbacks’ Chief Baseball Officer. Needless to say, I really enjoyed the conversation.

CircleOfSuccessDiamondbacksHall joined the D-backs in May 2005 as Senior Vice President, Communications, was named president in September 2006 and CEO in January 2009. He proudly points to the core operating framework he adopted called the “Circle of Success.” It describes how the Diamondbacks organization needs to focus on five things:

  • Performance (on the field)
  • Community
  • Culture
  • Financial efficiency
  • Fan experience

You can tell a lot about a person’s true priorities when they are faced with difficult decisions. Last year was a very tough season for the Diamondbacks, winning the fewest games in MLB. It would be easy for Hall to blindly focus on the team performance. But Hall is so committed to the culture, fan experience, and community items that he told me that the organization was cutting baseball payroll this year instead of cutting those other items.

I asked Hall about the connection between baseball operations and the rest of the organization, which is an area that I’ve seen clearly split-up within other professional sports teams. Hall told me hated places that he had worked where there was a sense of “us” and “them.” Hall lets players know that they are part of the broader organization and many of them show up with their families for team holiday parties and barbecues. Hall also actively encourages players to improve the fan experience. He sends hand written notes to players thanking them for signing autographs during batting practice.

Hall talks about his “one fan at a time” philosophy. He explained that there is a lot of competition for fans’ attention, and many things they could do instead of going to a Diamondbacks game. So he wants to be aggressive at winning and retaining every fan. That’s why he implemented a customer service policy called FAWTSY (Find A Way To Say Yes). The organization quickly responds to every voice mail, text message, and email, viewing every complaint as an opportunity to improve. The team also assigns people to proactively reach out to every season ticket holder and holds focus groups with 20 season ticket holders on every home stand.

Culture & Innovation CenterDespite the focus on fans, Hall made it clear that “the fan doesn’t come first, employees do.” He told me that if employees feel respected and taken care of, then they will treat the fans the way that the organization wants them to be treated (I couldn’t agree more, see our Employee Engagement Resources).

The Diamondbacks use several mechanisms to engage employees. Instead of celebrating people leaving with going away parties, the organization starts employees on the right foot with arrival parties. Hall also holds a “President’s Roundtable Lunch” with 13 to 15 randomly selected employees every month. The first Friday of the month the team holds a session over lunch called “On the Couch with D-Hall,” where Hall discusses what’s going on with the team in the format of a late night show.

Hall takes culture so seriously that he renamed the front office as the “Culture & Innovation Center.” The Diamondbacks have won a lot of awards for the quality of their work environment. According to the Diamondbacks website, the organization was named by Yahoo! as “the best workplace in sports” and named the “Most Admired Company for Workplace Culture” by AzBusiness Magazine and BestCompaniesAZ for the seventh consecutive year.

Hall sets the tone for his organization. He told me “I like to thank every one of my ushers with a hand shake and a hug” because he wants them to feel important. He sends the game day staff notes and letters and mentions them by name in the team magazine. He also doesn’t believe in watching the game from a private box, unless he is hosting someone like the commissioner. He likes to sit with the fans and shake their hands and listen to what they have to say. He tries to get to any fan that is hit by a ball to make sure they are okay, then gives them his personal card. And when he sees trash on the ground, he does what he wants all of his staff to do–pick it up and throw it away.

What does Hall see as his next “big thing” in fan experience? Creativity in technology. He envisions a fan experience that blends the best of two worlds: the comfort and information watching the game at home on a large screen TV and the excitement of seeing a game live in the stadium.

I’m not surprised that Hall was named as the “Best Boss” in sports in 2013 by TeamWork Online.

The bottom line: Customer-centric organizations need leaders like Derrick Hall.

Off Topic: Feeling Grateful on Thanksgiving

While only some of you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope that all of you can find a way to be thankful today. Gratitude is a powerful tool that I hope you regularly embrace. I’m taking advantage of Thanksgiving to share 10 things for which I am very thankful:

  • My growing family. I am blessed to have a wonderful family that gives me great joy. Additionally, I’m really excited to meet my soon-to-be-born great niece.
  • The CXPA community. I really enjoy leading and being a part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, because of the wonderful volunteers and the amazing culture of sharing across our community.
  • Temkin Group clients. We’re very lucky to work for and with such a wonderful group of people who are passionate about improving customer experience within their organizations. More importantly, they’re just really nice people.
  • Our Temkin Group team. We may be a small company, but I’m very proud of how our team sets the pace in CX thought leadership. We’re lucky to have such great people on our team.
  • The New England Patriots. I was bummed out when the Patriots lost to Kansas City, but it’s been really fun watching the team go on a dominant winning streak after that disappointing game. Now I’m hoping to see the team in the Superbowl. There’s a lot to learn from how Bill Belichick builds a resilient organization!
  • Red Sox retooling. Despite the Red Sox’ terrible year, I love following the team’s off-season (“hot stove”) activities, both rumors and transactions. It’s fun to watch how Ben Cherington and the rest of the Red Sox front-office are assembling next year’s team. I like the the Sandoval deal, but am not crazy about the Ramirez contract (although I like having his bat in the line-up).
  • Boston Celtics’ resurrection. I’m enjoying trying to figure out what moves Danny Ainge will make to (hopefully) transform the Celtics’ collection of young players and draft picks into a championship contender. I have mixed feeling on whether to keep or trade Rondo.
  • MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Every year I look forward to spending two days at what Mark Cuban affectionately calls the dork-a-palooza. This wonderful conference combines two of my favorite things: sports and analytics. Actually, make that three things, since my son has been joining me the last couple of years.
  • NetFlix. After watching both seasons of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, along with my recent binge-watching of Prison Break, I’m hooked on NetFlix. Who wants to wait a week for the next episode of anything?!?
  • A sense of humor. I really enjoy laughing and am blessed to find so many things to be funny. That’s why I enjoy sharing this picture every year on Thanksgiving.

The bottom line: I hope that you and your family have a fantastic day (Thanksgiving or just plain Thursday) and that you find the way to be grateful for many, many things.

NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder CLICKs With Its Fans

I attended last night’s Oklahoma City Thunder game to participate in a ceremony awarding the NBA team’s partners with a CX Innovation Award from the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org).

Actually, the Thunder won the award for its fan experience efforts. But the NBA organization feels so strongly about the role that its partners play in the overall experience that it shares these types of awards with partners.

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In addition to the Thunder’s Pete Winemiller, Senior Vice President, Guest Relations and Danny Barth, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, I was joined on the court by Gary Desjardins from SMG, Steven Tamborello from SAVOR, Joe Guthrie from Levy Restaurants, Brandi Plumlee from Force Personnel, Aaron Blum from Gameday Merchandising, and Major Brian Jennings from the Oklahoma City Police Department.

There are actually dozens of partners that create the OKC Thunder fan experience. They collectively help the Thunder achieve its mission to be “the most FAN-centric organization in professional sports.” The Thunder does a great job, it even won a 2012 Temkin Group CX Excellence Award.

The Thunder’s approach to fan experience includes having all front-line team members, from parking to concessions (including police officers assigned to the game), participate in its CLICK™ With Your Guests training program. This is part of the Thunder’s three-step customer experience improvement process: Educate, Evaluate, and Congratulate.

The acronym CLICK! represents the Thunder’s five service principles:

  • Communicate courteously
  • Listen to learn
  • Initiate immediately
  • Create connections
  • Know your stuff

I really enjoyed touring the “on stage” and “off stage” areas of the game with Winemiller. The signage clearly reinforced the team’s message with employees.

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Everywhere we went, we met happy, engaged employees (who worked for many different organizations). Most of them were wearing lanyards around their necks with FAQ’s to answer customer questions, key information for their jobs, and the CLICK! Principles. On the back of their CLICK! With Your Guests cards was a note or picture that each person had created for themselves, which identified something that they wanted to do above and beyond the “non-negotiable” CLICK! principles.

I witnessed one team member receiving a CLICK! Chip, which recognizes employees for doing a little thing that makes a big difference for fans. Winemiller called these “employee of the moment awards.” Once employees receive four chips, they can redeem them for an “I CLICK! With My Guests” pin and select one of many unique gifts not available to the general public (a few employees were sporting a very sharp-looking Thunder scarf). Here’s one of those employees, Tori, who had just selected a set of headphones for her prize (notice the branding on the bag).

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Thunder employees can also win monthly Fan Favorite and employee of the year awards.

Winemiller calls complaints free consulting. That’s why the Thunder collects feedback in many ways including intercept surveys at the game, post-game surveys, secret shoppers, text messages, comment/complaint cards, and several visible guest relations booths. And they act on what they learn. After every game, the Thunder meet with leaders from their partner organizations on the floor to discuss any issues or lessons learned that they can use to improve the next game’s experience.

I really enjoyed the game, and need to give a special shout out to Kaylee Lonsinger, Guest Communication Coordinator, who helped make this fan’s experience so wonderful. I even had a special visitor come to my seat.

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The bottom line: Do your employees CLICK! with customers?

Off Topic: Ford Has The Most NFL Fans

In one of our recent benchmark studies, we asked consumers what professional sports, if any, they like to watch on TV. Since we’re at the beginning of the NFL season, I decided to take a look at the make-up of NFL fans. Yes, I have data on demographics such as age, income, education, etc. But I’ll share some of that later in the season.

For now, I decided to look at which companies have customers who are the most and the least interested in the NFL. The companies that have the highest percentage of NFL fans are Ford, TD Ameritrade, MSN, Lexus, Chrysler, Charles Schwab, and Dodge. It’s no surprise that many of these firms pay for commercial time during the football games.

Which organizations would reach the lowest percentage of their customers with NFL TV ads? Optimum, Ross, Dollar Tree, Medicaid, and ShopRite.

1409_NFLbyCompany2The bottom line: Since this is an off-topic post, I’ll show my bias: Go Patriots!

 

Embrace Your Unalienable Right to Be Happy

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Happy July 4th!

While not everyone who reads my blog is celebrating a holiday today, I hope that everyone can embrace the sentiment described in the famous line above from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. If we look through the mindset of the time and replace “men” with “all people,” then this sentence is a powerful blueprint for our collective well-being.

It’s interesting that one of the three unalienable Rights that the founders of the country chose to highlight is the “pursuit of happiness.” As it turns out, happiness is also one of the three items that we’ve included in the Temkin Well-Being Index (along with healthiness and financial security). After a dip in 2013, the happiness level of U.S. consumers increased in 2014.

Here are some of my other posts about happiness:

The bottom line: Have a very happy July 4th!

 

NCAA Provides A Lesson (Not) in Values

In a recent Boston Globe article, Northeastern University’s athletics director Peter Roby reflected on the notion of the NCAA’s “values” given Louisville’s hiring of Bobby Petrino as its football coach. Petrino was fired by Arkansas because of a scandal involving a motorcycle accident and an improper relationship with a female employee.

Here’s an excerpt of Roby’s comments:

“If we’re going to have a conversation about values, then we should understand how those things are lived on a daily basis and what it looks like when you’ve got a set of values that underpin what your activities are… I just didn’t feel like the hiring of someone like Bobby Petrino was consistent with what we say our values are. I wanted people to understand that if we’re going to put values on paper, we better be prepared to defend them and to be held accountable for them.”

My take: Roby is absolutely right, and his comments are applicable to any organization. True values aren’t the things you write down or proclaim in a speech in front of customers, employees, and shareholders, they’re the principles that shape how you make decisions. What you do and don’t do are the only accurate measures of true values. That’s why one of our Six Laws of Customer Experience is “You Can’t Fake it.

Without a clear set of true values, companies lack a “due North” that empowers everyone in the organization to make decisions because they understand what’s important. One of our principles of People-Centric Experience Design is Align with Purpose, an approach that would fail unless organizations have true values.

It’s okay to change your values or aspire to a new set of values, but it’s very hard to live up to them. You need to be very conscious of every decision you make and constantly look in the mirror and ask yourself, is that decision consistent with what I believe my values to be?

The bottom line: True values are defined by actions, not words

20 Highlights From the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

For the third year in a row, I spent two days at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It’s an awesome event, providing access to a who’s who list of sports icons and analytical studs (players, owners, general managers, coaches, sportscasters, authors, geeks, etc.). My only “complaint” is that two of my favorites from previous years—Mark Cuban and Bill Simmons—weren’t at the conference this year

As a Sloan School alumn, I enjoy seeing the school continue to pull off such a world-class event. I need to give a shout out to Daryl Morey (GM of the Houston Rockets) and Jessica Gelman (VP of Customer Marketing & Strategy, The Kraft Sports Group) who have been spearheading the event from its inception. Great job!

I’m using a different format for my recap this year, just providing my top 20 highlights from the event (see my recaps from 2012 and 2013). Here goes:

  1. NBA owners act like Marxists. The renowned author Malcolm Gladwell opened up his conversation with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver by pointing out what he said was an interesting paradox, “NBA owners are a bunch of republican billionaires who get together and act like Marxists.” His point was that the player draft system and profit sharing rewards poor performing teams. In a later session, Tom Garfinkel (President and CEO, Miami Dolphins) reinforced that point with the comment that “a degree of socialism is an imperative [in pro sports].” Gladwell also asked Silver (in jest) if his predecessor, David Stern, should be the first Jewish saint, since he accomplished two miracles: 1) bringing back the NBA from the drug era of the 1980s, and 2) getting the players to give back money in the last collective bargaining agreement. Gladwell did a wonderful job weaving together social commentary with an interesting discussion of the NBA.
  2. A new NBA draft system? Boston Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren shared a proposal that he has submitted to the NBA to get rid of the current draft system and replace it with a system where teams have a pre-defined draft position that has them drafting in every position over a 30-year period. This approach would remove the impetus to “tank” in order to get a better draft pick. Adam Silver said he had an initially favorable response to the concept, since he said that any discussion about tanking hurts the sport. Daryl Morey said that at the end of last season, 2/3 of NBA teams weren’t trying to win.
  3. A new NBA playoff system? Even though he wasn’t at the event, Bill Simmons still had an impact. Adam Silver said that he was fascinated by a suggestion made by Simmons to have a play-in tournament for the last playoff spot. There was some discussion at the event about ways to replicate the excitement of the one-game elimination format of NCAA March Madness.
  4. NBA replay video is being centralized. According to Michael Bantom, EVP of Referee Operations for the NBA, the NBA is going to take the replay controls out of the hands of the TV broadcast crew and put it in the hands of a centralized replay crew. On-court refs will continue to have the final say on the calls, but this new team will more quickly provide key video angles and may even provide their opinions on the call.
  5. NFL is the slowest to adopt analytics. Nate Silver (statistician, founder of the website FiveThirtyEight.com, and all-around fascinating geek) made the observation that when compared with other sports, football’s small number of games and plays does not provide as rich of an environment for collecting data and testing analytical models. In addition, Silver pointed to the fact that the NFL is so profitable and the teams are mostly family owned-businesses, reducing the motivation for innovation. Also, it was interesting to hear during another session that computers and other technology aren’t allowed in the coach’s booth during games.
  6. NFL teams need to punt less. Several times during the event, people referred to data that shows that football teams punt too often on 4th and short. As a matter of fact, one of the panelists was a high-school football coach Keven Kelley who is a bit of an icon for the amount of times he goes for it on 4th and short. One estimate was that NFL team could gain at least one-half of a win per season if they punted less. As Jonathan Kraft mentioned, most of the analysis in football takes place in the off-seasons and is focused on analyzing players and contracts.
  7. NFL refs track downs with rubber bands. I thought this was an interesting factoid: Mike Carey who used to be an NFL referee shared that many NFL refs keep track of the downs by moving a rubber band on to different fingers. They don’t fully trust the people flipping the down markers.
  8. Outcomes aren’t great indicators of performance. A lot of the analysis and research was examining ways to evaluate players, instead of outcome measures like batting average and rebounds per game. Jeff Luhnow, GM of the Houston Astros, pointed out that a baseball player’s long-term batting success has more to do with how the ball comes off his bat (velocity and vector) then it does with how many balls actually result in a hit. Rob Neyer from FoxSports.com discussed how this off-the-bat data can be calibrated to predict performance based on the layout of different ballparks. One of the research presentations examined the actual ability of NBA players to rebound based on their position on the court relative to other players and the amount of times that they get rebounds above what would normally be predicted given their situation.
  9. Next Frontier: Player performance and development. As sports teams better understand what drives actual performance, they will focus on making sure that their development organizations look for and teach the appropriate fundamentals to achieve that performance. This was a very common theme, and it included creating a deeper understanding of preventing and recovering from injuries, especially soft-tissue injuries. Zach Lowe, NBA columnist for Grantland, said that predicting and preventing injury is the holy grail. Scott Pioli, assistant GM of the Atlanta Falcons, said that “we need to find a better way to measure player hydration,” since today players just compare the color of their urine to Gatorade charts on the wall. Mike Zarren quoted his boss Danny Ainge as saying, “The best ability to have is availability.”
  10. The value of defense is on the rise. Across many sports, a lot of research is focusing on the value created by defense, while historical data has looked at offensive production. Dan Brooks mentioned that Jose Molina saved 20 runs for the Rays based on his ability to frame pitches into the strike zone. As data provides a truer measure of the value of defense, then teams will start paying more for players that can provide that value.
  11. Fan experience via drones and more. Chris Granger, President of the Sacramento Kings,  discussed ways the ball team is looking to improve fan experience by using GoPros to give new angles, attaching them to drones fly around the stadium, dancers, and to players so fans can see what it’s like to run down the tunnel. Many teams are looking at integrating mobile with the overall fan experience, including helping them find concessions and bathrooms with shorter lines. I enjoyed hearing Tom Garfinkel’s discussion about how the Miami Dolphins are looking into new products like premium tailgating, family tailgating, and a communal seating area for groups who come to the game together. I like how they’re examining the entire fan journey.
  12. Coaches tend to be control freaks.” That’s according to Bill James (if you don’t know who he is, then you probably shouldn’t have made it this deep into my blog post). He went on to say that coaches “tend to overuse strategy to give them the illusion of control.” He also said that great coaches have the tolerance for creating and capitalizing on chaos.
  13. Coaching remains old-school. Across many of the sports, it sounds like coaches are not using the insights from analytics to change their on-filed approaches. As I mentioned, football caches punt too much, baseball coaches don’t over shift enough on defense (as Rob Neyer pointed out), and basketball coaches haven’t cracked the optimal rotations. Steve Kerr, TNT commentator and former president of the Phoenix Suns, said that he typically hears from basketball coaches that “I get all of this information and I just ignore it.” Brad Stevens, coach of the Boston Celtics, said “we can get into a city at 3:00 AM and are playing that day, how much data can you use?” According to Jeff Luhnow, you have to speak the coaches’ language and bring them along step-by-step. Another reason why coaches don’t change is their risk-aversion. If they try a different approach (suggested by analytics) and fail, then they are more prone to negative feedback by fans and team management. George Karl, ESPN analyst and former coach of the Denver Nuggets, shared that he’s been called gimmicky his whole career and that “coaches who try and innovate get crucified.”
  14. Analytics alone is not enough. As at previous events, there was a lot of discussion about the need to integrate analytics within the system and not just talk about data. Brian Colangelo, former President and General Manager of the the Toronto Raptors, said that “Single greatest thing I learned is that analytics can be equally destructive if not communicated or messaged in the right way.”
  15. Mobile, mobile, mobile. That’s how I describe some of my CX trends for 2014, and it’s also how I’d describe a lot of what I heard at the event. Everything from in-game fan experience to brand building is being targeted at mobile devices. Jared SMith, President, Ticketmaster North America, mentioned that ½ of Ticketmaster’s online traffic and 10% of its sales come from mobile, double the amount from last year. Some additional data shared at the event: 30% of fans are interacting with social media while watching a game and 50% of tweets related to television are about sporting events.
  16. Stan Van Gundy said… One of the most entertaining people at the event every year was Stan Van Gundy, former coach of the Orlando Magic, who is willing to say whatever comes to his mind, without pulling any punches. It’s really fun to hear, because he absolutely understands the game of basketball. Here are some of his statements: “The other guys are trying to win, so you’re not going to get what you want.” “You need to coach to your personnel, not to an analytical philosophy.” “If you’re using analytics instead of watching film, then you’re making a mistake.” “You have to show me the science. I think a lot of these minutes restrictions [for players] are bullshit.” And my favorite was his description of the Philadelphia 76ers team: “If you’re putting that roster on the floor, then you’re doing everything you can to lose.”
  17. Team chemistry remains a mystery. There was a lot of discussion about human behavior. When it comes to team Jeff Luhnow said there’s no correlation between being a good person and being a good ball player. Vince Generro, author and president of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), said how they are trying to codify “chemistry,” which Nate Silver says is more important in a team sport like football than in baseball which is more of an individual sport. Rob Neyer believes the effects of culture is not much more than one win per season in the MLB.
  18. Sports analytics is still in its infancy. According to Brian Colangelo, teams need to be spending at least $250K to $500K per year and have at least three people dedicated to analytics, and the numbers are rising. Many of the teams (at least the ones at the event) are investing in proprietary analysis as a source of competitive advantage. According to SABR’s Vince Genarro, we have 50 times more data than when Moneyball was written (including 15 to 20 measures on every pitch). Nate Silver said that if he was to start today, he’d create new analytical models from scratch given the new data.
  19. Shaq was a bit of a slacker. In a session called Building a Dynasty, Phil Jackson (another person who should not need any introduction if you’re this deep into my post) shared some interesting stories. He felt that the feud between Kobe and Shaq was based on their different work ethics (in case you don’t know, Kobe is a very hard worker) and it all came to a head when Shaq waited until the start of a season to have surgery instead of doing it during the off season. Jackson used to call Shaq “fatty” to motivate him. It was also interesting that Jackson had his teams go through mindfulness training long before its recent rise in popularity.
  20. Ownership tidbits. Just some interesting comments from team owners. It was great to hear Tom Garfinkle describe sports team ownership as “stewards of the public trust,” saying that teams exist before and after owners come and go. Wyc Grousbeck, managing partner of the Boston Celtics, said that “a bunch of fans bought the team.” Vivek Ranadivé, is an author, entrepreneur and owner of the Sacramento Kings described his first experiecne with basketball, coaching his daughter’s 7th grade team, he admitted that he had no idea what he was doing but wanted to spend time with his daughter (he seemed like a super nice guy). Both Ranadivé and Grosack shared how they felt terrified when they first took over ownership of their NBA franchises.

The bottom line: I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

P.S. Here are some pictures from the event. Click them to see larger images.

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Off Topic: Older Men Love to Watch the NFL

Today is the first Sunday for the National Football League (NFL) season. So I tapped into our consumer benchmark data to examine who likes watching the NFL on TV (besides me). As you can see in the chart below:

  • Males older than 44 are the most avid football fans, although a majority of males across every age like watching football on TV.
  • Less than half of the females across every age group like to watch football on TV, but those between 25 and 44 are the most active fans.
  • Couples between 65 and 74 face the largest battle for the clicker, as they face the largest gender gap.

FootballByGenderationsOver the season, I’ll write additional posts looking at the data by ethnic group, income levels, and educational levels. I’ll also examine the characteristics of football fans (e.g., are they happier than other people) and identify which companies have the most and least avid football fans.

The bottom line: It’s time to watch some football (and let’s go Patriots!)