Philadelphia Flyers Rock! - When It Comes To Customer Experience, That Is

I need to make something clear from the start. I'm a diehard NY Rangers fan when it comes to hockey.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor on

I need to make something clear from the start. I'm a diehard NY Rangers fan when it comes to hockey. In fact, with the exception of women's soccer where I root for the Women's Professional Soccer League's (WPSL) Washington Freedom, I root for New York everything when it comes to sports - especially the NY Yankees.

But, I have to tell you, the Philadelphia Flyers' fan engagement program is by far the single most well thought out and successful CRM strategy and program I've seen to date in professional sports. Bar none - including my beloved New York teams. Shame on the Rangers.

What makes this program, which is called "How You Doin'?"  exceptional in any environment is that it begins where CRM strategies and programs should begin - with the culture.

"The How You Doin' program is the culture of this organization from full time to part time personnel to the fan base," says Senior Vice President of Business Operations, Shawn Tilger. "We are always making sure that we aren't just implementing software, but are embedding the philosophy and outlook into everything we do internally and externally."

All the staff at the Philadelphia HQ of the Flyers and at the Wachovia Center are trained to greet everyone as they come into the stadium,  trained to answer questions for anyone who has them,  and trained to go above and beyond for customers.  They take a high touch, get involved approach.

Their strategy is two pronged.  First, engage the fans generally. Second, know each fan and their individual lifestyle and customize programs according.  The third prong is measure, measure, measure; learn, learn, learn.

What that means in real terms is that they are constantly gathering information about each of their fans. That means they are getting granular profiles of their season's ticket holders. They are gathering information about each fan that attends a game or buys merchandise.

Using a combination of salesforce.com, marketing ubër-application Eloqua, and a stored value program that allows customers to go cashless and use their ticket or cell phone to purchase seats, merchandise, food and any other concession they have at Wachovia Center, they are able to capture the kind of information about a fan that lets them know fan behaviors from the time they walk out the door to the time they leave the stadium.

Philadelphia Flyers salesforce.com Customer Record (source: Philadelphia Flyers)

Philadelphia Flyers salesforce.com Customer Record (source: Philadelphia Flyers)

To provide what they call "stored value" on the ticket or the cell phone, they use a system from IMS, a point of sale company with a deep penetration in the sports world.

The system that does this, the IMS Stadis system, gives the team the means to "store" a cash value on the ticket that exceeds the ticket price itself and then track the usage. Not only can the fan buy a Flyer's hockey puck or a hot dog or a beer if they are alcoholically-inclined, but the transactions are tracked into a database that is merged with the customer record of that individual.  This process and system is what Bruce Culbert, a leading CRM expert and Managing Partner of BPT Partners, LLC, calls "event revenue optimization."

In the words of IMS itself:

"STADIS is a venue integration solution that uses stored-value ticketing to deliver a ‘Single View of the Fan' for teams, colleges and specialty destinations."

But STADIS is only part of the system - and that system is only part of the strategy.  What they do with this "single view of the fan" is what becomes fascinating given their commitment to a contemporary customer-centric culture.

Armed with the deep profile data, they have several programs designed to on the one hand engage fans and on the other solicit their feedback. To that end they are constantly doing real time polling and surveys of fans at the games on their game experience, their ticketing experience or even the cleanliness of the building.

What makes this fascinating is that it is real time and the data is captured real time. So if they have 1000 fans who complain about the cleanliness of the third floor, they can dispatch people to take care of the problem (if they choose to) within minutes of receiving the feedback.

He Shoots! He (Lead) Scores!

Because the combination of salesforce.com and Eloqua can be powerful, the Flyers are able to develop deep lifestyle profiles of season ticket holders based on the products they hold and the interests they have. In other words, not just do they have a full year package, but do they drive a Mercedes or a Pontiac (oops). It's not just transactions/purchases or income levels. It's what hobbies they have, other sports interests, foods they like.

These in-depth profiles provide enormous leeway to the Flyers to target how they are going to interact with their fans; what they are going to propose as a package to their fans; and what kind of messages they are going to send to their fans.

For example, they have season ticket holder profiles.  They match these season ticket holder profiles to individual fans who have the exact same profiles first, and then those that are nearly the same. The idea is that there is a propensity for those individual fans with the same profiles as the season's ticket holder to be more likely buyers of a season ticket than others with less of a match.

But how they approach the fans with ticket sales and renewals is also important, once they've identified the prospects. They don't just do standard pitches for ticket sales. They look to provide an innovative way of immersing the fan in the Flyer experience. Take a look at this video.

This is a remarkably immersive idea that works to involve the actual fan in the Flyer's drive to renew and sell tickets while providing an unparalleled fan experience.   Makes me almost root for the Flyers.


What also makes this so extraordinary is that they not only had programs to re-up the solid season ticket holders but also had a game plan for the fence sitters who were wavering because of financial considerations.

It wasn't that complicated.  Here are the repeatable steps.

  1. They booked the Hall of Fame Room at Wachovia Center for the first intermission for each of two games.
  2. They invited 30 accounts each night who were undecided about renewing their season tickets mostly due to financial reasons.
  3. They simply provided ice cream for the guests and used this time to talk to accounts about renewals and new payment options

What's both simple and great about this is that the customers felt that they were getting personal attention in a room that also reminds them of the team's rather storied history. And - they got ice cream - which really isn't a lot but the combination made the wavering ticket holders feel good.  Remember this dictum - you don't have to have luxury, you only have to feel luxurious.  When you can make a customer feel that way, you are in the process of developing an advocate. In the case of the wavering ticket holder, you're reducing the up and down uncertainty and solidifying the likelihood of a re-up.

More on the Technology

The use of salesforce.com and Eloqua was based on a best of breed approach in choosing what technology packages to use. The idea was a deeper integration between the sales and marketing folks so that using the two applications, leads could be created and scored and gotten to sales from marketing in a timely way.   This was not meant to be just a simple implementation to track opportunities. Timeliness mattered and customer history mattered so that Eloqua and salesforce.com could work together to provide highly qualified leads in as close to real time as possible.   It no longer was marketing for lead and demand generation, sales as a data repository.  They now worked in conjunction.

Fan Stimulus Plan

But, you may inquire, furrowing your brow, what about the fact that we are in a recession and people don't want to spend money on sports because it's a discretionary spend. All that cultural effort and that technology pool would be needless, if people weren't buying tickets wouldn't it. Besides, hockey isn't as popular as football or baseball anyway, is it?

Non-believers, I am going to debunk the "don't want to spend money on sports" part of this.  As far as more popular than football or baseball, probably not yet, though I love it - baseball first for me, though.

The Flyers, fully aware of economic reality, didn't step back and limit their creativity. They instead developed an innovative approach that has had a real return.

They created a Fan Stimulus Plan.

The Fan Stimulus Plan is much bigger than just perhaps a price break or a payout.  They began by creating a Season Ticket Holder Advisory Board that was there to help them determine what would be the programs that made sense for their ilk in a recession. Based on ongoing feedback they had been getting from the Advisory Board and the other fans, the Flyers then created a Consumer Assistance Department which developed personalized, individualized payment plans so that the fans could continue to afford season tickets.  They kept pricing flat unlike my wonderful, great New York Yankees, who misunderstood their aura - and charged $2650 for a home plate field level seat. The Consumer Assistance Department also sent out notices earlier than in the past around season ticket renewal so that the renewal could be planned for better than it was in the past.  They set up a nine month payout for a season ticket, rather than the customary seven.

You'd think that would be it, but no.  They also created two marketplaces. The first was for those who want to offload game tickets they aren't going to use - something like a Flyers specific StubHub. The second market was for finding partners who would go in on purchases of a season ticket with you.  Something like a non-gender based match.com.  That way, you and the matched partner or, I presume, partners (thought of in a non-kinky kind of way), could split the cost of a season ticket.

Okay, but results matter.  "Did you see any results with the recession in the way, Shawn?"  (That would be me talking).  "We are 24 percent ahead of season ticket renewals from last year." (That would be Shawn talking)

Those are results. Yet, given the depth of the program, the level of fan immersion and experience provided and the incredible granularity of the customer data and profiles, it's no particular surprise either.

That's how they're doin'.

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