How the San Antonio Spurs and Eloqua created a championship fan experience

October 15, 2021 Chuck Leddy

The San Antonio Spurs are champions on the basketball court, having won 5 world championships since 1999 (more than any other NBA franchise over that time except the Los Angeles Lakers). Most recently, the Spurs marketing team has also been world class, being named a finalist for a 2021 Oracle Markie Award for the best customer experience (best “fan experience”). The Spurs used their Oracle Eloqua platform, along with some MAP-integration tools, to drive omnichannel fan engagement and a superior fan experience that has saved the team time and money. Ann Marie Prince, the Spurs’ Marketing Automation Senior Coordinator, recently described the Spurs’ marketing success during a webinar hosted by Sojourn Solutions and Oracle. 

In the months after COVID-19, NBA arenas were empty of fans. But the Spurs staff and player families were able to attend games and “provided us with test subjects for some new campaign ideas,” says Prince. ”It was very much trial and error using feedback collected from this small base. That feedback resulted in many versions and updates of campaign ideas we’d implement later with our fans.”

Omnichannel fan engagement via Eloqua

When fans did return to the arena, the Spurs used their Eloqua platform to automate campaigns and orchestrate messaging via an omnichannel approach. It combined email, SMS (texting), chatbots, and fan experience (human) reps. Demonstrating the team’s Eloqua campaign canvas, Prince explained that “our ticketing data pushed into Eloqua custom object fields, so our contacts enter the campaign to receive emails and SMS related to the event.” The Spurs sent SMS messages via a program called Instant Marketing that works within Eloqua and gets sent via Zipwhip-enabled phone line. Fan replies to those SMS texts would trigger automated interaction with the Spurs’ Satisfi chatbot, which was also connected to the team’s fan experience team of human representatives in case escalation was needed.

The orchestrated campaign was omnichannel because not only did the Spurs use multiple channels, those channels were also integrated with each other to create a seamless fan experience.

So, for example, having separate SMS, chatbot, and contact center (“fan experience” reps) channels creates multichannel engagement, but the fan experience suffers when the chatbot channel sits in a silo from the fan experience agents - meaning that fan interactions cannot be escalated directly from chatbot to human agents.

When connections are made across and among channels to create seamless communication and data sharing, you have omnichannel engagement that better serves the fan, who typically prefers different channels at different times for different issues. Multichannel makes available all the (disconnected) dots, while omnichannel is about connecting the dots.

Automation: Spurring fan engagement

“Once we pulled out ticketed people into Eloqua, we then double-checked that we were ahead of game tip-off,” says Prince, “because we didn’t want people buying tickets after tip-off and receiving these communications. Then we double checked to make sure that their tickets were considered active [i.e., not transferred or cancelled] and the ticket holder was subscribed to the communication we were about to send.” 

The Spurs created a “game day preference center” link at the bottom of all game day emails, allowing fans to select how to receive communications. “So if the ticket holder is subscribed, they will receive the first email, which is ‘things to know before you go’ to the arena. We know from fan research what they want to know in order to plan their experience ahead of time,” says Prince. 

Closer to game tip-off, the Spurs engage fans via SMS. The team has a phone number populated in its custom objects field after pulling in mobile numbers from the ticketing database. “So if there’s a mobile phone number populated and the fan hasn’t opted out of SMS, they will receive a text message with a landing page of further information,” explains Prince, demonstrating the orchestration via the Eloqua canvas. “If they don't have a phone number available, they receive an email that contains the exact same information in the landing page.” After the game, fans get a survey where feedback is collected and shared with the team.

Lessons learned to “Spur” improvement

“We were familiar with custom objects in Eloqua before,” says Prince, “but we hadn’t used them to this degree of sophistication. So we learned a lot through trial and error about the data and how to leverage it for engagement.” Another powerful lesson was about SQL and Python scripts - “we can use them to customize the data we want, when we want it, and where we want it,” says Prince.

The campaign also served to “spur” (pun fully intended) the team to clean up its data. For example, some season ticket holders had been in the team CRM database for many years. They had multiple email addresses and/or multiple phone numbers associated with them. “So we launched a dedicated campaign to assist our season ticket members in updating their accounts,” says Prince. 

Optimizing the fan experience

“We expedited and optimized the fan entry process [to the arena] for both fans and staff during a new and difficult time [of COVID-19 health concerns]. We were able to continuously inform our fans of new processes and policies in digestible messaging. We saved so much time and money by automating all that engagement. We weren't waiting on lists of emails and phone numbers from our ticket office. We weren't depending on somebody to have the time necessary to send to all those lists. Instead, using Eloqua, we were able to basically set it and forget it,” says Prince.

The chatbots also gave the Spurs insight into what fans wanted to know, so that feedback could be integrated into future emails and SMS messages, thus decreasing the load on chatbots and human agents.

“This engagement gives us a pulse on what our fans want to know and what they need to know, and also gives us an opportunity to update our chatbot and other messaging channels to integrate fan feedback,” says Prince. “We can also send after-game feedback for follow-up so we can keep improving the overall fan experience. That has been awesome for us and for our fans.” 

Want to learn about how you can use Oracle Eloqua to automate and orchestrate customer engagement via an omnichannel approach that drives efficiency and spurs a better CX? Reach out to us today. 

(Photo: ©NBAE/Getty Images)
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