Ice hockey vs hotels, and ways to win the CRM game

Pamela Whitby spoke to the VP of Fan Experience at Oilers Entertainment Group about how data and analytics are at the heart of customer centricity

“You can’t control whether the team wins or loses on the ice, but you can control the customer experience while they are in the building,” says Jody Young who is speaking at the upcoming Travel Summit 2020 (San Diego, June 1-2) and is VP of Fan Experience at the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG).  

Young is referring to performance of the most lucrative brand under the OEG umbrella – the Edmonton Oilers, a professional ice hockey team with a huge and growing fan base. OEG, which also runs concerts, is one of main backers of $2.5-billion Ice District, a development in downtown Edmonton, the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. At the centre of this, is the team’s $480-million arena known as Rogers Place. For the past 10 years, Young has been responsible for service delivery, client relationships and hospitality, and most recently as head of the four-strong business intelligence team. Over the past few months, however, the arena experience has become his top priority. 

“We are really starting to dive into the analytics and how we can leverage the customer data from a sales standpoint while fans are in the building,” he says. This entails understanding exactly who the fans are, where they are coming from, and what they want to buy while in the building. It also involves working more closely with the many businesses including hotels, condominiums, and restaurants that surround the arena, which opened in 2016. The end game “is to create a larger, grander vision for the Ice District,” he says.  

One of his current priorities is to explore the opportunities for working more closely with the JW Marriott Ice District, a 346-room luxury hotel, which opened six months ago and is attached to the arena by a ‘pedway’. “In addition to the typical offers that sports clubs leverage with hotels, we are just starting to see where we can build on these relationships and tie in their guests to our arena,” says Young, who will share more about this relationship in San Diego.  

As both hotels and sports events are people oriented businesses, there are likely to be numerous synergies. Like ambitious hotel companies, OEG is, of course, examining the entire customer journey - from the moment fans begin looking for information about an event to when they purchase tickets, how they search for accommodation or where to park (for the record, the group runs 7,000 parking cells within a kilometre of the arena!). However, like successful hotel companies, the entertainment group also recognises that the most impact can be made when the customer is actually on site. 

Not only is he responsible for 700 part-time staff but also a further 200 full-timers – including event staff, security and food and beverage teams - that operate and run the building. Unsurprisingly, a major challenge has been to ensure that everybody’s technology efforts are aligned. “We have no shortage of data but what is keeping me awake at night is tying all this together and working out what is really going to move the needle for us,” he says.  

Go Figure: The Oilers Entertainment Group has:    

  • Hundreds of thousands of active customer accounts  
  • 150 major events a year plus over 300 private events 
  • 1.5 million annual visitors to the venue for hockey and music concerts featuring the likes of Elton John, Garth Brooks, Celine Dion and Drake 

Although the group has been using Microsoft Dynamics CRM software since 2012 to manage hundreds of thousands of active accounts, until recently this valuable data – including customer interactions and feedback – was not tied to the building itself. Only people in the box office and their full-time sales and service teams, have had direct access to CRM data.  

While this was a good place to start, the team is currently linking the CRM system to all service centres and management teams within the building. This will ensure that the “boots on the ground” have access to relevant real-time customer information so they can act if, for example, someone in the building is looking for anything from a seat upgrade to accessible seating or even an ice cream. 

Hey big spender 

One of the big opportunities and a recent success story relates to food & beverage concessions in the building. According to Young, Oilers' fans are big spenders but there was no understanding of where they were splashing their cash. Since 2012 fans have held a single barcoded Season Seat Card to get in and out of the venue but when Rogers Place opened in 2016, the food & beverage concessions did not have a bar code reader.  To add value to the membership, OEG introduced a 15% discount to all members and a mag stripe to the season card so that it could be used in all retail, merchandising and food and beverage stores. In turn that provided us with data on what our ticketholders were buying in order to make relevant and customised offers,” he explains.

Although 15% may sound like quite a hefty discount, the data gathered as a result makes it well worth it. “We now have eyes on all the transactional and buying habits in the building. We know who is buying beers, hot dogs or ice cream and we can provide the customer with personalised offers,” says Young, who will share more about this particular move at the Travel Summit 2020.  

Six steps to keeping it customer centric

1. Do what you do well 

Food & beverage plays a huge role in OEG’s business. “We need to ensure this is the best it can be. Is it hot, is it quality, is it priced properly” says Young. If something is done exceptionally well and they receive feedback, the team utilises hashtags in the CRM platform for future reference. If something goes wrong, it’s equally important to keep track. Using hashtag keywords provides data that is easily pulled and sorted for review and improvement. 

2. Pick up the phone

Customers should be able to interact with the brand in any way they choose – by phone, text, email and so on. But if a complaint arises it is always best to call rather than engaging in a back and forth via email.  

3. Be relevant, and accurate 

When customers are in the building, it is ensuring offers are relevant. If customer is looking for a seat upgrade, for example, on their next visit pre-empt this. Accuracy in advertising via the web, the app and social media is crucial too - nobody wants be lied to.  

4. Deal with crises appropriately

In a hockey game there is always a chance that a puck might fly into the stand, or at a music concert a fan may be trampled. There should be clear guidelines for what happens when somebody is injured or affected.  

5. Think like a concierge 

According to Young, the goal is to deliver a concierge level service at the venue. “We want to be able to say if you have tickets on our suite level, you can go to any one of our concierges and they will be able to help you with everything from restaurant reservations to booking a cab or maybe even staying at the Marriott,” he says.  

6. Take a streamlined approach to tech 

When the new venue opened, different departments were all investing in different technology systems and solutions including everything from CRM to venue management, booking and maintenance software. “There were all these different pieces that didn’t necessarily plug into each other,” Young explains. Today a technology advisory group has been established, which includes the head of IT as well as business and security system analysts to take a more holistic and simplified approach. “Any time that we are going to bring in new technology, they review it to see what it’s about, how it can plug in and what it actually offers,” he says. 

To hear more from Jody Young, VP Fan Experience at Edmonton Oilers, and other leading brands including MGM Resorts, Marriott, Viceroy, Hilton and many more, join us at the Travel Summit 2020 (San Diego June 1-2), the first EyeforTravel event taking place under the banner of Reuters Events 

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