Ep. 14: Crowd Intelligence & The Business of Sports with Tinus Le Roux
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Tinus Le Roux, Founder of Fancam, joins Rob Cressy to talk about the business of sports and crowd intelligence. Why is it so important for teams and brands to build communities? What is the actual product that teams sell? What is crowd intelligence and how is it being used to help make better sponsorship decisions?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me t oday is Tinus Le Roux, CEO at Fancam. Tinus, super excited to have you on the show.
Tinus Le Roux: (00:29)
Thank you for having me.
Rob Cressy: (00:30)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Tinus Le Roux: (00:33)
Yes. My accent is due to the fact that I'm a South African. I'm currently living in the States. I've founded along with my co founders, Fancam about nine years ago. We did so because we figured out how to take really big pictures quickly, and use that in the sports industry basically to create content for fans. So to dumb it down, we were able to capture a whole crowd of 60,000 to 70,000 people at such our resolution that every fan can zoom in and find themselves. So that's published. They share it out and that drives a lot of engagement. That makes teams and brands happy.
Rob Cressy: (01:21)
I dig the concept that something that back in the day on Sports Illustrator, they always had the faces in the crowd thing. And it seemed like such a natural [concept]. And man, when will someone do this? Because that's the connectivity and the network of it all. And it's actually going to segway to what we're gonna jam about today. Two things, crowd intelligence and the business of sports. And I want to start with the business of sport. And you and I first jammed last week about some of this stuff and I really liked it and I liked your thought process on the business of sports. So can you try and give us a little insight into your thoughts on what sports teams don't realize about the business of sports?
Tinus Le Roux: (02:08)
Well, I'll start off by saying that. So I understand a great deal about it. And it's in the past five years you've seen a lot of growth in that understanding. But, um, I find — in my way of doing our product has allowed us to move between different stakeholders — is that if there's one thing that's lacking, it's understanding the product. The front offices at teams, their job is often to sell tickets or merch or sponsorship. And then that's one revenue stream. But you got to realize that one of the biggest revenue streams at these teams are actually not generated from the fans, but from brands or media to get access to those fans. So if you understand that as a business model that you can make your clients, so in your sports teams, the front office guys' clients are often the fans. But legally the clients would be the networks. So you've got this thing where in this organization, sometimes you've tried to automize to deliver a bit of experience to fans and then extract more money from them, crudely put. But then also you're in the business of being able to structure that community in the way that you can monetize access towards them. I think that's the part that sometimes goes missing within this organizational structure.
Rob Cressy: (03:41)
And how would you rate how teams do at the community side of things because community-building being one of the things that I specialize in, I think that there's also, you can say you have a community versus is there an actual community? And I just look at myself as someone who grew up in Pittsburgh and I love all things black and gold. I'm a die-hard Steelers fan. I'm a die-hard Penguins fan. And I grew up loving the Pirates. But guess what? For 22 of the last 25 seasons, the Pirates have had a losing record in their ownership, traditionally treated their fans like crap. And two years ago I said I've had enough, I'm no longer supporting the Pirates and I'm an active or I was an active member of that community. So what do you think about the teams and how they think about community?
Tinus Le Roux: (04:35)
Well, the thing is, that's the great thing about sport — communities are often built in. It's almost as if the teams don't need to create it. They just need to allow it to flourish. So look at your example. You were a fan for 20 years with, without the team doing particularly well. So there's often this thing about if the team wins, we have a product. Now obviously if you win a lot of bandwagon fans, sponsorship, winning is great, but it's not a business strategy in itself. So the question is I'd like to ask from the team's point of view: why did this guy stick with this team despite everything for 20 years? What is that thing that made him buy the merch, come to the games and often that thing is a sense of belonging. It's that community. I think that part is undervalued.
Tinus Le Roux: (05:31)
And understanding that people all tribal, less so maybe today than 20 years ago — I'm not sure. Maybe the tribes are created quicker and dissipate faster, but they're tribal, and they don't support a specific sport based on the merits. Don't tell a fan that. But I'm a massive rugby fan. And when I came to the States, I thought these guys playing with pads, helmets and I mean come on. If they just knew about rugby, they will not be watching NFL. And I just realized that with time, it has nothing to do with that. It's not that one sport is better than the other. I support rugby. I'm a rugby fan because, and I've said this often, is because that's the game my dad took me to. And that's the thing we speak about over weekends. Sport has the ability to create intimacy. It is a common denominator that you can start chatting to a stranger about. And they both know the same moments. Oh, were you at that game? And now there's a connection. I think that part is often underplayed from a business planning point of view. It's saying, what are we doing to enhance community, to strengthen the community at least, and what are we doing that prevents it from flourishing?
Rob Cressy: (06:55)
Yeah. And I believe that is actually the challenge because community is a long-term play when by definition businesses, what have you done for me lately? What can I do to get more people in the gates or to sell more merchandise? Which is why the fan experience is so important. And as we look at brand loyalty, I believe that brand loyalty is starting to go in the opposite direction very quickly because of the number of choices that we have available. So even my own example, why would I continue to support the Pittsburgh Pirates when all they do is bring negativity into my life? Or they don't give me back what I give them on the flip side, why would I not just replace it with any number of a million of amazing things go on in the world now. So even if you think about the rise of eSports right now, and how iss major league baseball going to try and capture this younger demographic? If you are a younger kid right now, you'd say, wait a second, what is more appealing to me? This fast, quick video game as opposed to this long drawn-out boring thing of which if my team isn't good, why would I give a crap? Like it doesn't make sense to me. And I think if the teams don't realize this, they're in for big trouble because the number of alternatives, you're no longer just competing against other teams. You're competing against everything.
Tinus Le Roux: (08:22)
No, no, you're absolutely right. I have a 12 year-old, 10 year-old and a six year-old. All boys. And I know they follow rugby in a way that I didn't. My 12 year-old and I were playing Apex legends, that sort of thing. Now it's just so much better. But we talk about new season three came out and it's the same conversation I had with my dad about rugby. So back to that point is, you're exactly right. Is that traditional sports? It's more challenging. But I thank God we've gotten traditional sports, this massive opportunity that a lot of these structures, a lot of the culture specifically in America is just built around it.
Tinus Le Roux: (09:14)
So yes, gaming is interesting, eSports, just get back to them. But Sundays, this time of the year, it's football and all the channels support it, it's there for the taking. You just need to be able to give people access to them and think about it from that community perspective. So definitely challenges are out there, but it's also not just doom and gloom. I wonder how many people in a baseball game are really baseball fans. It's because it's America's pastime. They want to be there. And that physical location, we may think that we need less of it.
Rob Cressy: (10:02)
I believe in order to help continue to build the brand loyalty and get more people paying attention to our brand, that brands need to be forward thinking. And this can be something that is a challenge. Is it a legacy brand or the number of reasons why a brand is not forward thinking? Because it is a very changing environment. And even looking with FanFood, who is changing the way that mobile ordering is done in stadium and arena purchases, you're like, well wait a second, why would I wait in line for an hour for food when I'm at home? I just hit up Doordash and they'll deliver it for me and I can watch the entire game. And then all the myriad of other ways. How for stadiums, some have wifi, some have none. And you're like, how is it possible? I live in a un-WiFi stadium world. So let's talk about now crowd intelligence, the second part of things, because this was very interesting to me and it's very forward thinking. So can you describe a little bit more about crowd intelligence?
Tinus Le Roux: (11:07)
Yeah, and that is a good segway. Let me just take a step back and link onto what you said there. I fully agree. We need to make sure that the stadium experience needs to be competitive, there needs to be wifi. You need to be able to actually have food, if it needs to be clean, and you need to be able to hear what's going on. I take those as givens. My job is to look ahead and say, let's assume technology solves those things. What is the next thing? So when I say community and all these things doesn't mean there shouldn't be wifi. A I really liked your comment in terms of sponsors being forward thinking. The example, I would be careful here, but it's like the beer industry. There's often this tug of war in sports.
Tinus Le Roux: (11:55)
Are you going to sponsor? Who's going to be the alcohol provider? And it's sometimes contentious. Maybe this is too bold and unrealistic, but I would say, look guys, we gather these 50,000 folks together every Saturday, every Sunday in a place where they want to enjoy your product. If we're not there in five years from now and everyone's at home playing games, how are you going to find your clients? Are you going to sell your product? Please help us maintain this community. And then if you understand that it's a symbiotic relations, then I think you'll find sponsors realizing we need to do activations that enhance community because the stronger this community that the easier for us to communicate within it and to monetize our sponsorship.
Tinus Le Roux: (12:55)
So with that as a background, I think there's very little statistical data on the composition and behavior of crowds. And after five or six years of looking at a lot of pictures of a lot of fans, I realized that maybe within our imagery maybe we can pull some data. And that's exactly what we did. So we built something called Crowd IQ. And what it does is we use computer vision to analyze the pictures ,and by delivering demographic information we can tell it team, first off, when are the people in the seats. So at this time there are so many people at the seats, and at this times. Second one is, what's the demographic composition?
Tinus Le Roux: (13:48)
So what's the male-female split? Does it change with the weather? How many millennials in the building? Does it change if I drop off or increase the prices and to what extent? So you can start understanding how this crowd operates and how it reacts specifically to changes in variables, because that's what you want to do. Because if you do that, you can start doing predictive analysis and say, right, this is the community. I want to create that community. And this is the gap between where we are, where we want to go. These are the things I need to do. I've gone into a tangent. I get excited about these things.
Rob Cressy: (14:25)
No, it makes complete sense because let's keep this going with the community and activation side of things. Because if you are smart, you're like, all right, this is the demographic that we want. And you're like, well how does our marketing campaign work right now? And you're like, well, let's just look at the crowd intelligence and say, are we getting more? Is the crowd that are the community that we're building more of what we want? If not, something is not resonating. So for me, I'm going to start looking at brand voice. I'm going to start looking at engagement because there's going to be a myriad of metrics on any marketing or community driven campaign that says, all right, we're not doing something good if we are not seeing more of what we want congregating, based on what we're putting out there.
Tinus Le Roux: (15:13)
Exactly. And then the first thing there is, if you look at all the fearmongering in sport, you look at a lot of discussion around MLB numbers now, it's a drop. But you still have millions of people coming together in the same place. And we all know that. We haven't really dug into how to monetize that group better. So I would take a step back and say, this is what we have. We have X million people coming together at these locations. We know their frame of mind. It's wonderful for sponsors. So I would say, what is a crowd? What is a fan base? It gives us long-term growth and stability. What does it look like? How many young people are in there? What's the male, female split? What is their experience like? Does there need to be Wi-Fi? How do we tweak those things and build that into our conversations with brands and say, I know you want this. I know you want your banner everywhere. But if we do it this way, then in two years from now, we're going to have half the people. So let's subsidize tickets. Let's sponsor the wifi. It's look at the things that create community and align your activations with that.
Rob Cressy: (16:54)
I dig it and my background's in digital advertising sales, so I have a unique perspective on, let's call it cookies and targeting than most people will because I'm like, of course, I would much rather see a relevant ad than some garbage thing that has nothing to do with what I'm doing. But I get all privacy and data and all that stuff. But for me, uh, I'm not a fear-based person. I'm more of a, I've got a million other things to worry about, if I say the word tacos and all of a sudden a taco ad pops up, guess what? Congratulations. I probably would get some tacos. But I see this as the next sort of extension of this because can you give the people what they want? Oftentimes I will just have them fill out a survey. It's like you have to make this as easy as possible on the people and the easiest way to make it easy on the people, it's not have them fill out a survey that doesn't do anything for them. Instead you're like, listen, we're going to use technology to understand your behavior to make this better for you and the sponsors. Everyone wins.
Tinus Le Roux: (17:57)
No, that's 100%. Because often with something like sport, which is cultural, people don't know why they're fans. I'm also a fan. Why are you fan of theaters? Really it isn't why you're fan? Because that's the same answer. The city, other fans of the other NFL teams and whatever we choose. So the survey is not the best way to do it. The best way to predict behaviors to measure it, right? At this game we didn't play any ads on the big screen. How many more people looked at their phones. Use your wifi information to see which kind of sites they visit. Now there's a, there's a balance. It's important not to go creepy on this and go big brother. It's really isn't about individual information. It's about aggregate information saying, look, during the halftime break, 24% of the fans went onto Twitter and 28 millions onto Facebook but no team really cares about exactly what you were doing. So that type of data, it could be really valuable for understanding. How would you tweak this experience in a way that creates a better community? And for me it comes down to community and trust because within a community, if you trust brands, whether that's the team or the sponsors or anything, then you're like, well of course I'll allow you to do that. But when that trust is broken, that's the challenge.
Rob Cressy: (19:45)
And I think that's what a lot of teams and brands are facing, especially in this "buy what I'm selling, buy what I'm selling" always in your face.
Tinus Le Roux: (19:53)
Long done. That that ship has hit the iceberg and it's going down.
Rob Cressy: (19:59)
Of course, but as the consumer of things you still see it and you're like, how is this still an ad? And we'll sort of end on this. I mean I get the place, but also, what makes me become so encouraging about the community driven side of things is because if you can bring in and bridge the element of trust between the brand and the team that you love in that community, we should be there with open arms saying thank you for the opportunity to consume this brand because you're making my experience better.
Tinus Le Roux: (20:30)
That's it. And I think that that's a perspective I'll finish on. Yes it's a disruptive time for sports but not because of sports, because it's a disruptive time. And what I would do if I'm in a team's position now is spend my energy on understanding my fans, and not making assumptions about them because it's also a moving target. What you're understanding about your fans now is going to be different in five years from now. You need to track this and there are different ways to do that. Be responsible for how you gather that information. There needs to be a benefit to the fans, but that's possible. Would you need to be principled about it and then improve your product, and go serve your sponsors and say, look, this is what we want to achieve. We want your billboard that's up there. In five years from now, we want eyes on that thing. And these are the things we need to do and we can generate value in the process. And that's a really exciting prospect having those conversations and breaking some of the wastage on nonsense metrics and stuff like that.
Rob Cressy: (21:57)
Tinus, I really enjoyed this conversation. I enjoy your mindset and philosophies and the way you're so community-driven and fan-focused. Where can everybody connect with you?
Tinus Le Roux: (22:11)
I'm on Twitter once in a while if you don't mind specifically now with Rugby World Cup going on, you may get some rugby tweets there, but Twitter and LinkedIn and because of my unique name, I'm easy to find. So it's Tinus Le Roux on both Twitter and LinkedIn.
Rob Cressy: (22:36)
And as always I would love to hear from you about this episode. What's top of mind for me right now is brand loyalty with sports. Let me hear about your brand loyalty. Do you feel like you love your teams as much now as you always have or is there someone or something fighting for that attention? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram, @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.