Ep. 28: Increasing Fan Engagement Using Data with Randy Eccker
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.
Randy Eccker, Managing Director at Homefield LLC, joins Rob Cressy to talk about increasing fan engagement using data. How can companies use data to quantify the impact signing a superstar free agent has? Why is the sports industry traditionally lagging when it comes to being forward thinking? How can brands own a relationship with the youth market with a mindset towards long term growth?
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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 today is Randy Eccker managing director at Homefield LLC. Randy, great to have you on the show.
Randy Eccker: (00:30)
Thanks Rob. It's good to be here.
Rob Cressy: (00:32)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Randy Eccker: (00:37)
Well, who I am. I've been in the sports market since I was a little kid, right. My dad was a coach. I played basketball and baseball at Creighton University and then went into coaching. I was an assistant basketball coach at the college level for nine years got out of coaching into broadcasting and then through the broadcast industry was sucked into the technology side of sports and to keep time at a premium here, I won't go through all the details, but really started to focus then in on the transition from, of film in those days back in the 80s, everybody was doing their coaching analytics and scouting and prep and things like that in 16 millimeter film. So we transitioned the industry from film to video. That took us a couple of years. I got back into coaching and into the pro basketball and scouted for the Indiana Pacers for a few years. And then I started consulting back in the industry, in the sports technology industry and we transitioned the industry then from video to digital video. And we did that for the 90s. And then in 2000, we sold that company to pinnacle and we started XOS technologies, which has evolved into XOS digital and that's really where it blossomed. And we literally took the entire industry from digital video to multimedia and incorporated from an analytics standpoint, all of the data, all of the play diagramming, interactive video, really a multimedia platform for coaches and scouts and general managers and things like that. And then simultaneously we worked on as the internet was becoming more and more popular. We leveraged a lot of those relationships and really started in net network group where we developed about 170 to 180 a collegiate properties or we provided, there were websites for some of them.
Randy Eccker: (02:46)
We had a ticketing platform, we had our donor management platform and literally we were streaming more video at that time than anybody in the country, including ESPN and Fox and folks like that. So I did that until 2011 and then I left XOS to really pursue a lot of other things and then over the last seven or eight years, I've really helped a number of different companies across the sports media, digital media, from rights negotiations to building out technologies. And we've tried to focus two in particular on the data side of sports, whether it's performance and analytics or personal identifiable information that we could aggregate and really make actionable and meaningful so that so the companies and the industry can really manage those relationships with their fans in a much more powerful way.
Rob Cressy: (03:43)
So I really liked the way that you mentioned that managing the relationship with fans because I look at my own consumption in, I'm not sure how, if any sports brands are managing their relationship with me. If I think about it, the primary way is probably going to be Twitter or Instagram. We're going to be the number one and two ways in. A lot of the sub is going to be seeking out. So in my Twitter feed I'm going to see something from the teams that I follow there. But I'm curious, how do you see the managing of relationships from your perspective?
Randy Eccker: (04:18)
Well, it's a very comprehensive thing and I would say, Rob, if you look at the, the most valuable companies in the world today are really data companies. The Googles, even Apple, we think of as a hardware company. It's really a data company. Twitter, Facebook Alibaba, you know, all of these companies are really data centric companies and the, what they know about you helps direct your relationship with them and it helps them to position themselves in ways that are appealing to you. And really sports are lagging way behind the rest of the world. And in corporate America, the world's from a corporate perspective we're just kicking and screaming into the data age really. So that's one of the things that we've been focused in on that I've been primarily focused in on really even since we had XOS, XOS at that time companies were being valued based on eyeballs and we were the first ones to really focus in on a more comprehensive data set and we were able to do that through the registration, through fans visiting and cookies through ticketing and when you registered and bought tickets, we had a lot more information about you purchasing gear and e-commerce through the website. Our donor management. So we really developed a very comprehensive set of information and it was well, well before anybody was even thinking about that in that regard. So but now the NBA, the NFL, major league baseball, they're becoming more technology savvy. They're more digitally focused. And part of being digitally focused is the data that comes along with that. So you know, to your point, you're thinking about it from a direct to consumer perspective. And that's only one aspect. I'll give you a good example. One of the companies is called Foresee Insights. And originally I was a chairman of that company and now sit on their advisory board still. We did an exercise when LeBron James went from the Miami Heat back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and it showed the boost when he did that, it was so notable to the sports community and the impact it had from a social perspective on the companies that he was endorsing. You know, they're like T-Mobile at the time, Sprite, Boost, all of those companies had a tremendous kick in popularity with fans that related to that. And then we also looked at five other companies who would have, if they were being endorsed by LeBron James would have had a similar type boost, but they were missing out on that, for example. So there's a lot of different ways that data can be utilized if you're aggregating enough of it you know, across a wide variety or a wide swath of the universe.
Rob Cressy: (07:44)
I really like this example. So let's keep going with this because one of the things that you heard is when LeBron initially left Cleveland, how much that killed the economy or LeBron James was the economy of downtown Cleveland. Sports goes to Miami, then comes back, wins the title there. So often in sports we see these gigantic contracts by some of the biggest superstars in the world. And you're like, how in the world can Mike trout or someone get paid 300 plus million dollars? But what I liked about what you just said is you helped quantify this by saying, look at the impact that LeBron has had on these brands that he's working with. So logically you could then say, well, what is the impact LeBron is having on the city of Cleveland and the commerce that is happening downtown there? And is this something that is more prevalent and taken into consideration by these owners when they signed some of these players? Because so often from the fan side of things like, man, that player got this much money, how can he be worth it?
Randy Eccker: (08:52)
Yeah, it's a great point. And to the point where one of the companies that I was working with over the last couple of years they had the ability to look at, for example, in baseball free agency, right? So who are the big free agents? The kid who plays for the Phillies now, Bryce Harper. And the kid who is with the LA Dodgers who went to San Diego Padres, Manny Machado. So those two guys, for example, were the big free agent signings of a couple of years ago and it was really interesting to look at and analyze both on the field and off the field, the impact that they would have on any particular team. So for example, either one of them would have far less impact from a value or a wind percentage with the New York Yankees than they did with the San Diego Padres and Manny Machado, I believe, signed a 10-year contract. And because of what he meant to their franchise, they were going to pay that back in the value he created before his contract was halfway through. But the Dodgers or the Yankees, they would have never re recouped that money from a Yankees perspective, for example, just because of the dynamic around them, the players, they already had the popularity of those players and the way that he would necessarily fit in both on the field and off the field in the community.
Rob Cressy: (10:32)
So I think a perfect example of this would be then a few years ago, Albert Pujoles is on the St Louis Cardinals. He's with that team. He's the best player in baseball, but he's getting, let's call it, he's in his thirties now. He's a free agent. His time for his big contract and the Cardinals did not reassign him. And on the flip side, the Los Angeles angels said, we're going to, and we're going to give him that 10 year contracts or whatever, 200 300 million. So he was in the exact same position as Manny and Bryce, except he was older. As you know, if someone's in their thirties when they're getting this monster contract on the back end of this, he's going to be making 20-30 million a year and he might be hitting .232 and be a shell of himself. But the, one of the big selling points of this is Albert Pujoles going to get his 3000th hit and he's going to start setting all of these records. He's also now part of the organization. And I think for a lot of teams there's a lack of identity of we don't have someone who can be part of our lineage in the salability and marketability of that. What does that do for our corporate sales and our vendors around the stadium and just in the local area there. So I explained that a bit more on someone like him because I think he is the perfect example where he is on the legacy side of things. So when they say our Pujoles, Hall of Famer, boom, it's going to say Angels, 3000 hit, there's the Angels.
Randy Eccker: (12:07)
Right. And that's where a lot of revenue generated. It's for the teams, it's generated through the TV contracts, right. And through the rev sharing, it's contracted through ticket sales. So having people like that who the fans enjoy and they want to come see and they want to affiliate with and an associate with in the sponsors, right. So sponsors are a big part, the local sponsors and you're exactly right, those types of guys. And that was the example with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and those guys that if they went to the right team who needed that sort of a lift, they were more than valuable enough and would pay back the 300 million if he goes to the Yankees or the Dodgers that are already star-studded, already have very representative people in the organization and leaders both on the field and in the community, you know, then they're just another guy there rather than the guy and you know, similar to what you're talking about with with him. So that's just one example of how data, the intangible aspects, what seemed to be intangible from our standpoint are now quantifiable, right? You can actually have the analytics around that and create real charts around you know, how valuable somebody is to a particular organization or a particular sport.
Rob Cressy: (13:31)
Here's something that I don't understand, and you mentioned this earlier in the, in our conversation that sports is lagging way behind and is now just data and analytics because it's social, it's marketing, it's so many things. It seems that the sports industry as a whole is not as forward thinking as some of the other industries there. And I don't get it. I don't understand why, given the amount of eyeballs, dollars, passion, smart people that are part of this, what is causing a non forward thinking or a lagging behind mindset for the industry?
Randy Eccker: (14:12)
Well, it's getting better. And guys like David Stern, the late David Stern, who we all have a tremendous amount of affection for, we're really the first ones to start to put this front and center, right? The marketing, the promotion, but if you look at the way most sports organizations make their money, and particularly as you go down market into the colleges, for example, they outsource everything, right? So if you look at college you know, the colleges for example, let's take LSU. They won the national championship last night and we're very familiar with them. We've got a lot there. They've been a client of ours for 30 years and you look at their sales are outsourced, their ticketing is outsourced, their their TV rights and media rights are outsourced, their technologies are outsourced, they don't develop anything themselves. Their most valuable thing they have are the rights to their content and so, and remember you have people that have come up through the industry who were either coaches or administrators. They weren't necessarily businessmen that were driving capitalistic types of corporations and businesses to create more value. So sports have traditionally sold off their rights rather than managing them internally and as such they're still waiting for that group who will come in and buy their data rights and pay top dollar for that. And that's why the digital aspect of, of the sports rights environment is going to get really interesting over the next five to 10 years because you have a lot of data companies that are are now also media companies or looking to find ways to engage with fans through content so they can continue to build up the databases and the data information, the personal information on fans and consumers that they can continue to drive value.
Rob Cressy: (16:24)
What do you think will be the next level of ways that they use content to engage fans? So I think about back in the day when I was running a publisher website, everyone's creating articles and then now people are creating videos and now you're seeing live streaming and you're seeing podcasts and a large majority of things. What sort of has your eye for where the content side of things was going to go to allow the data to come in?
Randy Eccker: (16:49)
Well, it's really interesting if you look at the over the top channels, they're becoming more and more prevalent from YouTube to Apple TV, etc. You know, just recently Apple met with the PAC 12, the PAC 12 rights are going to be up fairly soon. So Apple's meeting with the PAC 12, okay, how can we play in the rights environment to your content, right to stream live games and, and highlights and things like coaches shows and things along those lines. How can we get the rights so we can engage with sports fans more directly? Google, which owns YouTube, right? That's another YouTube got a whole sports division that they're trying to maneuver into this rights environment. Amazon is a great, you know, if you look at AWS and they're powering and they're sponsoring a number of different things at the NFL level, so these big data companies, cause really that's what they are, that's where their value is driven and, and extracted from. They're starting to become engaged in the sports environment and trying to figure out, okay, how can we play in a way that because they're so valuable from a corporate perspective with their public financing and things like that, the ability to be competitive in the rights environment becomes an important factor in this as well. So there's lots of stuff going on and then you can drive that down into even the microscopic levels of sports where the fan who comes to the game and the tickets and the donations and they buy e-commerce and merchandise and they buy concessions and all those transactions are driving a lot of data and a lot of information as well and those are your grassroots fans and that's where the schools or the athletic departments or the pro franchises or the leagues. They want to know who those guys are because they're starting to have challenges with attendance and they're starting to have challenges with those relationships because there's so many distractions in the world today. So they want to know how can I best serve those fans and how can I monetize those fans by understanding who they are, what they like, where they're going to be, and how can I engage with them and how can I allow my sponsors to engage with them as well. So we've got the top end. We talked about all the way down into the microcosm of sports. And then, you know, we talked earlier about the thing I'm most involved with now and that's Homefield LLC and our opportunity, the youth sports industry is a $20 billion industry, give or take, and it's fragmented. It's disparate. It's in a lot of ways it's not well managed.
Randy Eccker: (19:44)
And our ability to come in and disrupt the youth sports space and really create an environment in our performance facilities where kids and their families, have the ability to go someplace, be entertained, be supported, have the best in class facilities, medical training, all of those things, and really start to feel like a pro as a youth sports enthusiast and participant so they can optimize not only their experience, but the opportunity to succeed to the highest level that they're capable of. That's really where we're focusing a lot of our energy. But data's a big component of that as well. You've got 40 billion kids participating in youth sports and everybody wants to know, why do you think Nike and Adidas and all those guys are, are expending so much money into the youth sports space, right? They're trying to build loyal customers. They want to know who they are and they want to get at them early so that they can, you know, they can be their loyal customer for the rest of their life and really that's where we aim to play. Not only create a great experience, but also to create a great understanding of who youth participants are and their families in sports so we can drive a lot of significant value for everybody, including those kids and their families.
Rob Cressy: (21:09)
I like this concept and I'm just thinking about the evolution of from when I was little, I just a little kid playing youth sports all the way up to now and how even having YouTube available now makes kids exponentially better. And I think about basketball. When my dad was teaching me to play basketball, he gave me dribbling glasses so that I couldn't look down and he would have me dribble with my left hand around the poles at the YMCA. And that was how I learned how to dribble with my left hand. But now if you look at it, I jump on Instagram and because I play basketball and I've got basketball clients, I get all of these ads for do you want to have the best handles? Take a look at all these drills that you can do and like everything is there. You see Steph Curry, you can learn his pregame dribbling routine and all of this stuff. It's just so amazing but here's what I'm curious about. When it comes to the brand side of things that not everyone's going to be a pro, but it seems like what you guys are building says we're going to at least give people the ability to have the structure around them, like a professional at an early age would. And then you're like, all right, we've got these major brands, Adidas, Nike, whoever, Under Armour who wants to build the relationships lifetime with them. So I'm thinking, I'm like, well, what if I could sign a lifetime contract with Nike as a six year old amateur athlete? And is there an ability for these brands in theory to say we're willing to pony up on the front end hoping that one of them turns into a LeBron James almost the way that I see. I think international soccer, these kids, they sign with a team early on and all of a sudden they go all the way through their camp and it's like, Oh, we got Ronaldo now and he's on Man City or wherever he is. Is there some model around that that could work within this construct?
Randy Eccker: (23:10)
Yeah. You're exactly right in the US people dabbling in that has gotten a lot of people in trouble over the last couple of years relative to the recruitment of some of these basketball kids that. I would say Adidas is the one that's come out has been helping fund them directly and their AAU teams and things like that. So there's a lot of changes. As we all know. There's a lot of things going on in the NCAA. There's a lot of changes and you know, the government, the legislature, both at the state level and at the national level are looking at ways to how can we solve this problem? Remunerate kids or help kids financially and not create a barrier to financial wealth because they're really talented or they have a special skill or something like that. But currently that's where the NCAA and and the feds are looking very closely at this. And so you've got competing interests right here right now and it'll be interesting to see how that evolves over the next couple of years for sure.
Rob Cressy: (24:28)
Yeah. And I agree in without having to get too much into it, it just, it seems almost archaic that you could have a child actor who can make a ton of money as a six year old on a TV show, but then you take the same kid and you make him a talent at insert whatever sport that you want and he's able to wear a free Jersey that the league supports him that says Adidas on that. But he can't take money from Adidas or wear Adidas sponsored stuff and that just doesn't make sense to me.
Randy Eccker: (25:02)
Yeah, it doesn't and that's one of the challenges is the NCAA has evolved from the real dark ages a while ago. And, and they've tried to do a nice job of building value through sports but also making it a part of the educational experience. And that, that child star, right, who later goes to Princeton or Harvard or whatever, of which there's been, many of them have, you know, they go as just a normal student, right? When you go as a student athlete, you're representing the school and you're representing the conference and the money that you're helping to generate is providing opportunities for hundreds and maybe thousands of other students to have similar types of experience. So anyway, it's a very complex problem and a very complex issue and there were a lot of people working on it right now, I assure you.
Rob Cressy: (26:03)
Well, I'm sure you and I, Randy, are going to solve it by the end of this podcast.
Randy Eccker: (26:07)
I don't think so.
Rob Cressy: (26:09)
Randy, I really enjoyed this conversation. Where can everybody connect with you?
Randy Eccker: (26:15)
Well. @RandyEccker on Twitter is probably the best place right now. Otherwise I'm on LinkedIn. You can Google me. I've got all sorts of stuff out there as well, but LinkedIn is probably the best place. You know, I get a lot of information from a lot of people there. Twitter's also @RandyEccker and that's probably not a bad place
Rob Cressy: (26:44)
To reach me either. And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. Did it cause you to think or take action or do you have thoughts on any of the topics we jammed about? 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 @RobCressy.