How the Minnesota Vikings are increasing fan engagement with data and AI

Marketing Gazette sat down with Minnesota Vikings and Selligent Marketing Cloud to discuss how data and AI can be used to bolster fan engagement and deliver personalised content.

Minnesota Vikings players celebrating with fans

We caught up with the Minnesota Vikings to discuss getting the most out of data and AI, the impact of COVID-19 on their marketing efforts and how B2C marketing automation specialist, Selligent, is helping the team.

Joining us in the discussion were Rich Wang, director of analytics, and Genette Sekse Amar, sales/analytics & engagement manager, at Minnesota Vikings, along with Troy Smith, NA manager, Selligent Marketing Cloud.

How do the Minnesota Vikings use data and AI to bring in new fans and keep fans coming back for more content?

RW: We’re using AI in a couple of different ways right now. The most evident one is our chatbot. Essentially, what we find that is that on a game day, renewal season or buying and selling tickets, there are a lot of questions that people have.

When people engage with you and ask very specific questions, it’s tough to pick up a phone and have a 20 minute conversation. So we invested resources into our chatbot.

Within that chatbot, there’s machine learning, automated messaging about “where are the cheeseburgers?” and “where are the hot dogs?”.  Any type of question that you could possibly think about, we try to have it in the chatbot and it also gives us information too, meaning that we’re capturing what people are asking.

What we realised through these questions is that these are new people coming in. It may not be the majority, but these questions are very valid, so we had to address them.

The next portion is that we built a pretty robust primary research over the last couple of years and came to six major personas in our fanbase and we’ve been able to develop that in various sets of qualitative and quantitative work. So we identified around 2,000 fans based on those six personas that answered our survey questions.

We have very defined sets of fans now. We understand what they value.

GSA: We know every fan consumes very different content. In the past, on our website, it was kind of hard for certain personas to find that content. You might have to click through several pages to get to some of that live or player content. But now with Selligent, if you come to our website and we know which persona you are because we predict it, you’re being served a different piece of content on that front page of ours.

So we’re super excited that we’re getting that up and running with Selligent now for that more personalised content experience.

TS: It’s the right information at the right time. It’s combining that profile data and the learning that goes on with the core text tools to taking that information and apply it along with the profile to serve up the content through the website engagement.

How is Selligent helping to ensure that the Vikings are delivering this kind of personalised content?

TS: From a technology standpoint, it’s really making sure that we’re giving our clients resources to capture that data.

The best possible technology with our site product, with our AI, to being in that data, store that data and then make it usable.

That really is the key. Having that data at your fingertips and making it easy and actionable for our clients to use and bring forth the programs they want to execute, be it through social media, email, mobile or through the website itself.

It’s through the channel that best utilises that data for personalisation and content.

What have been the main challenges regarding data collection and fan engagement regarding COVID-19 and how have you worked around these challenges?

RW: With COVID happening in March, I would say we were lucky in a lot of ways because we were just coming into the off-season and winding down.

So we were able to watch the rest of the world and industries and how they navigated those waters.

We’re trying to be very sensitive about what’s going on around the world while also operating a business and figuring out what our role is in the community.

Have there been any positives regarding the situation in terms of how you’ve approached fan engagement and data collection?

RW: I would say in the last two or three months, we’ve really had to change our entire business mindset. We were equipped and prepared for it, because we really invested in content, personalisation, data and research prior to COVID.

For example, we have roughly 5,000 for the Draft Party in person. But this year we got 100,000 people watching the Draft Party show. So we actually reached 20 times more people than what we originally would have had for the event.

It’s good to communicate that idea of connection during these unprecedented times when we’re all distanced and interacting virtually more than ever.

RW: I mean, 10 years ago, we didn’t have this information. People were coming to games for paper tickets. We didn’t know who our fans were.

But now, we’re getting really sophisticated information on who our fans are and where there are and it looks really different.

My goal, as a staff member, is how I interact with our brand to the fanbase and really unblocking that distance.

GSA: What’s cool now is that we’re seeing that our reach can be so much further if we focus in on unique channels, unique content, behind the scenes and delivering that to reach our audience.

We focussed so heavily on those 66,000 people that come inside our stadium and now we’re going to be focusing on broader than that. So, I think if we look back in February 2020, that’s going to be one of the biggest positives with this pandemic, along with a lot of new innovation that our team is coming up with because we can’t provide that in person game experience just now.

TS: I would agree. I think you guys are really hitting it there because if you look at it historically, remote fans had a website and direct TV to watch that game and now that you guys are doing a lot more to try and engage with fans and give them that feeling, that actually extends so greatly to your remote fans who didn’t have that opportunity.

RW: Absolutely.

GSA: And going internationally, we have a huge audience in the UK, which is pretty cool. The product we’re creating here from behind the scenes, we can deliver that outwards now and a lot further, so it’ll be a lot of fun for international fans this year too.

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