Portland Trail Blazers Keep Record Attendance Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Data Analytics

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By:  Matt Bolch

Leaders at SSB Consulting Group never imagined that a single engagement with a performing arts center would result in a new business unit, one that accounts for half of their business. But if a company can solve a key challenge for an entire market, significant new opportunities will surely follow.

For SSB, that business challenge is data analytics, and more specifically the ability for sports and entertainment companies to capture data flowing through ticketing systems and convert it into actionable insights that can help drive customer loyalty and increase sales.

For the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA, gaining these insights into their data has translated into averaging 101.8 percent of seating capacity during the 2015-16 season, setting a franchise record in the process. The team sold out 34 of 41 regular season games.

“Back when I started four years ago, finding answers to questions required going to various data silos that didn’t interact with each other,” says Mike Schumacher, director of business analytics for the Trail Blazers. “With a central data warehouse, we get answers quicker and can react and change what we’re doing very quickly in response to new information.”

Built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Azure, the SSB’s SaaS-based service interacts with ticketing systems “to help clients stratify their customers to maximize customer lifetime value,” says Andrew Brodie, founder and senior partner at Denver-based SSB Consulting Group. “It looks at conversion, merchandising and loyalty to create upsell opportunities and identify at-risk season ticketholders to help increase retention.”

Moving beyond the initial sale

Ticketing systems are designed to, naturally, sell tickets. But helping a venue truly understand ticketholders can be more difficult. The holy grail of any CRM system is fully leveraging the data that flows through it to bring new insights (and sales) to the organization.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts was experiencing that difficulty in 2008 with its Paciolan system, owned by Comcast Spectacor. Comcast brought SSB in to help the venue distill ticketing system data into actionable information that let managers make better decisions.

“Stakeholders had no access to how they were doing because getting data out of the system was troublesome. We figured out how to get the data out in a form they could use,” Brodie says.

Building on that early success, Comcast came back to SSB for help with another client – the Trail Blazers. Even though the NBA team moved to Tickemaster three years ago, SSB continues to work with the team on its ticketing initiatives.

“The problem with ticketing systems is that they’re great for determining who bought what, but that information is not organized and shaped for business-to-business analysis,” Brodie says. That’s the difference between buying a commodity product and creating personalized opportunities to help ticketholders make deeper, more meaningful (and profitable) relationships.

The Trail Blazers use Dynamics CRM to develop fan profiles of ticketholders based on their buying trends and individual preferences. This real-time intelligence gives management unparalleled insight into their customers and allows them to offer customers customized experiences based on their preferences. It’s not a scattershot approach but a very targeted one.

In addition to identifying new opportunities, the software can help with retention efforts. It can identify ticketholders who are in danger of not renewing their season tickets. By intervening early, team representatives can head off potential problems that can lead to non-renewals.

“Analytics gives our sales reps better awareness of the relationships they actually have with customers,” Schumacher says. “We use a retention model that shows which fans are very likely to renew (their season tickets) and who’s less likely so reps can focus on those who need a little more care.”

Using these techniques, the Trail Blazers retained 96 percent of season ticketholders during the 2015-156 season, a Top 10 ranking among NBA teams.

“Just about everyone in the organization interacts with the system through various dashboards that are tailored to user groups,” Schumacher explains. Team executives see such metrics as top level sales, sponsorship revenue and suite sales. For sales and service representatives, metrics are more granular and include figures on current call campaigns, number of inbound/outbound calls, number of emails answered, appointments set and revenue on their sales. Televisions around the facility show key performance indicators. Dashboard and other metrics also can be accessed from mobile devices and tablets, which is especially handy on game days.

Early successes open up a new vertical

Microsoft is increasingly urging VARs to expand their vertical markets and develop IP, and SSB has done exactly both in the sports and entertainment vertical.

Beginning with its first contract for the Denver arts center and building on its success with the Trail Blazers, SSB Consulting Group now works with more than 40 individual sports teams and leagues, including the Southeastern Conference and NASCAR. Its sports and entertainment group accounts for one-half of the company’s revenues. Other focus areas include higher education and healthcare, although any company struggling with data analytics issues could be a potential client.

The company still works with every sports and entertainment company it has ever signed, according to Brodie. “It was total serendipity that we began working in sports and entertainment, one that we had to revisit as part of our strategic plan,” Brodie says. “But one of the strategic objectives we had was whether the problem we solved could be turned into a SaaS opportunity.”

SSB Consulting Group is a Microsoft Gold partner in cloud platform and collaboration and a Silver partner in data analytics. The analytics system it developed helps clients verify as accurate the data flowing through their ticketing and CRM systems, allowing them to roll up that data and other metrics in dashboards to make mission-critical decisions. SSB licenses its Azure-based system to clients, a constant source of revenue.

“The relationship we’ve developed with the Portland Trail Blazers and other clients has been interesting as we’ve watched them evolve,” Brodie says. “We’ve never wanted to be just product-based consultants, we wanted to be a partner. Our strategy is to help our clients change the way the organization operates in terms of its relationships with customers.”

About Matt Bolch

Matt Bolch is co-founder of content provider Landscape Creative. He is a long-time journalist specializing in technology and health IT topics. He can be reached at matt@landscape-creative.com