INTERVIEW: Aileen McManamon “A more responsible fan experience for happier fans”
Aileen McManamon, founder of 5T Sports, helps us navigate through the challenges and opportunities of sustainability and fan experience.
Is putting on a great show incompatible with sustainable development? Sports franchises and leagues rely heavily on live entertainment. The necessity for sports companies to provide a fun experience to their customers is often perceived as conflicting with sustainable development.
How can sports franchises promote sustainability while providing a memorable fan experience? That is the question we tackled with Aileen McManamon, founder of 5T Sports Group.
Hello Aileen, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I found my way to the sports industry via the automotive and technology sectors. I’m originally from the United States (Cleveland, Ohio) and studied Economics and then International Business which led me to work for GM, FIAT and Alfa Romeo in Germany. There I handled Marketing & Advertising which included our sports partnerships with the Tour de France and auto racing, so I have a good grounding in both brand strategy, consumer marketing and leveraging sports as a messaging medium. When I joined the technology sector in 1995 things were developing quickly so I had to stay knowledgeable about tech development as well as sort out the hype from the reality of products, services and companies. My tech career took me from Germany, back to the U.S. (Chicago then San Diego) and finally to Vancouver, Canada.
When Vancouver won the hosting rights for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in 2003, I decided my first love of sports was where I wanted to be working professionally, so I analyzed where my insights from sports marketing, consumer / fan behavior and innovative technology (especially for communications) could best ‘play’ in sports. I began with several projects which included promoting Canada at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games, launching several skiing related products and running our professional baseball team. My career has been a fun adventure around a number of different sports, sectors and countries! I think this has helped me gain a broad and thoughtful perspective on the fan experience.
10 years ago you founded 5T Sports. Could you please tell us about the goal of this company?
Initially I began in brand strategy and promotions/sponsorships and worked on Olympic-related projects – this was something I knew how to do, but honestly it didn’t challenge me, and professionally we all need that.
As the global financial crisis and climate crisis were unfolding during the first year I launched 5T, I decided that the industry needed ‘future-proofing’ and made my focus on ensuring sports teams, leagues, venues and host cities were operating as environmentally, socially and economically responsibly as possible.
“This is really our goal – to empower teams, leagues and events to operate at as high of a performance level on and off the field as possible – in the eyes of their fans, their communities and their brand partners – so the game can go on forever, bring us a break from our day, lifting us up and bringing us together.”
We are living in challenging times and are likely to need to make sacrifices, or put another way, to fundamentally shift our lifestyles (esp in North America, Europe and other affluent countries). Sport cannot be frivolous or it will not have the ‘social license’ to operate.
When you often talk about sustainability in the sports industry you often refer to UNO’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. They address with topics we are all impacted by, not only public organizations but also private companies and individuals. You believe sports in particular is the perfect way to sensibilize every of those actors to the cause. Why?
On a very basic level, the Global Goals (SDGs) are, well, simple! They are easy to understand, represented by simple icons and bright colors so they fit very well in the sports landscape where we are used to bright colors, symbols/icons/crests and short phrases in plain language.
The Global Goals serve as the colors, crests and rallying cries for the ‘World Team’ we are all on, so they offer a beautifully simple, common language for sports to communicate how they are taking responsibility in their own operations and beyond in the community. Adopting this ‘language’ aligns the sports industry with the vast movement of 193 countries, over 10,0000 private companies, countless NGOs.
Because they are quite succinct and recognizable on sight, they are well-suited to story-telling in the fast-paced, busy ‘landscape’ of sports where there are so many sponsor logos, team emblems and other visual cues – they fit perfectly in this environment as a quick and easy way to open discussion or simply highlight actions leagues and partners are undertaking together.
At this stage it is really the sports industry, especially at the team level, that needs to adopt and use the language more, as it has been so widely adopted and is becoming increasingly recognized by fans as consumer brands are increasingly using it more publicly.
It enables sports teams, leagues and events to identify their corporate partners’ interests and suggest fan messaging around them that uses this language.
Many teams and leagues, especially in football, have a global audience and fans that follow them all around the world. I may not be able to read every article or tweet that a Japanese baseball team puts out, but if they use the SDGs to share what they are doing in their community I instantly understand and can connect with that.
Most of our audience are sports professionals specialized on marketing and fan experience. What is an easy way for them to improve their organization’s footprint?
I am a big fan of teams and venues investing and using the fantastic technology we have available to run their organization as efficiently (and profitably!) as possible. We all benefit when they do as they can invest more in great players or in the fan experience, or into community programs.
“Fans are likely to spend 22% more on food & beverage in a venue that recycles and 32% more likely to return to a venue that recycles”
In the ‘back of the house’ to operate venues and related offices more efficiently. This would include using LED lighting on the field or in the arena, using advanced building control software with weather and occupancy sensors to manage heating and cooling better and in specific areas, rather than a whole-building approach, and using low-flow toilets and sinks as well as greywater for field irrigation and cleaning. Some of these directly impact fan experience (less harsh lighting, more comfortably heated/cooled venues) while others save money that can be spent of more fan amenities.
Technology that drives efficiency at the ‘front of house’ (seating areas as well as marketing/advertising) include mobile (paperless) ticketing, mobile wallets for payments at concessions, including transit tickets with event tickets and running customized, digital marketing campaigns. The first 3 open new paths for sponsorship — both in sponsor assets and in the coveted digital/mobile space where your connection to the fan is 1 to 1. In terms of running custom digital campaigns, fans appreciate when the club is using the CRM software to recognize how much the fan is spending and following the team so they are rewarded & recognized for their loyalty. Brands appreciate having the level of detail that comes from these campaigns as fans can be segmented better and messaging and promotional offers can be better tailored to their interests and their purchasing habits. This level of detail also helps the brands (sponsors gain solid insight into how their investment with the club or event is reaching key audience targets.
Finally, a large factor in any event is waste. And fans notice waste – a lot. Of course, the more waste the harder it is to maintain a great gameday experience with bins overflowing. NatureWorks published some great data from a few years back that fans are likely to spend 22% more on food & beverage in a venue that recycles and 32% more likely to return to a venue that recycles.
Recycling is wonderful but reducing input and waste in the first place is the best place to focus for emissions, social and cost savings.
Where possible, buying locally means shorter distances supplies travel to get to the stadium, which reduces emissions. Nearby suppliers also reduce the need to ‘stock-up’ which can improve ordering in the right quantities. Greater efficiency here also results in cost savings from hauling away less waste/paying lower landfill fees. When a team or venue buys locally, the economic benefits stay local. Which means more money for local business owners to take their family to a game or even become lower level sponsors of the club!
Fan experience is all about providing fun to spectators. What is your favorite example of a responsible activation that fans loved? What was its results?
The Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (North America) ‘rebranded’ five of the city’s bikeshare bikes a few years back with the jersey numbers of 5 of their players. They encouraged fans via social media to look for the bikes around town (there were 5000 bikes in Chicago’s DIVVY bikeshare fleet at the time!), take one out and post a photo of them riding it.
Fans were thrilled to hunt for and ride a ‘player’s’ bike and share that with their friends. The players also interacted either with them here & there, with a ‘like’, comment or a retweet/repost. There were some small weekly prizes for them too. The team got a great deal of media out of the promotion. And the bikeshare program saw an increase in new account sign-ups and overall ridership.
The idea was to get more people considering/using bikes as transportation and of course promote a healthy lifestyle. Fans didn’t need to think about that though. They were simply having some fun and trying to gain some bragging rights with their friends, perhaps be lucky enough to get some acknowledgement from a favorite player.
We pause for sports – because we need a respite from our daily routine or our cares and concerns. We don’t want to have someone stop the game and lecture us about climate, so I am very emphatic that any activation around sustainability is appropriate to the sports environment – whether it’s a rivalry challenge, a contest or something like the above where we ‘gamify’ a healthy behavior in a way we barely even know we’re doing it. We are all kids at heart and sports activations in this space should speak to the fun-loving kid inside. Every time.
Another concern about moving to a more responsible way of operating is financial consequences. How do you put this into perspective?
As noted above, operating more responsibly often results in cost savings, though typically this will involve some investment. We do a lot of work in helping teams calculate the return on investment and payback periods, as well as guide them to financing options for installing energy, water or waste-saving solutions. In North America there are both public and private grants, loans and financing programs to support the move to a cleaner, more efficient operations.
We are now at the point that clinging to old technologies is creating financial instability as rising energy and water rates are hurting profitability. We have seen a great deal of this in ice hockey where the water consumption, building refrigeration and associated energy are threatening the ability of smaller community arenas to continue operating. The NHL is very aware of this and began stepping in years ago to help test new technology for its own clubs to mitigate the risk of adopting it and also sharing its knowledge with the community of hockey operators. Without ice rinks, no young players. Without young players, no pros. No pros,no NHL.
Of the top 25 global brands who spend the most on sports partnerships, every single one has a strong, publicly stated, measured and often 3rd-party-verified environmental and social responsibility plan. Many of these brands’ current advertising campaigns speak directly to their commitments in this space. Sports partnerships are created when the brand sees ‘shared values’ and a net positive association from its investment in a team, league or club. If sports properties aren’t demonstrating those ‘shared values’ or through their inaction may be a negative or detraction from the brand, the brand will look elsewhere – either to a competitor or even to place greater investment in NGOs who share their mission.
So on both the cost and the revenue side of the balance sheet there are financial risks in not acting.
To wrap up interviews I like to ask interviewees the following questions:
What’s a fact about your area of specialization that people would never guess/that would really surprise people?
There are over 1,000 sports leagues, teams, federations and venues around the world who are taking action in one way or another on environmental and social issues.
Most people think that sports teams & clubs aren’t giving this any thought at all, so I usually surprise people when I tell them how widespread it is and the types of things that teams are doing. I love sharing those feel-good moments as I often try to tell them something wonderful that their favorite team or sport is doing if I can. I can see their eyes smile when they learn that and it gives me great joy.
What’s an upcoming event/project/innovation in your area of specialization that you are excited about and you would recommend people to keep an eye on?
I am currently working with a lovely group called Planet Super League to bring a fan engagement campaign / contest together in the UK that would be a joint effort between the English Premier League, the Football Association and many of the member clubs to challenge fans to reduce waste at home, work and play. This will be done through a fun, witty and we hope, rivalry-fuelled challenge throughout the country.
We’ve just done our first joint workshop to begin the development with both sports and NGO representatives at London’s Olympic Stadium, hosted by West Ham and Delaware North, their venue caterer. We’re thrilled to move this ahead and hope to launch in 2020.
I was also a co-author of the recently launch UN ‘Sports for Climate Action’ initiative, which challenges the sports industry to reduce its carbon footprint and to be an ambassador for climate action with fans by using its platform to communicate what the sports industry are doing and what fans can and should do. There are several notable signatories already, including the IOC, UEFA, World Sailing, World Surf League, World Rugby, all 4 tennis Grand Slam events, Paris 2024, Formula e, the NBA and the New York Yankees.
Fans should keep an eye out for this – perhaps even prompt their favorite team to join the world-class organizations above.. I would love to see supporters’ groups start to come up with their own grassroots movement on how to work as a team to make their community – and our world – a better place for themselves and all the future fans out there.
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How to manage crowds in stadiums after the COVID-19 break with Zack KLIMA (WaitTime)
How can we organise the return of fans to stadiums while encouraging social distancing? Zack Klima and WaitTime offers a solution to master crowd management during the post COVID-19 era.
Since the beginning of May, several sports leagues have resumed without any fans within the stands post Covid-19. As teams and leagues are preparing for a new season, there is a lot of debate about the return of fans in stadiums.
How could we make sure that fans are able to social distance at sports events post Covid-19? Zack Klima answered that question by presenting WaitTime in our podcast.
“WaitTime’s state-of-the-art, patented artificial intelligence leverages both a guest platform and an operator’s platform to observe, measure, and maximize the impact of the WaitTime system using real-time data and historical analysis.” – WaitTime website
Allow fans to enjoy the game at its fullest
Have you ever missed an important play because you left your place and were waiting in line at the food court. Zack Klima has! After that happened to him, he decided to create WaitTime: an AI-based solution that allows fans to see in realtime how crowded the food court, the restrooms or any area of the stadium is. Not only does WaitTime allow fans to enjoy more of the game but it also allow venues to improve their service.
Facilitate social distancing and make fans feel safe
The idea of bringing fans back in stadiums drives many questions. Will fans feel safe enough to go back to gatherings like sports events? How can make sure fans practice social distancing in stadiums? What if fans don’t stroll in the hallways of the stadium as they used to?
“WaitTime went from being a nice-to-have solution to a must-have” – Zack Klima, Founder of WaitTime
WaitTime tackles all of those problems. Before the COVID-19 crisis, allowing the audience to track busy places in real-time was a nice thing to do. It has now become a must.
After encountering much success in sports venues since 2014, WaitTime’s technology is now being used in major mainstream common areas like train stations and restaurants.
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Le salon Sportem édition 2020 se tiendra le 13 octobre !