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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INTERVIEW: Elias Andersen (Hear Me Cheer), bringing the noise in arenas
As many leagues prepare to resume without fans in arenas, Hear Me Cheer makes sports during lockdown more engaging by allowing fans to cheer for their teams on live broadcast from their living rooms.
As many leagues prepare to resume without fans in arenas and stadiums, the tool Hear Me Cheer makes sports during lockdown more engaging by allowing fans to cheer for their teams on live broadcast from their living rooms.
We got the opportunity to talk with Elias Andersen, Founder and CEO of Champtrax Technologies, the company which created Hear Me Cheer.
Hello Elias, thank you for joining us today. You’re the CEO of Champtrax Technologies and you’ve recently developed a new product amidst the COVID-19 crisis. It is called “Hear Me Cheer” and it is designed to bring the noise in arenas as most leagues will likely resume without any audience. Could you please introduce us more precisely to Hear Me Cheer and tell us more about how you came up with the idea?
Hear Me Cheer is a product that allows fans to go to our website and interact with other fans as the game is going on. During a game, you have crowdnoise of the broadcast that you don’t really notice until it is not there. Watching the few sports league that have been on without fans, you realize that it’s quite boring without fans. We’re trying to get that back into sports by creating one audio stream from all the thousands of different households that are watching the game at any time.
Hear Me Cheer is an interactive platform. How do fans interact with each other?
They can hear each other through the broadcast or the computer depending on the set up that each team or league has. They can go to the website dedicated to the sports league that they want to watch and click on the right game. From there they can see what other fans are cheering about and cheer along with them.
That’s very interesting. One, because I believe that watching a game in an empty stadium is not as exciting as regular condition. Two, because we have seen that when games started playing in empty arenas, fans still wanted to support their teams by being vocal. I don’t know if you follow soccer but during the last UEFA Champions League games, fans would gather outside stadiums to cheer for their team during games.
How does it work? Is it free for fans?
Yes Hear Me Cheer is free for fans and will be forever. We’re trying to engage the fans. We want to get sports to a new normal.
“This will allow fans to feel a sense of community for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis started.”
Obviously this is not going to get it to where it was in January but this will really help. This will allow fans to feel a sense of community for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis started. There is a lot of people who have been posting about negativity and we are trying to bring some positivity and bring a sense of community back to sport.
Reviving a sense of community is a great way to bring positivity among fans in the sports world these days. What about players? Can the players in the arena hear the cheers as well?
The players can hear the fans cheer as well. It just depends on the set up. Each league has a different deal in place. It depends team by team and league by league. Some will want the sound of the fans in the arena, some don’t. But we have the possibility of doing that.
Hear Me Cheer works on a BtoB model. You talked about adjusting deals according to leagues’ teams’s preferences. Does it rely on partnerships with leagues, with teams or only with broadcasters?
We try to really partner with leagues so that we can get in and have access to the different teams right away. We prioritise having one client, customising the experience for the league and then having that go out to the different teams of the league. It is a simpler way of setting up the market than going to each team individually. I mean, we are working with teams and broadcasters but we are mostly trying to work with leagues.
Have you signed any deals yet? Have you been able to test the solution? In which country is the service available at the moment? With how many fans connected?
We have been testing with Eleven Sports which has been broadcasting the CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League) held in Taiwan, one of the only professional sports that is on right now. We have been testing with them for a little bit and we are expanding making sure that we can have 1,000 people on and soon we will try to have 10,000 people on. There are always little bugs that you find in your software when you expand so we want to minimise that and create a product that can scale.
Do you already have any idea about future development of Hear Me Cheer? Is your priority to export the product to new leagues or to add more features to it?
We are working on some fan engagement tools. One is having some sort of trivia questions and questions like “Who is going to score the next goal?” and whoever gets the answer right receives some Hear Me Cheer points. We are working on platforms like that to engage the fans. We have not finished any of that yet. We are adding features as we go but we understand that most of the leagues want the audio solution to first. So we focus on that mostly.
Hear Me Cheer is a truly a well suited solution for the current coronavirus crisis. How will it fit into the sports events landscape once fans are able to go back to arenas?
Hear Me Cheer is an experience platform so we plan on existing long after the crisis. In fact we think this is just the best opportunity for us to go to market because there is a real need for a solution like that. But in order to stay in the market, we have ideas like a platform that will allow you to cheer with a community and potentially cheer on the away broadcast. If you think about an away broadcast, often times you have home crowd cheers because that’s what is in the stadium. If you can bring the visitor fans to this cheering site they would be able to be heard on the broadcast.
That is a very interesting horizon. Fan experience for the away fans is always a complicated topic. A lot of sports have this sense of unfairness between the home fans who can support their team live and the away fans who cannot. Thank you very much for answering our questions Elias. Where can people find out more about you and Hear Me Cheer?
You can come to our website. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter. If you send me a message I will get back to you. We have been experiencing a high number of messages so give me a few days but I’ll get back to you.
We thank very much Elias for his time and wish to Hear Me Cheer all the best for the future. Do you want to read others Q&A with fan experience experts ? Discover all our interviews (in english).
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