Gaining insight into basketball's commercial side in order to build a product that gives fans better experiences each and every season was the focus for elite clubs from across Europe at the recent Euroleague Basketball Business Summit in Barcelona.
A guest list of industry leaders, among them Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Arsenal Football Club and the WWE, treated the clubs to a day's worth of presentations on the best practices and latest trends in the fast-moving world of sports management.
The summit was the latest step in Euroleague Basketball's continuing effort to align the business strategies of the league and its clubs in order to take the strong recent growth of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup to even higher levels.
"It's not for them to do what we say, but for us to assist them and to assure that in the future we are aligned with same principles,” Jordi Bertomeu, President and CEO of Euroleague Basketball, said. “To make that happen successfully, attitude is fundamental: be humble, be open-minded and accept that there is always room to improve."
The summit was moderated by Euroleague Basketball consultant Marshall Glickman, CEO of G2Strategic, who emphasized the evolution of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague from a sports-first concept to one that harnesses forward-thinking business practices to guarantee sustainability by attracting a wide range of new fans.
"The great pro leagues transcend the game themselves, constantly innovate, and embrace the fusion of sports with technology, music, fashion and popular culture," Mr. Glickman said. "The EuroLeague has recognized the need for European basketball to move away from old-school habits and for all of us to embrace change. There is no doubt that our great game will continue to be at the core of what we are building. There is also no doubt that if we are to collectively realize the potential of our game, we must evolve."
The first summit guest, Declan Bolger, Senior Vice-President & CMO Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, spoke about his recent experience in helping Major League Soccer in North America see exponential growth over the last decade by providing a full selection of business services to clubs to help them perform at an optimal level in diverse markets. The clubs services strategy is based on identifying the best performers among them in a wide array of business measurements, isolating their most successful practices, and then sharing those best practices with the other clubs. Chief among the goals, Mr. Bolger said, is to devote sales resources to filling arenas with fans whose passion reverberates throughout the business, attracting viewers and sponsors.
"We can't rely on natural demand for ticket sales," Mr. Bolger said. "There are too many factors -- team performance, weather, other entertainment being offered -- to leave it to chance. We have to drive ticket sales. We can't live on hope."
Next Ben Ladkin, General Manager Arsenal Media Group|Arsenal FC, reviewed how one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world tailors content for a widely-dispersed fan base, most of whom will never see the team play live, by using metrics to understand the differences between social media platforms and what kind of content the users of each prefer.
"At Arsenal, we try to think globally around our fan base," Mr. Ladkin said. "We have a huge global fan base and we want to reach and engage as many of them as possible. It's all about getting the right content in front of the right fan at the right moment."
From the perspective of innovating to draw fans closer to the sports and teams they love, Maikel Oettle, the International Head of Partnerships and Sponsorships of DraftKings, explained how earlier this decade the company re-invented fantasy sports with daily products that multiply engagement. Euroleague Basketball and DraftKings took advantage of the summit to announce their new three-season agreement to take fantasy products in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague to a higher level starting next autumn. Mr. Oettle emphasized the readiness of consumers to engage deeply with sports due to the passionate relationship they feel towards leagues and clubs.
"If we manage to talk to this fan properly and give him what he wants, he will be willing to give us clean data," Mr. Oettle said. "He's not going to do it for other companies, but he's going to do it for sports. Content consumption is changing every day and we meet that challenge based on data that gives us facts about every single fan and what's important to them."
As an example of a sport that has embraced social media to position itself highly in the overall entertainment market, Giancarlo Bernini, Senior Director Marketing & Commercial Operations, WWE International, talked about the company's outreach to wrestling fans on a year-long, 24/7 basis and, especially, its connection with young people.
"If you look at our fan base, it's all centered on family-friendly entertainment," Mr. Bernini said. "We get a lot of children engaging from the age of six, and they become fans by having that experience with their families. What we have found is that these people like to consume the story lines around the sport more than who wins or loses the matches. We've gone down the path of truly embracing social media with our personalities and athletes, and really giving fans what they want by listening to our fans, as well."
The summit concluded with a panel discussion on social media's impact on sports - and vice-versa - featuring Ronan Joyce, Strategic Partner Manager EMEA Sports, Facebook; Cristina Delgado, Music & Sports Content Partnership Manager, YouTube; and Enrique Gutierrez, Head of Sports for Southern Europe, Twitter. The panelists left no doubt that social media and major sports go extremely well together, even as the different platforms highlight different audience needs and strengths.
"The bottom line is sports need to evolve with the viewers of tomorrow," Mr. Joyce said, "and we are interested in helping you accomplish that."
Ms. Delgado discussed data showing that YouTube users are a driving force in creating their own audiences for sports content that leagues and clubs would be smart to encourage.
"Fans really understand how social media works and they can create original content that they know other fans want," Ms. Delgado said.
Mr. Gutierrez said that Twitter is turning into a broadcaster of live sports precisely because that is the platform that generates the most real-time reaction to such events.
"The future is to have more live content on our platforms," Mr. Gutierrez said. "That's where the market is moving."