What Role Does Today’s Chief Marketing Officer Play In Sports Business?

With the advent of ever-evolving social media platforms, new consumer-facing technology, shorter attention spans and shifting audiences with varying behaviors, today’s chief marketing officers have a new plate of challenges and resources to consider as they sell their brand. Sure, it’s certainly difficult in a crowed sports ecosystem but at the same time, there have never been more vehicles, channels and tools to communicate a message, tell a story, strike an emotional connection with a potential fan and attempt to stand out.

So, as part of our regular #OneQuestion series, we asked five chief marketing officers, in this hyper-connected, social-driven, instant-gratification world we live in now, what role does the chief marketing officer play in sports business, and how is that different from three to five years ago? Participants’ emailed responses are below in their entirety.

If you’re interested in reading more #OneQuestion series articles — including the emerging sports technology category for 2018, Snapchat Spectacles’ staying power, the most underutilized platform in sports and how a 280-character limit on Twitter is being leveraged by professional teams — then click here.

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First and foremost, I think the role of a chief marketing officer in a sports organization is to help set vision and direction, connect the dots between internal groups and then do whatever is necessary to enable their staff to do their job well. In a very general sense, the role of our departments is to find ways to get our fans to engage with our brand. I don’t think that part of the job has changed at all over the last 3-5 years. What has changed, are the multitude of ways these engagements can now happen and how to prioritize and optimize our internal bandwidth to focus on the things that will be the most effective and have the greatest impact.

Obviously, the shift away from the reliance on traditional advertising to digital and content creation has been dramatic over the last five years. This has forced us to re-evaluate how we deploy our time and resources, both staff responsibilities and budget wise, to be able to achieve the objectives we hope to achieve. And as this digital world evolves and changes so rapidly, it is important in my role to stay abreast of what is going on and listening to our staff so that we can be as nimble as possible to adjust to what is working at the moment while having the discipline not to chase every new shiny idea that pops up because we can’t do everything well if we spread our efforts too thin.

— Matt Biggers, Associate AD for External Affairs/Chief Marketing Officer, Colorado Athletics 

In today’s on-demand environment, sport and entertainment properties, brands and agencies are tasked with creating an innovative, tech-infused strategy to super-serve the fan (consumer). This change in consumer demand will only continue to evolve throughout the industry. As a result, among most high-performing companies, the CMO plays an even greater role within the walls of the organization to foster proactive change to achieve sustainable, long-term growth.

Three to five years ago, the CMO would be keenly focused on advertising placement and campaigns (predominately via traditional channels) and tracking the spots and dots of the campaign to justify further investment. CMOs were experts in the field of marketing and analytically-driven.

However, today’s climate requires CMO’s to balance the quantitative with the qualitative to become compelling storytellers while working with cross-functional experts in other areas of the business, such as finance and technology (understanding consumer consumption habits). These trends continue to debunk the notion that marketing is a cost-center and now viewed as an organizational facilitator and revenue driver focused on sustainable growth.

An effective CMO is a key component to driving the overarching, aspirational strategy and tactics to execute the company-wide roadmap. Currently at MiLB, and in support of our vision to be a dynamic leader in sport and entertainment, we are evolving to place heightened emphasis on cross-functional collaboration designed to drive fan engagement which, in turn, fuels commercial value/revenue.

David Wright, Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer, Minor League Baseball 

Three to five years ago seems like a different era to be honest, and I guess that speaks to how quickly things change because of the constant deluge of technology, which forces us to re-examine how we are marketing. There are a few key pillars that we use to ensure that we remain relevant. They include staying up to date with technology, focusing on engagement over all other metrics and telling our story in an authentic and unique way.

In terms of staying up to date with technology, we have a department solely focused on finding ways to enhance our fan experience, increasing engagement with our brand and helping us learn more about our fanbase to deliver a more personalized experience. This team includes our analytics, customer experience and digital innovation groups. Together, they work on things like our mobile application, managing our marketing automation platform and measuring our customer experience touchpoints both online and in the arena. We believe that we can always improve upon what we’re doing, and we believe that technology is created every day that can help us achieve this. The challenge, of course, is to prioritize what’s going to be most impactful. We don’t always get this part right, but we learn from every initiative that we try.

One of the key roles of today’s CMO is a focus on engagement — this can certainly mean social media likes, but just as importantly it means engaging personally with season ticket holders to ensure we understand how they are feeling about the product. Customers are now coming to expect a personalized experience with all businesses that they interact with, just as they’ve come to expect free two-day shipping. If we aren’t delivering on a personalized experience for them, we are coming off not only as inauthentic, but we’re likely going to lose their business to another company who will personalize their experience. Luckily, we have many tools at our disposal to make this happen. We work hard to understand what the Trail Blazers and Rose Quarter means to our community and we use technology to measure fan engagement and deliver a customized experience to that customer using that data. And finally, we truly believe that by prioritizing engagement, we are helping the company’s bottom line.

And that’s not even getting in to how we plan to grow further generations. I think we are all working hard, especially in the sports business, to find a way to fight and claw our way into the mindspace of Gen Z. The way that they interact and consume media is so radically different from past generations. I am (barely) a millennial, but have the privilege of remembering what life was like before smartphones became the main way in which people consume content. With Gen Z, the smartphone is the center of their universe, so how are we showing up for them? How are we finding ways to be relevant to this audience?

Dewayne Hankins, Chief Marketing Officer, Portland Trail Blazers/Rose Quarter 

Despite the ever-changing technology landscape and the pace of communication, the fundamental role of the Chief Marketing Officer hasn’t changed. The marketer today has more tools and data at their disposal. The CMO role is often perceived as a narrowly-defined position focused only on the cosmetic aspects of the business (e.g. brand positioning and advertising). When in fact, the CMO is focused on the how, when, what and how much to retain and grow audience, audience development and management.

In addition to being articulate in the digital space, today’s CMO must be customer-centric, bottom-line focused, a storyteller, a multi-platform content distributor, a media strategist and a nimble brand architect fluent in analytics and CRM, all at the same time. Knowing who the fan is, what they look like, where they live and what they’re interested in, and knowing how to apply those learnings, is paramount to developing and executing a successful integrated, multi-platform campaign. Given the importance of the fan to the business of sports, the CMO should be recognized as having a broad and significant role in the business’ success. To me, there has never been a more important or exciting time to be a Chief Marketing Officer.

What has changed is message dissemination. Analytics is sexy now, multi-platform content is king and a fan’s value is more important than ever. Today’s fan is more empowered and skeptical than in the past. Marketers can no longer wait for the fan to come to them. Marketers need to find the fan, speak their language and respond to their expectation for immediacy. The average fan communicates through five devices and visits 12 platforms before they make a purchase decision compared to three devices and two platforms two to three years ago.

Although there is greater attention paid to the digital savvy, younger fan, all fans are not alike. The “older sports fan” shouldn’t be ignored. Their viewing habits may be different, but their household income and significance to sponsors and advertisers must be considered in any marketing campaign. Messaging and content must be tailored to each audience. 

This season the BIG EAST Conference sought to enhance the coverage and promotion of BIG EAST men’s basketball to engage with and grow audience, particularly with younger basketball fans. After talking with key stakeholders and analyzing the demographics and psychographics of our fan base, not to mention examining the budget, we created BIG EAST Shootaround, a weekly digital show focused on men’s basketball distributed via Facebook Live, Periscope, FOX Sports Go and the Conference’s YouTube channel. The show is written, produced and promoted in house. Content is created for multiple purposes. In addition to the weekly show, clips of the show are used for tune-in promotion, social media posts and amplification from BIG EAST member institution social & digital platforms.

The scope of the conference’s men’s basketball tournament campaign has changed over the past four years. Marketing efforts have expanded from a television and out-of-home advertising campaign to a plan which begins with cost effective and nimble tools such as search engine optimization and display ads with Google to digital advertising with YouTube and customized audience development with Facebook and Instagram. The social and digital efforts now are supported by television advertising and out of home marketing. We utilize social and digital media for fan engagement and to drive measurable revenue.

The average tenure of a CMO is 3 ½ years. The broader role for today’s CMO provides a more challenging and satisfying senior management position, which hopefully results in less employee turnover. 

Ann Wells Crandall, Chief Marketing Officer, BIG EAST Conference 

As CMOs, we maintain our traditional marketing responsibilities, but content has become the center of it all. With the Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, our mindset has changed from just covering the team, like most media outlets do, to creating content that connects with our fans emotionally. We also built out our own agency in-house which allows us to be nimble.

As CMOs, a big part of our job is helping define our content objectives, which ultimately support our overall business objectives. From there, it is executing the plan and holding the team accountable to the results. Every team is different, as their content objectives may be reach, views, lead generation, future health of the brand, creating sellable sponsorship platforms, etc. Defining our objectives is important, as it helps us prioritize which content we invest time and resources in. If we don’t remain focused on our business objectives, we will get caught trying to do too many things that seem interesting or fun, but divert time and resources away from our objective to drive results.

— Jeremy Walls, Senior Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer, Miami Dolphins 

About Mark J. Burns

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