The New York Jets have converted a database of seven million fans into a powerful engine to help marketing partners craft sophisticated campaigns to do anything from creating brand awareness to acquiring just a handful of unique customers.
Evolving out of the team’s early move into paperless tickets nine years ago, the Jets’ internal arm—partnership sales and business intelligence—is at the forefront of a move by sports teams to convert the influx of fan data into a useful tool beyond ticket sales.
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“It’s about targeting the right people with the right message at the right time,” Jeff Fernandez, head of the franchise’s efforts, said in a phone interview. “And that’s because we know who our fans are, what they want to buy and how they want to be contacted, because everybody’s different.”
Fernandez, a 20-year veteran of the Jets sales division, said the business intelligence arm is a premium consulting service that offers a tier of additional data and services to marketing partners who want it, along with greater access to the team’s database and performance metrics. Not every marketing partner of the team has to pay for it—the traditional stadium display ad is still an option—but increasingly the Jets are finding companies want new ways to reach their target customer and are seeking organizations that provide highly tailored, measurable campaigns.
“Being able to understand directly from the consumer their interests, their psychographics, their buying habits … is super valuable for partners,” Fernandez said. In many cases, “people aren’t just asking for it—they’re demanding it.”
The Jets’ business intelligence arm evolved out of the shift to paperless tickets, which came about seven seasons before the NFL required it league-wide during the pandemic. It was the first phase of knowing more about who bought tickets and who attended games, which often was not the same person.
That led to an improved focus on incentivizing some fans and rewarding others, spurring ideas such as a loyalty program that got its genesis in acknowledging diehards who attended training camp every day. This know-your-customer effort developed into a profile of every individual ticket buyer, which the team converted to big gains in ticket sales. To this day, the data collection remains focused foremost on “trying to personalize their experience in the Jets universe,” Fernandez emphasized, but expands naturally into helping marketing partners.
The team builds individual profiles of consumers first with the information fans share with the Jets. One advantage sports teams probably have over other industries is a high trust and enthusiasm level that makes supporters more apt to share information, Fernandez said. That’s then buttressed with data available from other sources, including Genius Sports, Sportradar, IQ Media and Wakefield Research, all of which help round out the team’s demographic and psychographic segmentation—the belief, behaviors and tendencies data that point to what leads consumers to one decision or another.
The shift to business intelligence consulting began about five years ago with BetMGM’s desire to acquire sports betting customers in New Jersey, where the team trains and holds its games. The Jets met regularly with BetMGM to consult on strategies, and the team and betting firm have adjusted the plan in each of the five years since inking the deal. The deep working relationship led the NFL franchise to create the business intelligence arm in 2019, hiring database experts and beefing up customer relationship staffing to provide bespoke work for ad partners.
That’s led to other partnerships for very targeted efforts, such as with JetBlue to identify segments of Jets fandom likely to embrace the airline’s Mint business class, or to broad brand awareness campaigns, such as with FuboTV, which seeks to inform fans of its pending sportsbook.
Sports betting companies, the current big spenders in athletics are particularly interested in measurable campaigns. Another Jets business intelligence partner, WynnBet, is “very, very surgical about the audience,” Fernandez said. “They would rather have a hundred surely qualified customers than a 10,000 cross-section of everybody.” In addition to hitting targets for well-qualified bettors, the company is also tracking lifetime value of customers it acquires from the Jets throughout Wynn Resorts’ online gambling, sports betting and general casino categories.
“We wouldn’t have had any of those partners in place if we didn’t have this capability,” Fernandez said, referring to WynnBet, FuboTV and BetMGM.
Potential partners often open negotiations with desires to hit specific customer acquisition targets, or other metrics, and asking the Jets to provide a matrix of data they have in-house and from past campaigns to show how they’ll get there.
The capabilities were key to signing a multiyear deal with Jackpocket, a mobile app backed by Mark Cuban and Bullpen Capital, among others, that allows users to buy tickets in government-run lotteries, including New York and New Jersey. The Jets are Jackpocket’s first NFL partner (it has seven MLB, NBA and NHL partners), allowing them to serve specialized ads to various segments of the Jets fanbase, said Jackpocket CEO Peter Sullivan, on a video call.
“The really cool thing we’re doing is that most people who play the lottery will lose on a regular basis; that’s just the way it is,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to flip the script on that and say every time you play and use the code JETS, you’re entered in a sweepstakes to win VIP tickets, merchandise, meet-and-greets.”
While the approach sounds simple, it’s a painstaking effort. Under its licenses, Jackpocket can only market to fans in the lottery jurisdiction, something made harder by the Jets market being split across state lines, and only to people of age to play the lottery. And since the business is relatively new (it was long verboten to sell lottery tickets by mobile), Jackpocket is learning what works and what doesn’t.
Under the Jets deal, the business intelligence consultants sit down with Jackpocket every month to discuss strategy overall for the partnership, focused around measuring and evaluating Jackpocket’s key performance indicators and success metrics. Those conversations have led to plans this season for Jackpocket to geofence MetLife Stadium and feed personalize ads and giveaways to Jet fan users at the game. In July 22% of Jets fans played the lottery, compared to 16% of New Yorkers who did that month. The most effective promo last season: free tickets to a tilt with the Buffalo Bills.
“We’re getting to a population size and download size that we can talk about the Jets, too [on the Jackpocket app],“ Sullivan said. “As much as we’ve leaned on the brands to hit their audience, we can start promoting some of the messages for the teams as well.”
While being a franchise in the booming NFL would seem enough to make any of the 32 teams’ marketing efforts easy, Fernandez notes the team’s capabilities are becoming essential in the marketplace. “Yes, we’re blessed with some advantages,” Fernandez said, “but, at least for us, we’re also in a market with nine other professional sports teams and Broadway and Bryant Park and a lot more competition. Everyone’s challenged to do something to make themselves stand out.”
Right now the team is close to sealing two multiyear deals that wouldn’t have happened without the team’s business intelligence consulting capabilities, Fernandez said.
“I’m working as hard as I ever worked in any business,” he said. “It’s competitive. Brands and buyers—they want results.”
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