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Kenan Stadium packed with spectators for a football game
Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications

With help from ITS and others, the UNC-Chapel Hill Athletics Department is gearing up to use “big data” to cultivate a broader audience and thereby, significantly expand revenue.

The Athletics Department’s efforts also lay the foundation for additional campus groups, including The Rams Club, University Development and Performing Arts, to likewise reach and engage audience members and donors.

This project will be completed in September, enabling full utilization of the tools. Athletics’ Director of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence Andrea Johnston has been on the job since June and the project’s governing board held its first meeting in June, setting the stage for the organization to move forward with a new culture of data analytics.

The effort officially launched in November 2016 when Athletics contracted with SAS, the Cary-based leader in business analytics software and services, to provide tools and consulting. SAS, in turn, enlisted SSB, a data management, integration and visualization company. The SSB data warehouse feeds clean data into SAS analytics, reporting and marketing automation suite.

SAS gives Carolina insight into fans

“Professional sports teams are using data analytics across the board — some better than others — for boosting ticket sales opportunities and the fan base,” said Scott Jackson, Business Intelligence Director at ITS and Project Director. Some pro teams also use data for recruiting and to predict player performance and team success.

Scott Jackson headshot
Scott Jackson

College sports programs, however, do not widely and deeply use data and predictive analytics, but they’re beginning to move toward such tools. For that matter, across the Carolina campus, few groups do much with predictive analytics, Jackson said. Carolina Athletics, he added, is “the first one with SAS.”

“SAS gives UNC a single view of Tar Heel fans,” said Emily Baranello, Vice President, SAS Education Practice. “By understanding the many ways fans support UNC, Carolina Athletics will be able to better engage supporters and increase attendance at athletic events. By increasing season ticket sales, UNC teams will have more fervent fan support when they take the field.”

“SAS Marketing Automation helps Carolina Athletics tailor campaigns to engage with fans most likely to buy season tickets, donate to the University or take other actions,” Baranello said. “SAS Visual Analytics presents the data in simple, customizable reports that help Carolina Athletics easily view the performance of fan outreach efforts.”

Jump in ticket sales expected

Rick Steinbacher headshot
Rick Steinbacher

The Athletics Department expects to see significant increases in ticket sales within the first three years of the program. The Rams Club wants the data analytics tools to help it increase membership to 22,000 from 14,500 by 2022. In the future, program leaders expect to expand the capability and data sources. They’ve already talked to the Performing Arts about potentially using the data warehouse down the road.

At Carolina, this effort that Athletics initiated and leads is essentially a joint venture. In addition to Athletics, the two tiers of leadership committees for the program include representatives from ITS, The Rams Club and University Development. The representatives from ITS are CIO Chris Kielt and Jackson.

“The Business Intelligence Initiative will enable Carolina Athletics to better engage with and grow the Carolina community,” said Rick Steinbacher, Senior Associate Athletic Director.  “It has also opened many opportunities for enhanced collaboration with other units on campus. We are very thankful for the support and leadership of this initiative provided by ITS, Chris Kielt and Scott Jackson.”

Tools could help across campus

ITS is enthusiastically participating in Athletics’ project. This effort will demonstrate the importance of data analytics, Jackson said.

“We really believe this is a good showcase for the rest of the University for how to utilize data and predictive modeling to significantly increase revenue and our understanding of the ideal UNC constituent,” he said. “The University will be able to use this model and these tools in other facets across campus possibly including student life and retention, research, admissions, etc.”

Nick Fulton headshot
Nick Fulton

“The Rams Club was really excited to join UNC Athletics in the engagement with SAS to gain greater understanding of how we can best engage with our current members,” said Nick Fulton, Director of the Annual Fund at The Rams Club. “Additionally, the opportunity to work with Carolina’s University Development team in order to identify prospective Rams Club members has the potential to be greatly beneficial to The Rams Club and Carolina Athletics.”

By mining and analyzing data, Athletics seeks to improve its understanding of and improve their connection with its audience. The department anticipates:

  • Enhancing audience members’ experience by providing an offering tailored to their specific interests and preferences
  • Engaging audience members deeply in a meaningful, compelling and holistic manner by providing personalized information and offerings as well as improving two-way dialogue and connection
  • Expanding revenue opportunities by reaching a broader audience and increasing the value of each member of the Carolina audience

Analysts will examine data from the ticket office, Facebook, customer relationship-management systems and additional sources. From that information, they will be able to identify and reach a pool of donors, alumni, community members, financial supporters, performing arts patrons and other audience members who were not previously visible without this integrated view of Carolina constituencies.

“This initiative will enable us to roll out real-time data visualizations and modeling that will help inform decision-making on a day-to-day basis for everything from where we should hold an event to which membership growth opportunities we should pursue,” Fulton said. “For the first time, we’ll have real-time access to data from our ticketing database, University Development’s database and our database all in one place.”

SSB built the data warehouse with ticket sales and entrance scan data from Spectra and donor data from University Development and from The Rams Club.

SAS, meanwhile, has provided three main system applications:

  • SAS visual analytics
  • A tool that generates marketing campaigns via email, text or calls
  • SAS Enterprise Miner, a predictive analytics tool that segments the market for specific appeals, such as marketing the Notre Dame football game this fall to people who attended the last time the Fighting Irish played Carolina nearly a decade ago.Diagram showing how the Business Intelligence Initiative will enable Carolina Athletics to better engage with and grow the Carolina community.
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