How Campaigns Are Connected to Sports

By Adam Grossman

LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick have become famous supporters of different candidates in today’s Presidential election. However, this is not the only way to connect sports and politics. Election Day is often considered the game day of politics. More specifically, it is the one day during a political cycle where there is almost always a clear winner and clear loser (with the 2000 Presidential race being a notable exception). The scoreboard is the vote total where whomever receives the most wins.

But how do candidates try to score the most points with voters? Similar to sports, political campaigns are increasingly integrating data and analytics into their overall strategy. More specifically, collecting information on voters enables campaigns to more effectively use their economic, political, and human capital resources.

How does this work in practice? Just as in sports, a candidate only needs to have the highest number of votes as compared to his / her opponent(s) to secure victory. A winning candidate/campaign has:

·   Ensured that as many supporters of the candidate as possible vote on election day.

·   Ensured that marginal voters will choose their candidate over their opponent(s). A marginal voter is someone who considers voting for multiple candidates during an election but is influenced to select one.

·    Ensured that the campaign has not wasted resources on voters that are never going to vote for its candidate.

·   Ensured that the opponents’ voters do not vote on election day.

The Presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has seen candidates use data analytics tactics in order to implement strategies to achieve these goals. In particular, data has been used by both campaigns to determine how to effectively target supporters, reach undecided voters, and convince voters for the other candidates to stay home.

A great example of how campaigns have used data in the past is in the book Victory Labs, by Sasha Issenberg. Then Senator Barack Obama’s campaign found that if supporters signed a non-binding pledge to vote, they were significantly more likely to actually vote during an election. To clarify, in no way did signing a pledge mean that a voter had to vote at all and certainly not for Obama. Yet, Obama’s campaign discovered that taking a small, public step towards making a commitment to vote became a critical factor in actually getting people to vote.      

Sports teams can use data to drive similar results for their organizations to solve a critical challenge facing the industry – increasing event attendance. More specifically, many sports including professional and college football have seen consistent year-over-year declines in attendance. One of the ways to combat this issue is to leverage big data. Sports teams can now collect information including, when a fan enters the venue, what concessions they purchase, how frequently they access WiFi, and how often they interact with a team’s social media account. This treasure trove of information should provide insights on what can be done to increase attendance.

The main challenge is that teams often work for different vendors for each part of the game day experience. Usually, a team will have different provider for tickets, concessions, merchandise, and digital media. The Cleveland Browns are an example of a team that turned this challenge into an opportunity. More specifically the team constructed a data warehouse that could aggregate the information from different sources into a single place to be analyzed. Then, the team created custom campaigns for different demographics based on the insights it gained about its customers across the entire fan experience. This included a campaign to ensure that devoted season ticket holders were more likely to come and come early to games. It also created a specific campaign for marginal fans that could be persuaded to attend games with the right outreach. In addition, the Browns could determine which fans were unlikely to respond to even the best marketing to buy a ticket for a game. Finally, it was possible to use information to start limiting purchases from fans of the opponents’ team using geographic (often zip code information from a credit card) or demographic data. Implementing a data warehouse has increased revenue significantly for the Browns and put the team in the best position to succeed in the future regardless of how the team performs on the court.

It is rare that Democrats and Republicans can agree on anything during an election. However, both parties are leveraging data to enhance the likelihood of success in races throughout the country on Election Day. Sports teams can apply this same approach to help ensure that fans show up to support their teams on game day.