Improving the fan experience with machine learning
AI helps detect emerging trends and opportunities to connect with patrons.
Faster-paced, forward-thinking decisions
AEG Sports uses SAS® advanced analytics on Microsoft Azure to remain agile during uncertain times and plan for the ‘new normal’ of spectator sports
When fans go to a live sporting event, they’re not just watching athletes compete. There’s so much more to the experience. The camaraderie among patrons proudly wearing their teams’ colors. The enthusiastic cheers while waving flags and homemade posters. Glancing up at the jumbotron to see who’s lucky enough to get a moment of fame. The scent of tempting food wafting through the air. And most importantly, the memories made among family and friends that’ll last a lifetime.
This sense of community is something that professional sports franchises must tap into if they want to engage fans in a meaningful way, customizing communications and building long-term connections, loyalty and revenue opportunities. This is precisely what AEG Sports, a worldwide leader in sports and live entertainment, is doing.
AEG Sports, which includes major sports franchises like the LA Kings, the LA Galaxy and the Ontario Reign, relies on advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions from SAS to digest fan data, model it and improve the fan experience.
With SAS and Microsoft, we have two key partners that are ready for the future. Life is unpredictable. We might not know what’s going to happen, but we know SAS and Microsoft have our goals in mind and will allow us to really answer any problem that we may face. Aaron LeValley Senior Vice President of Business Operations and Strategy AEG Sports
Turning data deluge into customer insight
Years ago, the LA Kings invested in SAS advanced analytics to replace their manual data processing. This enabled the analytics team to stop emailing spreadsheets, for example, and give decision makers real-time dashboards to make better, faster decisions.
“Prior to using advanced analytics, we were doing labor-intensive data analysis in Excel spreadsheets,” says Aaron LeValley, Senior Vice President of Business Operations and Strategy at AEG Sports. “It would take weeks, if not months, to provide insights to our internal stakeholders. With SAS we can move very quickly, be it through our ticketing group, our partnerships group or our marketing group.”
Using data to make informed decisions, AEG Sports is growing its business.
“The perfect example is how we can now combine multiple data sources that contain millions of records and analyze that quickly and present results,” LeValley says. “For instance, were able to take our ticketing system and create marketing attribution models based on campaigns. Now we can say the email marketing brought in ‘x,’ our call campaign brought in ‘y,’ and our direct mail campaign bought in ‘z.’ Having a partner like SAS really allows us to do that in an efficient way.”
In addition to analyzing marketing campaigns, AEG Sports uses analytics to create recommendations for action.
“We’re creating data visualizations from combined data sources, and we’re building out statistical models – all of which help us solve business problems, like predicting the likelihood of somebody attending a game,” LeValley says. “This enables us to better control our staffing levels at a particular venue and better forecast revenues.”
Quick pivot in response to COVID-19
This culture of analytics had an especially profound effect in the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the US. With the fate of sports up in the air, LeValley and his team quickly changed their approach.
“When the pandemic hit, our industry was uprooted,” LeValley says. “Ticketing and sponsorships are the lifeblood of our industry. With so much uncertainty about the future, we needed to find new ways to engage with our audience and shape the digital experience.”
They began by conducting market research on Season Ticket Members.
“SAS Viya enables us to quickly analyze our research and create models to understand things like who’s ready to return to in-person games and who needs targeted retention efforts,” LeValley says.
This insight helps AEG Sports boost the ROI of its marketing campaigns. By continuously analyzing fan sentiment, the company can personalize messages to fans based on their interest level and feelings on personal safety, increasing effectiveness. Plus, the embedded AI capabilities in the SAS platform enable AEG Sports to automatically extract sentiment from thousands of survey responses, saving hours of manual processing.
The company also uses the embedded capabilities in SAS Viya for contingency planning. The ability to quickly ingest and model data from multiple sources – including ticketing, partnerships, marketing, weather reports and health experts – helps AEG Sports reduce uncertainty around the pandemic.
Mike Marsocci is the Senior Manager of Data and Analytics at AEG Sports. He oversees reporting and analytics, including data modeling for contingency planning purposes.
“SAS Viya helps us pivot quickly around different scenarios and find the optimal solution for each one,” Marsocci says. “Now, instead of being frozen by infinite scenarios, we can tweak parameters as they come and quickly determine the best way forward for our teams.”
AEG – Facts & Figures
professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League
professional soccer club in Major League Soccer
professional ice hockey team in the American Hockey League
Better modeling with AI
AEG Sports uses SAS Enterprise Miner powered by SAS Viya on Microsoft Azure. Combining this powerful data mining tool with SAS Visual Analytics and SAS Visual Statistics gives AEG Sports the latest AI and data visualization capabilities.
Machine learning – a subset of AI – helps AEG Sports crunch large data sets. One use case for this technology is ticket pricing. When fans can safely return to arenas, the company needs a flexible way to price tickets based on changing factors like ticket demand and public health restrictions.
“A lot of different variables go into optimally pricing tickets,” Marsocci says. “The array of models and visualizations SAS Viya offers, which are enhanced by machine learning, are extremely useful in helping us analyze millions of records to pinpoint those optimal price points.”
AEG Sports also uses AI to continually increase the efficiency of its modeling efforts.
“Our data is changing all the time,” Marsocci notes. “So we use AI to select the right model for each use case. Whether it’s decision trees, random forest or neural networks, we like to compare models and pick whichever one is the best combination of accurate and predictive.”
The output of these models often becomes data visualizations, which AEG Sports uses to improve decision making across the organization. Leading this effort is John D’Onofrio, Business Analyst at AEG Sports. D’Onofrio is the primary SAS user responsible for creating and sharing data visualizations.
“Data visualization is extremely important for us,” D’Onofrio says. “Most people are visual learners, so being able to show a visual representation of data has been extremely beneficial in gaining buy in. Right now almost every department in our company uses data visualizations in some way to operate more efficiently.”
The ability to create these visual reports is particularly valuable during the fast-paced hockey season.
“We need to turn data around quickly for games, so having daily reports with visualizations that sales leadership can look at and immediately understand is extremely important for us, especially when there’s a new game every two days,” D’Onofrio explains. “SAS Viya makes it easier for people to understand the outcomes of data analysis to make trusted decisions.”
AEG Sports also uses AI to detect emerging trends and opportunities to better connect with fans.
“A lot of our communication with fans during the COVID-19 pandemic has been fairly casual, often through surveys, which we use to gather and analyze their attitudes and feelings,” D’Onofrio says. “I’ll take all the survey data into a SAS Viya report and use text topics to analyze sentiment and identify key themes to see how fans are feeling and what the overall attitudes are. As a result, a lot of our communication with fans has less of a sales tone and more of a conversational tone.”
Future-focused with SAS on Microsoft Azure
Before the pandemic hit, AEG Sports migrated its SAS platform from on-premises to the cloud. LeValley cites three major reasons for the move to Microsoft Azure:
- Flexibility: “Running SAS Viya in Azure not only allows us to be extremely flexible today, but in the future. When new statistical procedures and visualizations come out, we’ll be ready for that change.”
- Cost-efficiency: “The cloud pricing model gives us a clearer understanding of total costs, helping us avoid changes to hardware and software that can take months to implement and include hidden costs.”
- Collaboration: “SAS Viya allows us to collaborate with internal stakeholders and other areas of AEG Worldwide. Now we can share data sets, reports, models and work with different people across the organization to improve our collective analytics capability.”
Now more than ever, AEG Sports is well-positioned to drive innovation and accelerate growth.
“With SAS and Microsoft, we have two key partners that are ready for the future,” LeValley continues. “Life is unpredictable. We might not know what’s going to happen, but we know SAS and Microsoft have our goals in mind and will allow us to really answer any problem that we may face.”
The evolution of live events and fan expectations
Having a cloud-based advanced analytics platform will help AEG Sports remain agile during uncertain times.
“We’re asking ourselves new questions,” LeValley says. “How can we better understand our customers’ journeys and build on these relationships? How can we use data to meet – or exceed – fan expectations, particularly when COVID-19 has drastically affected arena sports and social gatherings?”
LeValley notes there’s going to be a plethora of new customer expectations coming out of the pandemic. And AEG is taking steps to prepare for the post-pandemic world of live events.
“We need to make fans feel comfortable attending our venues again,” he says. “Being a live entertainment business, we know that everything is going to change – from fans coming to AEG arenas, to how they consume media, to how they watch our games. We need to be ready to address change and navigate the post-pandemic environment.”
Not surprisingly, this is an area where analytics can have a significant impact.
“Having a partner like SAS, we know that we’re in a good spot to address change,” LeValley says. “No matter what data comes in, no matter how things transform in our industry, we know we’ve got the tools and support to react quickly to whatever comes next – and to make sure we deliver the best experiences to our customers.”