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#42 Using Data to Transform the Fan Experience in Football and Basketball: Insights from the Indianapolis Colts and Orlando Magic

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There’s nothing like watching your favorite sports team live and in-person. The roar of the crowd. The smell of the concession stand. The suspense of the game clock winding down to its final seconds. But would you have guessed that behind every ticket purchase, box of cracker jacks, and Jumbotron moment, there are teams of data professionals working to make your fan experience even more seamless and engaging?

Joining Cindi today to discuss the data and analytics powering our favorite sports events are Jay Riola, the SVP of Strategy & Innovation for the Orlando Magic, and Charlie Shin, the VP of Data Strategy and Analytics for the Indianapolis Colts.

With perspectives from both the NBA and the NFL, Jay and Charlie explore the evolution of mobile ticketing, challenges with identity management, the importance of building fan trust, and the most surprising insights they’ve ever discovered within their data.

Key Takeaways

  • Customers expect more for their data: When customers share their data, they expect something in return. Respecting their privacy and keeping their data safe are the bare minimum. They expect real, tangible value. As a business, your responsibility is to use this data to enhance their experience. Whether that be through custom offers, more relevant content recommendations, or more seamless purchasing experiences, what matters most is that you’re delivering on the expectation of value.
  • Collecting data is one thing, putting it together is another: While technologies like mobile payments and social media have made it easier for businesses to collect data, they’ve also added complexity to the process of building accurate customer profiles. To truly understand the person on the other side of the screen, you must have the right skills and infrastructure to bring all that data together.
  • Great data scientists need to be a triple threat: It is no longer enough to be very good at the technical components of your job and “so-so” at translating insights into actionable recommendations for business stakeholders. The best data scientists have technical chops, a deep understanding of how their business works, and the storytelling skills to turn insights into influence.

Key Quotes from Charlie:

  • “In sports, they started off by focusing on the product, which is the on-field performance, our players. So a lot of the emphasis was using datas to optimize their investments, enhance their quality of on-field performance. But as the competition grew… now we’ve seen a shift where the focus is more on the customers and their experience in addition to the on-field quality.”
  • “Identity management is a key topic in sports at this point… We have a variety of different data sources, whether it’s ticketing, merchandising, digital engagement, or website or apps, there’s a lot of information that’s coming through. And then we’re trying to figure out how do we tie all this together so that we have that clear understanding of that single view of our customers across these touchpoints. And I don’t think this is just a sports industry challenge, right? I think it’s a challenge across all industries that manage consumer information.”

Key Quotes from Jay:

  • “We were a pretty early adopter of variable ticket pricing and thinking about the value from a ticket perspective of our games differently based on the team that we were playing, the time of the year, whether it was early in the season versus later in the season, obviously weekday versus weekend, but just recognizing that the marketplace values these games differently and so should we… Then it became, how do we dynamically price our tickets? How are we changing pricing as we approach games to reflect the demand situation that we have or if an opponent is performing better or worse than we expected, and we can raise or lower pricing. I think where data is really helping guide us… is product development and thinking about ticketing in new and kind of transformational ways.”
  • “We have seen significant growth in ticketing revenue and improvement in retention of fans, as we’ve introduced this more sophisticated way of thinking about pricing and sales to our business. And I would venture to guess that most teams that have implemented this are seeing returns as well in terms of revenue growth and also total ticket sold.”
  • “We are fortunate to work in an industry where fans are more willing to share their data with us… But I do think that the same expectations do come along, which is I’m giving you something and in return, there’s an expectation, obviously that you will protect my data and store it safely… but also that now you’re going to enrich my experience with you somehow… I think it’s kind of shifting responsibility to companies to be far more active in how they think about not just security and data management, but returning value on that expectation that will come from your fans and your consumers.”

About Charlie

Charlie Shin is a highly analytical customer strategy and marketing executive with global and domestic experience in data analytics, strategic planning, project management, customer segmentation, customer relationship management, and KPI management. He excels at guiding enterprise data strategy, CRM initiatives, and organization-wide marketing technology infrastructure.

Prior to joining the Colts, Charlie was a VP of Strategy & Analytics at MLS for past 15 years where he developed the foundation and enhanced league-wide data strategy, analytic capabilities and CRM technology infrastructure. He also worked as a senior business consultant at Samsung OpenTide and PwC Consulting for over six years managing various projects related to customer strategy, CRM strategy, performance marketing, customer segmentation and new business model development. In addition, he currently serves as an adjunct faculty at NYU and Columbia University.

Charlie holds a BA in business administration from Yonsei University and an MS in sports business from New York University.

About Jay

Jay Riola is entering his 16th season with the Orlando Magic. He was promoted to senior vice president of strategy & innovation in July 2019. Riola oversees the Magic’s business strategy and innovation efforts including data engineering, strategy and analytics, mobile strategy, CRM, digital marketing and marketing technology, as well as other strategic initiatives and special projects.

Riola started with the Magic as an intern in 2006 and worked as part of the Magic’s internal team overseeing the design and construction of the Amway Center, which opened in 2010. Since 2010, he has worked in several roles to grow the Magic’s data and analytics program from a small, startup effort into a department that is regarded by sports industry professionals as a best-in-class team. Riola has also helped lead the Magic’s mobile strategy and digital technology efforts, including advancement of the team’s mobile app and development of new and innovative digital ticketing solutions. In 2016, he helped lead the process to bring the Orlando Magic’s G-League team, the Lakeland Magic, to Lakeland, Florida, negotiating the deal with the City of Lakeland and the RP Funding Center.

In addition to his role with the Magic, Riola is an adjunct instructor with the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida, where he teaches a sport business analytics course. He is active in the broader sports business industry serving on several boards and advisory committees, including currently serving as chair for UCF’s DeVos Sports Business Management Program’s Advisory Board, Baylor University’s Center for Sports Strategy and Sales (S3), KORE Software’s Customer Advisory Board, the Greater Orlando Sports Commission’s Human Rights Committee for its 2026 FIFA World Cup Candidate City Bid and the NBA’s Team Innovation Advisory Council (TIAC). Riola also serves on the board of Sports2Change, a nonprofit organization he founded that encourages volunteerism among youth student-athletes in Central Florida.

Riola received his bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in 2006, where he played on the men’s basketball team. He received his MBA from the University of Florida in 2011. Riola currently resides in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood with his wife, Julia. They have a daughter, Madeline, and a son, Mason.

The Data Chief is presented by our friends at ThoughtSpot. Searching through your company’s data for insights doesn’t have to be complicated. With ThoughtSpot, anyone in your organization can easily answer their own data questions, find the facts, and make better, faster decisions. Learn more at thoughtspot.com

Episode 44