Hockey fans love the sport for its fast pace and physicality. But “data centric” is not a term that usually goes along with pucks and power plays. Sam Doerr, Chief Strategy Officer for the NHL’s Florida Panthers, is working to change that.
We spoke to Doerr a few weeks before the start of the 2021-2022 NHL season. Collecting data and making it accessible, he argues, is key to the team’s success — and helping it connect with fans in the competitive South Florida sports market.
“We’re really focused on revenue maximization and efficiency, and at the core of that has been building out something we’re calling Panther Insights,” explained Doerr. “We think, at times, analytics can be a little bit overwhelming to other departments within the business. And so by rebranding as Panther Insights, you can have folks that maybe aren’t comfortable with numbers interact with our department a little better.”
Panther Insights: Collecting and Using Data More Intelligently
When Doerr joined the Panthers in early 2021, he immediately identified a pothole in the organization’s strategy department – collecting, storing, and using consumer insights.
“That was a big area that I identified very early, that I wanted to improve on and make a focal point of our business,” Doerr said. “I felt like it needed kind of a refresh, or reboot.”
To execute Doerr’s vision, the Panthers partnered with StellarAlgo (the current provider is KORE Software) to build a data warehouse containing as many data points as possible about the Panther fan base. Doerr says data is coming from everywhere: Ticketmaster, email marketing, customer relationship management, food and beverage sales, merchandise sales, sweepstakes participation, and more. Plans to develop a mobile app will generate engagement data.
“We plan to get very personalized with our marketing efforts to ensure we are fan-first and providing that personal level of service that we’ve come to expect as a society from tech-leaders like Amazon, Tesla, etc.”
The rebrand consolidated all of the organization’s data under one umbrella – everything from merchandise and food sales to data on potential investment and partnership opportunities with startups and other organizations.
“We plan to get very personalized with our marketing efforts to ensure we are fan-first and providing that personal level of service that we’ve come to expect as a society from tech-leaders like Amazon, Tesla, etc,” Doerr said. “If we know the type of food and beverage that a fan enjoys and their scan time for entering the venue, we can target them with specific messaging tailored to their lifestyle.”
Brand New Season, Brand New Ideas
A new hockey season means brand new players, brand new fans, and brand new projects and ideas for the Panthers’ innovation team.
The organization is rolling out a brand new season-ticket membership model for fans, namedthe “premier plan,” which includes weekend games and marquee matchups with the NHL’s best teams. To gauge response to this brand new project, Doerr says the organization is using its newly revamped data warehouse.
“Another exciting project we’re in the process of launching with our new customer data platform provider, StellarAlgo, is a real-time retention model that’s powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Doerr explained. “Using various data points we have on our customer base, we’ll be able to forecast who is at risk of not renewing for a membership with us and get ahead of that way in advance to ensure our customers have a great experience.”
“I think COVID-19 really sped up the innovations that you have to have…[and] really shone a light on who was ready for that and who wasn’t.”
The 2021-22 NHL season will continue to see major impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Being fluid and adapting to challenges brought on by COVID-19 has been vital to many pro sports teams, and has made many franchises more flexible than ever.
“I think more and more teams are willing to challenge the norm now,” Doerr said. “And I think COVID-19 really sped up the innovations that you have to have, and quite frankly, the importance of having a business intelligence group. I think that, and technologies, and having the right tech stack — COVID-19 really shone a light on who was ready for that and who wasn’t.”
Getting Creative: The Panthers Sign a Quarterback
When trying to generate buzz across both traditional and social media, taking an unorthodox approach never hurts. After the NCAA announced a new rule allowing college athletes to profit off of their image, Doerr says the Panthers saw an opportunity to get creative.
The organization signed University of Miami quarterback D’Eriq King to a NIL (name, image, and likeness) deal that made national headlines in August.
“In South Florida, football is very high on a lot of people’s priority list,” Doerr explained. “Obviously, the quarterback at Miami is a high-profile position.”
King is expected to make rinkside appearances throughout the upcoming season, promote a new merchandise line for the Panthers, and get college football fans excited about the hockey scene in South Florida during the NHL season.
“We wanted to do something outside the box,” Doerr said. “He’s got a great social media presence. Mixing D’Eriq’s personality and reputation and following with some of our hockey players, and just kind of inter-mingling their brands — we thought [it] could be pretty powerful.”