Digital platforms and how consumers interact with them on a day-to-day basis have changed customer expectations; with this shift, as new technologies emerge there’s also a set of new opportunities to create personalized, engaging experiences.
I sat down with Scott Miner, Director of Business Solutions at Pegula Sports & Entertainment, to understand his organization’s specific approach to the fan experience, what his overarching goals are, and how technology plays a key role in achieving these goals.
Pegula Sports & Entertainment is a management company based in Buffalo, New York that manages a number of subsidiaries as part of the Pegula brand; their organizations include the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Bandits, Buffalo Beauts, Rochester Americans and Black River Entertainment. On the venue side, Pegula manages KeyBank Center, New Era Field and the HarborCenter. For an entity with a such a diverse cross-section of brands, properties, and assets, how does Pegula better understand their customers and their preferences? Equally important, how do they take these needs to interact with fans in a differentiated, relevant way?
Enter Scott Miner, Director of Business Solutions at Pegula Sports & Entertainment, whose central mission is to accomplish just that: establish a highly-personalized, value-added experience for Buffalo’s fans and its’ sports venues. We discussed the technologies, strategies, and overall philosophy that enables this mission.
In today’s experience-driven economy, gone are the days where sports teams can simply rely on their on-the-field product to remain competitive and establish meaningful connections with their fan bases. While the team’s performance is still central, investment in strategic technologies, data analytics, and digital platforms (and personnel to support them) is the key to fully engaging with fans.
Scott and the teams he oversees are the perfect example of this evolution. They cater to three central pillars under Pegula Sports. First, digital development, which includes website and web application design, development and implementation; second, business intelligence and strategy, which includes analytics, research, and driving revenue through tangible products. Lastly, there’s data strategy, which includes data science, analytics, marketing ops and acquisitions; essentially this pillar of creating fan efficiencies and establishing a golden record across all of Pegula’s brands and entities. As Scott puts it, “data strategy is the ‘who’ and business strategies are the ‘what.’”
The three pillars under Scott’s leadership epitomizes Pegula’s overarching fan experience philosophy and end-goal: engage with fans on a 1-to-1 level.
Three years ago Scott and Pegula’s entire upper management team asked themselves an important question, one that every sports organization considers: how do we want to approach the fan experience? Their conclusion? Make every fan feel like they’re the only fan in the stadium. Deliver a truly personalized experience. Scott expanded upon this point, explaining “If I have 20 thousand plus fans at a [Sabres] hockey game or 70 thousand plus fans at a [Bills] football game, how do I create that number of unique experiences in-venue on game day?” Scott knows that he and his team can’t control what happens on the field or on the ice, but he can work to make every fan who visits their venues feel uniquely catered to in a 1-to-1 manner.
Few sports organization would challenge Pegula’s fan experience philosophy, and arguably it’s the direction and goal shared by a multitude of industries today. Whether it’s a retail chain, hotel brand, healthcare provider, or sports team, your ability to deliver uniquely customized experiences and engagements based off preferences, prior activities, and context will ultimately resonate the most with customers – and, keep them coming back for more. So how has Scott and Pegula Sports & Entertainment mapped out this endeavor, and what technologies have they invested in to execute on their plan? Let’s explore the three pillars, and how they’re critical to success.
Evaluated and driven by Scott’s team, Pegula Sports & Entertainment has invested in a cross-section of technologies to enable an excellent fan experience, and ultimately create that 1-to-1 interaction between fan and brand. The three pillars are cited above, but how do they apply?
From Scott’s perspective, this begins with the critical in-venue technologies and partners. On the partner side, this includes organizations that support central aspects of a sporting event, like ticketing, concessions, retail, hospitality, and facilities. The organization has also invested in partner to bring insights in concession and facilities monitoring during, in addition to a partner that support membership management and loyalty (more on that later). Of course, infrastructure and Wi-Fi is a central part of the in-venue technologies as well, as most if not all of these systems are supported by the network in some capacity.
Outside of operations and event management, Scott argues a robust network is completely necessary to enable any and all fan-facing initiatives. This includes perhaps the largest tech-centric fan-facing project at Pegula in recent memory: the OneBuffalo application.
Pursuing the aforementioned 1-to-1 goal for their fans, Pegula kicked off the OneBuffalo initiative three years ago. Essentially, it began as a marketing campaign with the goal of unifying all the brands and entities under Pegula’s umbrella. By doing so, the organization would create a quality, consistent experience across their brands and locations. This also presented with a compelling opportunity to develop creative fan engagements and promotions between the brands. What followed was the OneBuffalo App.
Scott and his team designed the OneBuffalo App to be a one-stop-shop for every Pegula Sports & Entertainment entity. Speaking on the importance of delivering customization and value, Scott said “we wanted to make sure that our fans had every tool at their disposal when attending a game. Pursuing that 1 to 1 goal. Starting a mobile concept that brought together the information, content side with the service, in-venue side of the app – all customized to their interests.”
Through the app, individuals are able to join a loyalty program at a root level as a fan. When they attend games or a game they could link their tickets to the app, are sent discounted seat upgrade offers, access and absorb content, as well as other promotions. This allowed them to be fans day-to-day, but they also received customized messaging and offers through their behaviors and building customized outreaches and offers from these engagements. All of this functionality exists today, but Scott and Pegula have a next iteration plan for the OneBuffalo app.
The big change coming this fall for the app will be a move to a single platform – the OneBuffalo app. Everything will be under a singular product, no longer will team-specific apps in the market exist. This mean for any fan in Buffalo or Western New York, you’re able to take advantage of the hospitality and entertainment offerings in the area in addition to maximizing the game day experience in-venue. Fans can also tailor only the organizations or brands they’re interested in receiving content, promos, info around in-app – the intent being that consumers can “choose your own journey,” as Scott puts it. The go-forward goal with the concept of the new app? Scott describes a frictionless, mobile-driven experience, where “the fan only requires the phone in their pocket. That’s it; no need for money (they will pay through an in-app account), a paper ticket, or anything else. They can go into the venue, scan the ticket on the phone, pay for two beers using apple pay, then find a seat via way-finding GPS technology, and enjoy the game seamlessly.”
From Scott’s perspective, the OneBuffalo initiative and app represents Pegula’s ardent principles and approach to the fan experience: listen to your fans to understand what they want, have the flexibility to customize the experience for them, and invest in the right technology that delivers it. Scott and his organization want the endeavor to be a market changer. “Our fans want control, and most fans do, and they want to give this to them in the form of a mobile application. To make their game day and non-game day more efficient and more valuable. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Scott, his team, and Pegula Sports & Entertainment undoubtedly have a strong handle on the mobile and digital fan expectations shaping the industry today, and understand the necessary technologies to meet and exceed these expectations – delivering on their goal to create an personalized experience for all Buffalo fans moving forward. The point remains: Scott and his team’s philosophy related to customer engagement, delivering added value, and creating seamless experiences are not only a lesson for sports organizations and their venues, they are lessons that transcend to a litany of industries today. It’ll certainly be fascinating to observe how OneBuffalo takes shape moving forward.
For more resources around fan experience, fan engagement, and in-venue technologies be sure to check out some related resources below. Make sure to also be on the lookout for Part II of my conversation with Scott Miner, where we discuss data analytics, challenges associated with technology adoption, and how to engage with fans outside of the Buffalo market.
For more information around how Extreme Networks supports the digital and network goals of Sports Venues today, be sure to visit our Sports & Public Venues Solution Page.