In this Sports Geek Podcast we chat to Dan Harbison who has left the sports industry after several years leading the digital efforts of the Portland Trailblazers to take up a new role as head of New Media at Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas we chat with Dan on ABC Grandstand. On Harf Time we look at ticketing campaigns and promotions gone wrong and with A-League kicking off we take you behind the scenes at season launch and the Power The Game activation to rally fans support online.
More specifically, in this podcast you’ll find out about:
- How you can look at industries outside sports for best practice
- What Dan learned moving from role at Portland Trailblazers to Caesars Entertainment
- Importance of developing brand ambassadors outside sports
- Why Pinterest is a tough fit in sports but works for travel business
- Why less is more when posting on social media
- How Caesars are developing of loyalty programs based on digital actions of patrons
- Learn more about the A-League You Power The Game campaign
- Why the Power The Game mini site was developed with Carter Digital
- Learn about mistakes made with ticketing campaigns so you don’t make them
- What does “papering the house” means?
Resources from the episode
- Find Dan Harbison on Twitter (@darbison) and Linkedin or danliveshere.com
- Bleacher Report article as discussed on Harf Time – The Most Desperate Ways Teams Have Tried to Get Fans Through Door
- Check out Carter Digital who built the Power The Game mini-site for A-League
- Iron Pigs provide urinal gaming system
- Recap of #SportsGeekTrip when Sean visited Portland Trailblazers
- Sean spoke with Dan back at conferences in Sydney and Auckland in 2010
- Please leave a question for future Sports Geek Podcast via Speakpipe for Ask Sports Geek episode
- Sounds of the Game from Melbourne Derby opener between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart
- Thanks to David Mackay, DT Talk, Dion Bennett for iTunes reviews in Australian iTunes and USA iTunes.
- Check out Beers, Blokes & Business podcast (BeersBlokesBusiness.com or iTunes or Stitcher)
Check out the A-League Power The Game TVC
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Sean: Welcome to Episode 20 of the Sports Geek podcast. On today’s podcast, we chat with Dan Harbison to learn from outside the world of sports, the A-League kicks off, and we look at ticketing promos gone wrong.
DJ: Welcome to the Sports Geek podcast, the podcast built for sports digital and sports business professionals.
And now, here’s your host, who’s looking forward to long walks on the beach once rehab allows it, Sean Callanan.
Sean: Thanks DJ Joel. This is Episode 20 of the Sports Geek podcast. Thank you very much for joining me on this journey that started back on May 9 that has gone through major surgery getting an Achilles tendon repaired. Thank you very much to all of the people who have been guests on the show so far. Without them, there wouldn’t be a podcast, and without you guys downloading the podcast, I wouldn’t continue doing it.
So just a couple of the stats, obviously 5 months, 20 episodes. Thanks to everyone, including James Royer from the first episode from the Tampa Bay Lightning. 6,500 downloads later, Episode 10 happens to be the most downloaded episode with over 700 downloads, and I think that might have something to do with the guest on that episode, Russell Scibetti, sharing it on thebusinessofsports.com. Thank you very much, Russell. It’s been downloaded in over 58 countries, so I’m going to have to learn how to say thank you in multiple languages.
So let’s get on to the show, enough of the back-slapping by myself. On today’s show, I chat with a good friend of mine, Dan Harbison, who is now at Caesars Entertainment but formerly – and you probably know him from his days at the Portland Trailblazers and the innovations that he brought to the Trailblazers’ digital team over the last seven or so years. It’s probably more. I’d have to check. Apologies if I’ve gone short on that, Dan.
We chat to him about his new role at Caesars and what he’s learned being outside the world of sports and how similar it actually is to the world of sports.
Also, later we chat with Daniel Harford on Harf Time about ticketing promos and some of the ones that have gone wrong and where they’ve gone wrong, and how you can fix it.
And then also take you behind the scenes at the A-League season launch and how the A-League has kicked off its season with the “Power The Game” activation that we built with the guys at Carter Digital.
But first, here is my chat with Dan Harbison from Caesars Entertainment with Francis Leach on ABC Grandstand.
Francis : Grandstand Breakfast is joined by Sean Callanan from Sports Geek HQ to talk sport in the digital realm. Thank you, Sean.
Sean: Hello. Good day, Francis. How are you doing?
Francis: Yeah, we’re all a bit speechless about what’s been happening, that’s for sure, with the socceroos copping a belting in Paris taking their lumps, 6-0 so far.
Sean: It is, yeah. It’s a bit tough to swallow early in the morning, but hopefully they’ll bounce back in the next couple of months.
Francis: What’s been happening?
Sean: So, today I wanted to talk about what different industries offer sports. Before I was Sports Geek, I was a geek working in the IT space as a developer, and I did jump from industry to industry. There were people that sort of stayed in the industry and developed that experience on different verticals I guess, but for me, I always saw IT as ones and zeros. It’s all the same from the back-end point of view. You’re always providing a solution, so whether I was working in government or retail or gaming, I could see how the different industries and the different solutions that we’re offering in those industries could be applied in the different verticals.
So now that I’m working in the world of sports, I’m always looking outside the world of sports and what other people are doing and how that can be applied to sports, and also the vice-versa. So the things that sports are doing from a point of view of engaging fans and trading members and selling tickets can be applied to other segments of the community.
Francis: Give us an example of that. I mean, how would you take the sports social engagement platform? As we’ve talked about before, sport has been driving a lot of that. If you look at Twitter, and Twitter has been a predominantly sports vehicle, how else can other people leverage that or learn from that?
Sean: Well, I think from a sport point of view, you’re always trying to develop the fan and deepen the emotional relationship with the fan, and you can do that with all of these social channels because you can talk to them and find your brand ambassadors and that kind of thing. You’re not going to have the same fervor and passion that you do for a sports team, but you’ve got to start identifying what we would call your digital cheer squad of people who are your brand ambassadors.
There are people who are massive fans of shoe companies, Nike and Adidas and others, and there are people who are massive fans of fast-food companies and soft drink companies. They are as passionate about that as they are some of their sports teams.
So you want to find those kind of people, but you also want to train those kind of fans or those kind of customers to do what you want. So whether it’s instagramming that you’re at a hotel or instagramming that you’re at the restaurant or checking in at a café, those kind of things. So the same things that sports are doing to train their fans to follow their accounts and be brand advocates, that’s what other industries are trying to do as well.
Francis: And we’re going to meet someone now who does that in a different realm after working in sports.
Sean: Yes. A good mate of mine, Dan Harbison. Hopefully he’s on the line. Good day, Dan.
Dan: I am. Hey, guys.
Sean: How are you doing?
Dan: I’m doing great. How are you guys?
Sean: Good. So Dan is formerly from the Portland Trailblazers, and now he is head of New Media at Caesars Entertainment, if I’ve got that right, Dan?
Dan: Yeah, that’s correct. In Las Vegas.
Sean: In Las Vegas. So you’re obviously checking in and bragging about where you are all the time?
Dan: There’s a lot of places to check in at, literally and figuratively.
Sean: So what I wanted to ask is what, you know, a couple of months into your job at Caesars Entertainment, what’s the difference in the role and what have you taken from your experience at the Portland Trailblazers to Caesars?
Dan: Sure. Thank you for having me on. I love Melbourne, love Australia when we’re able to get down there, so I appreciate it. It’s interesting, I’ve been here about 10 1/2 months and there’s a lot more similarities than I actually was expecting. Sports is such a content-driven kind of category. You have content always happening at the matches, at the games, or even off the field or off the court with athletes and fans talking about your sports or your team.
The same thing is going on here where there is content everywhere. When you step out onto the gaming floor or onto the street, and whether it’s a huge performer like Britney Spears that’s coming into town or it is a smaller performer or just people that are having the time of their lives, there’s content everywhere. And that’s our job to really capture that content and understand what the great moment to be able to reflect is. People become more fans or more loyal to our brand.
The difference in my role moving from the Trailblazers to here is I went from being a very broad – I oversaw a broad spectrum digital, so anywhere from development to creative to content creation to live video to search and all the different advertising. And now, I’m focused specifically on social and mobile strategies. So it’s been really good to be able to kind of zero in and really refine and understand what works in the different channels and with different people.
Then on top of that, really think of what would be cool essentially as you’re walking around Las Vegas or one of our properties and you have your mobile device with you, how should your experience be augmented by your mobile device? Because frankly, that’s what everybody has in their hand when they’re on vacation. It’s their phone. They don’t have a laptop tethered to their back or anything like that, unless you are maybe Sean. But most of us have our phones.
Francis: So when you’re doing that, what premise do you set for yourself to, you know, there must be rules – not rules so much, but principles that underpin what you do and don’t post, and what things you’re trying to carry through every particular tweet or post that you put up?
Dan: Absolutely. I think you have to look at each platform, making sure that you’re putting the right content on each platform, because something that you put on Twitter may not be exactly the same way you present it on Facebook, on Instagram, or Vine for that matter.
It’s really easy I think to over-share and putting too much content out there, which is kind of funny to say because we used to be, like, we were, not struggling, but you were really trying to figure out what are you going to post. Now, everybody wants you to post everything all the time, and with the exception of Twitter, Twitter is still, frequency is still pretty important because your tweets can fall off the timeline pretty quickly, so it’s good to be active. You still want to do one tweet a day. But frankly, the other platforms, you really need to make sure your content you’re putting out there is great content.
Francis: So you need to be a good self-editor. You need to edit your own content really carefully so that you’re not over-stretching the friendship?
Dan: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s something that you don’t-, whenever you start putting out bad content or even just mediocre content, you’re kind of breaking that trust with the people that are reading it. Frankly, they’re looking to you to be the expert or to be on the inside. If you start having content that’s not interesting, they’ll just stop paying attention to you.
It’s like, we all have friends that kind of talk to you about stuff and it’s really boring, so same thing. You start kind of ignoring that guy’s phone calls.
Sean: So from a social point of view in the content you’re putting out, you don’t have that narrow focus that you would have had at the Trailblazers. You were able to put out Trailblazer content and know that those fans loved the content. But now, you’ve got this broader picture that you’re trying to paint. You know, one day, you’re putting up a post about Britney Spears, another time you’re talking about a magic show, another time you’re talking about just the experience on the Strip. How do you find trying to get that balance of getting that content mix right?
Dan: Yeah, and that’s the challenge. We have nine properties here in Las Vegas, and so making sure that each property has its own voice, has its own channel, and being able to jump between the different ones, it is definitely a challenge. And that’s something that, you know, prior to going out to collect content or cover something, you have to have a plan. You almost have that shot-sheet before you go out on things that you want to capture. And then once you do, really making sure you’re presenting in the right way, because depending on the platform and depending on the brand, things will be shot and used very differently.
From a sports team, we were, you know, we’re on Pinterest, but Pinterest just didn’t drive that much. I know a lot of teams continue to look to that – is that a viable option? Frankly, the demographics don’t pencil out very well for sports and for Pinterest. It’s a female-driven site for people to plan and to kind of reflect their identity. Now, reflecting your identity and sports go hand-in-hand, and that totally makes Pinterest kind of identify, ‘Hey, this is who I am, these are all the different sport teams that I like, or these are the players on these teams that I like.’ Mainly for planning things, Pinterest is considered to be a hard nut to crack for sports as opposed to planning for travel. We see that most people who are planning travel are women, and so we have to make sure that the content that we’re putting on Pinterest actually works well with our strategy to get people to book rooms or to book their trip.
So depending on platform, you have to kind of look at what’s going to work where, as opposed to the stuff we’re putting on Instagram is going to be a little bit more artistic and getting them aware, to get them aware of some of the cool new things we have going on. Things are constantly changing here in Las Vegas, there’s new buildings going up all the time, new musical acts happening, or new deals coming in, so you have to be pretty active and agile.
Sean: Dan, one last thing, and quickly just to wrap up, sports has obviously got a big drive to get data and to start the relationship with a fan and take them off social media into email. How much of that is a focus at Caesars? How much is the things you’re trying to do is to drive those fans or those customers into your database and the sophistication in the back end there?
Dan: It’s extremely important. It’s truly interesting, and that’s one of the reasons why I joined Caesars is because they’ve been known to be one of the industry leaders in business in general, about really CRM and understanding the customer and being able to serve up messaging to that customer in the right way at the right time.
One of the areas that I’ve come on in to help really beef up is the social mobile activation of that big data and channeling information into the CRM. We’ve got a loyalty program here that was actually one of the first loyalty programs in the world that we put out called Total Rewards. It was used by the airlines to kind of use as their blueprint to create airline miles, and they continue to kind of change and augment Total Rewards. And that’s something that is really important to me in figuring out how do we go and reward people in social and mobile activity? And frankly, just having them walking around and enjoying different things on our property and being able to reward them for that to drive more loyalty, having them have more engagement with us. And on top of that, we want to know where people are going and how valuable are they to us, and what do they like, what are their likes and dislikes? And so we’re able to be more effective at marketing to them in the long run.
Francis: Dan, good of you to talk to us, and have another great day there in Vegas.
Dan: All right. Thanks a lot, guys. I appreciate it.
Sean: Thanks, Dan.
Francis: Dan Harbison, who is the head of Digital Media at Caesars these days, which of course you know the brand, the name, from Vegas.
Sean: Exactly. So I look forward to catching up with Dan the next time I’m in Vegas.
Francis: I’m sure he knows how to get you into all of the right places. Where can people find you, Sean Callanan?
Sean: SportsgeekHQ.com, or look up Sports Geek podcast on iTunes.
Francis: Which is up there at the moment. How many interviews have you done now with the Beers, Blokes and Business podcast?
Sean: That’s the other podcast, Beers, Blokes and Business. We’ve done seven, and it’s the top-ranked business podcast in Australia at the moment.
Francis: Number 1 on the charts.
Sean: Exactly. We’re the bullet.
Francis: Good to talk to you, mate.
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Sean: Well, it was actually funny, only the three hours I think after I got off the radio with Francis, we were actually on air when the Socceroos were playing France, and I think two or three hours later, the Australian Socceroos coach, Holger Osieck, was sacked. So it was a big day in sports. But then again, if you lose two football matches 6-0, 6-0, it sounds more like a tennis score, and there wasn’t much likelihood of him going on.
Thank you very much to Dan Harbison for joining me on ABC Grandstand. Some of the key takeaways that I took from that, first of all is Dan’s new job title, really focused on social and mobile. Obviously a really key segment for the guys at Caesars to concentrate on and also the fact that he is now quickly tailoring a lot of the content that he’s doing for the mobile customer because that’s where they’re consuming it. And the stats bear that out. A few percent of Facebook’s traffic is on mobile, Twitter is now an exclusively mobile product, so you’ve got to remember when you’re pushing out content from a social perspective, is it consumable on a mobile device? And if you don’t have a mobile optimised website or you don’t have an app that does everything that you want it to do, how can you produce content that does fit for a mobile purpose?
So it might be something as simple as making an image with all the text so it can be read on a mobile. It could be that simple, or providing a PDF that’s easy to download and be able to read on a smartphone. So I think that’s very much important to remember that the mobile device is quickly becoming the primary device for people to consume content.
So, thanks to Dan there. We only touched slightly on the loyalty side of it and the CRM side of it. As we’ve discussed earlier with Chris Freet in Miami and the guys at Auckland Blues using True Blue HQ, that whole digital loyalty play is still something that needs developing, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it here at Sports Geek.
The other thing that was mentioned there by Francis at the end in giving my other podcast a plug, the Beers, Blokes and Business podcast had their launch at Honey Bar this week. We had 90 people attend, had a really good networking event. We ran a couple of panels, and I think we’ll probably be running them again. The feedback was good, if just from the tweets alone. Not bad for eight blokes to pull together an event and have it trending Australia-wide if only for ten minutes. It did hit the trends on Twitter. So I think it does show the power of one event and how important they are to connect with your audience. We’ve run some fan meet-ups and tweet-ups that have been very successful. So if you’re not running events that connect you with your fans, you’re not taking full advantage of that opportunity.
Next up is my discussion with Harf, and we look at a few ticketing promos gone wrong and what you can do to avoid them.
Announcer: Sean Callanan, our sports digital media guru for SportsGeekHQ.com.
Harf: Well, happy Wednesday. He’s back again. Good day, Sean.
Sean: Good day, Harf. How are you doing?
Harf: I’m doing very well, thank you. What do you got for us today?
Sean: Actually, talking about ticketing promotions. There was an article on the Bleacher Report, I just tweeted out on @SportsGeek on a few different promotions and some of them haven’t quite worked and some weird ones that have happened. Have you ever heard the term ‘paper the stadium’?
Harf: Yeah, sort of. I don’t know what it means.
Sean: So papering the stadium effectively means giving away so many free tickets to get the old bums on seats.
Harf: Oh, is that what that means?
Sean: That’s what it means. So if you’re having trouble filling your stadium, paper your stadium, give away all these free tickets. But really, when you’re giving away a free ticket, people don’t have their skin in the game, they’re not invested, they haven’t put their money in, and they’re not going to, you know, they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t need to turn out.’ So the Tampa Bay Rays once gave away 20,000 tickets to one of their games. Their attendance was so bad.
Harf: They wouldn’t be doing that right now against the Red Sox.
Sean: Well, the thing is, they have been playing well, but their attendance has always been pretty poor. But they’re giving out so many free tickets and the market will just sit and wait because they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll eventually get a free ticket.’ So it can be really detrimental to your overall strength of your ticket sales because people will always hold back for that discounted or free ticket. So it’s a real strange one.
I mean, the minor league teams, especially in the States, both in the minor football leagues and baseball and things like that, they always do a little bit of stunt work, probably a bit of marketing stunts. One of them is the old sign up the washed-up star. I think you’ve got it there, the indoor football league, the Allen Wranglers signed Terrell Owens.
Harf: Why wouldn’t you?
Sean: Why wouldn’t you? And got some coverage, and I don’t think Terrell Owens even actually ended up playing a game.
I think there was another, there was a soccer team that tried to put in an offer to Allen Iverson, the basketballer, to come and play for them. So, it’s a bit of a marketing stunt, get them in, get their name in the news as a bit of promotion, but didn’t quite work.
Another one-, I’ve actually had these guys on the show before – the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, remember them?
Harf: Oh, I love the IronPigs.
Sean: The IronPigs, remember them, because they had the urinal gaming system we’ve spoken about before. They actually had a promotion where a lucky fan would win-, and who wouldn’t want to win – a funeral. A funeral worth $10,000. So that’s really going to drag in their fans through the door. So that was a strange one.
Then another one which comes down to this dynamic pricing. So we’ve sort of discussed dynamic pricing once or twice, and that’s sort of where the market demand hits at a high point, the tickets go up, and that kind of thing. So the Tennessee Vols tried to do that with their student ticketing. Now, when you’ve got a really large stadium – and this is part of the reason why dynamic pricing really hasn’t taken off in Australia, because we’ve got the MCG and we’ve got Etihad stadium, and for the most part, you can walk up and get a seat. So when there’s not a strong demand, you effectively-, it doesn’t quite work. And for the Vols, it also doesn’t work when your team sucks. So unfortunately, they were paying more to play the big colleges, but they’re paying more to see their team get pummeled. So, I mean, it doesn’t quite work. It didn’t really help with the students.
And the last one was, at the moment, the Jaguars are offering-, they put out a promotion effectively saying…
Sean: Jacksonville Jaguars, effectively saying, you know, drink for free.
Harf: Oh, wow.
Sean: Exactly. And you’d think that’s a winner, and if you’d like a beer, I’d love a beer, but it was really only offering you two beers, two Bud Lights. You’re not really going to get drunk. But unfortunately, by putting out that message, they rankled the anti-drinking lobby and the drunk driving lobby and all that, and it’s like, it’s not the message you should be promoting, and that is correct.
So sometimes, yeah, I mean, good on all these teams for trying all these different promotions, but sometimes you’ve just got to watch what you do and sometimes give it a little bit more thought.
Harf: Did they ever work?
Sean: Yeah, some do. I think the main one is that paper the stadium one is if you’re giving away tickets, then you’re making the market expect it. I think where it’s somewhat different is potentially where you get your sponsors to potentially give away tickets to their customers or to their fan base. That’s a different market, and so that’s allowing your sponsors to introduce potentially new fans, and those tickets can be a perk for being a customer or that kind of thing. So it might be, you know, ‘Have a meal at our restaurant, here’s a voucher, and you can get a discounted ticket to our game.’ So that’s driving and attracting new fans. But if you’re just flooding the market with free tickets and people know, oh, I can always get a ticket over there, then what’s the incentive for people to go buy one?
Harf: You can read it at the Bleacher Report. You can get a link to that at SportsGeekHQ.com. He’s the best in the business. Sean, appreciate your time.
Sean: Cheers, Harf.
Announcer: Want to maximise returns for your digital team? Contact Sports Geek about content and commercialisation workshop.
Sean: The last thing I wanted to touch on for this episode, Episode 20, you can get the show notes as you can with all episodes, SportsGeekHQ.com/20. Just put the number in and you’ll get the show notes for that episode.
Now, this week the A-League season kicked off and very happy to be working with the A-League on developing their social and digital presence and really developing their fan base. It really hits the mark with their current campaign where the slogan is ‘You Power the Game’. And they’re really putting the fans at the forefront of their marketing campaign this year because they provide a very special atmosphere at the stadium and definitely the same is online. So we’ve tried to build a few activations, a few strategies around that, and you’ll see those over the next couple of weeks.
I was lucky enough to go to the Melbourne Heart, Melbourne Victory game at Etihad Stadium. It was a Melbourne Victory home game. The sounds of the game that you’re hearing just underneath my voice is the Victory fans in the north terrace firing up.
So I suggest you have a look at the A-League ‘You Power the Game’ TVC, very much features the fans. The links are in the show notes, but what’s also linked to the show notes is a digital activation that we did using the guys and working with the guys at Carter Digital, and James Noble, a good friend of mine who’s actually on the Beers, Blokes and Business podcast. His team at Carter Digital helped put it together. Primarily it’s a Facebook app or a Facebook activated mini-site. It’s actually mobile friendly. Again, so from talking to Dan how important mobile is, if you actually go to YouPowertheGame.com.au you can see the site and log in with Facebook.
But what you can do is it pulls in the Facebook avatar of the fan and gets their fan statements on how they power the game. We’ve been getting some really good, passionate content from the fans. So I expect that to continue. We’re actually going to be re-purposing some of that content in some of the messaging that we’re using with A-League over the start of the season.
So it’s going to be a really interesting summer for Australian sports fans with the three key domestic leagues over some free to air coverage, all at varying levels, but it’s good to see the A-League getting coverage on SBS. You’ve got the Big Bash League that has moved off Fox Sports to Channel 10, so there will be a lot of Big Bash cricket on Channel 10 over summer. And also, the MBL will still have some coverage on Channel 10. So the fact that all of these sports still looking to find a foothold and grow their fan base, the access to free to air will be very important and I expect the digital numbers to follow with those sports.
So that’s it for the end of Episode 20, and since it is a milestone episode, I thought I’d add a new segment, and that is “who will I dedicate this episode to?” And so I’m going to go on the number and look at a jersey number and see who I should dedicate this to. And the number 20, I looked through the annals, I’m an NBA fan, I didn’t go with Doug Collins in the 76ers, or even Allan Houston as a Pistons fan. I actually went to the NFL and to the Detroit Lions, their famous number 20 there, Barry Sanders. So this episode is dedicated to Barry Sanders.
Thank you very much for listening, and thank you very much for those iTunes reviews. My name is Sean Callanan, I’m from Sports Geek. Talk to you soon.
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