From 1to1 media

By Chelsea Pritchard, Contributing Writer

Hockey season has just begun, and NHL's Buffalo Sabres team has a winning game plan: Use customer insight to score with fans. The team is using customer data to increase fan satisfaction and boost customer value by addressing the needs of individual fans.

The team is currently in first place, which naturally brings fans to the game. But management is also working to improve the experience off the ice. First order of business was to get to know who attends the games.

The new strategy aims to identify and interact with all levels of fans. The Sabres implemented a SalesLogix CRM system, which houses information on nearly 50,000 customers. All types of fans are managed within the CRM system: season ticket holders, suite holders, mini-pack ticket holders, and single game buyers. The marketing team profiles customers by demographic information (such as age, hometown, and gender), and can track purchase history, create reports on sponsors and advertisers, and monitor Sabre Insider weekly newsletter subscribers' activity.

"CRM allows us to have a personal relationship with the customers," says Tom Matheny, the Sabres' database marketing manager.

Fans are encouraged to contribute to the relationship via online surveys. The surveys cover issues from general satisfaction to individual game details, and from customer suggestions for improvements to ticket information. They average a 30 percent response rate. The Web site also features a message board where fans can share their thoughts with other community members.

What makes a superfan?
With this new customer information, Matheny and his team are beginning to treat different fans differently. Season ticket holders, the team's MVCs, are offered discounted seats, special bar and restaurant access, and early opportunities to purchase tickets for other events before they go on sale to the general public.

In addition, the team has created the Women's Understanding Hockey Program, a group of women who've shown an interest in learning more about hockey. The team has also grouped parents interested in their children's hockey programs.

These fans are given the opportunity to connect directly with the team based on their interests, with invitations to player meet-and-greets and tutorials. "CRM allows us to keep track and keep a history and profile of our customers," Matheny says. "We can code customer interests and what type of fans they are, so we can keep track of them for future events."

The Sabres also use the Sabre Insider newsletter and SabreKidz Club to connect to customers. The Insider gives fans who sign up access to audio and video highlights, team photos, and player blogs, as well as special promotions like the chance to purchase single game tickets before they go on sale to the general public. Last season there were about 11,000 Insiders; this year there are about 50,000. "It's really grown because we've integrated the Insider [with our other efforts], so people can now find the Insider online," Methany says. In addition to the email newsletter, members can access exclusive content on the Sabres.com Web site.

Results of the program are impressive. Last year season ticket sales were 2,700, and this year they're close to 5,500. Matheny says: "We're trying to give the season ticket holders and other customers, including Insiders, the information that they actually want."