The Milwaukee Bucks kept fans engaged while basketball was on pause

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The Bucks were having a great season. Coming off a 60-win year, they were on track to surpass it. And the fans were besides themselves. Having once been referred to as the “rowdiest section” in basketball, over 17,000 people packed the first home game. With each win, they only got louder.

Bucks fans have been at the heart of the franchise since 1968, and the organization constantly looked for new ways to connect with the community. From ushers high-fiving fans leaving the stadium after every game to instant replays on social media, the Bucks have consistently customized engagement for specific audiences.

When browsers and apps changed the way in which consumers interacted with their favorite brands, the Bucks kept pace. What began as a few digital touchpoints (websites and emails) became a sophisticated personalization engine. It was a foundation that served the Bucks well in any regular season. When COVID-19 put large gatherings on pause, it became even more useful.

300% growth

The Bucks’ fan engagement strategy is rooted in data, delivered and automated through Marketo Engage. Their main challenge had been around a wide array of data sources (signals coming through the website and email engagements) that needed a relationship with fan profiles stored in their CRM, Microsoft Dynamics. Without it, there was no grounding to customize content and messages.

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When stitched together, the results were incredible. Consider a program called “stage.” The Bucks wanted to identify and engage fans that would consider season tickets for the 2017-2018 season. They were able to capture particular signals (such as an interaction with specific content on the website) and deliver highly personalized emails. This approach drove an astonishing 300 percent increase in clickthrough rates. It was entirely automated as well, triggering emails for a variety of signals. The Bucks eventually found that fans who received a personalized message were three times more likely to complete a season ticket purchase.

After the Bucks sold a record 11,300 season passes in the 2018-2019 season, its approach became best practice for the NBA. It was leveraged to boost engagement in other areas as well, such as merch and events in their home arena (Fiserv Forum), helping drive 370,000 fans to attend 47 non-basketball events (over 10 months) and growing merch sales by 77 percent in 2019.

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Reworking the strategy

In the middle of March, the 2019-2020 basketball season was put on hold. COVID-19 made large gatherings unadvisable, and fans were encouraged to stay home as much as possible. It was an unexpected pause that happened right in the middle of a fan fever pitch, and the team felt a responsibility to keep fans engaged as best they could.

Leveraging the same approach to data and personalization, they pivoted the focus to contests, merch, and more. One early effort was a giveaway for the jersey of MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and in just one week, they were flooded with over 30,000 entries. While not everyone who entered could win a jersey, it did trigger a discount code for all entrants to use in the Bucks store. This campaign led to 6,000 new fans for the Bucks to connect with.

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According to Ben Conrad, senior director of database marketing for the Milwaukee Bucks: “As a team, we have always been focused on customizing fan engagement. While everyone across the organization had a role, we knew that digital had an outsized one. When consumers feel like you have a pulse on their needs and can anticipate their wants, they tend to have more affinity for the brand. The integration of Adobe and Microsoft apps, namely Marketo Engage and Dynamics 365, gave us the technology underpinning to make this happen on digital channels.”

“When COVID-19 happened, this also enabled us to stay more resilient and keep the momentum going with fans,” Conrad says. “Even in the absence of physical games, our community wants to stay engaged and connect with the brand. While we are in the thick of it right now, we are looking ahead and continuing investments in areas like our app, which will evolve the in-person experience. But regardless of how and when things take shape, we are staying focused on the bigger picture. Bucks fans are Bucks fans no matter where they are, and we want to keep that connection alive.”