How the Milwaukee Bucks are reshaping the NBA’s digital fan experience with Marketo Engage

Building on results for the digital sales in 2020, the Bucks are now experimenting with new levels of personalization to enhance the real-life fan experience.

Photo of person holding a basketball in their arm with smoke in the background.

Image source: Adobe Stock / vectorfusionart.

The Milwaukee Bucks are at the top of their game. As one of the top seeds in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the team is ready for yet another playoff run, led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they’re bringing fans along for the ride.

Of course, Bucks fans have had to find new ways to show their support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last time we checked in with Ben Conrad, the Milwaukee Bucks’ senior director of database marketing, his team had pivoted to a digital engagement model to stay connected with the Bucks faithful while NBA games were being played in a bubble.

Combining a personalized approach and an immensely popular sweepstakes to win a game-worn Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey, the team has since grown their retail operation and driven record online sales. Overall revenue has grown 50 percent since last March. Meanwhile, leads from the jersey contest have helped Conrad’s team to build more complete customer profiles for their email marketing, boosting click rates by 36 percent and open rates by 28 percent.

With the Bucks now playing their second season under COVID-19, we caught up with Conrad to see how Marketo Engage is helping the team to reshape the real-life Milwaukee Bucks experience as they slowly but surely welcome ticket holders back to the Fiserv Forum. One thing’s for certain, they are bringing the digital world back into the building with them.

Image source: The Milwaukee Bucks.

Marketo with the assist

Conrad oversees all of the marketing automation related to the Milwaukee Bucks. That includes the team itself, the Bucks Pro Shop, the Fiserv Forum and its onsite restaurants, and the Wisconsin Herd, Milwaukee’s G League team. But despite this large remit, his team is quite lean.

“We’re pretty thin,” says Conrad, “so having a platform that allows us to build and test digital customer experiences at scale is hugely valuable, which is where Marketo comes in”.

Building on their strong results for the Bucks’ digital sales in 2020, Conrad’s team is now experimenting with new levels of personalization to enhance the real-life fan experience. They are currently building new capabilities in the Milwaukee Bucks mobile app that promise to redefine the way people watch, eat, drink, and enjoy themselves at games.

“With COVID-19 still top of mind for our organization and our fans, mobile engagement helps us two ways. First, it allows us to communicate with people on an individual basis in a more personalized way, and second, it means we can send them all the information they need to stay safe from the moment they enter the building,” says Conrad.

Image source: The Milwaukee Bucks.

The beer button, redefined

As the saying goes, the fastest way to a person’s heart is through their belly, which is why early updates to the Milwaukee Bucks mobile app focused on allowing fans to order food and beverages on their phones, without having to leave their seat. Thanks to the Marketo Engage SDK, the digital marketing team has since been able to broaden their ambitions.

“We can now get complete view of our customers within the app, which is new territory for us,” says Conrad. “And with fans coming to the Fiserv Forum in limited numbers this season, we have a unique opportunity to build, test and refine our approach before getting back to full capacity”.

Early results have been exceptionally promising, not just for fans but also for the food and beverage vendors who operate at Fiserv Forum. Where kiosks would previously experience massive spikes in demand during halftime and between quarters, they now deal with fewer peaks and valleys because customers have more control over how and when they pick up concessions.

Thanks to the Marketo SDK, the Bucks marketing team can send out push notifications to fans at strategic times, which helps to spread out orders and drive steady revenue over the course of the game. Just as importantly, smaller crowds at food and beverage kiosks make it easier for customers to respect social distancing.

This on-demand ordering tactic has proven particularly effective for beer purchases. Beer is the number one seller at Bucks games, thanks in part to the fact that fans can download a “beer button” on their phones and order a cold brew directly to their seat. Vendors may not be able to run around delivering beer during the COVID-19 pandemic, but data in the Bucks mobile app allows the digital marketing team to see which customers are “alcohol only” buyers and send them targeted notifications during quiet periods so they can buy their beer and pick it up at a convenient time.

“It’s hard to imagine anything more Milwaukee,” says Conrad, with a smile.

Image source: The Milwaukee Bucks.

What else can we do?

Conrad is happy with his team’s results so far, but admits they are still in the “what do we do with it” phase of building their mobile customer experience. Today, they are asking themselves how they can improve the digital experience at every level, not just for food and beverage orders but also aligning this functionality with other Bucks properties, like the Pro Shop.

The team is also working more closely with the Milwaukee Bucks sales organization to inform their customer relationships. The integration between sales insights in Marketo Engage and the sales team’s CRM system has opened up the flow of information between departments, giving a boost to their lead generation.

Looking ahead, Conrad sees more opportunities to bridge the digital and physical fan experience and is looking outside the world of sports for inspiration. “As a consumer, the past year has raised the bar for service in ways I don’t want to give up, like curbside pickup at my favorite retailers,” he says. “These advances in other industries have raised the bar for all of us as customer experience specialists. My team can’t be shortsighted when it comes to digital because there is no going back for our audience. That’s why we’re building technologies today that will transform our fan experience for the long term”.