In a world where streaming broadcast media and other forms of digital entertainment are competing for the same eyeballs, Major League Baseball (MLB) teams have to work hard and think creatively to attract fans to the ballpark throughout the long regular season. That’s especially true following the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen fans’ game attendance come back at a slower pace than the MLB would like.¹ 

While the San Francisco Giants have long enjoyed a strong base of season ticket holders, the club doesn’t take its loyal legion of game-goers for granted. Bill Schlough, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Giants, says the organization fully recognizes the need to continually adapt strategies for attracting and engaging with fans. He says data—or more specifically, a fron office armed with data insights—is vital to helping the Giants innovate new and better ways to fill the stands in Oracle Park. 

“We’re not like teams in the NFL that only have to sell out eight home games a season and barely even need a ticketing department,” says Schlough. “The Giants play at least 81 home games each season. And by leveraging data, we’ve learned that IT can play a critical role in helping fill the seats for those games.”

Taking Bobblehead Nights to a Whole New Level

The San Francisco Giants are using server-based machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to help make data-driven decisions based on predictive analysis around what different ticketing products they should offer fans to tempt them out to the ballpark more often. (The Giants haven’t yet moved this process to the cloud, but it’s an option the club is considering, Schlough says.)

Like most teams today, the Giants have access to various data sources they can use to increase stadium revenue—including social media, customer relationship management (CRM), and point-of-sale and purchasing history. Using a combination of these data sets and ML models, teams can better understand their fans and create customized experiences. 

By deepening their marketing strategy and decision-making bench with data, AI, and ML, the Giants don’t have to pin all their hopes on bobblehead nights or T-shirt giveaways to attract fans to live games at Oracle Park multiple times throughout the season. Those tactics remain vital to fan engagement, of course. But by tapping into data to glean insights on recent trends, prior marketing successes, and even fan feedback and behavior, the club can also deliver a more personalized experience for fans, such as tailored food and ticket packages and special microtargeted events. 

“We want to encourage our fans to be season ticket members, but the reality is that people don’t make decisions as far in advance as they once did. So, we need to find ways to make our ballpark the place to be,” says Schlough. “Leveraging data so we can microtarget our fans with special promotions helps us get folks out to the park for reasons other than watching the game. Baseball games last for three hours or longer, and we realize most fans aren’t going to sit there riveted the whole time. So, they might as well hang out with others who share their interests.”

Introducing “The 415” Experience

It’s exactly that type of thinking that inspired the Giants to introduce “The 415”—a special section that’s dedicated to hardcore fans and named for San Francisco’s area code.² For a flat fee, members of The 415 enjoy outfield seating in The 415 Bullpen Terrace, which is located 415 feet from home plate. 2022 members receive discounted ticket offers, specials on food and beverages, and invitations to members-only live events and digital experiences, to name just a few perks. 

The 415 experience, which can be a little rowdy, is geared mainly toward younger fans. “Getting younger people interested in baseball is a business challenge, and not just for our team,” says Dan Quill, Senior Director of Application Development for the San Francisco Giants. “I think with The 415, we’ve finally got something that hits the right price point and appeals to the interests and energy levels of younger fans.”

He adds, “The goal of The 415 isn’t strictly to drive revenue, though. It’s a way for us to kick the tires on packages and experiences that can help us build our fan base for the future.”

Giants fans still get plenty of opportunities to collect bobbleheads and branded gear throughout the season. However, thanks to the club’s strategic use of data and analytics, fans can also now expect to be treated like VIPs while cheering on their team’s MVPs. And the creative giveaways the Giants arranged for the 2022 season, like bucket hats on Hello Kitty Night to a limited edition C-3PO Funko Pop on Star Wars™ Day, are exactly the kinds of promotions that can bring a whole family out to the ballpark—and help build a whole new generation of Giants baseball fans.

“While the game on the field is still the same, we understand that we need to evolve and adapt our ‘product’—the baseball experience—so we stay relevant and interesting to our fans,” says Schlough. “That’s a big focus for the Giants, using data to make decisions that help us create those different experiences and microtarget our fan base. Data is our secret weapon.”

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¹https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2022/07/21/mlb-struggling-to-get-attendance-back-to-pre-pandemic-levels/
² https://www.mlb.com/giants/fans/415