Thinking of fans as customers: Australian Rugby Union's data journey

CRM manager talks through how ARU is better engaging with customers around the football game thanks to data analytics and metrics-based interaction

Football fans are used to putting up with a lot – poor weather, poor umpiring and for some teams, poor performances. But in an era where competition for fans – and their money – is fierce, football codes need to begin thinking of them more like customers than hardcore loyalists.

That is the task for Jade McAuslan, CRM manager at the Australian Rugby Union (ARU). A self-confessed ‘massive rugby fan’, McAuslan joined the ARU seven years ago after a period spent working in insights for PepsiCo.

It was in her previous job that McAuslan learned the value of data and metrics. But she found she had very little to work with at the ARU, where commercial decisions were being made based on ‘gut feel’ judgements.

“We had a bit of data on our customer, but we didn’t really know what they were doing,” she says.

This was despite the ARU having been the first sporting body in Australia to implement a CRM system in 2003. McAuslan says the system had been heavily customised over time, which both created a significant management burden while preventing it from being upgraded. Furthermore, the methods used for gathering data led to multiple records being kept for individual members.

What was needed was a single view of ARU’s customers. In early 2013 the ARU called in Accenture, which presented the options of either adopting Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamix. After four months of evaluation and some fierce negotiations, Salesforce was chosen.

“It really was the product that was going to get us a competitive advantage,” McAuslan says. “We could implement it quickly, and we saw it as an opportunity to leapfrog our competitors.”

The green light for the implementation was given in July last year, with a staged implementation completed by September. In the process the ARU reduced its customer records down from 1.1 million down to 500,000.

“We are now at a stage where we have clean, qualified members,”McAuslan says. “So now we can plan six months ahead, and that would never have happened before.”

The implementation has also led to greater accountability within ARU in terms of communications with members, and will lead to improvements in many of the interactions members have with the organisation.

The next step is to build on the clean contact data with relationship data about each member. McAuslan says that will give her the ability to analyse the reasons why members drop, and will provide information as to where the ARU should focus its growth efforts.

While her work has been well received within the ARU, McAuslan says the use of dashboards has really helped sell it to senior management.

“People love to be able to see what’s going on, and we’ve never had anything like that, ever,” she says.

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