Watch any NFL game and you'll see player and coaches reviewing videos and images on light-blue Microsoft Surface tablets. But Microsoft's involvement with the NFL goes much deeper than sideline branding.

Just ask the Seattle Seahawks, who use Microsoft technology on the field to improve player training, recover, and wellness, and off the field to innovate and execute for its rabid fan base -- so well that the Seahawks have sold out 127 straight home games (and counting) and were ranked #1 in game day experience by the NFL's 'Voice of the Fan.'

To find out more about the Seahawk's digital transformation, I talked with Amy Sprangers, VP of Corporate Sponsorship 

Any technologies you adopt have to serve multiple goals. You're not just in the football business; you're in the entertainment business, the hospitality business...

Our objective is to be on the frontline of embracing technology on the field, to identify the right investments to make sure our franchise succeeds. The detailed data we gather helps improve recovery time, reduces time off the field, maximizes our players' impact when it comes to game time...

But you're right. Off the field obviously matters, too. We want to connect closely with our fans to give them the best experience when they come to the stadium -- and when they go to an opposing team's stadium on the road. We constantly want to improve how we connect with fans. We're proud we are ranked #1 in game day experience, but we want that experience to get even better.

So how do you turn all that data into actionable insights?

It starts with clearly defining your objectives. For us, that means making sure our fans have an incredible experience.

We have data to support that. We've sold out 127 consecutive home games. Over 99% of our season tickets holders renew. Our fans in this community and across the country are passionate about the Seahawks.

That, as a front office, is our most cherished responsibility. Our goal is to be the best stewards we can be to our players, to our fan base, to our partners across the country... at every level our goal is to be a championship-caliber team.

Like any business, sports are obviously cyclical, but when you make customer experience a top priority, you can smooth out some of those cycles.

But you don't just wake up one day and say, "Let's use technology to help us build our business."

That's definitely been an evolution. It took time to reach a state of maturity to really capture insights from the rich set of data we have.

But, really, that's the Microsoft partnership paying off. The various applications in Dynamics 365 (a suite of ERP and CRM applications) helped us evolve. That's how we manage our ticket holder database. We capture information that comes from our fans to invest in the right areas of our building: Improve sound, food and beverage, safety and security of fans and guests... we can do that because we can analyze and make sense of all the data we receive.

It can be hard to sift through a massive data set and decide what to work on, so we keep it simple: We look for ways to make the most impact. If we hear that a fan can't hear a call from a referee's mic on the field, we look at ways to improve that. If we hear there is a certain section where food and beverage lines are longer, we work to improve that. We analyze points of purchase to help lines move more quickly so guests can get back to their seats.

Speaking of food and beverage, you brought that in-house. Why?

That's a great example of listening to our fans. We know how important it is for fans to feel safe and secure... and to be served great food. So last march we decided to launch our own hospitality company, First and Goal Hospitality.

We wanted to control that. That's all a part of constant renewal, of making investments to be sure we're first in class.

It starts with data, but you have to act on your data. You can't wait. 

Keep in mind that at CenturyLink Field we also have the Sounders (soccer), we host major concerts... next year Taylor Swift will perform here. Over 2.3 million people a year come to our facility. 

So we have to be proactive, because ultimately we're in the experience business, and customer expectations constantly evolve.  

Speaking of being proactive...

What's next for us? Continuing to explore ways to improve customer experience. Continuing to leverage insights. Expanding our use of mobile technologies.

Customization of data will help us moving forward. Whether it's football, soccer, concerts... we're pushing to provide a customized experienced for everyone who visits the building. 

From our perspective, if our fans aren't constantly expecting us to deploy new things, better things... then we're not doing our jobs.

Every business wants 'raving fans.' How has the Seahawks organization built such a devoted fan base?

For the Seahawks specifically, when fans come in the building, it's all about ritual. You wear all your gear. You paint your face. You dye your hair.

More than that, though, our fans believe -- with good reason -- that they make an impact. We lead the league in opposing team false starts. Our defense will speak to the power of our fan base. Our fans are so loud they actually impact game play.

So we looked at how can we celebrate and honor our 12s. The 12 flag raising tradition came directly from feedback from fans; it's one way to pay tribute to them. When our team takes the field, it's a special moment.

Our fan share ownership when they come into the building. That feeling is true and authentic, because it comes from the fans themselves.

We also have a fan council, a great representation of season ticket holders who meet to share positive and negative feedback, describe improvements they would like to see... that's another great set of information that helps us improve our fan experience. Whether it's sound improvement, concession improvement, more choices or grab-and-go locations where a fan can access healthy options and be in and out very quickly... 

We really feel like we have a great responsibility to our fans. It's not lip service. They integral to everything we want to accomplish on the field, off the field, in the community... our fans aren't "just" fans. They really are a part of the team.

Published on: Dec 13, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.