In the heart of Alaska, there's a solid fanbase for the Miami Heat. That's just one of the many fascinating takeaways from a map offering a window into where fans of pro-basketball teams cluster across the U.S.--and an intriguing marketing strategy for data-savvy companies.

An analysis of ticket sales from the NBA's 2018-19 regular season surfaces such quirks as the Los Angeles Lakers' stranglehold on much of California, despite the Golden State Warriors' three recent NBA Finals wins. There's also the Utah Jazz's dominance across not just Utah, but also Nevada, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. It's a county-by-county look at where team allegiances lie across the country from Vivid Seats, a Chicago-based ticket marketplace.

"We want to use our data to tell great stories that are representative of the fanbase, that give some insight into what is actually happening, and where consumers are passionate about events," says Vivid Seats CEO Stan Chia.

Vivid Seats is counting on basketball fans to keep coming back for a second and third look, even if they aren't in the market to buy tickets at that very moment. The strategy combines a customer-obsessed, data-driven focus with low-cost and quick-turnaround tactics.

United States of Basketball

You might be surprised by who your neighbors are rooting for. To find out, review this map of NBA fandom, based on 2018-2019 season ticket sales data from ticket marketplace Vivid Seats. Despite winning the las​t five Western Conference titles with three NBA championships, the Golden State Warriors can claim a fan base clustered in just 20 U.S. counties. In contrast, the Minnesota Timberwolves hold sway not only in their home state of Minnesota, but in large parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa--across 212 counties in all, the most of any NBA team.

Using its data to reflect back its customers' own interests and obsessions is part of the company's larger strategy. "Consumers have ever-changing habits and desires, and it's our responsibility to not only keep up with them but to stay in front of that," says Chia. 

The company turned a corner in terms of using data to tell stories in 2018 was a turning point for using data to tell stories, according to Stephen Spiewak, the company's digital content marketing manager. Maps, the company found, had more appeal than standard stories about ticketing around the highest and lowest price points, which mostly interested only fans who were already planning to attend an event.

This summer, the company had a viral hit with a map for NFL fandom that, like the NBA map above, allowed fans of any team to identify the areas where their fan community lives. The map drove discussions on social media about the strength of various fan bases and received coverage from Sports Illustrated and other publications. Earlier, the company had released an MLB fan map and Fan Forecasts, a tool for projecting the partisan makeup of the crowds at sporting events.

A big plus to this strategy is the low overhead required, according to Spiewak. What's more, the many free or low-cost data visualization tools are often tailored to non-technical users and shortening the turnaround time. When using proprietary data, Spiewak says, the entire organization needs to be clear about the kind of data that can be used and the tools to display it. It's also key to avoid trying to shoehorn data into formats or visualizations that don't fit.

The company began as a way for its co-founders, Jerry Bednyak and Eric Vassilatos, to pay off their student loans at the University of Iowa. It sold a majority share for $575 million to Chicago-based private-equity firm GTCR two years ago and now has partnerships with ESPN, Rolling Stone, and NFL teams such as the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers.

The company is "fanatically obsessed" with its customers, says Chia. Newsweek recently acknowledged Vivid Seats as having the best customer service among ticketing companies. 

"The businesses that are successful are the ones that understand exactly what their customers want," he says.

Published on: Oct 29, 2019