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Sports, Politics and Data: Lessons for Communicators

Recently, GSG spent a few days in Chicago with some of the sports industry’s most recognizable leaders–including GMs, presidents and senior executives–to discuss challenges, opportunities and best practices that resonate across sports leagues and teams. The Global Sports Management Summit fosters collaboration and leadership development for high caliber executives and provided an excellent opportunity for networking and discussion.

While the agenda was varied, many of the sessions focused on data-driven decision making–showcasing how sports leaders can use data to enrich the game experience; improve interactions with fans, sponsors and other stakeholders; and gain a competitive advantage.

Keynoting the conference were political industry veterans David Axelrod and Larry Grisolano, architects of President Obama’s election and re-election campaigns. Their presentation focused on the campaign strategies that allowed them to effectively identify and target swing voters across the country–and return President Obama to the White House.

The connection between how political campaigns and sports clubs devour and apply data to win on election day and game day cannot be understated. And GSG is no stranger to the power of data. Since our inception, our communications strategies have been driven by research, and we’ve leveraged these capabilities on behalf of political campaigns and sports clients alike (in addition to our corporate, nonprofit and advocacy clients.)

The challenge for our clients is to figure out what data they need, how to get it, and then process it in a way that creates a roadmap for action. As communicators, we use a combination of primary research (public opinion polling, dial tests, focus groups) and secondary research (readily available data from social media channels, census data, and other public information) to create messages that resonate with our target audiences. Among other findings, we can predict what words will work, and which won’t. We can help our clients pick the most effective messengers and spokespeople. We can identify the most persuasive images.

Attending the Global Sports Management Summit was a good reminder of the multitude of challenges organizations in the sports industry face–from the need to sell more tickets or merchandise, build a new stadium, move or acquire a team, attract talent, connect with fans, or increase the favorability of their brand. Clearly, data and research can help. But it’s important to remember that data is a tool. In order to make smart business decisions, data collection and analysis must be part of a broader program. Articulate your goals first, and the data will follow.

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