The Chicago Bears have been sold out for almost 30 years — 29 consecutive years. The listening audience is the largest in the NFL – 56% percent higher than the next closest team. There are 4.4 million Bears fans over the age of 18 in the Chicago area alone, equating to 6 out of every 10 Chicagoans.
Even with these impressive numbers, “Da” Bears felt they needed to start a Fan Marketing and Research department to help them more efficiently engage their already rabid fan base to understand their needs even better. The Bears Director of Fan Marketing and Research, Elaine Delos Reyes, shares how her small group of three helps the Bears stay connected with their huge audience base.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal background?
Elaine Delos Reyes: I’ve been at the Bears since January 2012, and it’s been very exciting so far. This is my second season. Prior to that, I had worked for the Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons and had also spent time with the National Football League office in New York. So I have really enjoyed being in the NFL family for about a decade now.
Small Business Trends: You came to start the fan marketing and research department and as rabid as the fans are, why did the Chicago Bears feel like they had to start the department?
Elaine Delos Reyes: A true marketing and promotion department didn’t really exist with the Bears before. The departments that were working on the events also helped promote it. So we wanted to create some efficiency and have one department in charge of our branding campaign and our marketing initiative as it relates to promotion of events.
We’ve really been focused on growing our database and making sure that our communication with our fans is personalized. We’re focused on different segments like the youth platform, women’s initiatives, and also our growing Hispanic platform. We know that by 2016, one in four Chicagoans will be Hispanic. We just want to make sure that we really engage with them and stay on top of that.
Small Business Trends: What were the goals and pieces that you needed to manage and why did you want to go with some kind of an automated solution to help with that?
Elaine Delos Reyes: Our email platform before wasn’t the most sophisticated and robust platform. We had gone through a very extensive selection process to choose a database marketing automation tool. We wanted a tool that was able to help us with some of our initial challenges in the beginning with a lot of data not being organized, and we wanted to centralize it in one hub.
We also wanted a platform that was going to be ready to help us in the future and evolve with us and be innovative as it relates to really being smart with the data that we have.
Small Business Trends: And the platform you selected was Eloqua. Another thing that you focused on was surveying the fan base, correct?
Elaine Delos Reyes: Our research is really the backbone of everything that we do. All of our events and initiatives and even the game-day experience, we really look to research and surveys to make sure that we’re making the right decisions, that we’re listening to what fans say.
We probably do about 25 to 30 surveys a year. A good chunk of them are in season. We survey everything from when you leave your house to when you come from a game and everything in between — concessions, security, game-day entertainment, you name it.
We also survey for events and even our social media engagement and the emails that we send. We we want to make sure that we’re continuing to take the pulse of what our fans prefer.
Small Business Trends: How do you take that feedback and roll it into programs and services? Do fans keep track of if their feedback is actually being used?
Elaine Delos Reyes: We’ve done a lot of surveys and we have heard from fans, ‘Hey, we’ve been answering your surveys, but we want to know if what we’re sharing with you is being heard.’
So going forward, when we do send out a survey for an event we’ll include information about feedback that fans gave us the previous years. We’ll say, ‘Dear Brent, thank you for coming to the draft party. We’d love to hear your feedback about how we can get better. By the way, last year feedback allowed us to improve the event in these different ways.’ Fans know that we’re listening to them.
Another way that we show we’re listening to fans is, we set up a season ticket holder advisory group a couple of years ago. We have a new group of season ticket holders every year that share their feedback with us. We meet approximately every six weeks during the year and we talk about everything from the branding campaign to the game-day experience to other ways that we can improve their experience as a Bears fan.
We share what information we talk about with those fans in the season ticket holder connect, which is our newsletter to season ticket holders.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk about why it’s important to have that year-round engagement with your fans?
Elaine Delos Reyes: The NFL season is from August, when you’re starting pre-season, and hopefully into February, if you’re going to Superbowl. Our fans are die-hard fans all year round and we know that they’re interested in the draft and that they’re interested in training camp and other events that we have.
It’s important for us to have year-round engagement because we know that there’s an appetite for it and also because we have been sold out for so long there’s only x amount of people that are able to come to games. Having events year round and having training camp open to the public allows us to give access to other fans who aren’t able to come to the games between August and February. It’s important for us to have touch points all different times of the year.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk about how you use segmentation to drive folks to take action?
Elaine Delos Reyes: We have an event during the year that may have a specific player that is going to attend. We have certain events like the Tillman event that had a very limited number of seats available. We wanted to make sure that those very exclusive events really touch the fans that really wanted to be there.
What we did in our preference center is, we asked fans who their favorite player was. We segmented out fans who chose Charles Tillman and also fans who lived within a hundred miles of the stadium. We found that campaign to be pretty successful.
Small Business Trends: You run a department with three people reporting to you. You don’t have a huge number of people and resources. What are some of the important takeaways a small business can gain from some of the things you’ve done?
Elaine Delos Reyes: I think for us as a small department we really wanted to understand the different challenges that our fans face or questions that they had. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be an expensive tool or a platform. It’s about making sure that you have that one-to-one engagement and personalizing whenever possible.
As much technology as we have, sometimes it doesn’t hurt if you get an email from a customer or a fan that has a question, to just pick up the phone and talk to them personally. Just because we’re a pretty big brand, we don’t want to take the human aspect out of it. So we’re very proud to be an organization that engages with fans. We’re trying to deliver the best customer service possible.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about what you’re doing or sign up for one of the newsletters?
Elaine Delos Reyes: Go to ChicagoBears.com. There’s a section there for email notifications. We’d be happy to start talking to more fans.
This interview on fan engagement is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.