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The Leaders

Data-diving into the fan experience

Nov 3, 2020

Just after the World Series wrapped up we spoke with Corinne Peters, MSc ’19, data analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. In a lively conversation, she talks about her role in creating fan engagement, understanding your customer and small market innovation.


Corinne Peters headshot

There is nothing like the roar of the crowd at the ballpark as the home team scores the game winning run. However, what if fans weren’t allowed in the stands, what does that look like? Just after the World Series wrapped up we spoke with Corinne Peters, MSc ’19, data analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. While the Rays didn’t come out on top this year, Peters explains how the team had to quickly shift towards thinking about a virtual fan experience. In a lively conversation, she talks about her role in creating fan engagement, understanding your customer and small market innovation.

Learn more about Ivey's MSc in Business Analytics


Insights and wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the Leaders by Ivey podcast, where we discover hidden narratives in unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Welcome back to the Leaders by Ivey podcast, I’m Matt Quinn. Today we welcome Corinne Peters, MSc’19 and Data Analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays. She joins us as the world series just wraps up and gives us a glimpse behind the scenes to an often overlooked part of the business enjoying Corinne thanks very much for joining us today. I know it's been a busy time for you and we really appreciate the time. Let's start by what is your connection in relation to ivy and who are you? What do you do? What is your day to day? Look like for sure yeah? So I’m Corinne Peters, I’m a Data Analyst for the Tampa bay rays, and I was a MSc’19 , so that was the I think third year of the MSc program or at least of the ba stream, which is the analytic stream. So we were one of the first cohorts of that group and then, since I’ve   been out for now two years, I’ve   been back a few times to do. I did the opening day for the MSc program this year. I did their keynote speech and a few things like that, so I try to really stay connected, but being only two years out, I feel like every day, I’m still like, oh this at Ivey or that at Ivey and a lot of the time, I’m still really close friends with a lot of people that I went to, Ivey with so all of the time it's kind of back and forth with those people, so I feel, like I’d, be still part of my everyday life, even though I’ve   now graduated, the next part was what do I do on my day to day so my day to day now is obviously a lot different than it was even a year ago. So when I first started the raise a lot of my day today was what are we doing with the fans? What are, how are we using their information when they come to the ball park? How we're making this a personalized experience for them, so anything to do with bringing an information about our fans, learning about them, doing analysis on them, trying to make it a personalized experience for them and then now, obviously, things have shifted over the last six months, because we don't have fans in the stand so where my main objective used to be. How is our fan experience at the ball park? What are we doing for these fans? How are we getting them to buy tickets? Now it's a lot about a mind shift of how do we engage these fans? What are we doing for these fans? How are we being proactive if there's a point in the near future that we're going to be able to have fans back in our stands? So that's kind of really what I focus on now and that's just been a big shift for me over the past. I don't know where do we go in on eight months? So that's really where I am in terms of what I do day today and thanks for that distinction, because for those that are baseball fans or even movie fans book fans, they might immediately go to money ball. And I really like that. You distinguish that your rule is on a different side of the house and it's dealing with fans with ticketing with the business side of the analytic. So let's dive in a little bit so say I am a fan. I am a baseball fan. I won't divulge the team, though, because it's a not a great team. This year tell me a little bout. I’m a fan of the raise you. How do you engage with me? What are some of the differences that you've you put in the place with everything happened to COVID? Walk me through that, a little bit for sure yeah that I love that you brought up the two different sides of baseball, because it's the same in any sport right. So before I started at the (inaudible), I worked at (inaudible), which, as a hockey analytics company or is a hockey analytic company. So I work on the I worked on the player side. So what are our pre-empt game reports? Look like what are some of the models that were bringing to the on ice performance and then, when I moved to the rays now, I really focus on what was our fan doing well. How is this impact in our bottom line? So that's really. The big shift at that happened for me and it's very business focus now. So it's anything from ticketing corporate sponsorship, anything to do with our ap anything to do with making it a mobile experience or anything along those lines that just doesn't involve the actual on field play so, but yeah there's been a big shift over the last eight months into thinking about what does that acquisition of a new fan? Look like now that they're not in the stand so before a lot of our acquisition mode or acquisitions of fans would come from buying tickets with us being on the secondary market. Obviously, we still had connection through different things like mobile, ap and social media and MLB, but now our shift is really changed from what are those fans look like? We are coming into the states. How do we make sure that so we're a team? That's been cash fore and mobile, three for a little or mobile homely. Sorry, cash free, a mobile only for a little while now, so we've really focused on how we gaining that new information on our fans using our app to get into the ball park, using our app to buy concessions or merchandise or whatever they're using and now it's become even more of that shift. So are we getting our fans through MLB? Are we getting our fans through different, serves or different posts that we're putting on? Are they following Blake Snow on twitch? So that's really where our shift has been it's gone from. How are we focusing on those fans that are coming into our ball park, and now? How are we get engaging new fan so that a fan that's in Toronto? That maybe would make it to one game a year in Tampa when they were playing with the jays. How do we make sure that they're watching all of our games and they're cheering us on in the world series? So that's really the shift. That's happened over the last little while and I think it's going to be a good shift for the entire industry going forward right. So we were in a industry that was very focused on. How do we get fans in the stands? How are making sure that I’ll a lot of our revenue comes from parking concessions, retail tickets? And now it's okay? How does a lot of our revenue come from? Maybe it's coming from I, maybe it's not about revenue, maybe it's about making sure that our players have a really big platform to speaker on, so those are kind of the different shifts that we're seeing and I think it's going to be really good for the industry. I think, at the end of the day, if we ever end up in a situation where we have fans back in the stands, those new fans are going to come into our ball park, with a completely different appreciation and a different devotion to our teams. So that's really what we're hoping for, and I love you used the word engagement and it's a different way of engaging with the fan. What cool new ways have you guys implemented, or how have you use data to drive the engagement and he surprises there for sure yeah? I think for me personally, the fan pad outs were a big surprise. I, when we first went with the fan cuts, I was like no one's going to buy. These like this seems like a crazy idea, but it really. It really did surprise me how many fans were engaged and wanted their fan cut out and would call in and say I want to know where our fan cut out is and- and that was a big part of my job- was figuring out a way to make sure that we knew exactly where all the fan cut outs were so that, when fans old colin, we knew where they were. So it's just been. That's been a big shift for me that that people would want a fan, cut out to watch a game that they couldn't attend and it blows my mind that people are so engaged that way, but people really do love sport and they want to feel some way to be in the ball park even when they can't be, and for those that aren't watching the games describe. What a fan cut out is because this is a really cool idea, a simple idea, but really impactful yeah for sure so fan cadets are basically you submit a picture. So we set up an online portal. You paid whatever the price was for the cut out and you submitted a picture and we went and got them printed, and then we put them in the fan in seats around the ball park that were, for the most part viewable by the camera angle, and your fan cut out, sat in the stadium. Will you sat at home and watch the game so yeah? It was really fun ye. I had my dog in there so, like lots of people were doing fun. Things like that and putting different celebrities got in on it, so it was awesome. That's it's really cool to see, because you see it's a fan that feels so engaged with the team and there you know a great way for them to see themselves on camera, and you mentioned her just one thing that you mentioned. I want to dive into a little bit that you think in the long run, this is actually going to be a real positive. That's a theme that we've seen across some other conversations that we've had that in the midst of incredibly challenging times that there are some shining lights and great examples where it's going to be positive. Talk a little bit more about that you've mentioned engagement. How else do you think that this you know, change in the business is going to be good in the long run yeah. I think it's giving us an opportunity to take a step back and look more at who our fans are and what they really value. So I think for the most part in sport, especially it's busy right. So you have your season and usually it's a lot of months of preparation for it and then a lot of months of fans being in the stands, and it just keeps rolling, rolling and rolling, and you never really get this opportunity to take a step back and say: oh hey, maybe we should revaluate what we're doing with these fans are. Maybe we're communicating with them in the wrong way. Maybe we're not engaging with them on the right platform is. Maybe we're only focused on this specific group of fans that that comes to our games and maybe there's a whole other area of fans that we sometimes forget about, because we're so focused on getting them into the ball park, making sure they have a good experience making sure they want to come back. So I think it's a really good opportunity for us to take it back step back and say: how are we engaging with them? Are we connecting with them on the right network? Do we even know who they are? Do we know how much disposable income they're going to have when this whole thing is over? Do we know those things about our fans that we can really take forward and say hey? Maybe we can engage with this fan when they're on thousand nine hundred and twenty, and this is a really hard time for them, but maybe ten years from now we're going to see them with kids out our game. So really, how are we making sure that they go from being either a casual fan or a fan that watches to someone who's going to be a lifelong fan? For us five time, fifteen years down the road, so we've talked about the evolution of the business that you're in. I want to shift slightly and talk about the evolution of analytics and your role in analytic since you've graduated. One of the reasons I chose the raise was because they were such a small team. They were just getting started when I, when I came on board, they had hired a VP who's, my boss, and we were just like a small little team that was going to get to have a big impact on a lot of different elements in the business really quickly, and that was pretty much. The main reason why I chose this team and so from there they were talking about hey guys. How do we? How do we start to think about ticketing different? How do we start to think about marketing different, so they were really looking for someone to come in with the analysis and say: hey, look. You have all this information. This is other information you need to bring in, and so that's really where I was when I started was: how do we talk about collecting information from fan fast? We don't we have historically hadn't ticketed fan fast, so fan pass is just a fun free event where everyone can come in and learn about the team and meet some players, and it's before the season starts. So it's all about kind of like getting people involved in baseball before there's people on the field, so that was really. How do we make sure we know who those people are? How do we make sure they're converting to ticket sales? So all those little elements that we started to focus on of? How do we collect information on our fans? How do we make sure it's somewhere? We can pull the information from and it's not just stored in random, excel shoots wherever. So, those are some of the big things that have changed. We now have a really good system of bringing in data and making sure that we know who our fans are and what they're doing and- and we can pull information in that. That gives us an ability to connect to them on a personalized level and that's something the whole industry is going towards. I mean as fast as the on ice field court, whatever you want to call it as fast as that side of the business is, has really gone into analytics. The fan focus side has been a little bit slower to the game and just in general, and so it's really been an exciting time for us to all kind of get up to the level where we can have those personalized connections with our fans and we know what they want, or we try to know what they want and we try to deliver a product that really gets them engaged in at games and wanting to part of organization. So I think that's been kind of the major analytic shift that I’ve   seen that's great and, and you talk about the speed of things changing. Not only is the environment changing the business is changing, the the sport is evolving. What has been a key for you to be able to manage that pace of change, and I think it'd be interesting for students that are listening to this. You know what kind of skills should they be thinking about, developing and continuing to develop to be able to evolve as quickly as you have in in your role yeah. I think once in a while. It's just the situation you're in right. So when I started a lot of I mean I can give you the list of technical sales that I use daily there for anyone who wants to know that I use sequel, that's where all our data stored and how I pull it out or is really where I do all my modeling and then tableau is how I get the information across to other stake polders in the business. So those are kind of my three main platforms that I use, but I think the thing I’ve   learned the most over the past two years that I’ve   been here is really that you have to be proactive and flexible. It is whether you have the skills and whether you're going to learn them and a lot of the time you do learn them on the job. It's just that ability to be p ho active so even, for example, this season it was early march when we were told hey guys, there's not going to be baseball, hey guys, you're, all working from home. He guys we don't know. What's going on and that's three weeks before our opening day right, so we're all in a mindset that hey we are ready for opening day, we have x number of to get sold, we're ready to go. These are the people that are hired to be there this, how many police we need their. So, just all this information that were like really pushing for opening day and then you're told hey, there's no opening day this year, also we're going to have to find a way to kind of refund, but we're not sure if we're refunding yet because maybe there is going to be an opening day, and maybe it's going to be two weeks on the road or four weeks on the road, so really that shift to being proactive and one of the things that I think I did really well this year is as soon as that that information came down. My mind immediately went to and we were told, hey we're not going to have any large gatherings. My mind immediately went to okay. What is this going to look like if we can have twenty percent capacity, so that was really a big project that I took on was how do we make sure that we can sell groups of tickets or, however many fans we can get in the stands? How do we make that look like a its fans on the stands? How are we selling those tickets? How are the groupings maximizing revenue and that little amount of seats that were allowed from whatever the mayor brings down or whoever is going to bring down the number that were allowed so that real, proactive ss within myself was like hey? I got to get this map out. I’ve   got to make sure that it's something that our ticket office or whoever's making the decision is a very capable of using so making sure that it was interactive with them and they could choose hey. I want to sell the entire stadium groups of four or I want to sell the anti in groups of two four and six, but I only want groups of six to be bought by people who are coming in groups of six so really making sure that they could have a visual representation of what the stadium would look like in that scenario and that all came from being proactive right. If I mean we're still using it to this day, it's what is it going to look like for opening day next year, but there was always this little kind of internal office feel that okay, what are we going to do if we have fans in two weeks? What are we going to do if we have fans in four weeks, because we really didn't have a decision on if we were weren't going to have fans until there were just basically no more days to have fans, so that's kind of one of the things I’ve   really learned. Is you have the skill set that you come in with, but you just have to be flexible and proactive and willing to work with the situation, because I can guarantee you what I started this job. There was not a single person. Thinking, hey we're not going to have fans, so that's really what I want to go with every day. No, that's great and there's a threat. I want to pull on here. You mentioned tableau and it's a great tool, for you know visualization of data. You also mentioned working with the ticket office and front office. A big part of your job must be not only get accessing the data using it to help yourself make decisions, but also selling these decisions and selling the use of data talk a little bit about what your job looks like in okay, you got to use the data, but it's also convincing others communicating to others on business changes on paths to take. How do you do that effectively? Yeah? I think I’m really fortunate that I work for an organization that wants the analysis brought to the front. They want to know why they're making decisions and what the reasoning behind it is. So that's a really fortunate situation to be in, and I know there are organizations that are not like that, and- and so I can't imagine being in a situation where I was trying to force analytics at someone every day. So that's really fortunate, but there are still moments where, where you'll bring something forward and you'll really have to defend what you're bringing forward, because there has been a way that things have been done for ten fifteen twenty years behind you and and it's kind of the law of the land. So what do you bring to the table? That's different that you want to convince someone that they should use instead, and I think a lot of that comes from building a strong foundation. So any time you're having a conversation with anyone in the building you're instilling their trusted you. So you want to make sure that they feel, like the information you're bringing to the table, make sense you're, not just pulling numbers out of thin air from wherever you are you're really bringing to the table. This is why this information is important. This is the key insight from it and here, if you want to go through all the steps, I’ll bring you through all the steps- and we can talk through it one by one but really making sure that whatever you're bringing to the table. That key point is out in the front, so don't bury your lead, don't make it so that no one knows why you're just kind of talking and you're talking and you're talking and all of a sudden. This is why I think we should price this section of this, so really making sure that we should price the section at this, and these are all the reasons why we have this many fans. Normally in there, these fans have a discretionary income of blank. These fans are coming to x number of games per year, so really making sure that we understand you have all the backing for what you're saying but you're, bringing that front point out to focus. How big is the team that you work with, because I can imagine listeners going. This sounds great, but it's only me how many people do you have on your group yeah. Sometimes it feels like that. No, so we're a team of three so there's my boss, myself and then another analyst so we're a pretty small team, which is how we end up tackling so much of the organization, and there are definitely days it's overwhelming. Where you like, I need to do this for marketing. I need do this for ticketing and I have all this stuff going on, but at the same time it's extremely rewarding right. So there's so many decisions that are made and you can walk through the ball park one day and you can walk through and you could be like hey. I helped with that project and my help with that project and the all these things are happening in the ball park, and there are some projects that you don't even think would fall under an analyst. So last year we revamped, I mean coming into two thousand and twenty, so things kind of happened once the season started, but coming in to two thousand and twenty, we were revamping a lot of our ticket products, and so that's a project that I got put on just because of the math background and the analyst background and everything- and I got to come up with this new product- the raise wind pack which basically brought in an element of bedding legal bedding because it's not actual betting to our ticket products. So you buy a raise win pack, it gives you x number of tickets and if you choose games that the rays, when you get a free ticket and as long as you keep choosing games that the rays went at, you keep getting free tickets, so those really and for all the less on the back end. It's all about. What's our risk tolerance with it right, so that's where the analyst part comes in, but being part of the team that starts to develop these products, even though you don't feel like it would be. A typical analyst role is just kind of how, when there's so few people working you kind of end up on lots of different projects, but then, on the same time, I’m really fortunate, because there are so many people on our ticket in team. So many people on our marketing team that have years and years of experience in the industry themselves, so they'll know exactly what kind of ticketing information we have and exactly how different systems work and then, on our marketing side. They'll have sons of experience, knowledge about hey this post works. Well, I know your dad is not saying that, but like let's talk about why I think this works well, so just those different sides, and although we're a team of only three analysts, the outside of it, always plays a factor so yeah we're a team of three plus four hundred. I don't know how, for many other people are at their ace. So I’d like to we've talked about success is the things that you've done that have really facilitated growth and the evolution. I wonder if looking back over the last, as you mentioned eight months, if there's things you go, I think we could have done this differently or I wish that I would have looked at this from a different way. Talk a little bit about that yeah. I don't think there's ever a project that you're like hey. I did that perfectly, so I think that's something you just get used to is that when you look back your ways like man, I could have done that faster. I could have done that more efficiently. Even with I talked a little bit of our seat mapping where we mapped all of all of the different seats, even that is something that we ended up going through. I think, by the end, we had done like something like twenty five different iterations of possible seat combinations, and one of them is definitely be going to be useful in the future, but twenty five of them probably wasn't useful. So really putting those assumptions a lot of the assumptions we just kind of played around with and we weren't solid on. Well, maybe we'll have groups of four or maybe we'll have groups of two or maybe we'll we will sell the section or we won't sell the section. So I think a lot of things like that setting your assumptions really strongly at the beginning would have made that process faster, but at the end of the day it really hasn't changed. Anything for us. It obviously has given us a lot of opportunity to think about our ball park in where seats can sell and how different people could move in through different doors, and anything like that. So I think it's given us a good opportunity to think about that. I think we definitely at least I definitely could have been more efficient in coming up with those assumptions and making sure that I had them set from so set from the gecko and then there's also other things like for our app. I wish that looking back, I had really started with the information that I finished with, so I started with. How are we, how are we kind of using our app and where people landing and really the conclusion that came from that is where people getting lost? Let's make sure we rewrote them back. So I mean starting at the end, is always nice right because you're at the end- and you have all the information and you're like man, I got have saved myself ten hours, but that's not always the case right. Sometimes it really does take getting in with the data and sitting and looking at it and finding a lot of things that don't work before you find a thing that does so yeah, and so you would, you be considered a smaller market team. Is that correct? Absolutely, yes, how is? How is that benefited you with the you know, ability to be innovative or take some risks. You've already mentioned your ability to get involved because of the small size of your team. Talk a little bit about that, because it must bring up some great opportunities. Yeah. I think one thing that's great about our team and being in a smaller market. Is that we're not scared to innovate, and I think that's evident on our field, and it's also evident in our front office is we're not scared to come up with new ideas to try things out to occasionally fail at things, so those are really great things. We were one of the first teams to go cash, free so really pushing that we did that way, pre pandemic. So I think two or three years ago, defending on when you count your years is when we initiated that and really pushed for a cash free environment and now we're seeing all these teams in the midst of a pandemic trying to go cash free and having trouble with. How are we going to be cash free and how does it work and so really being innovative? There is, has been helpful for us and even last year in the post season, when the when the I guess, two years ago now in the post season, when we were holding games at the trop it was we were mobile. Only like I stood out with a sign. That said, let me help you with mobile tickets, like so all of those things that that you can really do to the innovative has helped us extremely well in this post season or even in the season where we already have those connections with our fans. We've made sure that we know that you have the apt downloaded, because you couldn't come to a game unless you have the apt uploaded. So we know that we have that connection point with you and now it's all about using that connection point. So, while other teams were like, oh wait, we don't have them within our ap. How do we get them in a rap? How do we make sure they have an app when they're, not even at our ball park? We had already kind of crossed that hurdle, because we said hey, you can only come to a game if you have the app and now we're like. Okay, let's make sure we're using that out to connect with them, even though they're not at our stadium, so those are really the changes that have been nice for us that we wouldn't have been in such a good position if we hadn't a been novate at the time- and you mentioned other teams- I know and I’m just speaking from my background and publishing, we have regular communication with other publishers and share different ideas and do some share project projects and innovation. Does that happen in your industry? Do you work with other teams? Do you share ideas, or is it very you know, do you keep that to yourselves talk a little bit about how that works as an industry? For sure, I think that's why I love being on the business side. Is we at the raise might be a team of three, but the MLB community is massive and the sport community on the business side is massive and because, at the end of the day, all of us are really focused on had we have the most fans or how do we make sure that our fans are engaged or really anything fan focused? None of us are competitive in that sense, like yeah we'd love for you to be a raised fan over someone else's fan like we'd love, for you to be a number one raised, fan and a number two jays fan, but like we'll take you as a number one right. Jays fan a number two race fan as long as you're a fan of baseball right. So that's really. The goal is to make sure that we have the most number of fans and that our sport continues well into the future, and so that's it's great in this side of the business, because we're always talking to each other. We have monthly by a weekly. I feel like every time I turn around we're talking to someone from a ther there. Another team or having a league wide call or across sport call so we're always engaged with each other, and I think that's why the teams of three never feel like teams of three, because we have such a huge network that we're always communicating with and it that's such a great example for the listener of you know a rising tide and looking at your industry as a whole, and yes, there's going to be competition, but there's ways to do that where you can learn from each other, and it must be fascinating for you to again see the evolution of your type of role being relatively new. When you look at the history of of the sport as a whole, but seeing that evolution of the industry and analytics being used, you know in different ways. I must be very fascinating for you. I want to take a quick side, part here and look at look at you as you've grown from graduating at iv, and you know, we've talked about your role, but talk about. You know passion projects that you've got other things that you want the listener to read, to consider for students to consider that are at Ivey and elsewhere. Where give us some things that you want us to read or consider for sure. I think for me, a big thing that that I try to do is just stay involved with what's happening in other sports. I think sometimes you can get so single minded into this is the ball park I’m working at or this is these- are the fans I’m considering, and you forget that there's a whole other world of sports fans out there that you don't even consider so just trying to find any information. That's out there. I know I get daily emails from sports business journals. So just that information, any information you can find that that really pushes information to you that you might not consider. So what are premier leagues doing what is happening with sports betting in England, just anything that really that it could eventually be in our market right. So anything, that's really your finding out there. I think other things that that I really focus on internally is: what's my motivation for coming in every day like what drives me, because, especially in this work from home environment there, there are days where you just you, you feel like you're not connected to the world, even though you're talking to people all the time. So I think for me it's really what's my motivation and what's pushing me and it's something that drove me at iv to right like what's what am I doing this for what do I want out of this? What i, what am I finding and now that I’m kind of in this industry- and I think my motivation so heavily lies with the fan. So how am I making this the best experience for them? How is anything I’m doing making this a better experience? How are we taking someone who may have had a horrible day and bringing baseball into their life and they're feeling like they had an awesome day and that's kind of my motivation every day is how am I making them better and how am I making them feel like there's a positivity at the end of this pandemic tunnel and you're, eventually going to come back to sport, and it's going to be right where you left it and it's going to be a great time. So I think even that, that finding your internal motivation and there are lots of ways to find that- maybe it's exercise- maybe it's reading- maybe it's. I don't know watching tv whatever that motivation comes from you and it might not be the same motivation that it is for everyone- and I know, especially when I was at school, like lots of people were focused on, I want to be in finance. I want to be in consulting and, and none of that really drove me the way finding that connection with a fan does now so really finding that motivation. Even if it's not the same motivation as everyone else, I think is really pushed me. Thank you so much for taking the time. I think that's a great place for us to wrap up the conversation today. I’m really looking forward to seeing how your role continues to evolve and the business of baseball continues to evolve and we'll be watching with intent over the next few years, and I hope that you continue to stay in touch with Ivey. Thank you for everything that you do absolutely. Thank you, guys, for having me thanks again took her in for joining us today. It was fascinating to hear how one of Ivey's newer programs is making waves in areas like sports. It's clear to me that baseball isn't just the stats on the field but is integral behind the scenes and even into the fan experience. I hope you enjoyed be sure to rate review and subscribe, see you next time.

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