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Seattle Mariners building loyalty with CRM in the lineup

By the end of the 2000 baseball season, the Seattle Mariners were becoming victims of their success on the field.

LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing like success to build brand loyalty. Just ask the Seattle Mariners, winners of a record-tying 116 Major League Baseball games in the 2001 regular season.

"Honestly, this year, the way that the Mariners played, I could have served macaroni and cheese and water and we would have drawn a ton of interest, but that's not the approach you want to take," said Larry Witherspoon, the team's vice president of technology services. "What you want to do is build loyalty while you're strong."

The Mariners have been steadily building a fan base since their surprise defeat of the New York Yankees in the 1995 playoffs, and more recently with the opening of their state-of-the-art ballpark, Safeco Field.

Ironically, the team's success on the field was creating problems for the business side of the organization. Until recently, the Mariners had 13 disconnected databases, including one of the most important to the club: an Excel spreadsheet maintained by the CEO's secretary.

With legions of new fans and no way to see a single view of them to provide better service, the Mariners decided to implement a CRM system, said Witherspoon, who described the implementation at the recent DCI CRM Conference & Expo in Los Angeles. The technology it chose at the end of the 2000 season was Onyx Software's Onyx Employee Portal and Onyx Customer Portal.

Implementing the CRM system

The project was completed in 12 weeks -- in time for the 2001 season -- by Witherspoon and his small IT shop, which includes himself, a database administrator, a network administrator, an information systems administrator, a contact center manager and a "computer guy."

With the help of Bellevue, Wash.-based Onyx, the Mariners automated their customer support and service activities -- everything from ticketing to merchandise sales to concessions.

Now the team can upsell ticket buyers and others customers based on purchasing patterns and create better service for customers by responding more quickly to their complaints -- even unusual ones.

"The No. 1 complaint of the first homestand?" Witherspoon asked rhetorically. "Sauerkraut. No sauerkraut. I was amazed ... So what do you do? Now (with CRM), you can identify a trend and you can correct it quickly."

Witherspoon said the system cost the team about $500,000, but even at that price, financial return on investment was not the greatest concern, it was building customer loyalty.

Determining ROI

"When are we going to see the payoff?" said Witherspoon "When we stink. That's when we'll see ROI on the system." If the team struggles on the field and customers remain loyal, then the CRM system will have been worth the investment, he said.

Of course, that's not to say the Mariners are oblivious to financial return. In promotional literature, the Mariners said their initial assessment of the CRM system shows a "potential" revenue increase of $10 million each year due to additional 8% rise in season ticket revenue. However, there is a cap on that potential for the baseball season because of the finite number of seats at the ballbark, Witherspoon said.

The Mariners are also branching out into other areas of CRM, including predictive modeling. Witherspoon said such modeling is not used across the CRM system, but it is used on an individual basis, such as in the concessions area, where they can do "seasonality profiles" to help the team's buyers make decisions on which merchandise to stock based on past purchasing behavior.

That application struck a chord with two IT professionals from Verizon Wireless, a unit of New York-based telecommunications giant Verizon Communications.

Verizon Wireless has done predictive modeling using the information in its data warehouses, according to Andrew Hall, associate director of data warehouse systems for the West Coast region of Verizon Wireless.

The next stop in CRM for Verizon Wireless is campaign management, a function of marketing automation, said Hall's colleague, Kelsey Corcoran, manager of customer loyalty programs for the West Coast area of Verizon Wireless.

But she said there is a key difference between her company's experience with CRM and that of the Mariners.

"When we look at things like this (campaign management), the scalability is really important to us because we're talking about very larges numbers of very diverse customers," she said. "We have rows and rows and rows of data -- much more (than the Mariners.)

"They can't have but 20 pieces of information about a single customer; we've got hundreds and hundreds," said Corcoran. "So we have to look at a much more robust population of data."


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