The University of Maryland’s booster club has decreased from 10,000 members to roughly 5,000 over the last decade. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the athletic department is reimagining how it interacts with Terrapins fans globally.
To help in that effort, the school is working with a new marketing platform launched in October by TicketIQ. The platform, called FanIQ, pulls anonymized data from across the internet to help identify fans previously unknown to universities and pro teams.
Though FanIQ was designed for tickets, Maryland is one of a handful of schools now using it for perhaps a more important goal: raising money. Public FBS schools sold more than $1.5 billion worth of tickets in 2019, but brought in more than $1.6 billion from donations. While the two are inextricably linked, donations are especially important now, as football and basketball teams have few, if any, tickets to sell.
That’s true in a sense for TicketIQ as well—founder Jesse Lawrence called the donations work a “coronavirus pivot.” When the sports and entertainment world shut down in March, the market for tickets evaporated overnight. As that business slowly starts to rebound, he sees FanIQ as a way for schools, and his company, to broaden the scope of their outreach.
“What’s interesting about donations is that ticketing is so local,” Lawrence said. “People aren’t going to games in Maryland if they live in California. With donations, you can break down that geographical barrier and really focus on a wider network.”
TicketIQ’s ticketing partners include the New York Knicks and Rangers, the Washington Football Team and USC. Lawrence said the company was able to drive $485,000 in ticket sales to new customers for an MLS client in 2019 (TicketIQ typically receives a monthly fee, plus a commission on sales).
The donations part of the business, an idea that originated with advisory board member Darren Lucas (former director of ticket sales at North Carolina), includes new partnerships with Maryland and Arizona State, with a handful of others expected in the coming months.
Traditionally, most athletic departments focus their donations effort on tickets, a strategy that was showing flaws long before COVID. Colleges also face an aging demographic of donors, with younger fans proving to be an elusive group.
“When you rely on your season-ticket base to carry your membership, it’s going to ebb and flow with how the team is doing,” said Matt Monroe, Maryland’s associate AD for annual giving and ticket operations. “Across the board nationally, attendance is down, season tickets are down, and I think that trend will probably continue.”
As a result, Maryland is reinventing its Terrapin Club. Tickets are still an important facet, but the school wants to reach fans who either live too far away to come to games, or simply aren’t the live-event type. The new initiatives include an online streaming platform, a quarterly magazine and one-of-a-kind experiences, like shoot-arounds on the basketball court or movie nights on the video boards.
The booster club has a database of alumni and former members, plus anyone who’s bought tickets or Maryland merchandise directly from the school. But that still leaves potentially thousands of Terrapins fans, particularly young ones, which the school doesn’t even know exist. FanIQ will find and target those people.
“We’re going to hit our database that we have hard, with emails, direct mail and phone calls, all the traditional methods,” Monroe said. “But in order for us to grow where we want to grow, we need to be able to seek out new audiences, get our messaging in front of people that aren’t in our database.”
FanIQ combines information from across the internet—email addresses, social engagement, web traffic, device ID—and combines it with data from TransUnion, which provides insight into gender, age, income and location. It collects them all, combines the people that are counted multiple times, and produces an anonymized list of people and their preferences.
As a final step, the company will run its data through a partner’s pre-existing dataset (like Maryland’s alumni and ticket data) and delete the people already known to the school. What remains is a non-duplicated set of potential customers, plus information about how to best target them.
“If a Maryland alum in Florida is making $100,000 a year, and a Maryland alum in Texas is making $60,000 a year, you serve them a different piece of creative, you ask them for a different amount of money,” Lawrence said. “And the whole concept of donations has historically been alumni. But why not all fans? If you’re a fan and want to give $50, that’s great. You don’t have to be an alum to do that.”