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Digital customer experience top of mind for PGA Tour

The PGA Tour's head of fan engagement discusses the tech stack that makes the organization connect better with fans, sponsors, golf pros and more.

The PGA Tour has been the dominant host of men's professional golf tournaments in the U.S. since 1929 -- without a challenger, until now. A new tour, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, debuted earlier this year.

Before this season, amid much hype, LIV Golf appeared to be a threat to the PGA Tour -- LIV's nightclub-party atmosphere is designed to attract younger fans, and it wooed some high-profile players from the PGA Tour with huge payouts. But the fledgling tour's early results did not look good attendance-wise. In fact, while most professional sports organizations charge television networks rich licensing fees to air their events, this week LIV Golf began negotiating to buy airtime on FS1, a Fox Sports channel.

Nevertheless, the PGA Tour won't rest on its laurels. We discussed the state of its digital customer experience with Travis Trembath, vice president of fan engagement, and what tech the Tour has and will deploy to bring fans closer to the action on and off the course. One technology initiative is measuring customer sentiment, motivations and wants with a new Qualtrics deployment this fall as the PGA Tour collects fan data from apps, websites and social media.

Who are the PGA Tour's customers?

Travis Trembath, vice president of fan engagement at the PGA TourTravis Trembath

Travis Trembath: There are so many different touchpoints. You can engage on site of a tournament, through social media, streaming, television, betting -- the list goes on and on. We've got a very diverse and rich ecosystem just within the fan space.

We also have a lot of other stakeholders that we would consider customers. We have to create a great experience for players. It's always been a focus for us, but I think there's opportunities for us to get more rigorous and more predictive on how we create that experience -- i.e., if there's a player every week that has to go and ask for an extra towel to be placed in their locker, we want to get to a point where we predict that and help create that experience without having to make the athlete ask.

We've also got our 40-plus title sponsors on our tournaments on the PGA Tour, which means 40-plus official marketing partners. We've got our media rights holders. We've got volunteers at every tournament. We've got the media members themselves.

The fan experience isn't necessarily all-digital, either.

Trembath: Definitely both on- and offline. We strive to make the experience better for both. I think that's where Qualtrics is really going to help. We do post-event fan surveys, but each tournament kind of does it differently. We also collect feedback from users of our digital platforms through our fan panel. But right now, there's no way to really connect the dots and build that kind of holistic picture of the fan, and we'll start to stitch together that fan profile and collect feedback from that same fan. Hopefully that'll say -- with a cross-channel, holistic profile -- "Here's what my tournament experience was."

What is the digital employee experience element of this initiative?

Trembath: The Tour historically has been great at retaining employees, but the environment right now is different. It's incumbent upon us to make sure that we're getting feedback from employees. Right now, we'll do surveys with employees at the end-of-the-year survey.

Our new employee experience platform helps us get more rigorous and systematic about how we do it. Instead of a monster survey at the end of the year, we're thinking about collecting feedback on a monthly or quarterly basis in smaller doses -- and make sure we're prepared to take action on it and not just getting feedback for the sake of getting feedback.

What's in your digital customer experience tech stack?

Trembath: We're an Adobe shop. We have a real enterprise relationship with AWS. They help us with our data lake and a lot of our back-end data and analytics tools. From an experience delivery standpoint -- front-end, fan-facing technologies -- we use Adobe almost exclusively: Marketo for email and Adobe Experience Manager on all of our digital platforms. So the long-term vision is gathering feedback through Qualtrics tools on each fan so we can build a profile and then use our Adobe tech to deliver that personalized experience to the fan.

How is the integration of all those clouds progressing? It sounds like the next step is a customer data platform.

The long-term vision is gathering feedback through Qualtrics tools on each fan so we can build a profile and then use our Adobe tech to deliver that personalized experience to the fan.
Travis TrembathVice president of fan engagement, PGA Tour

Trembath: It's definitely a work in progress. We've spent a lot of time thinking about where we want to go, and we're just getting going. We do have a lot of very rich fan data from a lot of different sources, whether it is ticket buyers or people registering on our digital platform, signing up for newsletters, or playing fantasy golf. We've got our AWS data lake. We've got Snowflake environments that are on top of our data lake. So our data scientists are ingesting all that information and then stitching together the profiles, behind the scenes.

We do not have a CDP. That's on our roadmap -- probably in the next year to year and a half -- to help with orchestration. But right now, we're, you know -- we do build segments within Snowflake, and then we'll push them, you know, to all the downstream tools manually. We feed segments to [data activation platform] LiveRamp to target ad platforms sort of manually. The next natural progression would be to add a CDP.

So the benefit of a CDP -- even though you're already accomplishing all the stuff the CDP would -- is automation?

Trembath: That's exactly right. We are basically doing all that data science work internally, and we've got the horsepower to do it. But if we can free up some of that time for the data scientists to focus on deeper analytics and segmenting, I think we'll be better off and just let the tech do some of the lifting for us.

What are the emerging technologies you need to support to attract new fans?

Trembath: Daily fantasy, betting and NFTs. I mean, there's a lot of these emerging opportunities that we see as a way to grow and diversify our fan base and to engage younger fans.

We're at this natural inflection point with the way fans consume sport. Within our older, affluent, business decision-maker kind of traditional golf audience, we're still seeing growth within traditional linear television [cable, satellite, streaming]. As we all know, younger people in general -- nothing to do with sports or golf fans -- are just not watching linear television like they used to. We're focusing on delivering the right content and engaging those younger fans where they are. Betting is going to be a huge opportunity in the future.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget Editorial.

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