Is Technology Creating a Fear of Change in Sports? SAP CMO Alicia Tillman Believes Teams & Leagues Are Starting to Evolve

Q&A: SAP CMO Alicia Tillman on If Technology Creates a Fear in Sports

In her role as CMO of SAP, Alicia Tillman is part evangelist and part technologist. The marketer behind the brand’s “Best Run” campaign views sports as more than a place to spend sponsorship dollars; it’s an industry with an ongoing need to more efficiently attract and engage fans.

Speaking at Hashtag Sports 2018, Tillman discusses why innovation and technology are key differentiators for teams and leagues looking to create the best fan experience. This interview, originally conducted at HS18 by Ahiza Garcia of CNN, has been condensed and edited.

To get started, how is technology changing the fan experience today?

Think about the transaction and the transition of the speed in which data is received and how quickly now technology has an ability to compute that data. Every day we need to compete with in-home experiences, and also the variety of sports that exist, the variety of choices we have today. So where we can enhance and improve the fan experience through the ease of technology, as well as the ease of intelligence of the data we have, that’s a big aspect of how we’re seeing technology improve the fan experience.

The other thing I would add is if we think about the evolution of technology, we’ve moved from the era of PCs and mainframes to this era of big data — meaning how do we harness all of the data that exists — now into this era of intelligence.

If you really have the capabilities today to harness the data, how do you turn that into intelligence to help you create either a better fan, coach or athlete experience?

One of the things we’ve found in particular just by way of example–the NBA is a very technology-forward league. We’ve been partnering with the NBA for several years to create deeper analysis on all of the stats that exist today. If you go to this is an opportunity for the fan to gain deeper intelligence around the players and the league to help them understand the game a bit better and follow the game a bit better.

SAP CMO sports

Just last season alone we had 35 million views to the website, and what it shows us is that fans today crave a deeper amount of intelligence to connect to the players out on the court (or field, whatever sport it may be), and this notion of access — having it enabled for me on my device 24/7 to give me the greatest levels of analysis and commentary that I’ve ever had — is something that we’re seeing fans craving more than ever.

They want to be part of the action, they want to truly study sports and understand what to anticipate. I think the overall fan experience is really beginning to move to different heights. And technology from a platform capability, as well as data — in terms of the intelligence that it enables at a fan level — is something that is happening at unprecedented levels, but I think is only going to continue to enhance the fan experience.

What for you is the most exciting innovation that either your company has rolled out or that you’re just excited for fans to have?

We have a fantastic partnership with CHIO Aachen (an international horse show) which is part of technology that we’re creating with the International Equestrian Tournament. We’ve actually designed an application that allows the fan to also become part of the judging experience. The fan is now enabled through their smart device to also score, rate and give their opinion relative to what they’re seeing there on the field.

That’s an incredible thing too if we think about this notion of fan voting and fan insights where we can start to incorporate that. We’ve incorporated that today through many industries; fashion was one that we did just a couple months ago here at New York Fashion Week. But to be able to bring that into sports leagues as well [is amazing to see], to make sure fans are getting as much out of that experience as they possibly can.

Have you’ve seen any opposition [in sports] to really pushing forward and embracing technology?

I mean technology is a differentiator. Like anything, technology can create a certain fear.

We’ve had many leagues that have been around for a long time and have evolved with each decade. Technology helps to support the overall effectiveness, and the efficiencies, and in a lot of ways the performance as well. That can be very scary if you have been [working in] or watching sports for some time.

But the reality is technology is part of our DNA, and it will become a continued part of the fabric that shapes the overall fan experience, as well as the overall performance. If you think about a decade from now what life will be like with technology, it is a critical and core part of any aspect of life with sports being part of that also.

My belief is that leagues and teams that embrace it and are out on the forefront will absolutely be the leaders. They will have the greatest athletes, the best coaches, and the most engaged fans. That is the ultimate of success when it comes to any league or any sport we are a part of. It will absolutely shape—the way it already is today—the way the sport is viewed.

There’s so much technology out there now that makes it enjoyable to watch [sports] from home. How are you using technology to get fans into stadiums?

It’s about how you show up across every stage of the customer life cycle/journey. It’s everything from how are we building technology to drive awareness, to how we are driving that in-stadium experience once they’re there, and then how do we keep the conversation going to drive towards true fan loyalty, even [after] that time they’ve spent with us in the stadium?

And it’s how you’re [building] community on social and how that connects overall to the stadium experience: ticketing, concessions, participating in the live action by casting votes, e-commerce and how we’re enabling purchases to be made, how you keep commentary going, etc.

Our ability to build technology platforms that connect across every stage of that fan journey is something that is both alive and well today, and is going to continue to be a big source of innovation because it’s necessary.

If you want to get people out and experiencing sports in the same manner in which we drive experience across so many other aspects of our lives, then the in-stadium fan experience needs to model that.

Alicia Tillman spoke at Hashtag Sports 2018, an annual conference designed for digital decision makers in sports. Learn more here.