Sports Business Journal discusses Rays use of USF students

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It seems the Rays are using students from the USF Sports MBA program like they do relief pitchers from the Durham Bulls – as low-cost talent who can be cycled in and out while they are cheap.

According to a recent article in the Sports Business Journal, the Rays are among many Tampa Bay area sports and entertainment venues capitalizing on a partnership with the USF Sports MBA program.

(Definitely worth the read. The whole program spawned from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. I’ve written before about Vinik’s ability to find the best and brightest people to work for him.)

While the article discusses USF Sports MBA candidates employed by the Lightning, Hard Rock Casino, and other Tampa Bay venues, the part about the Rays was particularly interesting.

Last year, two of them, Jessica Kitzmiller and Zack Lee, were assigned a project together: to pull data attached to Rays ticket buyers and analyze it to determine how they were using flex packs. Lee looked primarily at game selection to determine what beyond the obvious factors, such as opponent and day of week, influenced their selection. Kitzmiller studied demos, creating customer profiles based on gender, age and preference, along with a heat map that showed where buyers came from.

This year, they will return to the franchise — Lee to continue working on member services and ticketing, and Kitzmiller to focus on social media, where she also spent a chunk of time last year.

The Rays have been open that they created the Flex Packs to know their customers better. They want to know trends in buying, games, and in-park usage, where users come from and who they are. It is all part of “creating a better relationship”, which then drives customized communications and promotions that hopefully goes beyond the initial Flex Pack and into a long-term or lifelong fan association with the team. And once they have the fan as a consistent buyer, they just have to maintain the relationship. Meanwhile, they then reach out to other demographics and parts of the potential pool to hook more new fans, hoping to turn them into lifelong fans as well.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But it is still interesting to get a little insight how the Rays analyze the data. Given their data, the Rays know who is coming only for games versus the Yankees, Orioles, or any other opponent. They also want to know the beer preference of 35-50 year old women from Brandon. Which they can find if those women use their flex pack at Tropicana Field.

Fortunately for the Rays, like young relief pitching, young sports business talent will always be cheap. According to the article, the sports MBA field is

pumping out graduates into an industry already overrun by résumés; an industry that has no established path to entry, like the management training program of the broader corporate world; an industry that generally hasn’t shown a willingness to pay more for an MBA

While USF is doing what it can to get willing students experience, the ability to get bright minds on the cheap is great news for a team that tries to capitalize on competitive advantages (“The Extra 2%”) wherever it can.

(Disclaimer: I am a (non-sports) MBA candidate at USF. To my knowledge, I haven’t crossed paths with the Sports MBA Department outside of meeting a few sports marketing students.)

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