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Red Sox hit home run with custom Microsoft CRM app

The Boston Red Sox spent seven years searching for a CRM system to handle ticketing and fan engagement before selecting a custom version of Microsoft CRM.

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An organization in the midst of the longest sellout streak in major league baseball history might not seem to be in dire need of CRM, but after a seven-year search the time had come for a new system for the Boston Red Sox.

Despite its success selling out Fenway Park, the Red Sox recently implemented a version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, customized for sports organizations by Green Beacon Solutions LLC, based in Newton, Mass. Green Beacon’s Sports CRM offering has helped the ball club move beyond spreadsheets and sticky notes.

“Although we’re in a sellout environment, it’s more of a challenge every year. You have some success and some complacency sets in,” said Ron Bumgarner, senior vice president of ticketing for the team. “We found ourselves in a pattern. We did have tools, but not high-level tools to manage our processes. We found ourselves in simple shotgun marketing. We had success with that, but there was also the alienation factor. We basically finally got to the point where we needed to invest in how we target folks.”

While there remains an old school of thinking around many sports teams in simply hoping the team does well and that will drive ticket sales, that wasn’t the case with the Red Sox, particularly after John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino bought the team in 2002, Bumgarner said.

The team wanted to better understand its customers and fans -- things like where they like to sit, problems they may have had in the past and how and when fans last communicated with the team. That required a new CRM system.

“We had an abacus, a lot of yellow sticky notes and an old ticketing system,” Bumgarner joked. “We did the best we could do assimilating that information.”

In fact, customer information was scattered across Excel databases, Access and Word documents and paper lists.

The search for a new CRM system, however, was not a rapid selection process. The team spent roughly seven years investigating its options, looking at products in the marketplace, surveying 30 other teams about what tools they use and the partners they brought in.

“We did a lot of due diligence before we selected Green Beacon to come in,” Bumgarner said. “It was a process of proving that the return on investment would be well worth it. You gotta get through the budget process.”

For the Red Sox, that meant showing ROI in the first year through improved customer service and fan experience. The club is using Sports CRM initially for measuring ticket sales, suite sales and premium experience sales. It also involves extensive surveying of fans to determine their satisfaction levels.

In October (after an epic collapse from the team, which was expected to contend for a title), the Red Sox and Green Beacon began setting up the new system, integrating it with two ticketing systems, Tickets.com and Ticketmaster, which essentially serve as the ERP system.

The design and implementation was made easier because Green Beacon used Microsoft’s xRM platform to create the application. Microsoft xRM uses Dynamics CRM as a basis for developing complementary applications.

“[Microsoft] xRM has simplified the process whereby we’re able to prototype new solutions and show it to clients, rather than draw it on a whiteboard,” said Richard Smith, vice president of business solutions architecture at Green Beacon. “Because so much comes out of the box, the whole infrastructure is there to build our solution on. We can show them in real time and get them to buy with their eyes rather than their minds.”

Sports CRM is expected to help the Red Sox better target what is now shotgun marketing into more focused sports marketing, Bumgarner said. 

There are 50 users trained on the system now, and the ball club plans to expand to other groups. The next phase is the Fenway Enterprises group, a department that sells events for nongame activities at Fenway Park. They range from weddings to small meetings to a convention to small concerts. In January, Fenway hosted a second Frozen Fenway, a series of college, high school, club and league hockey games. The ticketing group cut deals with colleges and high schools and invited them to play at Fenway.

“The CRM tool proved tremendously valuable,” Bumgarner said. “We were able to go out and find out who purchased tickets for Frozen Fenway 1 in 2010, what they purchased, when in the sales cycle and specifically target people.”

The process has been a learning experience for Bumgarner.

“I’ve worked for several different baseball teams and with several different CRM tools,” he said. “As we got into this, I didn’t even understand how much more there is to gain from a platform. You can create a better understanding and get a 360-degree view and be able to utilize those views. We’re at the tip of the iceberg here.”

Next Steps

See how others are using Microsoft xRM for their custom CRM needs

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