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Podcast

CX Decoded Podcast: Creating Fan Experience on the PGA Tour

25 minute read
Michelle Hawley avatar
CX Decoded catches up with Travis Trembath of the PGA Tour on creating the best digital and in-person customer experiences.

Travis Trembath, vice president of fan engagement for the PGA Tour, is passionate about golf, customer experience and customer engagement. Having to the best golfers in the world compete under his company's brand? That's the easy part. Fan engagement, and digital customer experience, however, remains a moving target.

In this episode, Trembath shares some of the ways the Tour is engaging fans through data, such as data lakes and data warehouses. He also discusses using omnichannel approaches to get in touch with the PGA fan base, how he sees the future of the metaverse and other customer experience topics, including how a PGA behind-the-scenes documentary can build the organization’s fan base.

Plus, you get an inside look into life behind the scenes at the PGA Tour, a prestigious global professional sports brand. We caught up with Trembath for our latest CX Decoded podcast

CX Decoded Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Michelle Hawley: Hello, and welcome to our latest edition of CX Decoded. I'm Michele Hawley, senior editor for CMSWire, and I'm joined by my co-host, Dom Nicastro, managing editor of CMSWire. What's going on Dom?

Dom Nicastro: Not much, Michelle, I hope you're all well. I'm ready to talk customer experience, customer engagement, or in this case today, Michelle, I want to say fan experience and fan engagement, which I'm very excited to do. So we got our guest here. He's going to talk all about that. This is today joining us. Travis Trembath, VP of fan engagement for the PGA Tour. How cool is that? Travis, how you doing today?

Travis Trembath: I'm doing great. Thank you guys for having me. Excited to be here.

Dom: Cool. Yeah, I am too, excited to have you. And I'll admit Travis, you know, my golf experience is once every 10 years I go on to a bachelor party. I take the first shot, I hit it as hard as I can. I don't care where it goes. And then I sit in the golf cart and drink a couple of brews the rest of the day. So I can't break down Rory McIlroy's, you know, driver putts. And I can't do that with you, but I can talk fan experience.

Travis: Well, that's great. I can't break down Rory’s swing either if that makes any difference. I’m much better at talking fan experience than the golf swing myself so ... 

Dom: Nice. So we would love to give our listeners, Travis, a sense of who you are, how you got in your role there, your background, and then we're not going to let you off the hook without giving us one fun fact about yourself unrelated to your job … go.

Travis: Awesome. Well, I have a brand management background prior to my time here at the PGA Tour. I've been at the tour now for 11 years, spent the first six-plus doing various roles in our sponsorship group to business development account management research and have now been in this role, fan engagement role for a little over four years, and really focused on being the voice of the fan here at the PGA Tour using research insights, analytics to help the organization, you know, informed decision making and strategy and help us drive the business. So that I'd say is the background. So fun fact, I guess I'll give you a couple.

So from a career standpoint, my first job out of college was as an actuary, which I don't like to admit to too many people because most of the stereotypes are true. So you know, that's kind of where I started in a hardcore analytics role, and I’ve done a bunch of marketing and sales stuff since. And then the other one is that I co-founded and started a fast-casual restaurant here in the Ponte Vedra Beach area and have since gotten out of it. But that was a great education. That was the school of hard knocks for me. Not an industry for the faint of heart, but a lot of fun.

Dom: All right, so we got it. We got the actuary. We got the restaurant. And now fan experience with PGA Tour. We got the whole persona, we're ready to go. Michelle, you ready to ask some questions about how he gets this done, this fan experience stuff?

A Diverse Customer Engagement Team Focused on Analytics

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, it sounds like you've had a really well-rounded experience up until this point. So I'm a little curious about your engagement team. Who's on it. Who does it report to? And what are some of the skill sets the team has?

Travis: Yeah, so we've got a pretty diverse team. So our group, we've got a few people that are focused on the analytics. We've gotten in AWS [Amazon Web Services] data lake, they're mining that consumption data for insights, you know, whether it's from television consumption, or digital or social, really cross channel. And then we have a few folks that are focused more on research qualitative, as well as quantitative survey-based research. We have a panel of 11,000 fans that we survey 30-plus times a year on every topic under the sun. So a couple folks focused on that. And then a couple that are the third sort of bucket is database and email marketing, CRM, that whole space. So a pretty diverse set of skills within the group here.

Team Effort on Customer Experience Data Science and Tech

Dom: Yeah, you got a lot of sort of marketing technology tool champions, right? Because we do a lot of reporting on like, who owns the martech stack, you know, who owns the CRM, who owns the CDP if you have one or experience management systems? So do you like to have that one champion that is leading a certain tool and works on integrations implementations, or is it a team effort or a little bit of both.

Travis: We really approach it more on kind of the team effort side of things. So we partner up with our counterparts in data science and technology and ad operations and our media buying team and really work together as a group to get the right infrastructure in place, the right tools in place, and then our team really focuses on using the data both to learn more about our fans to research our fans and to engage them. So yeah, we’re highly dependent on kind of our partners in the other areas of the business and work very collaboratively together. And even within our fan engagement team, we like to have multiple people that are familiar with all the tools, whether it's the experience management side of things, or mining some of our consumption channels, Nielsen data, and Visio data and Adobe digital data, like to kind of have multiple people working across all those areas. You know, I think I always think the more minds you put against something, the better.

Related Article: The Most Important Components of Customer Experience 

Using a Combination of Customer Base Data Sources 

Dom: Yeah, it's fascinating. The cross-section of data that's coming in, I would imagine. Can you give us some examples of where your data is coming from, from fans? I mean, there's going to be ticketing online, there's going to be social media, there's going to be in-person experiences, right? They might do something in person that you collect and manage that data. Where's all this data coming from this? There's so many angles I can imagine?

Travis: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And I think that's what makes this industry and this organization so interesting. And it's such a fascinating space to work in. I mean, we have, I would say, upwards of 20 different touchpoints for our fans. And you mentioned several of them, you've got social media, you've got fantasy golf, you've got our website, our app, our broadcast or streaming platform through ESPN, plus all of our betting operators, we have PGA Tour Superstore, who's a licensee of ours, you've got a retail component, you've got the on-site tournament component. And we get various levels and types of data from all of those different platforms and channels. And in some cases, it's you know, more anonymous consumption data that we can learn about our fans. And then in other cases, it's PII [personal identifiable information], it's first-party data that we can use to learn more about our fans, but also engage them and try to get them to take more actions. So it's really a combination, and just across a lot of different channels and touchpoints, which really keeps things interesting for us, for sure to say the least.

Related Article: How to Make the Customer Journey More Data Driven 

Tapping into All the Data Sources Can Feel a Little ‘Wild West’

Dom: I'm sure it does. And when you're looking at all that data coming from all kinds of angles, so many channels, is there a central management system, right? I'm not asking like, “Oh, who's the vendor you use for?” Not like that. But is there some central repository for that data where you can truly get everything together and create experiences from that? Or is the reality and this is fine. This is what we hear mostly, that it's just coming from a lot of different systems. And it's the job of the marketing team, the customer experience team, the fan engagement team, to pull it all together?

Travis: Yeah, I would say, you know, from a technology standpoint, we have a data lake that houses most of the data. And we've got a warehouse that kind of sits on top of our data lake. So really, all of this data is kind of coming into that warehouse, if it's first-party data, or to the lake if it's anonymous consumption data. So it's all kind of coming into one spot, how we use it, how we get it out of the warehouse to the lake into some of the downstream tools, or the data visualization tools, if we're trying to monitor fan behavior. That's where it's varied. And we have analysts that are based across the different business units here that are all kind of working on their little area and all tapping into that centralized warehouse. It can feel like a little bit of a Wild West at times just in terms of how we're using the data and how we're getting it out. And what we're doing with it certainly is varied across the organization.

‘Data Deluge’ Can Be Challenging, Tricky

Michelle: You guys have a ton of fans. And it sounds like you're connecting with those fans pretty regularly and you're getting data from other data streams. I think there's got to be a lot of challenges that come with that we actually have a term for that a CMSWire. We call it the “data deluge” because there's just so much to sift through. So what are the biggest challenges of managing your fan data?

Travis: I like that term. We definitely have a lot of that. So I'd say you know, one of the biggest challenges for us is we do have all these different consumption channels. And it can be really tricky at times to tie together behaviors across channels for individual fans, right so I might have information coming through our social platforms on the behaviors of fans within the social platform and same for TV and digital but stitching together across platforms is challenging. And I think that's one of the things that's most exciting for us about our new relationship with Qualtrics. And the tools that we'll be able to tap into through their XM Platform is it'll help us start to be able to kind of stitch together profiles across platforms of individual fans.

Related Article: Providing Experience in an Omnichannel World 

Global Challenges Are Opportunities Waiting to Be Mined

Dom: You know, as you're talking through Travis, I'm thinking like, man, this team must gotta be an all-star team here. Because I mean, you know, PGA International, international brand, do you have to have people working on an international level to like a global scale? Do you have a data team across the way? Or is it just the United States being like, the PGA is like a United States brand? Obviously, the golfers go beyond the United States to play too, you know, so is it kind of some global challenges there, too?

Travis: Yeah. And I think we view them more as opportunities. You know, we're fortunate that we have a platform and a sport that is very global in nature, and we've got Japan, for example, or Korea, they are mad about golf, in a great way. And so we have resources that are some that are based here in the US that are working on our international business. And then we do have some satellite offices, as well and keep other parts of the world that are focused on understanding, you know, not just researching, analyzing and understanding our fans in those regions, but figuring out how to better engage them and how to localize the experience within those markets. And then, and then we also have a host of international media partners as well, that obviously help us in that regard as well. So, yes, it's definitely a sport with a lot of global appeal. And we've got a very much an international kind of mindset around not just understanding our fans, but how we conduct our business in general.

Dom: Yeah, and I think a lot of our readers and CMSWire, and listeners to this podcast have those challenges, too, you know, or opportunities, as you call them to cater to international customers, in your case, international fans. So it takes quite the team to pull that off. I mean, some of these technologies out there have globalization, like localization technologies, where they translate content and stuff like that. Are you having to dabble into those kinds of technologies where you’re putting out experiences in a different language other than English?

Travis: One-hundred percent? Yeah, no, we have very much focused on kind of localization. And we've got across our international team. We've got folks that are yeah, working on language, translated content and marketing to really engage those fans. And yeah, I'd say it's certainly a massive effort. It's definitely an important part of our business and one of the biggest kind of differentiators for us as a sport relative to others. So something that's a huge focus of ours.

Competing for Customers’ Time

Dom: Travis, we know that football season here. I mean, when this podcast airs it will be well into football, but at the time of the recording, football was just starting. So of course, the PGA is going to be on its toes getting ready for that competition for people's attention. Football was a monster, what are some of the ways you're getting ready for that?

Travis: It's always been a focus of ours. So we actually, a couple of years ago, reconfigured our whole schedule, and the main goal was to end the Tour Championship, which is like our Super Bowl, no pun intended, to end before football season starts. So definitely football’s a monster. You know, a lot of our core fans, golf fans will watch the PGA Tour and will watch golf around the calendar. But in the summer months, and when football is not going on, it allows us to really pull in a lot of those more mainstream sports fans or casual fans. So yeah, it's definitely, you know, always top of mind for us. You know what else is going on in the competitive sports landscape that could, you know, attract viewers' attention and we kind of redid our whole schedule to end before football started.

Dom: Just as long as you can take some of the attention away from my old pal Tom Brady and his diva personality now. All his … all of a sudden he leaves Belichick and he's social media, man, you know?

Travis: Yeah. Well, no promises there.

Related Article: How Can You Increase Your Share of a Customer's Life? 

A Netflix Documentary to Engage With the PGA Audience

Dom: So off air a little bit. Travis, you're telling us about this exciting new Netflix documentary for the PGA? What details can you share with our audience about that?

Travis: We're really excited. If any of the listeners have seen the “Formula One” documentary that was on Netflix, basically the PGA Tour has partnered with Netflix and some of the same folks to produce a similar kind of behind-the-scenes look at, you know, life on tour and kind of what these players are going through on and off the course and just how challenging it is to be a professional golfer, you know, playing 20-30 weeks out of the year, a global schedule, and I think it's gonna be really cool. Just, you know, another perspective to the sport that fans and even those of us that work in the industry haven't seen. So we're really excited. And it's been a very interesting and tumultuous season in the sport of golf. And so I think it'll be particularly captivating and interesting. So I'm excited as a fan to see that come out. And from a business standpoint, the Netflix series on “Formula One” had just a profound impact on it, you know, and attracting kind of new fans, so we hope it does something similar for us here at the tour.

Learning Opportunities

Dom: Yeah, nothing's official in life until it's a Netflix series, documentary. Like okay, the Chicago Bulls were awesome. Now I know, they're really awesome because of "The Last Dance" but Travis, in all seriousness, the Netflix partnership, were you able to get access to, you know, working with their data team or anything like that? Or was that just mainly just a business partnership? Okay, we're gonna pick this up, we're gonna produce it, and you're gonna watch it and you know, get involved with the production, that kind of thing? Like, because I'm telling you, our readers, our listeners, if they could get behind the scenes with like, the Netflix customer experience team, how cool would that be?

Travis: Yeah, no, that would be cool. Now, this so far, it's been more really on our media business development team kind of forged the relationship. And then the biggest hurdle, honestly, or one of the biggest hurdles was just getting the players on board to participate and provide that access and behind-the-scenes look at life on tour.

Dom: And I'm thinking, Is there someone in the PGA tour room that's going to ask Travis, okay, has this transferred into ticket sales yet? Right? Like, right, because that's what our customer experience people deal with every day, you're trying to try and to demonstrate the value of all this fan experience effort, all this marketing, all this data, and investment in technologies that you're using? What does it translate into? There's got to be someone, a couple of people, right, Travis, that ask you those questions on a daily basis?

Travis: I would say 100% somebody will ask that question. Yeah, it depends on the, you know, the execution, the channel, you know, some of them we have perfect attribution and great measurement in the digital space. And in other cases, it's a little harder, I think, in this case, it'll be interesting. We, our kind of plan and hope is to be able to look at people who, let's say, didn't watch the PGA tour last season, and then did watch the Netflix documentary, and then subsequently tuned in to one of our events. You know, I think that's a data that we should be able to get our hands on now, you know, taking people who watched the Netflix documentary, and then trying to figure out if they bought a ticket out to a tournament locally, that could be a much harder attribution exercise. But I think there'll be certain elements that we'll be able to kind of map to a new engagement and new fandom.

Related Article: 4 Customer Engagement Tactics That Work, According to Marketing Execs

Customer Experience Rollouts That Paid Off

Dom: Yeah. And in terms of, you know, those unique fan experiences that you're always trying to provide. Give us an example of one or two of those recent unique fan experiences that were maybe you thought in the beginning what might have been a gamble, and it's paid off or something you rolled out and hey, you know, what wasn't what we expected. We had some surprises in there. A lot of people Travis uptalking to us about Metaverse, related experiences, things like that, like something way off the charts new. What's the big fish for you right now?

Travis: We're certainly, we've got an innovation team. That's, you know, looking at metaverse, and how best to kind of capitalize on that, you know, I think for us, well, I know, it's something we haven't fully capitalized on yet, but I just think is a massive opportunity. And that's betting, with the proliferation and the, you know, rollout of legalized betting sports betting across states. And then just looking at the sport of golf, and it's really tailor-made for betting. When you think about it, you know, you can bet on head-to-head matchups for guys in the same group, you can bet on winners, you can bet on who's going to be leading after each round. There's so many possibilities. And I just see that as just a massive opportunity for us going forward to not just provide fans, you know, another way to engage but to increase engagement because we know people have bet on sports spend more time, you know, checking scores on the leaderboard, they spend more time watching the telecast, they spend more time streaming so I think we're always competing for more share of somebody's time. Like we're trying to get more of people's time and I think you know, that's going to be just a tremendous hook for us going forward in a way to really grow engagement and grow our fan base.

Related Article: 4 Ways the Metaverse Can Enhance the Customer Experience

New Methods of Engagement Following Massive Cancellations

Michelle: I mean, I’ve been seeing that so much anymore — betting on sports. I know a lot of people that use the different apps for it now or people that play the fantasy leagues. It's not something I know very much about. But I can see people being really into that, especially now we're starting to get back into these in-person experiences. But for so long, everything was canceled. And people were looking for new ways to start engaging with the brands that they liked the most.

Dom: I think there's gonna be no more in-person one of these days. We're just not going to have anything in-person. We're just going to play in the metaverse. 

Travis: Yeah, probably right. Now, I think that's another you know, for us too. Just in terms of cultivating new fans, the on-site experience, attending a golf tournament is really cool. No matter how interested you are in golf, you know, we have people that will come for a concert at one of our events, or they'll come and just drink cocktails and eat food and barely watch a shot of golf, but have a great time. And then you've got people who, you know, will follow their favorite player on the golf course. And each tournament kind of has its own local feel and experience and that we've tried to kind of customize based on who's attending in each market, but it's just that's another great way where we've been able to create a lot of cool new experiences and cultivate new fans.

Dom: Yeah, Travis, is that something like they're at an event. And if they're on the mobile app, they can get live updates, like head over to you know, hole three or something like that, like in-person like real-time updates for the in-person fan experiences?

Travis: Yeah, for sure. No, people, they'll use the app, there's an on-site geotargeted experience that helps people navigate the golf course figure out which players are on which hole, figure out, you know, where all the concessions, the food and beverage stuff is so and we've done experimenting with AR and VR on-site, and how can you enhance the experience through different technologies as well. So I think we kind of use that as a way to engage different types of fans and hopefully bring new people into the fold. 

Artificial Intelligence Fuels Personalize Customer Experience 

Dom: A big part of the conversation with our readers in customer experience is infusing artificial intelligence. Are you guys dabbling into that at all?

Travis: Yeah, definitely. In the back half of this year, we're going to be rolling out a new project we're calling digital evolution rolling out a new website and a new app. And, you know, I think as we move forward, like the opportunity for us to use AI to deliver more personalized experiences, you know, if we can understand who a fan's favorite player is, and then deliver them customized personalized content about that athlete, whether it's through email or on our app, or through our website, I think there's a lot of opportunity, and definitely something we're kind of looking at moving forward here.

Dom: Just a heads up if you ever wanted, or the PGA Tour wants to personalize for Dom Nicastro when I visit your web page, just put a golf cart and a can of beer on it, throw in a couple slices, I'm converted, I'm a converted PGA fan, if that ever happens.

Travis: Love that. I love it.

Related Article: What's Next for Artificial Intelligence in Customer Experience?  

The Takeaway: Opportunities for Improved Customer Experience

Michelle: So Travis, we're starting to wrap up here a little bit. So we want to give you a chance to give one big takeaway for our listeners, what's one thing that they need to know walking away from this podcast?

Travis: I think the opportunity is just tremendous both for the tour and you know, other sports leagues or other businesses, just the opportunity to use research to use data, and really merge the two and deliver an improved customer experience is — there's so much opportunity here today, whether it's through innovative new technology platforms, or just access to better data on consumers. You know, I just think there's such an opportunity to, you know, improve the experience and really, so for us an expectation that our fans have of us that we will continue to deliver better, more personalized experiences. And I'm just excited about kind of the opportunities that lay ahead of us in that regard.

Michelle: Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you, Travis for your time today and giving us some insights into how the PGA Tour drives fan engagement. We'd like to give you an opportunity to share with listeners where they can follow your thought leadership and anything exciting you'd like to share PGA wise for the holiday season.

Travis: Yeah, so I'm definitely out there on LinkedIn. And we're excited about some changes that we just announced for next year to kind of the competitive format of the PGA Tour and our business, you know, has never been stronger and more people are taking up the game of golf and playing themselves and you know, it's just a great sport and we're heading into a fun era with a lot of great world-class young talent on tour so definitely excited about what the future holds.

Dom: Sweet, awesome. Travis, Michelle, everybody in the background. Thank you for another edition of CX Decoded. Travis, we can't thank you enough for taking the time, know you're a busy guy and I know our listeners and readers here at CMSWire are gonna benefit from listening to you and your actionable takeaway. So I thank you so much.

Travis: Thanks for having me; really enjoyed the conversation. 

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