The Sharks have enjoyed enormous success in recent times, highlighted by their captivating NRL Grand Final triumph of 2016, however they continue to kick goals away from the field as well.

While combinations were essential in the journey to their famous victory over the Melbourne Storm last October, equally important were the partnerships undertaken in the ‘front office’ as the Sharks brand looked to grow and prosper.

Amongst those partnerships was as association forged between the Sharks and leading engagement platform Marketo, with work conducted between the two in a critical space recently rewarded with a significant industry accolade.

At the recent B&T Ministry of Sports Marketing awards the work done and the giant strides taken by the Cronulla Sharks Club was identified and singled out for the Best Sports Marketing Customer Experience Strategy, with the Sharks and Marketo ‘tackling fan engagement head on’.

Sharks Group Head of Digital Commercialisation, Scott Maxworthy was at the gala awards ceremony held at Randwick Racecourse recently, and was understandably proud that the Club and Marketo had been recognised for the work they were doing in this vital area of the business.

“To be acknowledged for our work in this space with a respected industry award such as this is somewhat humbling,” Maxworthy said. “We saw that sport has an ability to connect with an audience at a deep level, not to mention the commercial benefits that can provide to partners.

“It is satisfying to be recognised and rewarded for what we have been able to achieve. Our work is data driven and based on a customer focused approach.”

In changing tact internally while taking on board the expertise of Marketo, the Sharks have undergone a drastic overhaul of its customer experience marketing.

On the back of a difficult season on the field for the NRL team, a survey conducted in 2014 scored poorly, with fans rating their feelings on key attributes. Result came out showing the Sharks were below NRL averages in overall member satisfaction, value of membership and for being ‘recognised’ by the Club.

The Club then saw the need to give their loyal Members and wider supporter-base an enhanced fan experience, in order to win back their hearts and minds after a disappointing year.

Although the Sharks’ website was attracting 1.2 million web visitors per year, its marketing database contained only 45,000 customer profiles, suggesting that web visitors were not motivated to provide their information or that the Club did not have had the right tools or skills to capture and enrich.

In addition, a disjointed customer journey across the various touchpoints of the Sharks fan experience meant that some passionate supporters were missing out on the full benefits of Club Membership.

Sharks fans expected a welcoming, personalised experience in their Club, with many viewing their football team as an extension of their identity.

In order deliver better experiences, the Sharks chose Marketo to help tackle the problem of fan engagement levels.

Marketo gave the Sharks the ability to gain detailed behavioural information about their online fans, and the Club used these insights in innovative ways to create an enhanced digital customer experience.

Insights were gathered in two major ways: data-led and anecdotal. The Marketo solution tracked and monitored website visitors, capturing robust behavioural data that told the Sharks far more than the previously collected traditional demographic and transactional data.

Using anecdotal observations, the Sharks identified common pain points in the fan experience, particularly on game day. One of the key insights was that around 80 per cent of fans arrive at games only 30 minutes before kick-off, putting pressure on every part of the business, especially the queues for food, beverages, merchandise and tickets, increasing fans’ irritation and decreasing overall enjoyment and experience.

The Club turned its attention to getting people to the game earlier to ensure the experience was improved, not only aiming to make fans happier, but providing more time to visit the merchandise store, purchase additional food, lessening queue time and leading to increased revenue per fan on game day.

The diversity of the fan base, which encompasses a wide range of demographics, geo-location, interests, activities, as well as where the fans choose to watch games, led to an emphasis on personalisation of content. Translating data into actionable insights was a large part of this personalisation strategy.

Delivery of the customer experience became the next challenge, with the Sharks aiming to provide an experience for fans both in the stadium and online that exudes welcome, authenticity, and community.

Using a combination of the data gleaned from Marketo, fan surveys, and logistical restructuring, the Sharks now deliver an exemplary range of customer experiences, including personalised EDMs to Sharks Members and prospects and increasing the number of bars at the stadium to dramatically reduce waiting time for drinks. The later means fans can spend more time with their friends and family at the game.

The Sharks also made a special effort to listen to fans. The Sharks’ CEO responds to every fan email individually and personally, demonstrating a commitment to customer-centricity, creating a ‘no excuses’ accountability throughout the organisation.

Having such strong commitment to customer service demonstrated directly from the CEO, has reinforced a robust culture of continuous feedback loops and accountability.

Each week, livestream shows are broadcasted to fans using Facebook Live Video, regularly accessing Sharks players, coaches, and officials, while including discussion around the benefits of getting to a game early.

Feedback from the customer’s post-experience was another key component, with Sharks with Marketo ‘kicking goals’ across all touchpoints of the customer journey.

That customer journey has been personalised in an exciting way that has led to a substantial growth in both fan data and satisfaction.

The Sharks winning the 2016 NRL Premiership for the first time in their 50-year history sent fans into a frenzy and certainly had an impact on Member satisfaction, however the work done internally and in partnership with Marketo has helped to deliver the significantly improved survey results which have increased across all key indicators.

Premiers on the field, the Sharks now can also boast the number one rank in the NRL for overall Member satisfaction, a 22 per cent increase from 2014, similarly they are ranked first for Game Day atmosphere at home games and report a 23 per cent increase on feeling recognised by the Club.

In terms of digital media communications across the whole NRL, the Sharks also sit on top of the NRL tree.

Whilst initially focused on enhancing relationships with existing fans, an automated membership campaign powered by Marketo included personalised messages and products, a process which yielded a Membership conversion rate increased by 11%. Add $72,000 in new revenue and the number of customer profiles on the system increasing from 45,000 to 79,000 in just the first three months of 2015 alone.

Success is hard earned on the field, with a half a century of heartache for all concerned erased on a special Sunday in October.

In ‘tackling fan engagement head on’ the Sharks, with Marketo by their side, have kicked goals not only on the field, but in the stands and in the hearts and minds of the Club’s many Members and fans.