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How text analytics helped the Atlanta Falcons become the NFL’s number 1 team for fan experience

A fan wearing black with their hands in the air looking into a stadium to represent fan experience.

Knowing what your guests think of an event is vital to helping you continuously improve them. Whether it’s concert enjoyment, theater show satisfaction or sports fan experience, listening to feedback and acting on it is vital to attract new and returning guests.

Much of this feedback comes in the form of surveys. However, extracting key themes and trends from tens of thousands of open-ended responses manually is a time-consuming task that can be subject to human bias.

Text analysis software like Relative Insight means these challenges are a thing of the past. To demonstrate how text analysis can help you to act on customer feedback, we spoke to Pierce Nunnery, Director of Fan Experience at Arthur M Blank Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE).

Pierce and his team gather feedback from all major activities held at Mercedes Benz Stadium, including Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United games, concerts and other events.

Since the team began using text analysis to uncover insights from fan experience surveys, the Atlanta Falcons have been ranked the number one team for fan experience in the NFL. In this interview, Pierce discusses what the team do, how text analytics software has enhanced the way they work, and some of the changes enacted based on fan feedback.

What does your role at AMBSE entail?

My role is to be the voice of Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United fans through all of our major events – and also for our season ticket holders away from event days.

As members come to an event we’ll send them a post-event survey, they’ll give us their feedback and we’re responsible for analyzing that, reporting on that and then also trying to operationalize that data into making meaningful change around the event day experience so that fans coming to the stadium have the best possible experience.

In addition to our event day operations, we look into our members’ experience away from the stadium – so how are they feeling valued by the organization.

Whether they’re an Atlanta United season ticket member or an Atlanta Falcons season ticket member, we want to understand what are those key drivers and benefits that they derive value from, so that we’re able to enhance those, really drive impact so that they continue to return to us and be happy with their experience as a season ticket member.

Can you tell us a bit more about what fan experience is? How important are fan experience surveys in informing this?

Fan experience is focused on the full driveway-to-driveway experience that our guests and fans take when they come to the Mercedes Benz Stadium. We’re focused on finding solutions to any issues that arise from people attending events here.

Whether it’s bad traffic and how we could’ve communicated on the front-end about alternate routes, whether it’s how to get into the event seamlessly, making sure the food and beverage process is a great, etc. If they have any issues on event day how to find resolution for those.

We also want to find other enhancements and innovations that really drive satisfaction of our attendees on an event day. That is what the department is focused on.

We use our survey data to help drive and understand what’s positively impacting the experience, what’s a negative hindrance to the experience and understanding what we can do to remove any barriers to having a great experience here as much as possible.

How many events do you run every year?

We typically run around 50 major events every season. This includes our NFL and MLS seasons, plus as many concerts and college football events and major third-party events that we can host to provide as many experiences to fans at the stadium as possible.

How were you analyzing those surveys before you used Relative Insight?

It was a very tedious process where literally one person was reading every single verbatim in order to come to a synopsis of what fans were telling us.

They’d come up with themes and key areas that people were talking about, splitting the data in Excel to understand different issues.

Why did you choose Relative Insight?

It was a little moment of serendipity. The individual on our team responsible for post-event analysis and summaries got an amazing opportunity outside the organization that they were going to take.

It just so happened at that time that someone from Relative Insight reached out to us, to let us know about their services to help us analyze our verbatim feedback.

That helped us to be able to quickly summarize the data that we were getting from our fans and understand what fans were telling us, how that changed from event to event, game to game, season to season.

Text analysis of this type completely removes the human bias that can come into play when you’re reading through thousands of verbatims, trying to derive a theme out of it and you just get stuck on one or two key points that stand out to the individual. Instead, the tool summarizes everything that’s received from the event and without any bias. It’s helped us become so much more efficient in our post-event summaries.

How did you use Relative Insight to analyze surveys?

Thanks to the capabilities within the platform, not only did we use it to high-level compare one event to the season or an event to an event – just the simple, basic functions. Because it freed up so much time, we then started to dive in deeper to some of the understandings of different groups and how they talked.

What did a promoter say that was different than a detractor? What did a club member say differently to a non-club member? What did a 100-level season ticket member say that was different to a 300-level season ticket member? What did a single game buyer say that was different from a season ticket member?

As we had so much more time to run analysis, since it wasn’t one person reading through every verbatim, we started just to make comparisons to try to see what we could learn.

By comparing verbatims from different groups to see what they were talking about, we could identify what was more impactful for them from an event perspective and then being able to focus our efforts on those items.

What are the most interesting insights you’ve uncovered using Relative Insight?

First and foremost is the different way fans talk.

Being able to understand what moved the needle was different for fans on each level – we couldn’t just run with a one-size-fits-all concept. We had to be able to customize the event experience for these different groups to make the experience feel unique to that group, based on what they were telling us.

Similarly, when we look away from event day, we’re looking at what does a club member say that’s different from a non-club member, what do they value differently?

This helps us to say: ‘Okay, if we really want to change the perception of a season ticket member, in this area and in this section, we need to do these things.’

It could be that we need to engage them more during the week, not just on event day, or we need to engage them more on event day – for example they want to see a service representative in their section on an event day and that helps them to feel connected to the team.

Debiasing this data is crucial. It’s helped try to change misconceptions that somebody may feel off the data. We can say: ‘Hey, what we’re actually seeing the fans saying that’s more impactful to their experience is these five areas, as opposed to this one which is actually on the decline based on the data we’ve input into the system’.

How did you act on the insights you found using Relative Insight?

One of the biggest things Relative Insight has allowed us to do is not waste time on things that aren’t meaningful and impacting fans’ experience here at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

We’re able to focus our efforts on issues that are driving the guest experience and the major problems people want to see solved to have a seamless experience.

When we look at some of our concert experiences, sometimes with the data it’s about what’s not being said has an impact for us.

As an example, when we have a concert, the floor gets turned into field seating. Usually, we have players on the field and there isn’t a need for restrooms in that area, but when it’s a concert and we have fans on the field that have seats there, we need to be able to bring in a lot of restrooms to make that experience desirable for fans.

That kept coming up in verbatims, people talking about restrooms, talking about the cleanliness and different factors around the restroom experience, so we put a lot of effort and attention into solving that problem.

When we saw from verbatims at the next event that people weren’t talking about restrooms as much anymore, that it became less of an issue for our fans, we felt like the steps we’d taken to solve that issue were impactful and created better fan experience here at the stadium.

In what way did text analysis help you become the number one NFL team for fan experience?

It helped us make decisions based on data. We can now vehemently prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this action is going to help these fans who didn’t have a great experience last time – they talked about this more, so let’s modify that area.

If someone had a counter opinion, it helped to show ‘that’s not what fans are telling us’. We can use the analysis from Relative Insight to state: This is what they’re telling us matters to them, this is where they’re saying their experience is hindered, this is what we have as data proof. If we make this change, based on the feedback we have, it’s going to drive a better experience on event day.

I don’t think anybody thought it would propel us to the top as fast as it did. We’re obviously very thrilled that we made those changes and saw the impact, with fans noticing the changes that we made and rating us well for them.

Being able to use the text analysis to understand what fans were telling us as a part of their experience, and implementing changes based on their feedback, as opposed to trying a ‘hope for the best’ strategy helped us.

In getting the data and understanding what our fans are telling us about their experience; we could defend going down the path of “our fans want this; we’re giving that to them”. That’s a key value for the Blank family of businesses — to listen and respond. Whether that’s to an associate, or to a guest within Mercedes Benz Stadium, or in any of our businesses; listen and respond to what we’re being told.

Having reached the top with the Atlanta Falcons, what’s your next step?

Obviously, to stay there! The goal is always to reach number one and now that we have done that, we want to stay at number one. Arthur Blank has a saying that “there is no finish line”. We’re so proud of the accomplishment of being able to get to that number one ranking, but we have no appetite to give it up.

We want to repeat having the number one overall gameday fan experience in the NFL and of continue to build on the experience here at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

We’re going to continue to look at the data, understand the key drivers to guest satisfaction and look implement those changes.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t use currently use text analysis?

First and foremost: How are you settling debates? If you have two people saying ‘we should go down this path for this reason’ or ‘we should go down this path because of that feedback’, how are you coming to a resolution on that? What are you using to base your decisions on?

If it’s just the score alone then it may not tell you the way to improve. What text analysis does for us is that it goes beyond just the 1-10 rating. It tells us that the fan who’s rating us negatively is saying this about their experience, the fan who rates us positively says this about their experience, and it just helps us to settle debates.

Also, how much time are spending trying to get to the resolution? I know that before using Relative Insight we were reading through every single verbatim that we got. We spent a lot of time trying to manually decide on themes, trying to come up with the way things were shifting, and to discern what fans were talking about.

It has saved us so much time — to be able to upload our survey feedback into the platform and seeing quickly a synopsis of what fans are saying. Being able to compare it to similar events, compare it to seasons. Quickly understanding what people are saying about their experience, and why they say it, is huge.

How much time are you spending on trying to learn feedback without simply doing your own self-analysis of the data? What time could you save if you had a platform able to spit that out for you and tell you the things people are talking about and the key performance indexes to focus on to make a better fan experience possible.

How much are you spending of your time on something when you could be doing something else? Or learning more? You have more time to learn where you can implement change, rather than just identifying what needs to change.  

Struggling to analyze fan feedback? Not getting the most from your surveys? Claim a free trial of Relative Insight’s text analytics software to unlock actionable insights from your surveys.

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