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Set Your Airport Apart Using Sporting Events

27 Jun 2019
Victoria Wallace

Airports are increasingly ramping up their engagement in major sporting events in order to boost their competitive advantage, position themselves as the preferred travel gateway, and avoid passenger leakage to nearby airports.

Sponsorship is a common avenue. In the States, airports partner with NFL teams and airlines such as Emirates sponsor massive events like the FA cup.

In 2019, Scotland’s principal long-haul hub, Glasgow Airport, is to sponsor The Solheim Cup, the World’s biggest tournament for women’s golf. Many of the event’s 100,000 spectators will arrive in Scotland via GLA before continuing north to Gleneagles.

In the run-up to the tournament, which is a biennial event, Solheim Cup 2019 advertising has been heavily featured in and around the airport since March, reaching approximately 5 million people.

This is not the first time the airport has supported a high-profile sporting event. In 2014, GLA partnered with the Commonwealth Games, and 2018 saw it working with the European Championship.

One advantage for the airport is that these partnerships expand its reach, cementing its profile as gateway to Scotland and highlighting the wealth of experiences, attractions and activities Scotland has to offer.

These partnerships are attractive to sporting events and clubs too. The ongoing competition for fan base and support is particularly challenging for organisers of annual, biennial or one-off tournaments.

The organisers of these events need to keep their fans engaged and draw new fans when there is a significant amount of time between one event and the next. The footfall and operational and marketing capabilities that airports offer are extremely valuable in building profile, fan loyalty and excitement around events.

Whether or not your airport is offering sponsorship, there is still a lot you can do within your marketing to harness the potential of a major event taking place within your region. This can be a chance to really engage with local people, represent your country or city, introduce travellers to your brand, and set your reputation as world class.

In February 2019, Cardiff welcomed the Six Nations rugby tournament. The airport accommodated the first Welsh home match of the event by scheduling extra flights for Scottish supporters travelling into Cardiff on airlines including Jet 2 and Flybe, from Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Over 50 extra flights were chartered for the Ireland vs Wales match on Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Flybe. In total, Cardiff captured more than 11,000 Welsh rugby fans who flew through the airport to watch Wales in action against Italy, France and Scotland.

As Rezcomm’s Travel Partner, Cardiff Airport benefited from our industry expertise and profited from having an integrated, fully-managed travel platform. If you are interested in exploring how Rezcomm can support you in expanding your profile, get in touch!

The Wales vs France game saw the biggest influx of passengers, with over 10,000 additional fans travelling through the airport. For this date, Cardiff added 85 extra flights with 11 airlines.

The airport also boasted its brand new extended departure area and improved customer service. The new departure area was completed the month before the event, giving teams and fans travelling during the tournament the chance to enjoy an extended Executive Lounge as well as a greater retail and food and beverage offering.

A high profile competition, in partnership with FlyBe gave fans the chance to win a place in the Cardiff Airport Kicking Challenge at half time. CAL invited fans to reply to their Tweet using the hashtag #FlyMeFlybefromCardiffAirport, for a chance to win a pair of return flight tickets to any destination from Cardiff airport.

Harnessing Sporting Events – Some Marketing Ideas

If a major sporting event takes place in your region once or twice per year, there are two things you can do to harness it to your advantage.

1. Make the most out of the event while it is happening

While the event is happening you should make sure that passengers travelling to the event have the best possible experience. This begins with brand awareness, alerting them to the fact they can trust you as their travel provider. They then need to be able to book flight and other relevant travel products on a user-friendly platform. By creating a frictionless travel experience you will boost your reputation and ensure you retain customers next time they travel to the event.

Remember, the best time to engage people for the next scheduled event can be while the current tournament is at its peak. With so many fans travelling through your terminal building and using your airport website and apps, this is the perfect opportunity to market to a captive audience. Use confirmation, update and Wi-Fi sign-up emails to offer promotions, discounts and information about upcoming events.

2. Engage your passengers between events
In fact, while emotions are running high around a sporting event, it’s the perfect time to offer special offers for travel to the next event. You can also partner with hotels and ground transport to offer a one-stop travel shop for fans. You could even consider rewarding repeat customers with a loyalty package or VIP treat such as a free drink or item of branded merchandise.

When fans book through your airport website, you also have the chance to capture valuable data from those people. Rezcomm’s sophisticated passenger profiling will then enable you to market future events to these customers based on their personal interests. A passenger who has travelled to see his or her team play at a special tournament is likely to follow that team passionately and will welcome timely communications about travel plans for upcoming events. With Rezcomm’s integrated systems, these can be sent as automated email workflows, and can be highly personalised and add real value to the customer.

Segment your customer base

It’s important to differentiate between the two strategies of growing your passenger base and retaining current customers. Your existing customers already know you and have established an emotional connection to your airport through the event. You wouldn’t send them emails in the same language as you do new customers.

Make sure to define which messages are aimed at each group, and adjust your tone and content as appropriate. When you communicate with different targeted customer segments in a personalised, relevant way, the recipients of your marketing emails will feel special and will be more likely to respond and convert.

Ask for feedback

One of the most effective methods for monitoring customer experience is asking for direct feedback. Again, use automated email workflows to ask passengers how their experience was, whether they had any problems and how you could improve next time. This gives your airport vital data around customer pain points that will help you to improve customer experience and retention year-on-year. It also tends to divert passengers from complaining about any negative experiences on social media.

Remember to incentivise feedback with loyalty points, a free gift or special offer to get the most from your campaign.

Leverage social media

User generated content is great publicity, especially given that word of mouth and personal recommendations are very powerful marketing tools. Make sure you leverage social media to engage with sports fans and promote your airport as the travel portal of choice for the event.

Ensure that you have the resources to respond to messages, complaints and queries in real time – whether that is using a dedicated member of staff or a chatbot.

Consider running competitions where passengers can win prizes when they share images, videos or other content under a specific hashtag.

Create a cutting-edge fan experience

Events that take place annually or biennially need to make an impact in order to stick in the minds of fans long after the day has passed. With so many sporting events in the calendar, it’s necessary to make the experiences around each unique.

One way to achieve this is to harness technology. VR pods in the terminal or VR app features linking to the sport can create powerful, immersive experiences for fans.

Berlin football team, Hertha Berlin went to extremes here. The team offered a promotion for one fan to win a lifetime season ticket, but with the catch that this came as a QR code tattooed onto the winner’s arm. Naturally this approach gained a lot of attention on social media, building a real buzz around the club.

Sports events are also increasingly using technology to deliver real-time data insights and statistics to fans during the event. This forms an immersive, omnichannel experience. This sort of data delivery is already familiar to airports that supply flight and departure updates via a mobile app. App functions could be broadened for customers who are attending the event to include live sports updates.

The time between events is vital

One of the most important things to remember when marketing around sports events is the value of the time between events. These months are where you grow your customer base and build your marketing strategy.

Develop new partnerships

It’s also a time when your airport can consider new partners, whether you’re integrating new team members, considering sponsorship or working with new technology associates. The months in between your events are the perfect opportunity to nurture new relationships that will help harness the full potential of sporting events and enhance customer and fan experience.

Promote smaller events

You could consider working alongside smaller events too, offering competitions and discounts to promote interest in flights to local matches or tournaments. This gives you a good way to stay closely in touch with the sports fans in your marketing database, and can also help your airport to support its local economy.

Carefully planned marketing and promotions around smaller sporting events can underpin your airport’s reputation as the go-to travel option for the world-class tournaments. It will also give you the chance to try out content, material and ideas for larger events on a smaller scale.

Use technology to improve your marketing

It’s important to leverage the right technology in order to develop an effective marketing strategy around sporting events. While sports fall under the category of leisure, many people consider the airport as an avenue for holiday or business travel, so marketing your airport as a natural partner for sport may mean adjusting customer expectation.

An integrated flight booking system like Rezcomm will help strengthen your marketing campaigns, providing valuable data insights about sales and customer behaviour and allowing you to make data-driven business decisions.

The CRM capabilities in Rezcomm’s combined omnichannel ecommerce platform solution will help you to understand your customers, so you can build fan/passenger profiles and better target anyone who might be interested in flying to sporting events using your airport. This, in turn, presents a more customer-centred approach, which can give you the competitive edge against other airports or ground transport options.

Rezcomm is the partner of choice for airports worldwide. Our team are experts in supporting airport sales and marketing through smart, intuitive tech. If you have any questions about how you can use our integrated platform to harness the potential of events near you, contact us for a chat.