Airlines, hotels, rental-car companies and fast-food joints have long understood a simple premise: A good product is even better with enhancements—extra miles, an upgrade, free large fries with your burger combo. Now sports teams are realizing that fan appreciation days might be enough to make fans come, but not enough to make them come back.
Enter AIM Technologies, Inc., a three-year-old Austin-based company that designs fan loyalty programs, helping teams and sponsors better understand sports fans, who in turn are compensated for their loyalty. AIM has developed FanCards. These are available at stadiums and arenas, given free to fans who fill out a detailed questionnaire about themselves and their preferences. When a fan swipes his or her card at the FanCard interactive kiosk in the sports venue and answers a few more questions on the screen, the kiosk spits out a rewards coupon that matches the card user's "profile" and team allegiance. A beer drinker at his second game of the season might get a Budweiser T-shirt, while a Little Leaguer attending his 50th game of the year might get a coupon for a free baseball glove. Fans receive increasingly valuable coupons for their continued support, and teams and sponsors get detailed demographic information about their clientele.
AIM is the brainchild of three Northwestern B-school graduates: Todd Caven, 30; Matt Gephardt, 29, son of U.S. House minority leader Dick Gephardt; and Matt Hood, 30. All three serve as vice presidents; Tim Keyes, 30, a Stanford soccer teammate of Caven's, is AIM's president. Among AIM's clients are three teams in major league baseball, six in the NBA, two in the NHL, one in MLS and more than 30 in the minor leagues, as well as the University of Texas and the Mesquite (Texas) Rodeo.
The Oakland A's signed with AIM in April 1998, after eight years of diminishing attendance, and the team estimates that the FanCard program has brought in an extra $1 million in ticket and merchandise sales. The San Antonio Spurs, looking to win back fans after the lockout, recruited AIM's services in late 1998, generating an additional $300,000 in ticket revenue.
The assurance of premiums and of the confidentiality of their names and addresses has prompted 200,000 sports fans, 67.5% of whom are not season-ticket holders, to sign up for FanCards. For Joyce Wilson, a retired office manager from Castro Valley, Calif., using this plastic has become an addiction. Last season she went to all 81 A's games and qualified for a chance to go to the World Series. Though she lost the drawing—27 other FanCard holders matched her feat—Wilson won free parking vouchers and an engraved plaque. "The game's the main thing," she says, "but I sure got some nice rewards."