Originally published on August 6th, 2014 by Jim Tierney of Loyalty360. See original post here.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins launched its fan loyalty program–PensPoints–in February 2013, it marked the first mobile app-based rewards program to surface in professional sports. With a big assist from technology developer LoyalTree–which helped facilitate the integration in CONSOL Energy Center (home of the Penguins) with LoyalTree lead developers Ray Chan and Shriya Joag−PensPoints was poised for success.
David Peart, Senior VP of Sales and Service for the Penguins, told Loyalty360 that there were some anxious moments before the program launch 18 months ago, but those subsided after rapid engagement and program member adoption.
Peart said the PensPoints program currently has about 90,000 members. “It’s grown steadily since we introduced it,” Peart said. “Members have maintained the same sort of activity as far as engagement levels since we launched the program. We are absolutely surprised at the adoption rate, the number of members, and this sort of fan engagement.”
Working with LoyalTree has been a phenomenal experience, Peart said. “We’re also surprised from a technology standpoint because of the amazing flexibility of this mobile platform, how much it’s been adopted internally within our organization, and how proactive LoyalTree has been,” he said.” Peart said the Penguins’ staff, coupled with LoyalTree, has combined to become such a forward-thinking, progressive new media and marketing group that is always abreast of the latest technological advances.
Last month, Peart was honored by The Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology with the InStadium Experience in Innovation award for sponsorship sales connected to the PensPoints loyalty program. The awards cited team executives in the U.S. and Canada who find new ways to leverage technology, new media, and data to drive long-term team value for their sports franchise. “Anytime you’re a pilot program or trying something for the first time, especially from the technological standpoint, there will always be a little bit of hesitancy,” Peart explained. “A lot of this was trial and error for us. As an organization, it (the award) validates all the hard work of the media group and the marketing group related to a willingness to adopt new technology.”
Since PensPoints was the first mobile app-based loyalty program in professional sports, some important lessons have been learned by the Penguins and other professional sports franchises looking to follow suit. “What it says to other teams is there are ways to use technology in this space,” Peart explained. “As an organization, we try to embrace and look for opportunities to use technology and be innovative with technology to solve problems from a business perspective.”
LoyalTree doesn’t require businesses to buy any additional hardware to run the program, and builds custom-fit solutions that allow for a seamless adoption of the program for staff members. PensPoints, which is run through users’ smartphones and uses QR codes, rewards people for things such as attending games, listening to games on the radio, and purchasing concession food and merchandise. If the code is scanned by a generic QR code reader, then it will automatically link the user to buttons to download the PensPoints application for Android or iPhone.
Once the codes are scanned using the PensPoints scanner, then the application interface informs the consumer exactly what they are doing through messaging and interface animations. Fans scan special codes in the app to collect PensPoints–and the program is free to join. Every time a fan earns 100 PensPoints, a new reward voucher is automatically mailed to his or her home. Vouchers can be redeemed throughout Pittsburgh. Special codes are given when PensPoints are earned. Codes will appear in places such as IceTime magazine, on sales receipts, or can be heard over the radio.
Peart said the use of the mobile platform, in and of itself, was the most innovative aspect of the PensPoints loyalty program. “It afforded us the ability to see that this was scalable for multiple applications, not just for admission, but also concessions, and we do retail traffic driving promotions, and watch parties where members can collect points,” he explained. “The mobile platform really makes this very present and always available.” In the past 18 months, Peart said, his staff has learned a considerable amount about the rewards side of the program. “We’ve been able to streamline that and deliver more compelling rewards,” he said. “The gamification aspect of this loyalty program has put it off the charts as far as activity level.”