The Detroit Pistons Are Sending Emails That Change Every Time Fans Check Them

Movable Ink powers dynamic game-day communication

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The company that owns the Detroit Pistons wants to keep fans better informed and more engaged at games—from being able to stand in line at restrooms without losing track of what's happening on the court, to keeping an eye on traffic around the arena. And it thinks it's found the answer: email.

In partnership with Movable Ink, which helps brands create emails that can be updated in real time after they're sent, Palace Sports and Entertainment turned what had been a static pregame email into what it now touts as a "real-time, dynamic second-screen experience" for fans.

The team owner launched its new game-day email, the Interactive Gameday Guide, earlier this season with the aim of improving fan experience and engagement before, during and after games. On Thursday, the company became an Email Marketing Program Award winner for its efforts, winning the Email Experience Council's award for "most innovative use of customer or other data" at the organization's Email Evolution Conference in New Orleans.

"We really wanted to take our pre-event communications specific to the Pistons and step it up to the next level," Mike Donnay, vp of brand networks for Palace Sports and Entertainment, told Adweek. "Our previous emails were doing a good job; they had good engagement. But for the most part, they were very static."

The new game-day email is anything but. Using Movable Ink to pull in real-time data, the email goes out to ticket holders a couple hours before tip-off and updates every time a recipient opens or reloads it. Before the game, the email shows team matchups, records, stats and info about attending the game. During a game, it shows live scores and stats for all 10 players on the floor at any given point. And when the matchup's over, it displays the final box score.

"It's complementing everything that we're doing from a dot-com and mobile perspective," Donnay said. "How do we keep fans engaged? How do we surprise and delight them? In our mind, this was the best way to do that."

The email also features a live traffic map to help fans find the optimal route in and out of the arena, something Donnay sees as a vital component. And it's something Palace Sports—which also owns entertainment venues like The Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons play home games—is rolling out for concertgoers thanks to its success.

"As we surveyed our fans, one of the pain points that we always run into from a fan-experience perspective is ingress and egress, which is common with any venue," Donnay said. "Obviously, when you're trying to get 15,000 to 18,000 people into one place at one time, there's always going to be a little bit of congestion. But at any given point, you can open up that email in real time, and if there's congestion or a traffic accident on the freeway, they can see the best route to actually clear the venue."

Palace Sports tracked the emails over a six-game stretch just after it launched the campaign and saw results that manager of e-marketing Jason Scott described as "pretty significant pretty quick," including an 18 percent increase in click-through rate, a 45 percent increase in engagement time and a 49 percent increase in mobile engagement compared with its previous pregame emails.

"We always want to have a multichannel approach with, the mobile app, etcetera, but why not provide it, if we have the ability, within that email?" Scott said, adding that the stats continue to be strong, increasing slightly since the initial tests.

Movable Ink account manager Elizabeth Tashik said the Pistons' Interactive Gameday Guide was "a top-use case" for her company.

"Our goal is to make every email communication extremely relevant and one-to-one and personal and effective, and I think that we achieved that here," Tashik said. "Basically, we're trying to help marketers have those one-on-one conversations with their consumers in the consumers' way. We decide as consumers when to engage with a brand when it comes to email. Why not make that conversation relevant to what's happening to them at the time of open instead of at the time of send?"

@ejwander Erik Wander is the digital features editor at Adweek where he oversees Adweek's Story Desk.