Trust in the data: how Pumpjack helps sports teams unlock hidden value
Nick Goggans was driving through the city of Electra, known locally as the pump jack capital of Texas, when inspiration finally struck.
It was summer 2018 and he’d just set up an as-yet-unnamed new venture that could help sports organisations to mine their data for untapped value. But what to call it? Peering through the windscreen he saw nothing but thousands of the ‘nodding donkey’ piston pumps that the state is famous for disappearing into the distance – and right there Pumpjack Dataworks was born.
The phrase ‘data is the new oil’ has become something of a cliché in recent years, but with its headquarters in Fort Worth and a platform that helps to refine and bring information to market for clients across the world, in Pumpjack’s case the links are impossible to ignore. “One of my grandfathers was a wildcatter [somebody who drills exploration wells] and the other was a cardiologist,” says Nick, “so pumping is in our blood.”
Nick has spent his whole career in data analytics, first simply working out how many people had visited a website, then what they did when they were there, and finally who they were. “A lot of time was spent looking at Facebook data and using it to identify people who were more likely to buy specific products, attend events or watch particular videos, “ he says. “We were doing the ‘white-hat wizardry’ that was later turned into a dark art by Cambridge Analytica – but to be the white wizard you need permission from the user, which is what led me into sports.”
Nick found that people had an inherent trust of the sports clubs that they love. Fans were willing to tell them things that they wouldn’t give up to other brands, meaning that the data that the clubs hold is far more accurate than what Facebook, Google or a third-party survey company might know. Not only would fans tell them more, they were also interacting directly with the clubs – buying tickets and replica kits or watching videos on the website – so there was lots of data being created specifically about each individual fan’s activities.
Data with that level of accuracy is a scarce resource, which makes it incredibly valuable. If sports teams were able to bring together all the different, high-quality data sources at scale, that would not only create a better commercial ecosystem between fan, club and sponsor, it would present an opportunity to turn the clubs into the go-to place for any brand that wanted access to those fans.
Nick shared this interest with his friend and Pumpjack co-founder Tom Tercek, who was in charge of digital strategy and product for MSG Sports at the time. The pair would often discuss how they could make better use of the company’s portfolio of legendary teams and world-famous venues, which included the New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall – all incredible data sources but ones that were being kept in different places and only viewed in isolation.
It wasn’t until Nick met with a Dallas-based ticketing start-up in 2018 that he stumbled on what would eventually become Pumpjack Dataworks. “Tixsee were doing some really innovative work with the Dallas Mavericks, specifically around digital ticketing,” he explains. “They had this fantastic back-end mobile analytics system that was all user-based. I saw it as the seed from which we could grow the fan data platform that I’d wanted to build, so I rang Tom and said: ‘I think I've got something.’”
Nick secured some seed money, acquired Tixsee and got to work.
Today, he describes Pumpjack’s core product as a “customer databank” that allows sports businesses to move seamlessly between the granular view of individual fans and the aggregate views of what is happening across the entire fanbase, while also bringing together multiple different data sources into one system.
For example, it can show all of the female fans under the age of 40 in a particular city, who have not only bought a ticket to a game in the past 12 months but have also watched more than 10 minutes of a specific video and purchased a replica home jersey. It also allows a team to monitor how a rightsholder is progressing against a target, such as increasing video views among this specific group.
“The hardest thing is getting people to understand the opportunities that come out of this,” says Nick. “There are three cogs of the system that have never really been in sync until now. On the one hand there is the transactional cog: if you use data well you're able to better sell tickets, match that with packages and membership, and reduce your cost per acquisition of new fans and increase the lifetime value of existing ones.
“On the other hand there is an audience activity cog: who is watching, who is participating, and what are they doing. Then the third cog is the demographics: where they live, what they earn, what car they drive. We're like a clutch that goes between all three of them to make the cogs work together – and when that happens everything goes faster.”
As a result, Pumpjack’s technology makes data more accessible to all departments. Marketing can send more advanced segments to email or multichannel marketing systems; sponsorship can look at the composition, demographics, and behaviours of various target personas in their audience; and sales teams can easily monitor the success of campaigns. It also frees up business intelligence teams to do more value-add activities, such as predictive analysis.
Despite all of its close ties to Texas and the fact that it now works with teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLS, Pumpjack’s business has been distinctly international from the very beginning, with about 70% of its clients coming from overseas. That means Nick has had to create full foreign subsidiaries earlier than normal for the UK and Asian markets, but he believes it has been helpful when it comes to hiring strategies and streamlining international contracts.
“We seek passionate fan bases that traditionally have been undervalued, and where data can drive a significant improvement in commercial performance,” says Nick. “We’ve found the best fits to be brands that are seeking to challenge and innovate.”
They also looked for sleeping giants with huge untapped potential, such as the Williams Formula 1 team and newer properties that wanted to build a fanbase fast, such as David Beckham’s MLS newcomers Inter Miami. Pumpjack has been able to use Miami’s data to push digitally driven membership rates over 60% and this connection is now being used to provide unique campaigns for all of the club’s key sponsors.
With significant competition in the market, the fact that an organisation can install Pumpjack’s platform and have it calibrated to prioritise particular needs is a big differentiator. “Data is as complicated as you want to make it but it can begin simply,” Nick says. “We don't need six months to create and integrate a bespoke plan. Being able to get clients going quickly and then show them some quick wins against their priorities is so important. To be honest, it’s become a bit of an obsession. The latest iteration of our dashboards has been heavily influenced by that.”
As 2021 unfolds, Nick plans to supply Pumpjack’s software to more agencies so they can use it on behalf of any clients that might not feel comfortable using it themselves, with The Sports Consultancy first to sign up. “We know there are lots of agencies at the moment who are helping their clients define their customer personas,” says Nick. “We can help them do so with much better-quality data.”
There are also partnerships with other technology companies, including LoudCrowd and Streamlayer, with more due to be announced in the coming weeks, but the long-term aim for Pumpjack is to become the ‘operating system’ layer that can use data to improve performance across the ‘apps’ of ticketing, merchandise, email, lives treams, push notifications, ad systems and much more.
For now, Pumpjack is focused on how better use of data can help its clients improve their business models and identify new opportunities. “The value in the sports industry is ultimately its fans,” says Nick. “There’s just so much untapped potential.”