From The Editor's Desk

How The SF Deltas Failed To Disrupt Sports

With the San Francisco Deltas shutting down operations Nov. 24, 2017, only 2 years after declaring how “tech would disrupt sports,” I hope that there are lessons to be learned from all of this.

I hope that this will create enough pause for those who routinely call out ticket sales operations who have never sold a ticket. Or the idea that simply more technology begets more customer sales.

While I can hope these things, I know that the opposite is true.

It isn’t the sports industry’s fault that it is more attractive to “disrupt” than the insurance or print industry. But that doesn’t make it easier to change up as well.

Back on July 31, 2017, I wrote that I felt the San Francisco Deltas were in trouble. Mainly because their group didn’t listen to anybody in the sports sales space. After all, they were “tech” and “tech” is supposed to “disrupt” an industry, not learn from it.

Therein lies the problem. Yet another potential ownership group that thought you just had to win, show off a ton of technology, and everyone will come through the turnstyles, right?

The SF Deltas did win the NASL Championship. They were located in one of the largest cities in North America. They were in a coastal city that understood soccer and sells out the MLS San Jose Earthquakes and USL Sacramento Republic matches routinely. And yet, the Deltas lost millions.

And their ownership has announced that the team has dissolved after one year on the field, and two years of continually bragging about how they would “disrupt” the sports industry.

Mainly because they ignored the industry, thereby ignoring the fans in that industry.

The Deltas went on the cheap in certain aspects, except in ticket pricing. They chose Eventbrite instead of Ticketmaster. They didn’t have a huge sales staff making group sales calls to guarantee a packed house. They didn’t use a major league style venue to show off their technology, instead using one of the older venues available before most of the technology such as WiFi was invented.

They also gave away free tickets without understanding how the perception decimating that can be to consumer demand. They even tried to get NFL Raiders fans to join them, because sports fans are sports fans, and diehard football fans are always soccer fans, right? They even had a great video announcing the team. But few ticket sales to back it up.

And yet, because they were “tech,” they expected to “disrupt” and win.

None of the folks at the SF Deltas had worked in sports for any other franchise. I question whether they even shadowed another soccer franchise to learn how to engage with customers.

The tech industry customers are not the same as the sports industry customers. Tech customers want one-to-one engagement. Sports customers want to be part of a crowd. There is a difference, and if you open the doors and only a few hundred show up to the venue for a match, word gets around quick.

It did with the Deltas, who openly admitted by August that San Francisco’s population was unaware that they existed. All of that technology, and they couldn’t get anyone to notice them at all.

Did they work on developing a supporters group which soccer is famous for? Did they allow their supporters to fully engage on voting on anything surrounding the team? Or did they focus only on the features that they wanted to see, like augmented reality and stuff that has nothing to do with attending a live event? Some folks sell not to their customers, but to themselves. Look, they even had a 1.0 SF Deltas App which would “disrupt” everything. It did not.

Imagine if I chose to do that in the tech industry. To merely apply sports sales tactics without any notion of learning from the technology sector of Silicon Valley. I doubt I would be anymore successful in the tech industry as the tech owners were at operating a soccer team. You have to learn from an industry, before you can disrupt it.

I don’t profess to have all of the answers. But I do know that the SF Deltas’ ownership group thrived on a ton of “how tech will disrupt sports” blog posts and media articles from 2015 onward. They believed their own hype way too much. I hope, for their sake and others, that eventually, they start to accept their own criticism as well.

That’s the only way you learn in sports business. By failing. Too bad it had to kill off a soccer team that won a defunct league championship in order to possible learn from that mistake.

Funny thing about the SF Deltas, they actually earned more attention from the soccer community by ceasing operations than they did by actually operating. Maybe the next blog post should be “how sports disrupted tech.”

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1 Comment

  1. KT
    December 2, 2017 at 2:53 pm — Reply

    Thanks, Troy.

    Finally, someone who understands what is behind being successful at this level of this sport in this country.

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