Sports are on hold. How are teams keeping fans engaged?

Sports marketers use Oracle Eloqua to create their own “David Ayres Moments.”

By Linda Currey Post | June 2020

Sports are on hold. How are teams keeping fans engaged?

Emergency backup goaltender Dave Ayres #90 of the Carolina Hurricanes

On February 22, 2020, David Ayres, a 42-year-old Canadian who operates the Zamboni ice-grooming machine at National Hockey League (NHL) games, had the kind of miracle moment that most amateur athletes only dream about. After he prepared the rink for a Saturday night match between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ayres took a break downstairs—so he didn’t see the injuries that sidelined James Reimer and then Petr Mrazek, goaltenders for the Hurricanes.

“I had a couple of text messages that said, ‘get in there,’” Ayres said after the game. “I was in the media room by myself and a guy came in and said, ‘get going.’ Then I walked down the tunnel. It was wild.”

He threw on some borrowed gear and, after a rough start, Ayres, a kidney-transplant survivor, bounced back, making eight saves for the 6-3 win. He cemented his name in hockey history as the first emergency backup goaltender to record a win in the NHL.

Following the game, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they would start selling T-shirts with Ayres’ name and jersey number 90, donating a portion of the proceeds to a kidney foundation of Ayres’ choice.

Media outlets around the world covered the story, portraying Ayres as a lucky Zamboni driver who jumped in and saved the game, making him an immediate folk hero. Most coverage didn’t mention that Ayres is no stranger to the game: He grew up playing ice hockey, manages the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, coaches a bantam hockey team, fills in at NHL practice games, and is listed as an emergency backup goaltender. Nevertheless, the story gave fans something to cheer about.

“David Ayres Moments”

Creating that kind of fan enthusiasm is a sports marketer’s dream, says Clark Morey, an Oracle application sales representative who sells fan experience software, including Oracle Eloqua, to sports teams—to help marketers create their own “David Ayres Moments,” as Morey calls them.


“Sports fans are committed and involved. They are the only customers I know who are willing to have their favorite team logo tattooed on their bodies.”

Clark Morey, Application Sales Representative, Oracle

That’s been tough to do this year as most major sports franchises are sidelined because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With no live games, sports marketers are turning to digital activities to keep fans interested and engaged.

Indeed, fans have been so hungry for sports that they actually look forward to receiving emails from team marketers, Morey says. During the break in live games, the open rate of Eloqua marketing emails to season ticket holders of sports teams owned by Monumental Sports—which include the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the NBA’s Washington Wizards, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics—has soared to 88%.

That’s where Eloqua software, a part of Oracle Customer Experience (CX) Marketing, comes in. Eloqua allows sports marketers to gather detailed fan information they can use to tailor email messages to individuals. If the marketer knows a fan’s favorite player is Wayne Gretzky, for example, Eloqua can send a message that includes links to Wayne Gretzky merchandise. Or if a fan calls with a question about tickets, the service rep can instantly look up the fan’s entire ticket-buying history and make informed small talk while solving the issue. Soon, Morey says, a simple phone call turns into a memorable interaction—a David Ayres moment for marketing.

36: The number of professional sports teams using the new Eloqua Sports Marketing User Group to share ideas on generating fan involvement.

“Sports fans are committed and involved. They are the only customers I know who are willing to have their favorite team logo tattooed on their bodies,” Morey says.

Morey works with 36 sports teams that are using Oracle Eloqua to communicate with fans during the hiatus. He recently organized a new Eloqua Sports Marketing User Group, and the members have a conference call every Friday to share good ideas.

“The members ask great questions,” Morey says. “They network and share ideas. Their teams compete on the field or on the ice, but the marketers don’t compete for audiences. They’re helping each other.”

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Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Linda Currey Post

Linda Currey Post

Linda Currey Post is an award-winning science and technology writer and a content strategist for Oracle.