3 Ways the Detroit Pistons are Using Data to Activate Fans & Sponsors

In my recent interview on the Happy Market Research Podcast with Shelly Bouren, Head of Research for the Detroit Pistons, she gave a transparent view of how the Detroit Pistons are using market research to engage both Fans and Sponsors. 

While relatively new to the world of market research, Bouren has a strong background in analytics from her experience in banking. This unorthodox background gives her a unique view of how and where insights should be integrated into the business to improve outcomes for both customers and owners. Her approach to research is both accessible and practical for us all. 

As part of, and an industry-leading, data & analytics department, Bouren manages research for all of the Detroit Pistons’ business departments; including operations/guest experience, marketing, entertainment, ticket sales, and sponsorship sales. 


This moniker is the hallmark of modern researchers. However, Bouren, takes this to a whole new level. On the walls of the office you’ll find signs like this,

Bouren says,

“Without context, the amount of data that is generated each season can be overwhelming. When current results were shared, there was a lot of head-nodding, and not a lot of action being taken.” 

By clearly and publicly articulating the rubric of research, you create a self-policing culture of action. It also creates a constant reminder to executives that, “We use research” to make decisions. This supports a culture of data driven decisions and supports the continued investment in research when budget time comes around.


Having worked with hundreds of companies, this is harder in some and easier in others. It all depends on the transparency of the organization and degree of access you have to executive staff.

Bouren has designed her research around 6 questions which gives the Detroit Pistons clarity and opportunity to improve. She displays each question as a cog. If the machine of business is going to run efficiently, then we must invest in insights:

“Who are our customers?”

“Are we reaching them?”

The adage, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” is vital when it comes to maximizing your Ad spend. 

  • TV/Radio Ratings
  • Social Measures
  • Media Monitoring

One trend I’ve heard over the last 50 interviews is that top firms are measuring not just the topline returns but also measuring at the individual level. For example, if you are selling in a B2B environment, LinkedIn now has a Social Selling solution which gives you a view of a target company’s org chart and the ability to be notified when buyers post or interact.

HACK: If you want to sell to P&G, start interacting with the buyers on social. This helps build a non-threatening relationship, informs you about who they are and what they care about (both professionally and socially), and will make your first meeting feel a lot more like a meeting among friends.

“What do they think of us?”

Don’t have your finger on the pulse of the consumer? SAP’s CEO, Bill McDermott, feels it is so important they paid $8 billion for Qualtrics on a $400 million-dollar gross revenue. Honestly, there simply isn’t anything more important that knowing how your customers are feeling about you.

  • Fans: Brand Health Study
  • Attendees: Pistons Gameday Survey; Secret Shoppers; NBA Game Experience Study
  • Members: Fan Loyalty Tracker; Rewards Survey
  • Groups: NBA Group Leader Survey; Group Planning Surveys
  • Partners: Sponsor Satisfaction Study

HACK: Social listening is so important and easy to implement. If you say, “but I’m not on social,” you and your firm are in trouble. According to Edwin Wong, head of insights for Buzzfeed, “We created the largest Facebook group by simply going where the people are and talking about what they care about.” Your customers are on social and they are talking. Be there and engage…your competition is. 

“Do sponsorships benefit them?”

Havas Media improved their win rate by 50% by incorporating data into their pitches.

Brand Amplification Study; Sponsor Lift/Eval Study; Sponsor Recaps; Asset Valuations

“How can we grow?”

The rate of innovation is by no means slowing down. Voice, AI, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, etc. are changing the way consumers interact with the world. By allocating resources here, the organization is ensuring it is well prepared for these changes and whatever else might come up.

Prospecting Surveys; Campaign Support; Marketing Concept Testing

“What is our culture?”

Bouren put this cog at the bottom of the slide. In fact, it really isn’t number 6. It is the underpinnings of the whole machine. Being customer focused is not enough. You must have an engaged workforce.

Employee Survey; Pulse Surveys

HACK: Every company that is adding or subtracting headcount should do a pulse survey. For me, this was a weekly survey sent every Thursday at 3pm PT. The sooner you start tracking, then the sooner your baseline will come into focus; and you can start measuring things like the impact of 401ks or acquisitions or benefit changes or major company wins or major losses or…. Keep it short, 2 questions: NPS surrogate and an open-ended question. Best part is, you can do it for free using SurveyMonkey.


“The insights process dashboard has helped the organization understand how research can answer the questions that drive business and growth each season. It provides the framework for monthly executive level meetings, and has been a great communication tool to increase the reach and influence of our insights. With the increased exposure and understanding, I have been included in more strategic and planning conversations and am able to guide more data-driven decisions.“ 


AGENCY: If you sell into the market research industry, Bouren has given us one of the greatest gifts, a glimpse of how she frames and uses research. It is a clear roadmap of where you can add value and create clarity around your offerings, so they add value to your customers. 

BRAND: If you are inside the walls of a brand, Bouren has given us a comprehensive way to frame what we do day-to-day that will keep us managing up and ensuring our brands are acting with data.

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