With the help of rising Calgary tech company StellarAlgo, the Okotoks Dawgs are expanding their fanbase into the city while also better serving their already extremely loyal local following, creating a success story for the Okotoks and Calgary economies.
StellarAlgo was founded in 2016 by CEO Vince Ircandia to give sports franchises insight into fan demographics and behaviour via advanced analytics.
The Dawgs, a Western Canadian Baseball League team, hired the company when the team started to sell tickets online, which William Gardner, Dawgs VP of promotions and community relations, said was now more sophisticated.
“[StellarAlgo] gave us some very basic analytics on who fans were, where they were coming from, and some of those kinds of things.”
In 2018, Ballpark Business ranked the Dawgs third in North America for summer collegiate attendance. Gardner says that few walk-up seats are available for games, which usually sees them filling Seaman Stadium with 4,000 fans.
StellarAlgo’s analysis found a variety of demographics, coming to games for a variety of reasons, from diehards to families. This enables more effective targeting for sponsorships, marketing, and merchandise.
“It’s been an unbelievable success story for sports in Canada,” said Ircandia.
“It took what is one of the top collegiate organizations, and put us on a level analytically with teams like Portland or Charlotte in the NBA, or some of the (MLB minor-league) teams,” said Gardner.
StellarAlgo’s clients number over 30, from the biggest professional leagues to the small-town Dawgs. They recently signed their first Major League Baseball (MLB) client, the Kansas City Royals.
“We think audiences of all sizes should be able to engage with their fans,” said Ircandia.
“The problems happening at the big leagues, even at a larger scale, are very much similar.”
Gardners sees the similarities with other sports franchises, particularly those in baseball.
“We don’t target some of the luxury suite or ongoing target audiences or fan bases that (MLB) does, but we’re very similar to a Single or Double-A (team),” said Gardner.
He said that about a third of the team’s fans commute from Calgary, but pushed back on describing them as “casual” fans.
In a way, the franchise has come full circle by reaching into Calgary. They started in 1996 as the Calgary Dawgs before moving to Okotoks in 2005.
The same could be said of Ircandia, who played for the Dawgs in the mid-2000s before obtaining an MBA at the University of Southern California (USC.) Gardner said his team is like a large family.
From USC, Ircandia met the chief operating officer of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, at a time ownership groups were investing more in fan analytics. He spent six years in business analytics with the Kings and then the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers before founding StellarAlgo.
The company was recently selected to participate in C100 48 Hours in the Valley, an event that introduces promising Canadian tech companies to investors in Silicon Valley.
While they count just 15 full-time employees, Ircandia said that companies like his are a potential growing field in Calgary’s struggling economy.
“Our company is powered by machine learning technology, which we think is cutting-edge,” he said.
“It’s been pretty exciting to part of helping diversify Calgary’s economy a little bit.”
Gardner, meanwhile, said that StellarAlgo’s work with the Dawgs has created a positive ripple effect for other Okotoks businesses.
“We’ve been invited to share that information with the Okotoks Economic Development Council, because when you’re bringing on average 1,350 sports tourists into an area for each Dawgs game, we become one of the top tourist destinations in the Foothills Corridor,” Gardner said.
“It allows Okotoks Economic Development to work with local businesses on targeting those people.
“It’s really been a far greater impact on the community than simply the Dawgs.”