Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic 2017

Winner of the Marketing in Hotels, Leisure, Events, Travel and Tourism Sectors category at the 2018 CIM Ireland awards

Winner of the Innovation in Digital category at the 2018 DANI awards

The Background

Velocity Worldwide were brought on board by Sports Changes Life as marketing partners for the Belfast Classic event, which took place on 1st and 2nd December 2017 in the SSE Arena, Belfast.

The Belfast Classic was a ground-breaking event for Northern Ireland as it was the first time in history that college basketball was played outside the US. The event saw four American college basketball teams travel to Belfast to take part in the two-day tournament and it was expected to attract audiences from the US, UK and Irish markets, including fans of basketball and people who wanted to be part of one of the most exciting sporting events happening in the country on that weekend.

Velocity Worldwide’s data, personalisation and insight technology platform, Darius® for Retail underpinned the fan engagement strategy, which was designed to ensure that all activity delivered in Year 1 could be used to grow and develop the event in future years.

The activation of the fan engagement strategy commenced in August 2017 and during the four-month project period, 29 fan promotional campaigns were activated by the Velocity team.

The Challenge

The biggest challenge was, with budgetary contraints, to grow awareness and build excitement for a sport that may not enjoy the same levels of interest locally as might soccer or rugby or Gaelic athletics.
Specifically, our objectives were defined as:

  1. Deliver a fan engagement strategy for the inaugural Belfast Classic basketball event that connected key stakeholders with fans – before, during and after the event to drive ticket sales, enhance fan experiences and build insight.
  2. Build a segmented database in the inaugural year of this four-year annual event with the objective of building a dataset containing 3,500 members and capturing key demographic and behavioural data on each member including: name, email, geographical location, gender, age (if applicable), and whether the person is a member of a basketball club, a coach, spectator, teacher, or student.
  3. Grow the social media audience for the event organisers by 200 per cent.

The Solution

Objective 1: Deliver a fan engagement strategy that connected the key stakeholders with fans, before during and post the event

A key objective throughout the project was to ensure that every information exchange with our target audiences helped to drive ticket sales, build brand awareness, improve fan experience, improve return on investment for key stakeholders while delivering insight that could be used to improve the event delivery and profitability in future years. The insight piece was particularly important in Year 1 as there was no real benchmark for this type of event in Ireland.


A phased programme of communications was delivered using Velocity’s Darius platform over a four-month period. The communications plan prioritized building event awareness and driving ticket sales in the early phases while fan experiences and insights were primary goals in the later phases of the strategy.

Phase 1: Pre-Event Engagement

We understood that engaging regularly with the basketball community at club and school levels would not only deliver early ticket sales, but would also identify advocates for the event who would help promote the importance of the event to their wider network of friends and families and start generating that all important ‘buzz’ for this new event in both digital and physical spaces.

The first challenge was to get members of a wide network of clubs and groups in the US, UK and Ireland into the Belfast Classic digital ecosystem so that we could communicate with them directly over the campaign period to drive event ticket sales as well as upselling other service offerings available in Belfast – at this stage there was only a small existing online following for the event.  A schedule of promotional campaigns was designed in Darius® to be distributed by the schools and clubs online to their members, these early campaigns incentivised recipients to opt into the Belfast Classic database and follow the event’s social media channels.

Using Darius we were able to push out unique ticket codes, which were only applicable to that individual club, school or college. Ticketmaster accepted these codes and the correct ticket discount was applied. Through continuous engagement and pushing unique ticket offers/codes, we were able to watch ticket sales spike in real-time as the groups marketed the event internally to their networks, helping increase the events brand awareness and drive ticket sales.

Darius enabled engagement with all our promotional campaigns to be tracked in real-time, while the smarts of the Darius rules engine enabled follow-up promotions to be sent out that were tailored to the response to earlier communications. For example, if we knew the fan had already purchased tickets to attend the Friday games, then they were pushed promotional incentives to purchase Saturday tickets. If the fan was going to be a overnight visitor to Belfast, then we also promoted relevant travel and accommodation packages. If we learnt the engager was a teacher, then we engaged with the teacher’s school and offered a class discount including transport to the arena.

The communications programme implemented also included delivery of personalised content such as favourite player interviews, travel notices, recommended tourism itineraries, which were all influenced by information that the recipient had provided in the earlier stages of the campaign.

Phase 2: In-Event Engagement

Our campaign connected with fans during the event where they could engage with content played out on the digital screens at the arena and via the event programme – giving them access to VIP event experiences, event content channels, discounts at Belfast retail and food outlets, and lots of other prizes.

All event attendees who had opted into the database at the pre-event stage also secured access to unique discounts for restaurants within the Odyssey Pavilion as well as in Belfast based hospitality venues. These incentives were pushed out by SMS and email at appropriate times to best influence the recipient’s decision-making. In total 1,081 people were connected this way.

Phase 3: Post-Event Engagement

An exit survey was issued to the full database after the event to gain insight into their fan experiences and their perception of the wider Belfast and Northern Ireland hospitality experience – this was relevant for both locals and visitors.

Objective 2:  Build a segmented event database with 3500 records


Each of the 29 campaigns had a different objective to secure key pieces of data, and all of the data collected during the different communication phases was assigned to that fan’s profile stored in Darius. This helped us to better understand each person and enabled us to deliver more personalised content to them throughout the campaign period. For an event that was in Year 1 of its lifecycle, this type of personalised interaction with fans proved invaluable as it helped build a community of followers, fans, supporters and advocates long before they stepped into the SSE Arena.

Darius links and calls-to-action were also embedded in all promotional channels used to advertise the event including traditional media such as billboards, bus shelters, press releases, press ads, and radio ads, as well as across all online communications. This ensured that no opportunity was lost in opening a two-way conversation with our target event groups.

Objective 3:  Grow the social media audience for the event organisers by 200 per cent


As previously mentioned, budget constraints represented one of the biggest challenges for the fan engagement project. So, we had to get smart and utilise our stakeholders who had existing large social media followings. These included Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, The Rory Foundation, Aer Lingus, Stat Sports and Basketball Ireland. By working closely with these stakeholders, we were able to create online campaigns that were personalised to their audience profiles and which incentivised them to follow and engage with the event’s online and social networks.

The Results

  • The SSE arena capacity across both days of the event was 12,000 (6,000 per day), it was a goal to achieve 50% attendance in year one. In total 9,138 people attended across the two-day event, meaning that 76% of the arena was filled. We therefore achieved +26% attendance than our initial KPI.
  • The event’s database now holds 7,537 unique email addresses, that can be targeted automatically in 2018 to drive ticket sales. The database has been segmented by those fans who are from NI, ROI, UK and the US. Also, by spectators, players/club members, students/teachers, and coaches. This was 215% over-target.
  • In total, the event’s social media channels grew by 348.2%, which was +148% over-target. 73% of the database members were secured from initially driving people to the event’s social media channels.
  • Valuable insights were captured which have already influenced the event programme design for 2018, including:
    • The 2017 event dates caused a scheduling conflict with Basketball Ireland fixtures which prevented some fans from travelling. Sport Changes Life and Basketball Ireland are now in talks to get all basketball fixtures across the 2018 event weekend rescheduled.
    • The most popular accommodation booking channel used by attendees was Airbnb which has led to the design of bespoke Airbnb event packages for 2018.
    • Other insights from the exit survey included:
  • Average spend per visitor enabled us to put a value of the wider impact of the event on the local economy.
  • Transportation preferences will help with logistical planning for next years event.
  • Overall experience rating.
  • Likelihood to attend the event again.

To Finish...

Throughout the project period Velocity Worldwide worked closely with the Sport Changes Life team to ensure that they met their KPIs to secure funding from Tourism Northern Ireland.

In doing so, and from the insights secured in Darius, this has opened doors for a pilot project between Tourism Northern Ireland and Velocity Worldwide. The pilot project is currently underway and will run until the end of March 2018.

"As a main partner to The Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic 2017 we saw Velocity Worldwide deliver valuable tourism insights of those who attended the event which have allowed us to work directly with Velocity Worldwide on an additional proof of concept project in 2018 to build a truly segmented database of visitors, potential visitors and ambassadors to deliver personalised engagement and surveys in real-time for TNI [Tourism Northern Ireland] and our partners using both marketing and technology."

Dave Vincent - Chief Digital Officer, Tourism Northern Ireland

"Working with the team at Velocity Worldwide and embedding the Darius software into The Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic was one of the best decisions we made in 2017. By implementing Darius into our marketing strategy for the first of its kind NCAA Basketball tournament we were able to engage with consumers and get instant feedback on what worked best in our campaigns, from ticket sales, to competitions, to travel packages and the event itself, Darius was at hand to breakdown every detailed tag and help point our event in the right direction.

As the Executive Director of this event I felt that making informed decisions with the validity of the data I received from the Darius information was key to having a successful event – we were challenged with a limited marketing budget and thus every piece of data helped us deliver on KPIs such as attendance figures and promote Northern Ireland as a positive destination of choice. With constant information updates from the experienced team at Velocity Worldwide we were also able to embed Darius into our event partners to truly make the most of an organic reach to promote our event.

In my opinion and after embracing the innovative possibilities of Darius over the past 8 months, Darius has played a key role to opening the digital doors to success for the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic."

Marc Mulholland - Executive Director of the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic

Ready to connect with your customers?

If you would like to find out more, get a demo, even if you just have a question, please get in touch.
We’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch