Zero-Party Data With Kiki Mills Johnston, DRIVE By DraftKings


Welcome to the FanPower Podcast. This month our founder Dan Healy talks to Kiki Mills Johnston from DRIVE by DraftKings about Zero-Party and First-Party data in the sports ecosystem.

Kiki Mills Johnston is a lifelong sports fan and has spent her career working with entrepreneurs to help grow their companies. Dan and Kiki talk about new trends in sports startups, the focus on personalization at scale, and what leagues and teams can do to connect with fans on a deeper level. Kiki also shares her family’s passion for the Eagles and how the loyalty that they have to the team can be tapped into in order to connect with the next generation of sports fans.

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Full Interview with Kiki about Zero-Party Data

Dan Healy: Hello and welcome to the FanPower Podcast where we talk about fan engagement through the lens of zero party and first party data. I am thrilled to have Kiki Mills Johnston on the podcast today. Kiki is very special and important to the FanPower world. She’s an amazing investor. She is a philanthropist. She is a former operator, and she is very plugged into the world of sports. Kiki welcome. Can you tell the world a little bit about yourself?

Kiki Mills Johnston: Hey, Dan, thank you so much for having me. It’s awesome to be here. Kiki Mills Johnston partner Drive by DraftKings. You know, I’ve spent most of my life working with early stage companies and you know, I’m a big fan of fan power, as you know, and just and a big sports fan as well. So excited to be here and talk about something really fun, like zero party data.

DH: Awesome. Can you give us a little bit of background on Drive by DraftKings to the folks who may not be as familiar?

KMJ: Absolutely. multi-stage VC firm focused in sports tech and entertainment. We invest pre-seed through opportunistic series B have a 60 million fund. Three areas that we focus on, sports and gaming platforms, media fan engagement and human performance, actively investing. Have a great portfolio of 18 companies, and I have many more to make.

DH: Awesome, thank you. Well, Kiki, the, the reason this is such an interesting conversation is because you actually introduced us to the term zero party data. So you know, for the last four years we’ve been collecting what we called fan sentiment, which was our way of understanding how the fan feels. But you introduced us to, to this term and, and kind of acknowledged that you’re, you’re hearing it a lot more consistently. So can you tell us what, what does zero party data mean to you? And and where are you seeing it right now?

KMJ: Yeah, so, so zero party data to me. You know, it’s information that I proactively and intentionally share about myself that provides more intimate knowledge of who I am my explicit interests and preferences in certain products personal attributes communication styles. But it’s really just who really Kiki is, and it’s kind of peeling back the onion of, of, you know, what, what makes me be.

DH: That’s, that’s great. That’s a really clear definition of it. And over the, the, the last couple of years as we’ve done a lot more research into what Zero Party data is, we’re seeing it used very effectively in the world of, of retail consumer package goods you know, brands asking directly of the consumer what they’re interested in, but sport is such an interesting industry to look at zero party data because everything about sport is changing. Yeah. But it’s still powered by loyalty. So tell us in, in, in the position that you’re in sitting between leagues, early stage companies, you’re constantly being pitched by new and innovative companies. How are you seeing zero party data come into that conversation and, and, and where is it going? What does it mean?

KMJ: Yeah. Yeah. I think about it in, in two areas. One is, you know, first of all, zero part data. I mean, it’s about for leagues, for the companies out there, you know, it’s about personalization in order to, you know, acquire, retain, extend, you know, the shelf life of a customer, right? How do I deliver more appropriate messaging, appropriate offers at the appropriate time based on what I want? And when you do that, you create a stronger bond between brand and me such that I wanna do more, I want to pay more. I want to, you know, share more. So that part around just understanding that zero part D is really important on that personalization side. Second, I think, you know, it’s kinda like how it’s about how do we digitize fandom? Like how do we take that real life experience, that emotional connection that we have when we go to a game, we know a team, you know, you know, we bleed green in this family, you know, and extend it beyond the game and beyond that in real life experience and that raw emotion and taking that and putting it into something that, you know, some way extends into something that becomes more of a digital thing and a, and a loyalty program.

So that part I think is just, there’s so much opportunity there. And, you know, I can give a ton of examples on it, just like my own experiences, but I, I feel like there’s just a green pasture around how do we really understand who I am, who my family is, what we care about, and extend that further to actually extend my further like, so we bleed green, even further through more family members and more things that we do.

DH: Yeah. That’s so interesting, right? Because that the, the Bleed green component, right? You’re, you’re such, you know, you’re, you’re huge Eagles fans. It’s, it’s what we call loyalty beyond reason, right? It’s, it’s a part of you. It’s, it’s a part of, of your, your fandom. And in, in the last couple of years, especially in the VC space, right? Yeah. You, what I’ve seen as, as a an early stage and and growing company is that the world of sports betting unlocked this, this new thought around innovation because you’re going to understand the fans because there’s this new, you know, component of, of revenue that, that was introduced. And then immediately, just like immediate fast follow was web three thinking about the, the collectibles, the NFTs and digitizing fandom in that capacity. And it almost feels like those were and are entry points, but they kind of come back to this, this very kind of basic and, and fundamental need, which is understanding your fans at a deeper level.

KMJ: Totally. A and I’m, I’m so glad you, you are talking. We’re, we’re, we’re unpacking this a little bit more because I think that digitizing fandom, I think it’s just, you know, it’s the simplest of things. We’ll just call that the web two, the emails you things and you know, it’s the web three two, but I think for most regular fans, this web three, it, it’s gonna take a while to bring people through to that, right? And that utility part of it still, you know, has to be shown. But, you know, just around kind of some of the basics, you know, example, to make it real. Cause this is how I can talk about it, but, you know, my husband season ticket holders, since he was 20 years old, he took his dad, it’s been a, you know, it’s been an experience for them. And now he’s taking our son, Benjamin, Benjamin started going at six years old, and it’s become, you know, a tradition for them.

Well, imagine if the Eagles knew that, right? Imagine if they could kind of follow what, because we live in Boston, but they drive down a lot, like certain games, they, we can’t go to Sunday night games, we’ll go to Sunday. So imagine they know the time and then imagine that they know that Keith is now bringing his son. What about, you know, a free membership into the kids club? What about kind of a coupon for ice cream when they’re at the game, right? How do they bring that new, like, that bonding element in which further endears, you know, my family to the Eagles. Like, that’s why I say there’s so much ripe opportunity and there’s so many stories like that, but like, that’s the thing that’s exciting, that beyond just, Hey, we’re in the playoffs, here’s your ticket. You know, there’s just, there’s so much more to do.

DH: Yeah. And, and I, I think that that’s, that’s the ultimate opportunity because when, when you look at the, the, the data that has been accessible, let’s call it transactional data. Yep. Right? Ticket sales, merchandise, pos in some, in, in some situations. That’s not telling you that story. The only way you hear that story is by speaking to your family directly. And, and I, and I’m, I’m assuming I don’t like to assume much, but that, that’s not necessarily projected on social and, and even if it is, it’s, it’s projected in a very small corner of social, right? And so it’s still not accessible, right? And, and that’s, that’s gotta be in, in, in my mind the, the future because that’s access to the next generation that’s building that loyalty beyond reason, starting at the age of six, which is the key,

KMJ: Right? I mean, this is what the NFL wants, right? This is why they have Play 360, this is why they’re doing all these things to bring this next generation in. But, you know, at the same time, I just wanna acknowledge, like, to your point of transactional data, like this isn’t easy. Mm-Hmm. , right? I, I mean there are, in order for whether it’s the N F L or sports team or others, to have a really cohesive strategy, you know, it, this personalization, I mean, it requires a strategy requires specific data, and it requires technology to execute, right? Because there’s, there’s a lot of different data sets. There’s missing data, there’s silo data, there’s non-actionable data, there’s transactional data. How do you start to bring that all together and how do you start to use, you know, inputs of things to actually help with that? I mean, that’s what I know you guys are starting, you are doing with FanPower and bringing that in to help augment those data sets and, you know, it’s gonna take some time.

It’s gonna take a clear strategy to actually understand how all those parts work together. You know, you know, it’s, it’s not easy and, you know, it takes a lot of forethought there, but but I think there are ways to do it. And you know, what I think is what I really like about on the zero party data side is that whether it’s a widget or a poll or something, it’s not invasive. It can be really simple. It can be really fast. Keith, you going to the game great. Who you bringing this? You know, like, and, and so you start to kind of collect those things and whatever it is in a way that’s really fast and it’s not hard.

DH: Yeah. I think that’s right. So you know, the, the FanPower world aside, I think that VC has the, the very interesting and I think very cool lens of, of seeing kind of what the next generation of companies look like very early on. And you also have the ear of the, the leagues in a lot of, in a lot of ways, and this is why they spin up their own innovation funds as well. So if, if the, the, the 20 19, 20 20 world was sports betting startups and the 2122 world was web three metaverse startups, are you seeing that the 20 22, 20 23 world is, is different? Is it, is it loyalty? Is it zero party and first party data? What, what are you seeing out there?

KMJ: I think the theme, one of the themes, but I’ll just focus on one, is related to this. I think it’s personalization at scale. Leveraging ai, leveraging you know, technologies, other technologies that help us do that. But I think this personalization, which, you know, that’s always been a theme mm-hmm. , you know, but I think now, you know, technology further powers it, AI allows that at scale. Like that is the part where it’s like we have to know our customers even better. Mm-Hmm. . Because now it’s about what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. And I think many like the new next generation are kind of willing to give more about themselves cuz look at like the sharing generation that’s out there and then that, that is an expectation of, you know, that, you know, I get an email on something, but I didn’t, you know, we still all get that, right? We’ll get an email or whatever it is on something that I’m not interested in that I never knew about. Like, that’s not me. Like how, like you instantly get turned off. You’re like, you should know me by now. Like, that’s baseline.

DH: Yep. Very cool. Well, I, I appreciate, I appreciate your, your thoughts on this. I appreciate your perspective. I’m excited to follow along in your journey and, and really understand from you kind of what you’re seeing and how this world evolves. I’m gonna finish with one question that I I, I’m, I’m particularly interested in the introduction of upstart leagues into this country has been fascinating. The introduction, international sports coming into the us right? Cricket I think is the most recent introduction. What are you excited about? What are you most excited about and, and why?

KMJ: Yeah. so I’m putting my mom hat on, but you know, as a mom of a young boy, like I’m super, I know this is not necessarily an upstart but I’m, I’m really excited about flag football. Like cool. I I love it. You know, it’s actually in rising in popularity with girls and, and women. So I think you’re gonna see more there on, on, on the women’s side of sport. But I, you know, I marvel at the strategy and actually in many ways it’s harder to do because you have to pull these little strings, but I’ve been a huge fan watching that. And even in our little town you know, I know some, like, there’s a girls team that’s actually I think almost gone on onto state, I mean, at a, a older level. But I love, I love that we’re a football family in general, but flags something I’m excited about. I would say pickleball. Cause you know, everyone says pickleball. Yeah. But you know, first and foremost, I’m, I’m, I’m pumped about Flag. What are you, what are you excited about?

DH: First of all? That’s, that’s really cool because I think flag football is one of those sports that I wish we actually played in a more structured way. It takes an immense amount of athleticism, and if, you know, you weren’t playing full contact football, it was still a really great way to, to get out there and do something fun. So I, I think that’s awesome. I hadn’t heard that before. What am I, what am I interested in? I’m actually, I’m interested in, I I, I tend to look at these things through a bit of a different lens, right? Yeah. Like what’s going to, to, to grasp a, a niche audience and what has the opportunity to create a pipeline in the, in the schools. Yeah. going back to a contact sport, I’m actually pretty interested in in the rugby world.

KMJ: Yeah.

DH: Yeah. I, I just, you know, the major league rugby is, is, you know, they’re here. They’re, they’re live. It’s a really interesting and international sport. I I, I’ve gotten behind it in the past, but I never really had like a, a legitimate fandom to it just because it never really had a presence in the schools. But I’m starting to see it in the schools around me now. Yeah. I think it’s really interesting. It takes, it, it, it teaches discipline. But, you know, we’ll see. It also also has a lot of injuries, so we’ll see.

KMJ: Yeah. Well, no, I, but I think it’s, you know, I think the, I think what your point you’re getting at too is just there’s, there’s a variety of sports for people to play that require all different, you know, high levels and lower levels of skills and, but we all know what sport and teamwork does for, just from a teaching perspective, you know, it’s critical. So I think anyone that can grasp into something big, I’d say last thing, and I know we’re at the end, but my, like, I we’ll call it an upstart sport, even though it’s an extension of baseball, but, you know, banana ball, you know Oh yeah. Is like the best, like Benjamin, my son, we, we had a, he had a weeklong camp over the holidays and, and Savannah and Banana Ball . It is, you know, it’s like the Harlem Grove Globetrotters for baseball, but it is own rules. It is the funnest, just most engaging way to fall in love with a sport again. Like Yeah. And it’s about fun. It’s about engagement. Right. And, and there’s so much we can do with that.

DH: Yeah. No, I’ve got his book on the, on, on the, the bookcase behind me. You know, he’s all about fans first, and, and everything that they’re doing is making a, a sport that is that is consciously making an effort to reach a younger generation very, very en engaging and, and fun and entertainment. And it’s everything that, it’s everything that, that the Harlem Globetrotter Trotters did. And it’s so unexpected and it’s perfect for social media.

KMJ: Perfect. They’re, they’re the best. They’re totally the best.

DH: Yeah. Completely. Cool. Well, thank you, Kiki. I appreciate the time.

KMJ: It’s all Oh, thank you.

DH: But yeah, just, you, you bringing this knowledge is, is incredibly helpful and and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation. So thanks

KMJ: So much. Awesome. Thanks for having me. All right. Of course. Talk to you later. Bye.