Carlson School MSBA graduates at a MN Wild hockey game

Carlson School students uncover $1.6 million in potential revenue for the Minnesota Wild

Friday, June 7, 2024

By Lee Thomas


Minnesota is often referred to as the “State of Hockey,” and not only because the climate is conducive to ice. The nickname stems from Minnesotans’ love for the sport and booming participation across age groups. Data collected by USA Hockey shows the popularity of youth hockey in particular: For the 2022–23 season, Minnesota again led the nation with 49,884 registered 18-and-under players. In addition, players and coaches with Minnesota ties populate the ranks of top collegiate, professional, and Olympic ice hockey teams.

But for six Carlson School graduate students from India and China, ice hockey was something new. “None of us had experienced the thrill of a live hockey game before,” says Norah Lu, ’23 MSF, ’24 MSBA. “But the Minnesota Wild made us feel right at home from the start.” Lu and five other students recently completed an experiential learning engagement with the Minnesota Wild NHL team through the Carlson Analytics Lab. Lu’s teammates were Ishita Chaudhary, Pranjali Gaikwad, Alisha Gupta, Mingqiang (Michael) Li, and Xingyue (Cindy) Wang. All graduated from the Carlson School’s MS in Business Analytics (MSBA) program in May.

Now in its 10th year, the Carlson MSBA program includes multiple experiential learning opportunities built into the curriculum. All students extend their classroom learning by applying their analytics knowledge to real business situations and client companies. The Minnesota Wild was one of 14 companies to sponsor a semester-long project engagement this year. Other client companies came from a variety of industries, including retail, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and more.


A data-driven customer segmentation to drive email marketing

“The project came out of a need to really dive into our customer segmentation and get a more robust demographic profile of who is in our customer database,” says Katie Vannelli, director of revenue marketing for the Minnesota Wild and one of the executive sponsors of the project. She wanted a robust analysis of the team’s approximately 700,000 customer records to help their small in-house email marketing team send more targeted messages and product promotions.

Carlson School MSBA graduates who worked with the Minnesota Wild hockey team
Carlson School MSBA graduates who worked with the Minnesota Wild, from left to right: Norah Lu, Xingyue (Cindy) Wang, Ishita Chaudhary, Alisha Gupta,Pranjali Gaikwad. Not pictured: Mingqiang (Michael) Li.

In particular, Vannelli wanted an analysis that combined fan segment demographics with both email engagement and ticket-buying behaviors. The Wild offers a variety of products, she explains, including single game tickets as well as numerous ticket and theme night packages, multiple season ticket membership levels, and premium experiences. Vannelli challenged the students to use the de-identified dataset to answer such questions as, “How can we be more strategic with the message? Who are we sending it to? At what time? And what's the right product to put in front of someone?”

With these questions in mind, the students dove into the Minnesota Wild’s data. Armed with analytical tools and guided by faculty advisor Xuan Bi, the student team constructed an analysis framework to help the Wild understand its diverse fan base more deeply. The framework included a variety of customer types—from email subscribers who had never purchased a ticket to casual fans, and from occasional buyers to the most loyal season ticket subscribers. Using this comprehensive approach, the students identified 24 data-driven segments.

Vannelli and her colleagues at the Wild were very pleased with the students’ work. “I wanted to see demographic segments that we could use to make decisions,” she says. “They took it a step further and took it upon themselves to create action items for each segment. They came up with 24 different actionable segments, and for each and every one of them, they went into: ‘Who is the audience? What content serves the purpose for each stage of the purchase funnel?,’ and if they saw any insightful action we could take now.”


An ‘absolutely stunning’ outcome and return on investment

All together, the students’ data analysis and recommendations provided the MN Wild with an attractive return on their investment in the project.

“The results showed that we could potentially provide our organization with $1.6 million dollars in additional revenue just by following their actions,” says Vannelli. “It was absolutely stunning.”

Solid return on investment is something the Carlson Analytics Lab often delivers, according to Professor and Academic Director Ravi Bapna. “These may be student-led analytics consulting projects, but the work is high caliber and the fees are well below typical market rates for similar projects. Our client companies get to work with five or six super-bright analytics students right before they hit the job market. The project with the MN Wild shows the tremendous potential of these engagements.”

Matt Wells, director of analytics for the MN Wild, agrees. “The project was a runaway success,” he states. “Email is by far our most important channel. We’re going to have better communication with our fans as a result of this work.”

Vannelli plans to begin using the insights and recommendations this summer. In her view, the students’ work can inform a variety of revenue generation strategies. “I have a meeting next week with some of our internal stakeholders within the ticketing and corporate team to pass this information on and share how we are going to be utilizing it for the summer and into the next year,” she explains.


The benefits of a fresh perspective

Of the Carlson School students who worked on the project, Vannelli says, “They were so intelligent. They came with great communication week in and week out and asked really fascinating and deep questions to understand our business. I just can't say enough good things about the entire group.”

MSBA graduates at a Minnesota Wild hockey game
Carlson School MSBA graduates from left to right: Ishita Chaudhary, Xingyue (Cindy) Wang, Alisha Gupta, Pranjali Gaikwad, Norah Lu.

Asked if the students’ lack of familiarity with ice hockey was a disadvantage, Vannelli says it was actually the opposite. “I really appreciated the fact that we got students who didn't know anything about hockey or how the ticket process worked,” she explains. “They really did a good job of trying to understand what the product was and how the buying process really works. There weren’t any preconceived notions about what to do, which I found very beneficial.”

Of their introduction to the sport, Lu says the Wild went above and beyond to show her and her teammates various aspects of the hockey business. “They graciously invited us to games and gave us a super in-depth arena tour,” she says. “Seeing everything first-hand brought their large ticketing and customer engagement datasets to vivid and tangible life.”

Vannelli and Wells partnered with the Carlson Analytics Lab after first attending an analytics project ideation workshop hosted at the school. Associate Professor Soumya Sen and Professor Gautam Ray led the workshop, which is designed to help professionals brainstorm beneficial ways to use data to solve business challenges.

“The one-day workshop was really fascinating,” says Vannellli. “We had two professors who talked about [analytics approaches and applications]. Lots and lots of information, but good opportunities to ask questions, and then immediately put it into action.”

Part of the workshop involved drafting an analytics project proposal. What Vannelli and Wells created that day established the basis for the work the students would eventually do. In Vannelli’s view, this structure worked well for the MN Wild project.

“I would highly recommend working within a program like this,” she says, “because not only are you getting students that are driven for their educational value, but you're getting a faculty team that supports them in providing professional results.”


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