Sports Fan Engagement Trends
Marketers globally have focused on reach and frequency as the major advertisement metrics for decades. Since the dawn of social media and improvements in mobile technologies however, there has been a shift to using engagement as a metric. Engagement was initially seen as how many ‘likes’ or ‘comments’ consumers gave a brand and brands, to an extent, struggle to go past this because their products are generally not too dynamic. In the realm of sports, we are lucky enough that this isn’t the case. Our product is dynamic, it is different on a daily basis and so our consumers, or preferably fans, have a need to constantly follow it and thus fans are more deeply engaged than with traditional brands. Fan engagement is the term used to describe the attempts of sports marketing departments to deepen this connection with fans.
As a sports marketer, I believe that we need to keep ourselves informed of what potential options we have in trying to drive fan engagement and so today I will discuss some of the ways that a variety of sports organisations are trying to improve their fan engagement. Some of these are now becoming more mainstream, while for others, we are only beginning to experiment with their potential.
Sports Organisation Mobile Apps
Mobile apps have been relatively tough to crack for traditional brands, not only sports brands. They can be expensive to develop and once developed, what do you put on them? Maintenance costs can be high, especially you want to do the ideal thing of creating unique content for the app, rather than simply integrating content created for other platforms. Many clubs still don’t have mobile apps and those that do often do not utilise them to their full potential.
Possibly the best benefit of having a mobile app on a fan’s screen is that they see your brand every time they use their smartphone, so you are increasing your frequency metrics and keeping your brand top of mind with the consumer.
For deeper fan engagement however, the most common fan engagement tools on a mobile app include team news, results, fixtures, statistics, replays, highlights, radio coverage, social media feeds and exclusive content such as interviews and videos. Many sports organisations also wisely use it as monetisation tool by allowing fans to purchase tickets to matches, stadium tours and museum tours, to purchase club merchandise and to provide additional exposure to their sponsors.
Despite being an FC Barcelona fan, Real Madrid’s app is perhaps the most engaging team app that I have seen to date. The Real Madrid App has multiple games for fans to play, it cross promotes their players’ social media accounts and even allows fans to take selfies with the players, trophies and even score summaries and share it directly to social media. The coolest fan engagement functionality is Stadium TV, which allows fans at home matches to be able access video of the best plays from the match and to view the match from a variety of cameras.
Smart Sports Stadiums and Arenas
With the rise of mobile devices becoming popular as ‘second screens’, many new stadiums are being fitted with complementary high speed WiFi all around and various other technological features enabling fan engagement with these second screens. Some of the best features that I’ve come across are:
- Levi Stadium (San Francisco 49ers – NFL): Fans can use a mobile app to get their food and drinks delivered to their seat so that they don’t miss any of the action.
- Vodafone Arena (Besiktas – Turkish football club): Individual screens on the back of spectator seats, just like on aeroplanes, which allow for not only instant replays, but also the potential for great sponsor integration.
- Golden 1 Center (Sacramento Kings – NBA): Uses mobile apps to shows fans directions to their seats, where the shortest lines for the bathroom and food/drinks stands are, provides seat upgrade options, wireless chargers in the seats and cashless commerce options.
- Mobile Apps for finding Arena Parking: There are multiple solutions that help guide fans to the remaining available parking locations at the stadium/arena. Some of these are quite basic, while others are looking at using drone technology to implement a more advanced system.
Global Fan Engagement
With sports media rights now reaching further and further across the globe, sports organisations are finding fans in new geographies. Many sports clubs have a huge following in foreign countries (consider Manchester United in China). The question is how do clubs ensure deeper fan engagement beyond just social media with fans who are on the other side of the world and are unlikely to ever be able to attend a game.
Technology is the obvious path to this global fan engagement, and this will be discussed in the next section, but what other alternatives are there? Sports organisations must make a concerted effort to connect with these fans, more so than with local fans, in order to actually generate revenue from them, rather than simply have conversations with them. Content must be produced in the fans’ languages especially for the major markets (think India and China which have nearly a third of the world’s population between them). Extraordinary amounts of data can be drawn to provide personalised offers for these fans. Partnerships can be developed with regional fan clubs or even with places that air the matches in cities around the world. Whatever path a sports organisation chooses, it needs to not only reach these fans, but also to engage them on a deeper level if they are to monetise this.
Fan Engagement through Technology
Technology is perhaps the easiest way to engage with fans. This is both at a local and at a global level. In this section I will discuss a few eye-catching technological developments that sports organisations can use to enhance their fan engagement.
This one is perhaps not so new, but it is amazing that there hasn’t been more uptake of the idea. In 2011, Tampa Bay Lightning provided season ticket holders with a free jersey each with a unique microchip that they could scan at food/drink and merchandise stands to get discounts. This provided the benefit of increasing the atmosphere at games with many more team jerseys than usual being worn to games, while also rewarding fans for their loyalty. In combination with other more modern technologies, you can imagine that many other possibilities exist.
Virtual reality technology is still young and there are still issues that need to be ironed out. Nevertheless, this one really speaks for itself. In the future this technology will develop and mature. Just contemplate for a second that this will likely develop to a point where a fan on the other side of the world will be able to enjoy a match live just as though they are in the stadium. Consider the additional media rights or gate revenue, depending how you want to classify it, this will bring globally, not to mention the near perfect fan engagement for all those people that can’t be at the event.
Wearable Devices – Snapchat Spectacles
Google Glass may not have been a success the first time around, but surely someone will crack this technology eventually. Snapchat Spectacles is an example of how the NHL is already using wearables to bring fans closer to the action. F1 already includes cameras on its cars. Who’s to say that the next step won’t be the inclusion of wearables on players, particularly in sports where helmets are worn. How much closer to the action can you get?
What’s next for Fan Engagement?
Hopefully I have given you a little insight into a few of the fan engagement trends out there. These are all admittedly at the more expensive end of the spectrum. I would love to hear from you on what other fan engagement trends you see out there and how you think these will be best utilised?
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Women’s Football Marketing Coordinator at UEFA
Ivan is a sports marketer with extensive Blue Chip FMCG experience and an MA in International Sports Management. He was born in Croatia, grew up in Sydney, Australia and has spent four years working and studying in Croatia, Ireland, the UK, Italy and Switzerland.