They might be sitting in the stands rooting for their favourite players, on the couch watching the game with their family, or in an office during a live stream – they are the fans who fuel their favourite teams with support and passion.
Therein lies the power of fan engagement.
What is fan engagement in Sports?
Fan engagement is the act of providing an end-to-end experience for a sports audience their entire journey; before, during, and after an event, game, or match.
Typically, it is a two-way conversation between a sports organisation and its fans. The ultimate goal of fan engagement is to build brand loyalty—for teams, leagues, sports, and brands—by creating a more personal connection with fans.
Today’s current score
For centuries, the sports industry has been engaging fans, from the first Olympic Games in ancient Greece to the Football World Cup.
As society evolves, so has the way people enjoy their favourite teams and athletes – and while that evolution continues, there is a new trend. Technology is making the bond fans have with their favourite teams and athletes even stronger – allowing us to create deeper, more meaningful connections that are easier to maintain from a distance.
It’s no surprise that people in the sports industry are paying attention to this development. They need to, as they engage with fans from a distance more than ever before.
Fan engagement is more different today than it has ever been. It’s no longer about shouting slogans from the stands but making an impact using digital tools.
However, in the wake of the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic, it’s become evident that sports fandom is not immune to further disruption, and sports management organisations can’t afford to be lax and must make changes to the way they engage with fans.
The fight for the hearts of fans is on!
From the Australian Open to the English Premier League, from Formula One to the Rugby Union World Cup – sports leagues and clubs worldwide are actively looking for ways to engage with their fans and create a competitive advantage. More so, amongst demographics like millennials and Gen Z that demand a highly personalised experience from brands they engage with while being on the go.
The good news for the sports industry is that fans are not only getting more engaged – they’re opening up their wallets, too.
The value of fan engagement in sports
There is no point beating around the bush – fan engagement essentially boils down to money. The more you engage with fans, the better your odds are of securing their loyalty and getting them to buy tickets for games, spend on merchandise or even pay for the league’s TV channel to watch their favourite teams play.
According to the Sports Fan Engagement Marketing Report (2018) by Gameplan Insights and Magid Associates, about 60% of sports fans are willing to spend more money on experiences with their favourite teams and athletes.
But, there’s a catch: this willingness does not come without opposition.
Like all digital products, understanding your users’ desires, wants, needs, and motivations are critical to creating a digital platform for engagement. Fan engagement is no different. You must understand your fans; desires, wants, needs, and motivations to create a successful fan engagement strategy.
How do you hit the home run and engage your fans in the right way? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Inspiring Fan Engagement Strategies for Sports organisations
Here’s a list of best practices that will help to increase your fan base and take advantage of the moment.
Research your audience like a talent scout
Take a step back from your daily grind and ask yourself: “What do my fans want?”. If you don’t know what they want, how can you give it to them?
The first step of fan engagement is figuring out what your audience wants. What are their goals, motivations, and behaviours? Once you clearly understand your fans’ needs, it becomes easier to provide the experiences they want.
You’ll need the right insights before you can provide the right experiences. Using data analytics across all of your channels, use UX Researchers and research techniques. None of these are new to digital product teams, they are well-known and proven techniques, and you’ll be able to understand who is engaging with your brand. Not only will you know-how, but you’ll know why.
By collecting data and leveraging technologies like AI and Machine Learning, you can map out audience journeys, understand behaviours, and deliver insights that will support fan engagement.
For example, in the sports industry, fans will often follow an athlete during their career. They’ll purchase merchandise and watch games online or on TV. They’ll attend events and follow them on social media. The business can track the fans’ journey across all these touchpoints, enabling you to understand the behaviour and needs of your fans and predict (through the use of well-trained Machine Learning Models) their future behaviour.
In the context of a starting quarterback for an NFL team, data analytics can reveal how many of their fans are dedicated followers who attend games and buy merchandise. It can also show how the number of people following them changes over time which helps to identify new fans.
Once you’ve identified your audience, it’s time to start providing them with content and experiences to engage them and grow their fandom.
Establish a firm handshake with personalisation
A firm handshake is an old-fashioned approach, but it still works. Personalised experiences are a great way to engage your fans because it makes them feel special.
The more your fans feel like you’ve designed an experience just for them, and the more relevant the content or experience, the more they will enjoy it and engage with your brand, sports, or player.
A personally designed experience can be as simple as asking your fan’s name when signing up for a newsletter or as complicated as creating virtual reality experiences specific to their interests. The possibilities are endless, and fans expect you to engage on so many different levels.
Formula One engages its audiences across endless channels and keeps them engaged with the sport and their favourite drivers well beyond the race weekend itself. Examples of this multi-channel approach are Netflix’s series Drive to Survive or licensed iPhone games like F1 Clash (where the idea is to be a team principal and create a killer F1 Team).
Improve the live experience
Take Golf, for example. Fans mostly find it challenging to keep up with the action due to the peculiar nature of golf courses. Most people follow a few players or gather at the grandstands to watch the final few holes. Frustrating, right? Sadly, this is the case with many live sports experiences.
By using data analytics, and video-based AI technologies, sports brands can create a more engaging experience for their fans. In the 2018 Open Tournament held at Carnoustie Championship Course, Golf used these insights and technologies to create a more engaging experience.
Fans could see highlights and receive updates from around the event in real-time based on other fans’ reactions. This way, they could see what was happening simultaneously at all times, engaging with more than just the hole or player in front of them.
On Non-Match days, Connect Fans Off-Site
Off-sites are a great way to keep fans engaged and excited about your brand even when you can’t offer them live content. It is a beautiful opportunity to create unique experiences and special offers that will keep them coming back for more.
Fan engagement is an ongoing process – it doesn’t end after the game has finished. As a sports organisation, it is your job to facilitate these connections on non-game days or during breaks in the game on game day.
How? Bring together like-minded fans at events and encourage them to share their experiences.
Here are some ideas on how to keep the buzz going on non-game days:
- Promotions and Deals – Fans love getting discounts, so make sure you offer some.
- Exclusive Content – Give your fans something that cannot be accessed anywhere else, such as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how you operate.
- Giveaways and Contests – Again, this is a great way to build excitement around your brand while giving back to the fans in return.
- Virtual Reality – Experiences are always better when they’re immersive. Give your fans the chance to be a part of the action. The Minnesota Vikings VR sports museum allows fans to compare their talents with that of players through VR.
- Multiplayer Gaming – Fans love to compete, so let them do it against each other on your behalf! Every fan at home or in the stands has a mobile phone with them, a powerful computing engine for you to engage with your fans wherever they are.
Fans love connecting with their favourite sport, and digital technology is an excellent way to increase and retain your fan base.
Bring Fans Closer to Live-Action
Picture this: You’re a baseball fan, and you could experience the action through the players’ eyes. Imagine getting to see how it feels like as a batter swinging his bat or as a pitcher throwing that ball.
The San Francisco Giants did just this when they created a Virtual Reality experience. That’s pretty cool.
Furthermore, live streaming technologies ensure fans are always connected to your brand, even when they are on the go.
It can create an engaging experience for your fans and allows them to experience the game in a more personalised way. Seeing what your favourite player is doing and getting an X-Ray view of the action provides your audience with a unique and engaging perspective. The possibilities are endless.
Sports fans love to experience things in new and exciting ways, and emerging technologies provide us with the platform to deliver them new experiences. Let’s give them that chance!
Hangout on Social media
There’s no better way to engage with your fans than by using social media.
The key to effective use of these channels is to create shareable content that your fans will love and stay up-to-date with what is trending.
Here are some ideas on how to make social media work for you:
- Create a unique hashtag that will serve as a connection point between your fans, and let them share their experience.
- Create a community around the brand.
- Engage with your fans in a meaningful way – create conversations around topics that are important to them.
- Create engagement through polls and contests.
- Promote your brand on social media – encourage people to share content with their friends or fans for a chance at winning special prizes.
- Utilise social media to drive traffic towards your website/landing page and increase conversions that way.
- Social media loves a good meme. Do you have personalities in your players that can create fun and humourous memes on behalf of your sport?
Keep FOMO at bay with Digital Collectables
What is a digital collectible?
A digital collectible is a digital asset that represents something unique. That asset can be owned, traded, or exchanged for other items of value. Now that sounds pretty neat.
As a sports team, you can create your digital collectibles/assets and distribute them among your fans as currency for them to use during live-action or online games.
Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are fan token cryptocurrencies that many enthusiasts feel represent a strong contender for future fan engagement. Notable examples are NBA Top Shot and $PSG Fan Token (A portion of Lionel Messi’s wage is in this token). Fans are humans, and the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is always present – fans love their team to be part of this revolution.
What sports organisations require is a little help.
Build Better Fan Engagement with a Mobile Sport App
The sports industry has seen a massive increase in the number of people using their mobile devices to get information about games, players, and teams.
Your fans need a mobile app that will serve as their connection point with your sport and your brand. A sleek mobile app can take things to the next level.
Here are some examples of how sports can use Mobile Apps:
- Drive fan loyalty and increase customer retention.
- Drive customer engagement through notifications on game/player developments and promotions.
- Build different communities around the app. For example, you can have a chat room for fans to communicate with each other.
- Sell tickets, merchandise, and player/team-branded items through the app – an efficient way to increase sales.
- A personalised chat room for fans to communicate with each other.
- Provide your fans with exclusive content – behind-the-scenes videos, training tips, and much more!
- Collect fan data and use it as a way to drive engagement.
- And that’s not all. You can also use the app to increase your fan base. For example, by having a referral program or offering promotions/discounts to new sign-ups.
Revisit the Tactics Board: Measure fan engagement success
Measuring fan engagement success will help you identify what’s working in your strategy and what isn’t. It will also help you to improve your engagement over time so that fans get the most out of their experiences with your brand.
Need a mobile app that engages your fans?
Bilue – the mobile and emerging technology agency in Australia, can help you!
If you’re a leader of a sports federation or team and want to give your team the best possible chance of success, you need to offer an authentic fan experience using today’s technology.
At Bilue, our mission is to mobilise millions of people through technology, delivering high-quality apps that are a delight to use and can help sports associations and teams achieve their goals.
Our team consists of professional consultants, designers, and app developers who know what is important to fans and how crucial it is to provide engaging apps they’ll not only rely on for up-to-date news and stats but love to use.
We can help you with everything, from researching your fans to designing your app, through to its’ development, testing, and delivery – and then, in the future, all the maintenance and updates necessary to stay genuinely world-class.
Get in touch to discuss your requirements and get a FREE quote today.