2020 was surely a challenging as well as interesting year for the sports fraternity across the world. The Covid19 outbreak had posed a completely new challenge for the sports industry with multiple sports events being cancelled, being played behind closed doors without crowds or with limited crowds being allowed in the stadiums.
This challenge posted a new series of questions that sports teams needed to find answers for. Two prominent questions were ‘How do we engage our fans and get them to cheer our team and players remotely’? ‘How would we engage sponsors if there is no in-stadia viewership’? In a nutshell, the answer to these 2 fundamental questions lie in the new buzz word that everyone is talking about – DIGITAL!
Covid19 has accelerated the Digital Fan Engagement initiatives across the world when it comes to sports teams, leagues and even sponsors. Many teams had heard this term before and also contemplated doing something around it, however since it was never a compelling need. With business continuing as usual, it was always a ‘nice to have’ thing than a ‘must have’ as a part of the team strategy. Some of the teams were far-sighted and adopted to this new trend and strategy much earlier than others and are now reaping rewards for the same. However, even now, it’s not too late to ‘think digital’ and cater to the needs of the modern day fan in a way that they consume sports content.
Even though Digital is the ‘in-thing’ in today’s sports environment, there are many myths associated with it. Here are some of the popular myths concerned with digital fan engagement in the modern day sports ecosystem:
- Digital means social media and content – Social media is just a medium for reaching out to fans, it’s the means to the end but not the end. Social media should be used to engage and funnel your fans into your own platform like a team or league’s own mobile app which has exclusive content that can be monetized with sponsorship elements. At the end of the day, social media platforms are rented properties that have publicly available content. While it can engage fans at some level, it does not serve the team’s bigger purpose to identify, engage, retain and eventually monetize their fan-base. Having your own digital platform allows your access to fan-data and gives bigger ROI and viewership metrics to sponsors with a proper call to action.
- Fans can only be engaged during game/tournament days – A fan is a fan 24×7 and 365 days a year. By limiting their engagement strategy to tournament or game days only, teams and leagues are missing out on maximizing the opportunity that only digital initiatives can provide. Digital is a platform that allows for gamifying experiences & interactions for fans and also creating unique and immersive experiences through Augmented and Virtual reality platforms. Fans don’t need to wait for game days or tournaments to begin to feel engaged or connected with their favourite teams/leagues/athletes.
- Sponsors would only come if we have enough digital fans – This is a classic case of the ‘Chicken & egg’ story. What comes first, digital sponsors or digital fans? Teams have to think big and futuristic when it comes to digital fan-engagement. Both fans and sponsors would come on-board only if teams innovate and think futuristic with ‘never-seen-before’ kind of experiences. Gone are the days of the traditional sponsorship models of ‘logo slapping’ on the ground, billboards and jerseys. Today’s sponsors demand newer and cooler experiences where they can showcase their brands and also get instant feedback on fan-behaviour and engagement which only digital can offer.
- Digital Fan Engagement would make a team or league rich overnight – Like any other new initiative, digital fan engagement is a structured process. None of the teams which are having digital revenues were able to achieve this overnight or within one season. Fans have to be incrementally introduced to new initiatives and experiences through consistent marketing and touch points that are meaningful to them. There would still be a section of fans who would want to see sports in a stadium environment, the question for the teams would be ‘how can we balance traditional and digital platforms to make the entire game viewing experience more enriching for the fans’? Digital can be used effectively to provide stadium fans much more than what they used to get before. For e.g. Digital ticketing, facial recognition/touchless entry, ordering of snacks through the team’s app with special discounts and offers, augmented reality and other immersive experiences both in-stadium and on the digital platform.
To conclude, it makes sense to say that ‘Digital fan engagement’ is not a fad of the day, but is here to stay.
To know more about how we can help teams & leagues digitally engage and monetize their fans, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org