Engaging Fans, the Digital Way 25th October, 2016

In an age where digital plays a vital part in keeping individuals connected with what is going on in the world, the sports we consume are becoming increasingly delivered through our smartphones via live updates, streaming, betting or apps. With this in mind brands and rights holders are now focusing on engaging fans through innovative ways, rather than deploying their resources on stagnant marketing activities that don’t acquire significant ROI – it is all about plugging the gap between reaction and action.

As traditional forms of advertising near extinction, brands are figuring out how to link marketing, social media and the second screen, to create compelling, memorable experiences across all advertising and social platforms. Rather than having a logo plastered along pitch side LED’s in the Premier League, brands are using hashtags to provide incentives, exclusive content and rewards to consumers for taking part in their marketing.

In 2014, 76% of adults used a second screen while watching a sports match on TV, this stat has no doubt significantly increased over the 2 years since. Companies like Kwangl were born out of the concept of engaging fans with what they see on TV; through the device they are holding. Jonas Olsson, the West Brom star used Kwangl to increase his engagement with the team’s fans. Using two incentivised hashtags (#JonasOlsson3 and #JonasOlssonWBA) to run multiple competitions, fans taking part could win a signed pair of boots and a signed shirt in what proved to be a successful way to reach out and connect with them.

As fans participate in marketing campaigns through a unique call to action – they are in fact seeing a tangible result for being aware of the brands marketing, a win-win for all parties involved. The issue with this though, is does it take away from the spectacle of the event as fans are more involved in the marketing ploy.

As media technology improved, teams found it increasingly difficult to fill stadiums as fans preferred to catch all the action through ref cams and slow-mo on TV. Fan engagement is being used to drive crowds back into the stadiums and isn’t just about on field action, smart arenas are becoming the norm enhancing the fan experience in new ways to keep them engaged. The new Sacramento Kings arena, Golden 1 Center, has a mobile app for check-in, ushering you to your seat, indicating shortest bathroom and concession lines, seat upgrade options (much like what has been done in the airline industry), cashless commerce and in-seat wireless charging. With this sort of experience, why wouldn’t you want to fork out for season tickets.

It is vital for rights holders to understand how to correctly engage fans, ensuring they find the right touch points in order to connect on the right levels. Smart arena’s as an example, allows fans to always stay connected enabling use of their second screen to have live stats updates. When fans are completely engaged, the end product being delivered is that much better so they feel they are getting the most out of the experience.

Sports sponsorship no longer means simply attaching a corporate name to a stadium. Rather, it has become a triangle of association between the team, the sponsor, and the passionate fan. It involves taking two products and creating an affinity between them, largely through social currency. It will be interesting to see sports evolve with the increase in accessibility through technology such as virtual reality and how it could play a role in the way we consume sports. Watch this space!

The Future of the Stadium Experience looks Dark, Sponsors must Act Now 17th May, 2013

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend The Innovation in Sport Business Summit, which was in conjunction with the Turkish Airlines Final Four in London. The first topic of discussion was ‘Innovation as a revenue driver in Sports’. Unsurprisingly the general consensus was that everything is moving towards digital, social and mobile; making fan accessibility easier and increasing online activity.

All the panellists rightly mentioned how the sofa experience has transformed with a number of different upgrades such as the use of the second screen and datatainment (the availability of in-depth stats and figures, which make pub debates that much more enthralling). However it became clear that with all these technological luxuries, the appeal of going to a stadium may be losing its gloss. Today’s consumers not only want things quicker but they want things catered around their lives, hence why Sky Plus and mobile media are so popular, they align with the schedule of the consumer and give them a great amount of control.

This is far from what can be said about the sporting experience in person- a game starts at a set time, tickets are expensive and hard to get hold of, weather and travel can be extremely frustrating and there are still a large amount of limitations on stadia facilities (alcohol, food prices, crowd control, Wi-Fi, seating). No one can argue that watching your team score a last minute winner in person can be replicated in any form at home or on your mini screen but in this era ticket holders still deserve much more from the total stadium environment- up to date facts and statistics, extensive match highlights and in-game food and beverage ordering to name a few.

Sponsorship agencies are desperately trying to shed the perception that sport is all about logo bashing and big ad banners, but sponsors themselves must contribute by exposing their brand to a wide range of different channels, starting with promoting a technology-led stadium experience, even if it means investing that little bit extra. If sponsors want to capitalise on their mass brand presence at stadiums, increase slipping ticket sales and build loyalty and engagement with all types of fans, enhancing technology in stadiums has to be a priority. Sponsors must treat their association to a team or competition as a mutual and progressive partnership in order to tackle these glaring hurdles, rather than simply pumping money into a team and letting them sort an issue that is actually imperative to a sponsors’ ROI.

There is no point of having marketing strategies like brand advocates, match day content and social media campaigns if they are only visible to fans at home. The purest form of fan engagement is the raw emotional roller coaster that occurs in stadiums and only a handful of sports teams have realised this (see Arsenal and Manchester City). Of course teams like Manchester City and the LA Lakers have the resources to build multi functional digital facilities but other sporting organisations without as much funding must begin to collaborate more strategically with sponsors to enhance stadia experience.

An inspiring example of how successful this can be is the New Jerseys Red Devils Mission Control, the first digital command centre launched by a pro sports team. Mission Control, launched in 2011, acts as the hub for internet and social media connection for both the team and the arena, allowing fans to utilize the space and monitor messaging. This innovative collaboration with Prudential (stadium partner) and The Red Devils revolutionised the fan-stadium platform.

The rewards for this dynamic and engaging project was not only higher ticket sales and two 2011 Bulldog Awards (including Socially Engaged Brand of the Year) but it also attracted global powerhouse T-Mobile to sign on in 2012 as official sponsor of the stadium’s digital hub. The New Jersey Red Devils are by no means an elite financial sports team but it shows that if sponsors work collaboratively with teams and utilise the innovation of technology, they can help drive fans into stadiums, rather than out of them.