no doubt has been a challenging year for everyone in sports and live entertainment. Every stakeholder has had issues which normally could not have been foreseen. Due to Covid, there has been more difficulty in terms of fan engagement inside and outside the bubble. For some companies, it has expedited the pace of digital transformation and other companies have fallen flat due to their constraints during the pandemic. Some of the challenges for fan engagement include: engaging fans at the stadium as well as people watching from home.
Sports industry has a big global market which generates more than US$ 600 billion per year. Covid has accelerated the transformation process in sports and sports viewership. Newer generation consumes sports via digital platforms and may not necessarily understand the passion of going to a stadium and showcasing support.
For example:- people above the age of 40 would be more interested in going to stadiums and show their support, however people below the age of 25 would like to watch highlights or live stream at their households. Fan engagement in sports involves building a deeper connection with the fan base. With the advent of digital media, it is one of the most integral component for profitable clubs to expand their fan base on a global scale. From engaging fans inside stadium, the fan base has expanded onto digital platforms to create a seamless experience to ensure fan retention. Clubs are compelled to improve stadium infrastructure and services for fans that may not essentially work outside the stadium. Some of these avenues include disclosing of financials and engaging with fans on social media to increase loyalty among the fan base. It is not necessarily a bad thing that people are not allowed to go to stadiums as it gives opportunity to increase fan base on a global scale. But to sustain the fan base visiting stadiums for live games, there has to be improvement in the areas of convenience, technology etc. to enhance user experience for fans. This can be done in creative ways as seen in some of the major league competitions in USA. For example:- The kiss camera or the dance off events during the halftime of games, some of the in-stadia experience by creating record level noise in the stadium and the fantasy sports contests which includes rewards for participation. Another example would be the efforts of billionaire Mark Cuban, who is actively involved in social media and writes blogs. This makes him real and relatable to his followers, as the more time he spends on digital platforms the more his followers would respect that and react accordingly.
Another interesting avenue for clubs to maximise and market themselves is via OTT platforms. With the pandemic in play, the clubs or franchises could develop a viewership experience catering to the audience staying at home. Formula 1’s partnership with Netflix is a great indication of increasing audience by using digital platforms. The engagement with the sport has increased and is considered a brilliant marketing strategy to drive up viewership. Another example could be the show on Amazon Prime called All or Nothing. The show displays footage of few inside locker room experience with prominent clubs such as Manchester City, Tottenham and now Juventus has partnered with the platform. It is pertinent to note that both the above mentioned shows showed some inside footage as how top franchises dealt with the ongoing pandemic which provided a unique and timely insight. This is a significant indication that Clubs are innovating themselves to have an outreach to their audience away from stadiums. By showing footage of team discussions, training and also interviews, the fans get a chance to feel more vested in the clubs they support.
India is a cricket loving nation and the demand for coverage is through the roof. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is testament to that fact as the duration of the tournament could be construed as a festival of sorts. The fans around the country show their support via digital platforms such as social media as well as the OTT platform Hotstar. As a fan myself, I truly appreciate the efforts of Royal Challengers Bangalore, a team from the city I belong. Each year, they conduct different kinds of contest giveaways where their merchandise gets distributed across the State and Country. Another initiative that I truly respect is 1 game a season they wear a green colour jersey made out of recycled plastic as part of the “Go Green Initiative” to symbolise their stance on the environment. The players of the franchise led by the G.O.A.T Virat Kohli send out messages to their fans via social media platforms to encourage them to do their bit by making the planet cleaner and green. This is not to say that other franchises in the IPL do not do their part in fan engagement. In the 2020 season, Mumbai Indians partnered with Courtyard by Marriot where fans using their hotels could get a chance to have certain amount of insider access to the team and certain lucky fans could get a chance to interact with their star players of the team. Along with this, Mumbai Indians partnered with Netflix for one of the seasons, whereby fans got a chance to listen on some of the team discussions, the pre-match and post-match regime, training as well as interviews of the star players. This level of content ensures relatability with the fans and will definitely result in engagement.
On May 29th, 2019 Alexandre Dreyfus on the Binance Podcast spoke about a method of fan engagement that could potentially change the traditional way of having a dialogue with fans. On his platform called Socios, Clubs will have the opportunity to engage and monetise the fans on a global scale. The platform enables fans to purchase something called a fan token, a consumer-facing product using blockchain technology. This will lead to fans having a say when engaging in the activity of their favourite club. By hearing out the fans in terms of buying players, jersey design etc, fans can help contribute in the decision making of their favourite clubs. This is beyond the traditional one-way relationship clubs have with their fans by engaging only within the stadium and social media. The token acts as a digital asset and monetises the emotional power of a fan in the form of a token. Thereby bridging the gap between fan engagement and fan monetisation. Alex’s company has currently partnered with the top football clubs in the world with the likes of Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Paris St. Germain, Juventus signing up with the platform to generate fan tokens. By giving voting powers to the fans in the form of tokens, it will lead to increase in fan following as well as increasing fan loyalty. This method of giving fans some amount of voting rights can ensure feedback for the clubs to reflect upon and improve their governance.
Ours is a world filled with technology that could inspire and also revolutionise the way we view and engage in sports. It is essential for some sports to realise that you will have to offer fans more than just the live stream at some point. Clubs and franchises will have to capture the generational impact of social media with the rise in younger fans. Having regular feedback of the enthusiastic fans will lead to creation of a fan friendly product. In a way, the rise in Club or franchise value would require delivering value consistently to their fans.