Predictions on the future of fan experiences from a former NFL quarterback, now VP of a SportsTech company

I just want to say it now to get it out of the way: We are living through unprecedented times.

Every sector and every industry has had to rethink traditional, and timeless, annual events. They’ve had to relaunch practices that have been in play for years and years. Sports, entertainment, hospitality, and more, have all overcome the new normal of social distancing in industries that survive and thrive on packed stadiums and sold-out concerts and events.

Let me back it up a little. Hi! I’m Quinton Porter. VP of North America for Pico – Get Personal and a former quarterback in the NFL and CFL. It’s safe to say that like all of you, I’m an avid sports fan. And as a former player, I feel lucky that I’m able to work in the SportsTech space and tie my experience of the fan-to-player dynamic to my work on the business side helping teams know what their fans want, what they engage with, what they look for on game day, and what they expect out of their fan experience.

What I’ve seen – both pre- and post-COVID-19 – is that sports fans are naturally engaged. They’re hungry for team content, news, and updates in ways that other industries just can’t compete with. So when you look into what makes a positive fan experience positive, it’s important to go beyond the classic antics often seen in sports media and sports in general and begin the process of learning who your fans really are. Especially in these times when fans aren’t able to physically attend games like they always have, it’s been interesting to see how teams are mimicking fan interactions and game-day experiences for those of us at home. 

Here are my predictions for the future of the fan experience in sports:

At Home Digital Activations

Digital activations are a great way of keeping fans engaged with digital content that’s shared across any and all digital channels and it’s something we’re seeing more and more in the industry, across all leagues. They bring value to teams, sponsors, and they help in fostering those personal experiences and connections often felt within fans. 

Let me paint more of the picture for you. At Pico, our digital activations are paired and created from the content that our clients are already sharing. We’re adding a layer to the trivia, voting polls, and shared memories to ensure the fun part stays while being able to natively capture data that benefits both fans and teams, without driving them to external web logins, app downloads, or different pages. We’ll never ask a fan to leave the channel they’re currently engaging on. While engagement is important – it’s not everything. 

The engagement seen on social media makes for great bragging rights, but it doesn’t really tell more of the story on who is behind the likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. Through Pico’s digital activations, teams are able to learn more about their fans and collect valuable data points in a non-intrusive, organic way. And in these challenging times, when game attendance by fans is fairly uncertain, the industry as a whole needs to understand who their fans are, separate from the ones that buy tickets. Engaging and identifying digital fans opens new revenue streams by creating a strategy that allows organizations to serve more personalized and relevant content and offerings. 

Let’s take the below example from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals that went live earlier this summer. They wanted to connect with their fans and offer a comforting distraction. In this case, it was raffling off free merchandise from their pro shop. The quiz, with just 4 questions, called on their fans to choose what type of merch they would prefer, which Bengals player they relate to the most, their favorite touchdown dances, and the best way to contact them should they win. Fun, unique, and engaging.

The value here is the team learning which type of merch that fan prefers and the best way to contact them – in this case, personal email. Now the Bengals have two additional data points on that fan which will help in making data-based decisions when pushing content, offers, push messages, emails and more.

At-home digital activations are something we’ll definitely be seeing more of in this space. 

Second Screen Marketing

There’s nothing abnormal about second screen usage within the sports industry. In fact, it’s estimated that in 2020, over 91% of internet users are expected to use a second screen while watching TV.

When it comes to sports fans and their second screen, however, they tend to still be focused and engaged with what they’re watching and use the second screen as a way to share predictions, check stats, live-tweet/converse with other fans, post memes and more. There’s a creative and interesting opportunity to utilize second-screen usage as part of a digital fan-marketing strategy. 

If sports teams and broadcasters embrace second screen usage they can find a way to retain the fans’ attention and keep them engaged with their content in a way that’s very complimentary and can be part of both viewing experiences in an organic way.

Today especially, fans are tuning into broadcast programming even more than they have before. With more eyes on screens and less (or no) fans in stadiums, implementing a second screen strategy presents an opportunity to not only engage fans but to also capture data on live viewers. Who is viewing what, and when? What content are they engaged with outside of the game? What app are they using? Where are they tuning in from? Are they engaging on social, checking for tweets or memes? Are they subscribed to a newsletter?

Through embracing various second-screen strategies, sports organizations and broadcasters can start connecting the dots on who is watching or listening and who is engaging on social and can use that information to learn more about their fans’ viewing habits and preferences when watching a game.

It’s all about the views!

This time, I don’t mean social views. I mean actual views, in the Drake kind of way. The view of the game from home. Aka, advanced stadium technologies that allow for player-fan tracking, high-tech replays, new camera angles, and more. The NBA already started this journey back in 2018 and it’s crucial that other leagues begin to follow suit for a more optimal viewing experience in fanless games/stadiums.

One (of many) great parts about being a fan, is finally going to a game. Seeing all of the action on the court or field, listening to the stadium get louder from excitement – or quieter from tension. Hearing the sneakers squeaking, the balls bouncing, and whistles blown by the referees. That’s why it’s important that these sights and sounds that generate feelings from fans need to be reached now at home to keep building on and enhancing that part of the fan experience. 

More and more stadiums, leagues, and teams are implementing new camera and microphone technologies to enhance the viewing experience. It’s even more important for all of us at home watching the game.  

The future of the fan experience within the sports industry is that of an exciting one. With new technologies, practices, and more entering the space, it’s cool (to say the least) to watch and see how each league, team, and/or player adapts to them. How they use innovation for us, their fans, for the game, and for their own business objectives.

Why Trading Mookie Betts Was the Right Move

Betts, who recently observed his 28th birthday, received a long extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers at $365,000,000 over 12 years. It’s needless to say that he’ll have some coin once his playing days are over with some rings to pair…

With his performance in the playoffs as of late, the front office in Boston has come under much scrutiny from media and fans for trading a highly regarded player like Mookie. Much of the outrage focuses on the fact that Mookie is a generational piece, but Boston sought sustainable success with talented, young ballplayers after the decimation of the farm system by former GM Dave Dombrowski in an effort to chase a ring.

In analyzing the deal, we must consider the contracts of the players involved… At the time of the trade, Mookie was set to hit free agency at the end of the 2020 season. In an interview with David Ortiz for the World Series, Mookie suggested that he saw himself staying in Boston for the rest of his career. However, he omitted the most significant part: He wanted to be rewarded with one of the highest contracts in the league.

Mookie made it clear that he wanted to be paid as a top player in the game, but never committed to Boston explicitly until after the fact.

He quietly rejected multiple offers from the Red Sox before the pandemic, the last of which was comparable to his current $365mil deal with the Dodgers. In a pre-COVID market, this was still a massive deal– but he sought $400mil as a free agent. His unwillingness to settle for anything less than what he valued himself, made it clear that he was not tied to Boston.

Admittedly, I was initially in the boat that thought the trade was lopsided for Betts at first… Verdugo and Graterol for an elite player like Mookie surely was a joke, right?

While Brusdar Graterol will be a cornerstone reliever in the near future, there might have been some misrepresentation of whether he was a starter or reliever. His inclusion in the deal was ultimately voided and instead, the Red Sox got a crop of young talent with infielder Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong, in addition to Verdugo.

Mookie Betts had no immediate intention of re-signing with the team. The Red Sox effectively gained “free talent” for an expiring contract when the race for the playoff was muddied by a very tough division with the Rays and Yankees in the hunt. The Red Sox effectively punted on the 2020 season by preempting an imminent exit with a trade that effectively locked up their middle-infield for the next 5 years. They also gained an every-day outfielder who can play all three outfield positions.

In his very short career, Verdugo has shown that he can replicate Betts’ offensive output (with slightly less power). In his career spanning over four years with 211 games underneath his belt, his career slash line is .290/.345/.458. It is impressive by itself, and he is gaining confidence at the plate– he has a very high ceiling.

Drooling Meme GIFs | Tenor

Jeter Downs is also a name to remember… The SS/2B was a highly touted prospect within the Cincinnati Reds organization until the Dodgers traded for him specifically. The 2018 trade that sent Jeter Downs to the Dodgers was the blockbuster that sent Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati. They, along with $7 million in cash, were packaged for Jeter Downs (then a 7th-ranked prospect), Josiah Gray (then a 20th-ranked prospect) and Homer Bailey. The Dodgers clearly valued Jeter Downs heavily and parted ways with him to get their dude in Betts.

Mookie is a great talent, but not someone you build around. He is, at best, an ancillary piece, who could turn a team into a super-team. His glove is elite, but he is not the best “complete” outfielder in the league. I don’t think he even breaks the top 5 (Trout, Acuña, Yelich, Bellinger, Judge all have slight advantages).

We will thank the Red Sox’ front office for making this trade in the near future, even though it is not apparent at the moment. The Dodgers’ World Series win validated that they “won” the trade, but who is to say the trade can’t be mutually beneficial?

Fear the Sox

No, not the other Sox…

Recently, the Chicago White Sox have been true to their name— white hot. At the time of writing this post on August 30, they are in second place in the AL Central, behind the Cleveland Indians by one game. This dominance harkens back to 2005, when Paul Konerko led the team to a World Series sweep against the Houston Astros (then in the National League).

An overpoweringly deep lineup, paired with an above-average rotation is always a recipe for success. One difference from 2005 however, is that the core of young blood on the team is under contract for the next few years, so they can only improve with key players.

Just last week, the Sox broke the MLB record for the most home runs in a 7-day span (Elias Sports Bureau).

The prolific Tim Anderson has been marketed as the AL Central’s star for a few seasons now, and he is finally filling that mold. Through 97 ABs, he is hitting an average of .361 with a staggering 1.048 OPS. To compliment that stat, he has been a catalyst in the lineup with 26 Rs. With only TWO errors on the season through 195 innings, he is assuming stardom with ease on both sides.

Slimmed down, Jose Abreu has found quite a bit of success this season, with a 2.0 WAR. Abreu dropped 12 HRs, driven in 30 RBIs, and has even scored 23 Rs. He has the second-highest OPS on the team at 1.006, behind Anderson.

Additionally, the young Yoan Moncada has been very versatile, appearing all across the infield. While his 2020 offensive stats are slightly below his career averages, his defensive modularity has been key to the Sox.

The bread is in the Sox’s outfield though… A core of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Nomar Mazara produces many of their offensive output. Eloy and Robert have 11 and 8 HRs on the season respectively.

Luis Robert has bona fide GROWN MAN POWER!

The Sox also sneakily have the best platoon of catchers (in the entire league) behind the dish– both Yasmani Grandal and James McCann would each be the everyday catchers on contending teams. Yas is the third-best catcher (both offensively and defensively), and McCann has a case to break the top-ten.

While it is not their greatest asset, the starting rotation of Giolito, Keuchel, Cease, Gio Gonzalez, and Lopez has bite. The first three in the rotation all have sub-3.00 ERA.

Foster and Colome coming out of the ‘pen is the kiss of death for opposing teams. With a 1.23 and 0.79 ERA respectively, they have been lights-out.

With the surging Slam Diego Padres looming over the Dodgers, the race to the World Series is becoming a little muddier. The Yankees have been hampered with injuries, and they suddenly seem vulnerable in the big picture. The White Sox could be the world-beaters in the AL at least, and they might be the ones to topple the apparent kings in the Bronx.

Slugging White Sox could be ready to eclipse Cubs in Chicago

It’s Make or Break for the MLB

Eight Marlins players have tested positive Monday morning since their matchup against the Phillies on Sunday. Counting previously known positives, the number of known cases in the Marlins’ clubhouse is currently at twelve.

This obviously doesn’t bode well for any team… The Marlins are dangerously close to losing their entire starting lineup to this virus.

Miami announced it was delaying its trip home ahead of the series against the Orioles which was supposed to start tonight but instead was postponed earlier this morning. MLB also announced it postponed tonight’s Yankees-Phillies match up at Citizens Bank Park where the Marlins had just been.

While we can lament about why the season was not played in a bubble location, we still would have needed to play through the spread of this virus through clubhouses. Other teams will inevitably have more asymptomatic carriers until this season ends.

Whether it ends prematurely or on time, the status of this unprecedented season depends on how we tackle this first hurdle.

If we can find a way to get through this week, we may find a way to complete the season if we develop reliable protocol. Whatever the future holds, it will look more like what we are experiencing now but in greater volume.

The next 24 hours will be the most critical part of this season to date – we could see changes to protocol, more players opting out, or things much worse…

Expansion Series 9: Kansas City

The next region I want to dive into is somewhat tricky, and I think the best way to discuss the state of Missouri would be starting with the home of the current Super Bowl champions: Kansas City.

KC is an area that is dominated primarily by the SEC and college sports… Nevertheless, the spotlight of the NFL has never been higher in Kansas City than it is right now, and it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world to expect a dynasty to begin as long as Patrick Mahomes is in the driver’s seat.

The offensive and defensive weapons that veteran coach Andy Reid has been given were speculated to be on the brink of a long-standing dominance, and now that they have proven battle-tested in the biggest game of the season and came away as champions, I would imagine that a lot of other NFL franchises are going back to the drawing board to try and combat the Chiefs.

Shifting focus to baseball, the Kansas City Royals tell a much different story. The Royals were World Series champions in 2015, but not much else has been positive since then, especially since the loss of their all-star infielder Mike Moustakas.

Where the Kansas City story gets tricky is when it comes to basketball. The closest team of interest with professional basketball would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, but this would be considered a locational stretch by any means. If a basketball team was extended to KC, it would be reasonable that there could be a considerable fan following. There is no record of a basketball team that called KC home, but that may be due in part to the Thunder.

The same story could apply even more so for a professional hockey team. The brief NHL history of Kansas City lies with the Kansas City Scouts, a former professional hockey team that only saw two years before relocating. The city also had the Blades (1990-2001) of the IHL and the Outlaws (2004-2005) of the UHL before the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL were founded in 2009.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and San Fransisco are also in need of expansion teams.

A Pyrrhic Victory for Baseball Fans as MLB Agrees to Return to Play

The MLBPA and owners agreed upon a return to play plan, as a result of Manfred’s vested powers from the March 26th agreement. The long stalemate lasted a whole three months, but in the end, an agreement surrounding the current CBA could not be found. The waters have muddied between the owners and Players Union, and the current agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season.

Even though the ramifications from this failure to reform the current CBA will be far-reaching, this season’s implications can be especially significant due to this inaction.

If the trend continues with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in current states, a 2020 season will not happen. Caution will always prevail, and an increase in confirmed cases seems inevitable.

Like we hold politicians accountable for every action or inaction, the owners and union should be held liable for the three months of inaction. The blame should rest on both sides for the inability to mediate on a regular-season, when the preseason should have been played in a bubble location during negotiations.

The return to play plans should have been made during the denouement of the first wave, and the first phase of returning to play should have coincided with the reopening phase. Thats means that now, the time frame to have a feasible season is long over. The window to play is expiring.

No matter the degree at which the coronavirus becomes a threat, it is inevitable that the virus will spread far and will find its way into clubhouses- because it is already in many.

The plans to play in 2020 were finalized far too late, and are going to be implemented when the virus is resurging on the heels of the reopening phase. Remaining cautiously optimistic, I am anticipating an exciting and pivotal season for the sport.

The Analysis of Sports Amidst COVID-19

After a long and argumentative time span in May and June, the NBA and MLB have concluded that the season will resume in the month of July.

For the majority of sports fans, it is a pleasure and a sign of hope that sports will finally be on television again. For the opposite side of the scale, there is reasonable doubt, as well as reasonable concern, for the continuation of sports.

In a world that seems to change relentlessly on a daily basis, the sports scene is certainly no exception and the above-average sports fan has certainly been starving for some sort of entertainment on television.

For a while, there was a considerable crowd that was highly invested in “The Last Dance” documentary, which then transitioned into a less than entertaining golf match between all-time rivals of Tom Brady vs. Payton Manning and Tiger Woods vs. Phil Michelson. Even though these two isolated programs attracted a considerable crowd, the background of the continuation of sports was still up in the air.

Fast forward to late June when Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred reached an agreement with the MLB Players Association to play a 60-game season in specified, semi-neutral locations to minimize travel. Similarly, the NBA reached an agreement to colonize the since-abandoned Walt Disney World to accommodate the players and their respective staff.

The NHL has released a schedule in which the remainder of the season – including the postseason – will be played without any solidified ramifications or logistics of how, when, or where the games will be played. Lastly, the NFL is still up in the air in regards to gameplay, although the presence of fans crowding into a stadium seems highly unlikely.

Essentially, I would like to analyze the intent and the possible outcomes of sports returning in the disastrous year that is 2020.

In a year where a pandemic was not plaguing the entire planet, the average sports fan would be just finishing the NHL and NBA postseasons and beginning to get a feel for their current MLB team before the all-star break to identify any changes that may need to be made to make a playoff run. Additionally, that same average sports fan is more than likely already thinking about football, imagining the outcome of the team they support after all the final trades and personnel changes have been made. Maybe they’d even be pooling the final contestants in the annual fantasy football league.

In 2020, baseball seemed nonexistent given that the peak of the epidemic and shelter-in-place orders began on what would have been opening day for several different programs, but furthermore, the climax of the NHL and NBA seasons was about to be in full swing.

Having said that, the question then becomes “If a franchise were to win a championship this season, what will be recorded in history?”

In my observation of the NBA, the season will resume. But there have been several players – even all-star players in fact – that have contracted the disease and are absolutely subject to miss a portion of this season. That will then affect a coaching strategy going forward; not to mention the health and wellbeing of the other players and staff.

Hypothetically, if the Lakers were to finish the remainder of what would be the 2019-2020 season as champions, this season would be the first dynamic of its kind and will be deserving of an “outlier” distinction. This same paradigm applies for the NHL and even more so for baseball given that the season will be played with less than half as many games as a normal season.

Is that deserving championship prestige? I believe history will decide.

Going further, sports have a tendency to bring everyone together. Not just by the overwhelming support for a team or an individual, but entertainment of any kind can cause the looming sensation of melancholy and cabin fever to subside while the game is on.

In that aspect, I cannot wait to be surrounded by sports and the culture alike again. I miss the premise of sitting down with my friends and loved ones and watching a sports game or match. Perhaps even more so, I miss those conversations I have with others about a terrible umpire, an astounding home run, a near-impossible three-pointer, or a rapid-paced power play that can seem to make any problem feel small.

However, sports in that respect are still just a game, but the athletes and the coaches involved in these games are real. In other words, these teams and individuals supporting these teams will be at risk, no matter what safety precautions are put in place.

COVID-19 did not by any means disappear, and will more than likely be amongst the populous of the United States for a lot longer than most are prepared for, especially me. I would rather remain in the comfort of my own home watching the same shows and highlight reels in perpetuity than sacrifice the health or safety of any athlete.

With more athletes testing positive for COVID-19, I am still under the impression that the beginning or resuming of sports this summer is still into question, and if gameplay were to resume, I will remain hopeful that everyone stays safe.

Expansion Series 8: San Francisco

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Going even further in Northern California, San Francisco has an incredibly fortuitous history of sports.

Beginning with football, the 49ers saw themselves in a bit of a haze after the departure of Colin Kaepernick, and the backlash of how the NFL dealt with that complex situation that is still discussed years later.

On the brighter side, Jimmy Garappolo and George Kittle helped lead the 49ers to a shot at winning the Super Bowl last season. Given that this team is currently very young, very hungry, and very talented, other teams in the division are left with a looming fear that this team will be problematic for years to come.

Nevertheless, San Francisco’s passion is staying for good not only for football but for basketball and baseball as well.

The Golden State Warriors had a reigning empire in the NBA for several years with regular season and postseason records rivaling the impressive run held by the Bulls in the nineties. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson still have unfinished business in the West despite their season disrupting injuries last season.

On the topic of Curry, some regard him as an individual who changed the nature of the game in that even the big men who would normally find themselves underneath the hoop are trying to prosper behind the arc. Along with changing the game, he also revived the energy of the fandom behind the team and the tickets have been sold out since, regardless if he is present on the court or not.

Shifting towards baseball, the Giants began the 2010’s as a powerhouse and succeeded with three World Series championships in the first half of the decade and have maintained a reputation of having a roster of power hitters and a strong pitching staff.

Before I dive into the hockey scene that, in my opinion, is the only thing missing is from this city, is a reference to the San Francisco Demons, which was another team in the original XFL in 2001.

The only hockey history that the city by the bay has is shockingly brief. The San Francisco Spiders of the IHL operated for one season and one season only.

Is the interest in hockey simply non-existent? There is only one way to find out.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans, Baltimore and Oakland are also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 7: Oakland

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

While Las Vegas has been a top prospect for new teams to expand to, the Oakland area is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

The Raiders found a new home in Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors share the fandom from Oakland to San Francisco, which then turns into an entirely new discussion of who locals from the bay area decide to support.

The only team that currently calls Oakland home would be the Athletics who do indeed have a very long and interesting history. The A’s have been producing decent wins and have produced consistent wildcard berths in the last few years, but the crowd has been lacking for some time. The fans tend to filter back into the seats when the postseason begins, but the regular season has seen some declining ticket sales.

That narrative could be used to explain other sports interests combined with the Raiders leaving town. Raiders fans were incredibly passionate and now there could be some sort of a void on who to root for. Sports fans in Oakland more than likely would cheer for the team even though they are in Las Vegas, but perhaps there should not be a team expansion to the Oakland area.

In the case of hockey, the California Golden Seals had a brief tenure that ended in the mid-seventies, and that about does it. A very unlikely scenario would be that a football team could take the place of the Raiders, but passionate sports appreciation does not get replaced that easily.

For more in this series, read why Las VegasBuffaloIndianapolisHouston, New Orleans and Baltimore are also in need of expansion teams.