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.

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.

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 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.

Expansion Series 6: Baltimore

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.

Baltimore is another city that has some potential for growth, but the majority of baseball and hockey fans cheer for the teams nearby in Washington D.C.

I say the more the merrier, and teams in close proximity have been known to forge great rivalries, i.e. New York against Boston. Given that Lamar Jackson was the youngest player to ever win the league MVP as well as being one of the most versatile quarterbacks the league has ever seen, let alone the entire league, this stroke of good fortune has certainly taken the eyeballs off of the misfortunate orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles have been significantly low performers in the last few years, trading away what little they had for prospects and seeing a steep decline in ticket sales. Regarding my earlier statement, the Baltimore area has not seen a local hockey team since the Baltimore Skipjacks, Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bandits, which were members of a variety of different minor league associations until both were dissolved.

The story in regards to a history of Baltimore professional or even semi-professional basketball is even less prolific, but the Maryland Terrapins Division I basketball team has been a consistent powerhouse in the Big 10 conference.

In these strange times with an even foggier path going forward, Baltimore could benefit from another team to support. For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Houston and New Orleans also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 5: New Orleans

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.

Shifting gears back to the south, there is one thing that each state in the southernmost region of the country is common: a divine love of sports and a consistent breed of talent.

SEC sports are treated as a religion in certain areas, and the state of Louisiana is no stranger. New Orleans has been on the brink of some serious breakthroughs in the world of football and basketball, but have been put through agony in the case of injuries and perhaps more serious, less-than-reputable officiating.

The Pelicans were so excited to be given the number one draft to take the promising and thunderous Zion Williamson from Duke, but injury issues relating to his monolithic size resulted in an early injury that he quickly rose above once he laced up and took the court consistently. Then when he started to heat up, the season was abruptly cut short.

Additionally, in 2018, the Saints were on the fast lane to the super bowl to face the ever-so-exciting Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs or the veteran and stress-tested defense of Bill Belichek and the New England Patriots. The only thing standing in the way of the biggest game of the season: The Los Angeles Rams. This postseason was some of the most exciting games in recent football history, with an unforeseen level of talent that presented endless possibilities. At the final hour, a questionable call, or shall I say lack thereof, caused a disappointing end to the game resulting in a loss. Each and every year, the Saints are an incredibly talented team that can never seem to reach the finish line.

In any case, the southern states are emphatic about sports, so there is more than enough room for a baseball team to expand. Unfortunately, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins – and a contender for the best name in the league, the New Orleans Baby Cakes – closed its doors this year and relocated to Wichita. Even though the closest thing to professional baseball has left, there is still potential for a professional team to take its place. The hockey scene swiftly began and ended in 2002 when the New Orleans Brass emerged into the ECHL, so I doubt there would be any desire for a hockey team to return.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Houston are also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 3: Indianapolis

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.

Next up, Indy.

The Colts have had a rocky history in the past 20 years with the empire of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison being preceded by the ever so talented Andrew Luck, up until his surprising and early retirement. They had an ‘in the hunt’ season under the leadership of Jacoby Brissett, and the upcoming season will surely have some level of interest now that the veteran Philip Rivers will be joining the team.

The Pacers have seen their days in the limelight as well, as they have by and large found themselves in the playoffs over the last few years. Victor Oladipo gave the team some energy with his all-around skillset until his gruesome injury left the team in an emotional drought.

In recognition of the two sports that Indianapolis is lacking, the Indianapolis Indians are the current Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and were once home to the Indianapolis Racers, a professional hockey team. With little to go off of, I don’t see why Indy shouldn’t have a hockey team or a baseball team.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas and Buffalo are also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 2: Buffalo

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.

The next stop on our virtual tour is Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo has a solid sports following with the emergence of the Bills Mafia in the past few years, but the fandom has always been there. Josh Allen was just given an angel of an offensive weapon in Stefon Diggs this year and has proven to get a lot of things accomplished with a solid offensive line. Even further, now that Tom Brady has made his long-awaited exit from the AFC east, it has been speculated that the Bills will take the reins.

On the other hand, while the Sabres have one of the most impressive jersey designs in hockey right now, they do not have the most impressive amount of wins.

In regards to baseball, it may be too cold up in upstate New York to have a desirable baseball team in which players would actually be enthusiastic about, although they have Bison! The Buffalo Bisons are the current Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The same may go for basketball, but not necessarily because of the weather. Buffalo was actually once home to the Buffalo Braves until the team ownership moved to Los Angeles and is now known as the Los Angeles Clippers.

On a non-professional level, the University of Buffalo has been impressive to watch in the last few years and has a history of producing some excellent talent. The Buffalo Bulls’ basketball squad has a decent turnout during their regular-season games, but the citizens of upstate New York may be reluctant to watch a basketball game for an alma mater they did not attend.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas is also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 4: Houston

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.

Houston is an interesting case because the sports franchises that reside there are so strong and have been very good in the last few years, legally or otherwise.

Even with the cheating scandal, the Astros were a very talented team and are absolutely still a very strong contender going forward.

The Texans, under the field leadership of Deshaun Watson, have a lot to strive for despite losing arguably one of the best wide receivers in the game in Deandre Hopkins. J.J. Watt is a personal hero of mine, but fans may be at their wits end with Bill O’Brien after Hopkins was sent to the Cardinals for not nearly enough in return (running back David Johnson).

Lastly, the Rockets have one of the best duos in the game in Russell Westbrook and James Harden; two MVP’s that still show MVP talent. They absolutely would have caused a problem for any other team standing in their way of an NBA championship, which would have been the first time in the finals for each of them.

Additionally, they even had an XFL team in the Houston Roughnecks during its brief existence before COVID-19 decided to cut the season short. The Roughnecks played at the University of Houston’s stadium and went undefeated through the only five games of the season.

What the city lacks is hockey, and much like Buffalo does not have desirable weather to house a baseball franchise, the same paradox applies to the warm weather of Texas for hockey fans. The closest thing they had to a hockey team was the Houston Aeros, which was an AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild until 2014.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo and Indianapolis are also in need of expansion teams.