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.