Fans increasingly want to be involved in the decision making of their club, a trend which is unstoppable. Sports organisations should start thinking on how to adjust their business models in order to facilitate for this trend. Below you will find 10 great examples of fans calling the shots
The average fan wants involvement
I am sure you know this particular guy! I call him the armchair critic, the guy who always knows best. He is standing at the sideline and is telling everybody what a coach should do and how it can be done better. He wants to be involved, doesn’t he? Meet your average fan!
I am also sure you know this kid, this young adult who beats the hell out of you when playing any sports video game you can think of. This screenager knows what he is doing. He or she has been brought up with it. He not only chooses which players are in his team, but he is also calling the shots! This fan decides which players he wants, whether he is participating in a fantasy league or whether he is just playing FIFA 20. He is tech savvy and wants to be the best, just like the armchair critic knows best.
Both of these guys (the armchair critic and the screenager) have something in common. They are participating in something they are passionate about. They are fans!
Declining number of fans attending games…….
However, there is a problem! In many sports, there seems to be a declining trend in the number of fans attending a game or people associating themselves with a team. This seems logical as the new fans feel less involved. For many of them it is much more fun to just play an online game at home with friends. There they can have an impact on the game and there they are truly involved. Passively watching a game is out of the question for many newbies in contrast to the aforementioned armchair critic, who is getting older and increasingly is watching the game at home . Times have changed and tech is the main reason for it.
Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports
Give fans a say!
It order to stop this trend and to be successful as a club, fan engagement (see my blog on the future of fan engagement) will be crucial. The new generations Z and Alpha do want to have a say in the game. Preferably they want to call the shots. If not they will be out!
Imagine the young kid, who decides when playing Fifa 2020 what his line-up is, which tactics he is going to use etc etc. Imagine the fantasy sports player, who is deciding on who will be in his team. New generations are used to making decisions. They are tech savvy and know what is best for them. It is not that different in the real world. As said, tech has been the main reason behind this trend, but it also may come to the rescue of sports and fandom! At least if sports organizations are willing to change!
Look at the picture above. It is part of an interesting article that describes how fans were already involved in direct decisions in the early 50’s. Fans in the stands were equipped with large cards with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ printed on them. During the game they had to answer questions that had a direct impact on the match, for example, “do we have to bring in this player X?” The selected fans had to put up there cardboards with the answer, yes or no. Fans loved the idea, but somehow this never materialized on a sustainable basis. If this was possible in the fifties, why wouldn’t this with current technology be possible today!
In fact, there is a huge opportunity here! Teams and sports have to involve fans when making decisions, whether it will be directly (such as tactics, substitutions, players or line-up) or indirectly (team jersey, logo, players to be bought and sold etc) and in fact this should not be too difficult to organize.
Fan involvement not that difficult today!
Today, with the right technology in place, fan involvement should be much easier. What to think for example of sensors? Sensors can take care of better interaction between player and fan. Since there is evidence that the modern fan feels more connected to individual athletes than to teams, this is important. With the help of sensors the fan can make his own choices. Does he want go see the data of player A or player B? Which camera helmet he wants to experience? Which haptic vibrations of which player he wants to receive?
This definitely makes watching a game more attractive to the fan. However, this is not sufficient! Yes it is easy to feel connected to a certain player but today’s fan wants much more. He or she wants to have a say into basically everything! That’s what he is used to when sitting behind his computer! Connection is one thing but decisionmaking is an entirely different animal. The question is if sports directors and managers are willing to change and are prepared to give fans a bigger say. Some clubs are experimenting with this phenomenon. They are prepared to give fans a say on issues that are not directly impacting the game itself. They give fans indirect involvement.
3 great examples of indirect involvement of fans
1. Voting on brand related issues
Fans are married to their teams and similar to in the real world, where brands are important, the brand of their club is important. Things like team jerseys, team colors, clublogos, team sponsors, social responsibility issues are important to them. For clubs this is a great opportunity to make the fans feel more involved. It is not difficult at all and you create a bond with your fans, something which is incredible important as has been proven by Covid 19.
There are already some great examples. What to think of for example Everton fans which were consulted on the team colors of the new jersey or what about Manchester City fans, who were allowed to decide which team badge was most appropriate. Barca fans were asked whether Quatar Sports should be a shirt sponsor or not.
The app socios.com is taking it a step further. It is a blockchain fan engagement platform that believes fans should have a vote. It offers fans the possibility to vote on certain matters and earn rewards. The app has already signed strong brand names like Juventus and Paris Saint Germain.
2. Voting on management issues
Taking it a bit further as far as indirect involvement would be to letting fans having a say on personnel issues. You could for example think of fans having a say on whether the president or the manager of the team should be sacked or not and which new coach should be appointed. Again with current technology this should not be too difficult to organise. The Seattle Sounders are a perfect example. Fans do have a say in issues like sacking or retaining the general manager or having the right to advice the club on charitable donations etc. Ultimate democracy!
Taking it even further, fans could also have a say on the team roster, which players should be bought and sold. Obviously this might be a hurdle for some clubs, but it would definitely gain some fans!
3. Voting on game day experience
Another great example is letting fans decide on what their experience will be like during gameday. Again with some creativity, you can think of a lot of examples on issues surrounding gameday. Think on voting on food (special of the day etc), think of which fan duel has to be organised (noise contest levels etc), think of artists performing at half time. This way you co-create the experience of fans that they want themselves. That’s an easy win I would say!
Also interesting to read: 10 awesome ways to raise stadium fan experience
7 great examples of fans calling the shots
These are examples of indirect involvement of fans, but what about direct involvement in the game or in an event? Here are 7 examples where this is or has been the case. Obviously this might be difficult for some, but no doubt more examples will follow in the future as the fan requires it!
4. The Volvo Ocean Race
During the edition of 2009 the virtual gaming community was steering one of the boats (Green Dragon) during the last few legs of the race. Every night fans/gameplayers could vote for 4 alternative scenarios. Green Dragon had to follow the scenario with the most votes. This was and is a true example of how the virtual and the real world are converging. Moreover Green Dragon managed to realise its best result when steered by the gaming community.
As I won a leg of the virtual race, I had the opportunity to talk to the navigator of the Green Dragon. Obviously he thought the experiment was very interesting. In some case the decisions of the gaming community were counterintuitive at first sight, he stated. However, after rethinking some of the alternative game decisions, he could see the logic in some cases and definitely learned a lit from it. It proves the phenomenons of “virtual wisdom of the crowd” and is also taking fanengagement to the extreme. See article. In any case, it is an interesting though to let fans having kind of a consulting role.
5. My Football Club/Caen
MFC originated in 2007 and used to be a football club owned by its members. These members decided on-line on matters such as team jerseys, price of ticketing, team manager, line-up, player transfers etc. Initially this initiative was a great success. The club gathered a huge number of fans from all over the world and saw the number of supporters in the strands increase rapidly. However, the results were not that great and in the end the team even relegated.
l’Avant-Garde Caennaise is an even better example. It is a 6th division team in France, and it seems to be very successful so far. Its cooperation with United Managers appears to have turnaround the club into a Football Manager game. With the assistance of an app, fans can decide on basically everything; from players to tactics, from substitutes to decisions made during the game. The majority decides, the ultimate democracy! It seems to work well as the club immediately gained promotion during the first year of this experiment.
This year they also seem to do well. The French Football Federation is the only problem now. It considers a team that is steered by its fans, as a threat. Future will tell, but no doubt fan decision making will become more important, also advocated by people like Arsene Wenger.
In the next five years, it might happen that social media substitutes players during a match. They’ll have a hook-up at half-time and determine which players get substituted and who will be brought on during the second half. This will happen.”Arsene Wenger
6. Formula E Fanboost
In Fanboost fans play an active role in influencing the outcome of a Formula E race. The five drivers which receive the most votes are awarded with a significant burst of engine power, which they can use during the race. Clearly driver popularity and connection with the fans are of major importance here.
You may argue, as some do, that races are unfairly impacted by the fans of the vote. On the other had, Formula E is aimed on the newer generations which have a different mindset. For them a race is part of an all in package. They feel particularly connected to individuals, for them they are true influencers. They feel that races are entertainment in which fan connection is as important as the race itself.
7. Schaumburg Flyers
In 2006 the Schaumburg Flyers, a minor league baseball team, decided to let fans vote on which pitcher had to be used, the batting order and positions in the field. Fans could decide on this on-line. It was like a fantasy game coming to live, reality baseball! It initially did have a 15% positive impact on the number of fans attending the game. However, in the end it didn’t work out as fans from opponents were also able to cast their votes and consequently weird line-ups were chosen. However, what it did show was that fans definitely were participating and enjoying the experiment.
Nascar always has always been very innovative as far as fan engagement is concerned. It has experimented with fans deciding on the grid order, which they could decide on based on for example number of career poles, championship points or maximum speeds. The latests experiment is on fans voting for one additional driver who can participate in each year’s allstar race, a race between the winners of races organized during the season. It is am excellent way to further bonding between racers and fans as the most popular driver with the fans will gain that extra spot. A win win for drivers, fans and Nascar if you were to ask me!
In 1999 Garry Kasparov played against the world through the internet. Team The World decided by majority vote which move it wanted to make. Kasparov won the match but admitted it had been an incredibly hard one. I would say, wake up World Chess Federation! Why not let a world team participate in certain tournaments? This is the way to attract an entire new generation. Technology amd chess have a lot in common, so act! I would bet, such a move would attract lots of interest for the sport. The beauty is that, it would be relatively easy to implement.
10. The Fan Controlled Football League
Yes, it’s there and it does what its name suggests! By means of an interactive video overlay on Twitch (actively supporting the league) or in the Fan Controlled Football Leauge app, fans will call all of the plays in real time for the 4 teams in this new league. The outcome of each fan vote is relayed to the quarterback and executed on the field. Besides, fans can also step into the manager’s role to determine items such as name, logo, colors, players etc. As the league states itself, it’s a video game coming to life.
Obviously the judges are still out, but keep a close eye, I am sure it will raise some eyebrows and it might become very popular to the Gen Z and Gen Alpha generations, who love to be in command. For them it is the ultimate as games become reality! This is not a small thing, in fact, it has been around for some time now and seems to gather momentum. Watch the video and you will undertsand.
Also interesting to read: 9 powerful reasons why gamification of sports matters a lot
Innovation is key!
Anyway, to finish this all, I believe that in order to keep sports interesting for the fans, sports organizations and clubs need to be innovative and involve their fans in decision-making. In my opinion this is an unstoppable trend. I am wondering what you think. Feel free to leave your opinion below.Jan Kees Mons ([email protected])