Fans are the main drivers behind the growth of sports. For clubs it will be extremely important to engage these fans as they will generate additional revenues. The big question will be how to improve fan engagement in the future.
Fans have experienced many changes
Recently I visited a home game of my favorite football club. Automatically my memories went back to the days I was a kid and visited the same match with my father. I am from Amsterdam, so I guess (if you are interested in soccer at leat) you know which club I am talking about: obviously it is Ajax Amsterdam!
I vividly recall how my father parked his car far away from the stadium, how the in-stadium services were non existent and of course the disgusting smell in the toilet area. At half time a marching band played horrendous music, but…….my club Ajax won with 3-0! It was a great experience and I was not only hooked for life, I also became a fan of Ajax!
Since that experience, an awful lot has changed where fan engagement is concerned. Being a fan today is entirely different than it used to be. Today’s modern fan will never accept the above described environment. What has not changed is that modern fans still vividly support their club. However, they do expect their club to provide decent services in- and outside the stadium. Hence over time we have witnessed big on-site changes where fan engagement is concerned. Sure, you can be a romantic soul or purist and long for old times, but I am certain that won’t be for very long!
Fan engagement is becoming ever more important
Demands of fans are ever increasing and are no longer limited to the experiences inside a stadium. For a club, it is essential to offer the fan a great package as these fans are the essence behind its existence. Fan engagement is what counts here. Why? Because fans are driving revenues. If you realise that the bulk of revenues is derived from media income, ticket sales, sponsoring and merchandising, you will immediately understand why this is the case. They are all fan related and have all to do with fan engagement; how do you retain or attract fans?
Fan engagement has been neglected for a long time, but is gaining ground rapidly, as it means extra bugs! Clubs are realising this and therefore fans may expect huge changes over the next 10 years. The Fowler Wilson fan engagement model argues that fans can be reached both on-site and off-site (place related) and on matchday and non-matchday (time related). Both place and time require a different strategy. I believe some of the fan engagement changes that you may expect, are the following ones:
Matchday on-site: service levels will improve and unique content will play an increasingly important role
In my blogpost of several weeks ago about how to raise the fan expierence levels in the stadium, I already explained what changes you may expect where fan engagement in and around the stadium is concerned.
When going to the stadium, fans want to have an all compelling tailormade experience. They require high service and convenience levels both in- and outside the stadium. If not, you can bet your ass, they won’t come back. After all, clubs and stadiums are increasingly competing with other events and with home where virtual reality will likely take away some market share in the future. Clubs and stadiums hence have to improve their service and fan engagement levels and offer content that cannot be experienced outside the stadium. Some of the actions that can be taken to better engage the fan in the stadium are for example:
1. Stadiums have to be upgraded
In my blog article on the stadium of the future, I tried to find out what these stadiums will likely look like and to what extent they will meet the needs of the fans. The main pillars of the future stadium can be summarized as technology, safety, convenience, service, connectivity and the collection of data. The future fan will require nothing less and nothing more. He wants to have a great experience. He wants to be able to order food and merchandise from his seat, he wants to connect with friends and he wants the latest news and statistics. Last but not least, he definitely wants to have fun. The video below gives an example of how you can connect.
Also interesting to read: the top 10 features of future stadiums
2. Create exclusive content which cannot be obtained or experienced outside the stadium: sportainment!
With alternative ways to view a game at home, stadium and club owners have to create an experience that cannot be obtained anywhere else than at the venue. This can be created in different ways. For a start fans want to create shareable moments and memories with their friends. An example of this could be to take a picture of yourself and your friend with a holographic image of your favorite player just before the game starts.
Another interesting example is what Tampa Bay Lightning masterminded some years ago. The club came up with the idea to fabricate and sell club jerseys with a microchip in it. Imagine the consequences: a true win-win!! Through this microchip, you (as a fan) can get special discounts, participate in lotteries, connect with sponsors, win special prices, play games etc. Additionally all these blue colored Tampa Bay jerseys generate a great atmosphere in the stadium. For the club and its sponsors, it is also extremely beneficial. Besides the increase in merchandising revenues, they will be able to collect data which in turn can raise revenues once again!
You also can think of sensors (see my blog article) and cameras integrated in equipment, jerseys or helmets of players. Such sensors could give you a birdseye view. You will become the eyes of a player! Additionally you can consult live data on the performance of your favorite player. Moreover, with these data clubs can organize games with fans (for example, who guesses the right distance a certain player will run etc etc). It’s valuable data that can be gathered here.
But there is more! What about a noise barometer creating new record levels of noise in a stadium and the fan loyalt points for it. Or what about betting and with betting I mean in stadium real time betting. Make a personal bet with your buddy next to you on the 100 meter time of your favorite athlete. It all will be there and it will be part of the experience. That’s what fan engagement should be all about.
3. Decision-making by the fan
The future fan wants to be involved! Generation Z and generation Alpha are used to call the shots, when they are playing their E-games at home. They are used to play an active role in it, whether in their fantasy or in the real deal. Simultaneously the much older armchair critic won’t mind either. He also wants to be part of the decision making process. Don’t be surprised if apps will be developed, where fans can vote on for example team rosters, substitutes, team colors and logo etc etc. This no doubt will become more important in future fan engagement on site.
Also interesting to read: 7 awesome examples of fans calling the shots
Matchday off-site offering opportunities…
Increasingly fans are watching the game on matchday outside the stadium. Preferably you want the fan inside the stadium, but if they don’t fit in or prefer to watch it elesehwre, you want a piece of the pie outside the stadium or venue as well.
4. Facilitate virtual and augmented reality
It is unstoppable and it will be there. You can rather be a first mover than following the crowd. Watching a game in Virtual Reality will become more important over time as technology is progressing. Undoubtedly Covid 19 will speed up this process. It has created a mindset that in case the viewing experience at home is getting better, dans are prepared to choose for this option. AR and VR will quickly improve and watching a game from a virtual environment will no longer be an exception going forward. For the clubs it means extra revenues and a solid way to enhance and broaden fan engagement. This way you can at least leverage the game off-site.
Also interesting to read: Covid 19 and 10 important long term effect on sports
5. Find alternative media to attract new fans
Streaming, youtube, TV, social media! There are plenty of ways to connect with fans in order to improve fan engagement. Many clubs are already doing this, but it is often underestimated how important this is to connect with fans, not only on matchday but the entire year around. Don’t forget that the new fan is not interested in watching content on TV. Generation Alpha and Generation Z are streaming content. They are interested in watching on line on new social media and streaming platforms such as for example Twitch etc.
6. Create events outside the stadium
The social element is probably the key ingredient for good fan engagement. Fans outside the stadium like to watch a game or event together in a bar or on a square or even at home with their buddies. Clubs should be creative to facilitate such events. Whether it is hosting an event in a local setting or creating a fan party in different places around the world, there is a world to be gained here. Good fan engagement is a global rather than a local effort. Fans are increasingly getting global, so better make use of this.
Non matchday on-site: create alternative experiences…
The investments in future stadiums are enormous and just playing a weekly game won’t pay the bills. Hence, stadiums and clubs will have to offer alternative club- or non-club related experiences. Some fan engagement related activities which can be organised are:
Clubs often have a long history. For fans, it is great to go back in time, to experience old memories again, to glance through old memorabilia, to experience the old stadium again and the disgusting smell within the toilet area,. People like experiences and history can play an important element in this. Older and younger fans can get someting of their liking. The museum as the center point of technology, history and sports.
8. Virtual experiences
With virtual reality, lots will be possible. Wouldn’t it be fun to be part of the team training and play a game with your favorite player. Or standing in the waiting room together with all the players just before the game starts. Virtual Reality makes this possible. Both the older fan and the younger fan are willing to pay for such experiences. Clubs should be open to create alternative experiences in the stadium when there is no match. This does not only result in better fan engagement, it also delivers extra revenues.
9. Field trips
For younger kids field trips and talent days where they can meet up with their favorite players is an unforgettable experience, talking about fan engagement! This offers an excellent opportunity to target those future fans. The earn-back undoubtedly will come later. It means players and athletes have to become more active as ambassadors for their clubs, not only onsite also off-site.
Non matchday off-site: the big opportunity…
The biggest battlefield for clubs where fan engagement is concerned will actually take place outside the stadium. This is where the war for the future fan is taking place. This is where clubs may create the extra bug besides the usual revenue streams such as ticketing, sponsoring, media and merchandising. It all has to do with relationship building. The arena is global, it spans the entire globe. Don’t forget that the middle-class is growing rapidly in many countries. It means a lot of potential new fans are out there!Males, females and the kids! If you don’t have started by now to target these markets, you may be too late and miss out. What can you do, to attract these fans?
10. Digitize, digitize, digitize!
Digital transormation is the magic formula going forward where fan engagement is concerned. It is an absolute must and should be one of the main pillars of a club. The fan of the future is a digial on. In fact technology is totally embedded in the minds of the new generations. Smartphones, tablets, streaming platforms and social media are the new toolkits of the future fan. Traditional and new types of content (see 14) can be leveraged towards these new forms of communication. Digital marketing is still very underdeveloped in sports but will rapidly gain ground as sports organisations will realize this is a unique additional source of revenues.
Covid 19 have made them realise that the remote fan is extremely important for their fan engagement strategy. Without attendances, it has become extremely difficult to comunicate with the fan. Hence more time is spend on digitization. Loyalty and customer relations will become the new spearpoint in fan engagement strategy.
But that’s not all! Digitization will also provide different stakeholders with a wealth of data, which should be seen as the new gold. The data of fans will provide better knowledge of their habits, preferences and demographics, which will translate into new product opportunities. These data will not only be useful for sports organisations themselves but also to numerous other parties such as sponsors, advertisers, manufacturers, media conglomerates etc. Partnering and sharing as well as selling data will therefore become very valuable assets and generate new revenues. That’s why fan engagement will be even more important.
11. Target the males
Males generally are big sports fans whilst the younger ones are also tech savvy. Micro marketing (like they do during the elections) should lead to a tailor made strategy on how to get these fans aboard. Be visible! The big advantage is that there is still an enormous market for grabs as this male market (similar to the female and kids markets) is a global one!
12. Target the females
Women are potentially the biggest group to be targeted. As a group they have probably been neglected for too long. Increasingly women are interested in sports and in being fans. Until now marketing has predominantly been targeted on males, but there is much more to be gained if women are included as well. It is a no brainer to connect with women, to start up professional women leagues and teams (if clubs haven’t done it already), to tailor merchandise in line with wishes of girls and weomen etc.
13. Target the kids
Undoubtedly kids are the fans of the future and no doubt they have different characteristics than older generations. E-Games are important to them. This is already a huge market and will continue to grow. Buy the best gamers to represent your club in a fantasy virtual league. It’s big bucks and it’s a great way to connect with your future fans.
Simultaneously active players are the big heroes to kids, more so than clubs. Be creative and find ways where players can connect with fans. They will be hugely important marketing representatives for your club.
Also interesting to read: How GenZ will change the world of sports
14. Storytelling and special content
Fans like stories and emotional content. They like the underdog but also want to know everything about their heroes. There is plenty of proof for this. The sad story behind Ajax player and future star Appie Nourie created an enormous community feeling within the football world. Obviously this happened spontaneously. When creating new content, be aware it has to be real and in line with your values.
If you have other ideas related to fan engagement, I would love to hear from you! Please connect. One more thing! The other day I watched my team winning once again. This time I watched it on TV, but don’t worry, I will be back in the stadium again or I will buy myself a VR homeset!
This post was originally published on 20 september 2019n and has been updated