The sports fan of the future

12 awesome ways to improve fan engagement in the future

Fans are the main drivers behind the growth of sports. For clubs it will be extremely important to engage those fans as it 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 you know which club I am talking about: Ajax Amsterdam of course!

I still remember how my father’s car was parked far away from the stadium, how the in-stadium services were non existent and that the smell in the toilet area was disgusting. At half time a fanfare played horrible music, but…….my club Ajax won with 3-0! It was a great experience and I was hooked and a fan for life.

Since then, an awful lot has changed. The fan of today is certainly not accepting such an environment. What has not not changed is that fans still vividly support their club. But, they do expect their club to provide decent services in- and outside the stadium. Hence over time we have seen big on-site changes. Sure, you can be a romantic soul and long for old times, but I am certain that won’t be for very long!

Fan engagement is ever more important

Fan engagement in the future
The future of the sports fan

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 a great package as fans are the engine behind their existence. Fans drive revenues. If you realise that the bulk of revenues is derived from ticket sales, media income, sponsoring and merchandising, you will understand why this is the case. They are all fan related.

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) and on matchday and non-matchday (moment). Both place and moment require a different strategy. I believe some of the changes you may expect, are the following:

Matchday on-site: improve service levels and offer unique content

When going to the stadium, fans want to have a 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 is likely to take away market share in the future. Clubs and stadiums hence have to improve their service 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:

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 data collection. The future fan will require nothing less. 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

Create exclusive content which cannot be obtained or experienced outside the stadium

Clearly future fans want to create sharable 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. 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 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)

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.

Also interesting to read: 7 awesome examples of fans calling the shots

Matchday off-site offers opportunities…

Increasingly fans are watching the game on matchday outside the stadium. Preferably you want them inside the stadium, but if they don’t, you want a piece of the pie outside the stadium or venue as well.

Facilitate virtual and augmented reality

It is unstoppable and it will be there. You can rather be a first mover than following the crowd. Clearly, some fans will stay away from the stadium and you will cannibalise to some extent, but at least you have them glued to their virtual reality sets and your team. This way you can at least leverage the game off-site.

Also interesting to read: 10 great ways how AR will impact the world of sports

Find alternative media

Streaming, youtube, TV, social media! There are plenty of ways to connect with fans in case of good 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.

Create events outside the stadium

The social element is probably the key ingredient for 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.

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:

Museums

Clubs often have a long history. For fans, it is great to go back in time, to experience old memories again, to see old memorabilia, to experience the old stance again and the smell within the toilet blocks.

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.

Field trips

For young kids field trips and talent days where they can meet 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

Non matchday off-site: the big opportunity…

The biggest battlefield for clubs 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. It all has to do with relationship building. The arena is global, it spans the entire globe,. Don’t forget, the middle-class is growing rapidly in many countries. It means there are a lot of potential new fans out there! Males, females and the kids! If you don’t have started by now targeting these markets, you may be too late and miss out. What can you do, to get these extra fans?

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!

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.

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.

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!

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.