Sports teams have an advantage in a world where brands and organizations compete for customer attention: fans are devoted to their teams, which generates a unique emotional connection and engagement.
While sports have unique engagement opportunities, there’s no time for complacency. “The new generations of fans have room in their hearts for three or four passions. We want to be one of them,” said Gustavo de Mello, NBA Senior Vice President of Marketing. The competition is getting bigger, and every vertical seeks to replicate these models based on identification and passion.
We have already seen that putting the fan at the center of the strategy is the first step, but it is not enough. Sports organizations must leverage data, technology, and games to increase reach and build sustainable fan engagement and efficient monetization.
How do we create a path to deliver the next generation of connected experiences in sports?
The first challenge is creating content that gives meaning to these experiences and how the team connects with their liquid fans. In our last blog, we discussed how a liquid fan has experiences beyond the game that spill over from stadiums to their home and wherever they go. From the moment the content is created, its flexible and dynamic distribution must be foreseen: decentralized content and hypersegmentation work together to create better and more valuable experiences to reach fans and personalize their journey.
New ways to create and deliver content
Decentralized content is a smart content supply chain of OTT channels, digital hubs, and social streams that manage and deliver content for omnichannel experiences where fans are. But it’s no longer about the “Live” game; fans demand new forms of content, more snackable content, and content in short form.
27% of U.S. sports fans say they prefer catching clips of game highlights to watching the games themselves.
Amateur creators who are consistent in their publications compete for attention previously monopolized by the mainstream media. Nowadays, content is not produced vertically from the media but flows horizontally as fans share relevant and exciting content with other fans. Social networks have accelerated this operation. Retweets, recommendations, reactions to other videos, and all forms of distribution not centralized by traditional media contribute to a more significant global conversation.
Another key difference between the traditional consumer and the sports fan is that fans enjoy and co-consume sporting events as a group experience. That’s why, whether for targeting season holder tickets, sponsorship activation, or CRM building tactics, we should see them as fan tribes, “A group of fans who are emotionally connected based on similar consumption patterns and preferences.” The question is, how do we identify and segment them?
Hypersegmentation includes the power to identify and build fan tribes using data, technology, and customer journeys to understand them better and personalize the interactions. “We work with a magic triangle, the power of three – transactional data, a demographic segmentation, persona-led approach, and behavioral data,” explained Adam Rutzler, senior campaign and insight manager at Arsenal Football Club. “We get a solid understanding of our fans by combining these three things and hitting the sweet spot in the middle. What are our fans buying, who are they, and how do they engage with our football club – that’s when we get the power of understanding our fans, what they want from us, and how we can best give that to them.”
Data is imperative. You need it to understand your audience and build your experience around what they want and where and when they want it. Nevertheless, only 51% of organizations collect data about their fans in a centralized place. So there’s ample opportunity here.
55% of fans will share psychographic data points like purchase motivations and product feedback with sports brands. This creates a perfect context for building customer archetypes and an iterative fan journey with data enrichment through a consent-based approach.
Beyond data and segmentation: how to deliver experiences
The NFL expanded its reach with the TV boom in the 60s with the premise of making it widely available. Times changed, but they kept the guiding star of reaching as many people as possible. “While the goal of reaching everyone remains the same, the way we do it is not: our strategy has evolved not only the digital distribution of our games but also the myriad ways fans can follow and interact with our sport.” wrote Brian Rolapp, NFL chief media and business officer.
Putting the fan in the center enabled the NFL to enhance its football offerings. They added games and digital streaming offerings that doubled digital viewership over the past three seasons. Game broadcasts became more innovative, including a slime-filled presentation on Nickelodeon for younger audiences. While there are more ways to experience the game in unique native experiences, the NFL was agile enough to move into new territory, reading what the current and potential fans were demanding and unleashing their full potential through technology.
No matter how innovative you are, it is essential to automate the delivery of experiences quickly and at scale. Automated experiences leveraging data and AI-enabled systems are applied to the digital ecosystem so that fans receive what they expect in real-time and allow more efficient ways for sports teams to create and deliver content across touchpoints. Automatic content generated by AI engines to recommend and predict behavior, powered by marketing automation suites, incrementally gain relevance by predicting behavior.
Gamification is pushing the boundaries
Engaging with fans in new ways by applying gamified mechanisms and game products that build fan loyalty and reach younger generations can enhance the overall experience and ensure fans return. The NFL, for example, launched “NFL Tycoon” on Roblox, becoming the first official major sports league to offer an experience on the popular gaming platform, engaging the next generation of NFL football fans in early metaverse experiences. Social competitions or Sports Fantasy Leagues are instrumental in keeping audiences engaged throughout the year and for data enrichment.
The future of fan engagement is also closely tied to Web 3.0 and the metaverse. While a few clubs and leagues are starting, there is still a long way to go, and sports entities need to educate themselves on the opportunities. According to Globants Sentinel Report – Dive into the metaverse, in the second quarter of 2021, virtual currency purchases in Roblox increased 161% to $652.3 million. Buying garments, music, and works of art in the digital world are becoming increasingly popular, leading to a greater need for digital property authentication.
Technology and data have changed how we create, consume, and experience sports. This is why sports organizations must invest to ensure they can best leverage the new upcoming opportunities in the sports tech era. We can reinvent the business of Sports by building incredible fan experiences in digital by creating data-centric organizations that place the fans at the center and create value for the entire ecosystem.
Continue the conversation about sports reinvention at Converge, where forward-thinkers, innovators, technologists, and decision-makers converge to showcase a future driven by innovation and creativity.