Not so long ago, the concept of “Fan Experience” was literally the experience one had at a game. It started with ways to arrive and continued with finding your seat, how messy the bathrooms were, the lines for food & drinks and of course the Jumbotron entertainment. On the kiss-cam when that woman kissed the guy to her left instead of her boy-friend on the right – was that real or staged? (staged, of course). Teams goals were to keep their fans happy enough to return while monetising them to the fullest, including attaching a sponsor to almost anything shown on those screens. However, with the latest revolution of technology within the sports world, the introduction of the SportsTech scene, and of course the Covid-19 global impact; fans, teams and organisations alike are starting to redefine what it means to be a fan and what the fan experience truly can be. For teams to have a chance to deal with the major projected drop in revenues from ticket sales and potentially sponsors – they have to optimize their operations, know their fans and deliver better activations for their partners.
Defining the Fan Experience
To be fair, the Fan Experience encompasses numerous activities. Any interaction with a team or league can be considered as part of the fan experience. Waiting in line through security is part of the fan experience. Purchasing team merchandise is part of it. The half-time show, t-shirt cannons, branded cups – they’re all part of the fan experience.
Take for example the Mercedes Benz Stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL and the Atlanta United FC soccer team. Stadium owners challenged their employees to create game-day fan experiences like no-other. Apart from the design of the stadium itself and its many features that include a 360 video board that broadcasts game highlights, advertisements and more, the team went to the very beginning of that game-day fan journey, which starts with finding a parking spot. They wanted to create a solution that would make finding a parking spot as easy as possible for their thousands of fans, for a stadium that seats up to 70,000. Through their brainstorming, they developed a parking program that caters to all types of ticket holders such as suite holders, season ticket holders, single game-day ticket holders and more. And what they created was an interface that allows fans to select which events they will be attending and reserve the parking lot they wish to park in. Removing the struggle and stress of finding and remembering ones parking space created such positive feedback that the stadium itself was voted #2 in 2017 for Fan Arrival. Such a small change that came with a huge reward for both the fans and the stadium.
In today’s digital world, interactions that occur online with a team or league website, and social media, can also be defined and included as part of the fan experience. With so many new outlets, publications and more dedicated solely to sports, the definition of the fan experience continues to grow.
The Digital Fan Experience
Sports teams have some of the highest engagement rates across Facebook. Sports fans and their followers are hungry and eager for team content, updates and news, in a way that other brands and organisations can’t compete with. As an added fun fact, sports teams have the second highest engagement rates across Facebook, with alcohol beverage pages being the first. No wonder tailgating (will we see it in 2020?) is so fun — which is, you guessed it, also part of the fan experience.
If you scroll through Twitter or Facebook, and follow at least 2-3 sports teams, chances are you will see some type of engaging post calling on fans to “vote in the comments or the poll”, “guess the player”, “play our trivia” and more. These posts keep fans engaged outside of the game and contribute to the digital fan experience. They make fans feel like they too have skin in the game and are part of something bigger than just being a fan. But I challenge these teams and leagues to ask themselves, what exactly is this digital engagement doing for the organization as a whole? The posts themselves garner hundreds, even thousands of likes, comments and shares, but what’s being done with that data? You have their thoughts and opinions right there, so how are you using it to your advantage to create a better, more personalised fan experience?
Getting to Know Your Fans
At Pico – Get Personal, we tell teams that engagement is not the problem on social. The problem is that these teams don’t know who they are actually engaging. Social media often creates anonymous fans, so when you know who you’re actually interacting with, you can cater to their experience on a more personal level. How? Take the content you’re already using, since we know it has great engagement, and create a digital activation out of it.
For example, let’s say a team has a new player joining the upcoming season. And the team wants to announce this exciting news to its fans. Most likely they’ll create some type of Welcome Post with a great graphic attached. Take it a step further and turn it into a player trivia on top of a welcome post. Use this announcement as a way to get to know your fans through a digital activation that asks questions that make sense in the flow of the conversation. For instance, at the beginning of the activation you can begin to identify the fan and their preferences through questions like “what language do you prefer?” “who’s your favourite player?” and “would you like to receive email updates from us?”.
These digital activations take the engagement teams are already receiving and upgrades it, so to say. It allows for teams to identify their fans, learn more about them, create personalised content and offers, and in turn, add to their bottom lines. If you now know the location of a previously anonymous fan, you can send offers to them that they’re more likely to use. If someone lives in New York, but is a fan of the Lakers, sending them ticket coupons might not be the best idea, but perhaps they want to make an online purchase at the Lakers store.
So how is it possible to define the Fan Experience when there are so many interpretations within it? In 2020, why does it have to be tied down to one meaning? Well, it doesn’t. More and more in the industry we’re seeing innovative teams and leagues find new ways of creating unique experiences both in-person and digitally. Turning to various tech solutions to create the best, most positive fan experiences possible. The fans experience is now one of the more important factors within the industry and as it evolves, so should the solutions behind it.
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