Fan Engagement: Takeaways from SEAT 2016

Who’s On First?

As we went to our first S.E.A.T (Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology) conference, I was reminded of Abbot & Costello’s “Who’s on First?”

(Ed: For anyone who doesn’t follow the sport this is a Baseball term which is asking which player is on first base).

Abbot starts by stating the names of the players: “…Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third—”. Costello responds: “That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.” That continues with banter back and forth: Abbott: “I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.” Costello: “You know the fellows’ names?” Abbott: “Yes.” Costello: “Well, then who’s playing first?” Abbott: “Yes.” Costello: “I mean the fellow’s name on first base.” Abbott: “Who.” Costello: “The fellow playin’ first base.” Abbott: “Who.”

This reflects the current challenges teams today face with Fan Engagement.  Who are my fans?  What are they really telling me? What interests do they have? Is what I’m hearing what my fans are actually telling me by what they’re doing and saying, or do I need to listen differently?

What’s on Deck?

(Ed: “on deck” is a baseball term which refers to the player who is next in line to bat.)

So what did S.E.A.T reveal is next in line for sports brands and their fans? The Thunderhead team discovered at S.E.A.T that engaging with fans more deeply is front-of-mind for the sports industry and the following topics are key to achieve deeper fan engagement:

  1. Really knowing who the fan is

As much as fans are trying to understand who their hero players are, sports teams are now trying to understand exactly who each of their individual fans are. They want to know who their favorite player is; if they are using their team’s app; if they’ve been browsing their website for a shirt and what size they’d like and even where they are in the world. Sports teams are increasingly looking for these deep insights to be available the moment a fan interacts with them on their mobile app, visits the team store or even calls to enquire about season tickets or fan events.

  1. Foundation of Change

Sports teams are looking to build ‘future flexible’ technical foundations to help manage the demand of the next generation of fans that cannot be identified today.  They are incorporating new in-stadium infrastructure (e.g. WiFi) to meet the ever changing real-time demand of fans for dynamic content and social connection

  1. Mobile Content and Utility

Organizations, like the NFL, are developing mobile apps that are focused on intended use of those apps, which is causing more touchpoints for fans to engage:

  • Content-Based – Limited navigation with relevant content right from the start that is updated in real-time. Focus is on timeliness and relevance.
  • Utility – Applications that are used by fans, in stadium, that provide information about the stadium, concession ordering, lines at restrooms, and traffic patterns for post-event travel.
  1. Sports are Essentially Social

Teams are leveraging social media to stay engaged with fans before, during, and after games and/or engage with remote fans. More and more marketing activity is moving to social platforms using ideas of “gamification” to gain insights of fan preferences and co-create interesting content.

  1. DATA Collection Paramount

It’s important to have a solid foundation and great technology to manage large volumes of data teams are collecting about their fans before, during, and after games.  There still exist traditional views about what to do with all of this data, aggregating it in a single place (data warehouse), segmenting it, and then using it for the purposes of campaigns.

  1. Enterprise Requirements with At-Scale Budgets

Teams have a real problem to solve with complex problems of many different industries, but they have limited budget. Teams are looking for complete solutions that can be deployed at scale to meet their budgets.

  1. Fan Engagement Beyond the Stadium

Of course the stadium on game day is rightly the focal point of the fan experience. However, the stadium is actually just one of the many touchpoints available for the fan to interact with their favorite team. At S.E.A.T. we saw how sports teams are endeavoring to replicate that game day experience in an always on, always available, all channel approach.

Rounding the Bases

(Ed: This means a player runs around the bases in a Baseball game)

It became apparent from the conference that teams want deeper engagement with the fan base, but are still rooted in some traditional concepts.  They are, however, “rounding third” and starting to inquire about engaging fans overtime and creating value within each experience and encounter, moving from ‘Who Is it” to “I know who you are”.

Home run!

(Ed: A home run is a fair hit that allows the batter to make a complete circuit of the bases without stopping and score a run.)

As the day’s play ended and we headed home from S.E.A.T we reflected on how much sports businesses are now considering fan engagement. To really deliver engaging experiences to the fan, sports teams are starting to recognize the need to hold the most relevant conversations with them, personalizing their journey from online channels through to the fan hotlines and even as the fan takes their seat at the stadium on game day. The power to have consistent and relevant conversations, continued seamlessly across all digital and physical channels based on actual fan profiles is now firmly placed in the hands of the user working inside the sports team’s business.

Engaging fans is all about creating value for both the team and the fan. Sports brands who understand more about their fans will blow the competition away and create greater opportunities to drive revenue through season ticket sales, hospitality packages, retail and membership offers.

S.E.A.T showed us Sports Teams and Fans can live in harmony as more sports teams adopt an approach which places more focus on an on-going, value driven relationship between a fan and the team, which is consciously motivated according to the fan’s reasons and choices.

With most sports franchises striving to learn as much as they can about their fans, the focus on fan engagement is the best play a sports team can make, and they’ll be rewarded by home run after home run.