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The Future of Fan Engagement – Part I

In this INDUSTY INSIGHT, we will deep dive into the Future of Fan Engagement with Kenneth Akselsen (CEO) and Marco Hjorth (Head of Customer Success) from Crowdmanager. Kenneth and Marco shared their expert perspectives on the most impactful trends, challenges, the role of football fans now and in the future, and many more.

SITUATION ANALYSIS

“Trends” are not for everyone

We should be cautious with the term trend. Often, we associate a trend with initiatives that super-tier clubs invest in. However, they represent a minor part of the overall football industry because only a few clubs have the matching resources to make comparable investments. It’s unrealistic for the remaining clubs to use super-tier clubs as benchmarks; we need to discuss the initiatives driving the industry among the masses.

The super-tier segment will undoubtedly have the resources to make investments that will bring experiences to fans, including both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). We recently saw Manchester City and Sony collaborate to build a metaverse version of the Etihad Stadium. Insane, right? However, these clubs are global brands, appealing to the masses worldwide due to their international reach. For them, this is as much brand building as an investment.

Digitizing the complete Fan Journey 

The various tiers below don’t have comparable resources, even though their reach may be global. If we speak of trends among these clubs, let’s discuss the necessity for digitizing the complete fan journey. Most football clubs still need technology that complements a slicker fan journey in a digital format. How can we optimize the fan journey from start to beginning with as little friction as possible? 

To move the football industry forward, we must stay hyper-realistic despite the buzzwords like augmented reality, virtual reality, metaverse, cryptocurrency, tokens, and web 3.0. For most clubs, optimizing the fan experience with limited resources is a reality, and finding the proper digital solutions is fundamental.

Data management

This second trend is becoming increasingly important. This is not something that the end-user realizes, but it has a significant impact on their experience. When football clubs figure out what data to source, they must draw out their own data flow and manage data from multiple sources before merging them. If clubs manage to do this effectively, their ability to personalize each fan’s experience is far greater. This has a direct effect on supporters.

Rewarding supporters for their commitment

The trend that will disrupt the industry is the process of rewarding supporters for their commitment to a club. Instead of having a relationship between club and supporters based on purely financial transactions, we believe clubs will utilize programs that reward supporters for activities that relate to the club (purchasing a ticket, bringing a friend to the stadium, buying food and beverage products) which then provides them with additional benefits. More committed, more benefits. It’s an intersection combining loyalty programs, gamification, and data rewards.

“This will be the era of supporters finally being rewarded for leaving their precious data with their favorite clubs—a win-win situation, in our opinion.”
– Kenneth Akselsen (CEO) and Marco Hjorth (Head of Customer Success)

How sports fan behavior changed post-Covid era and the response of sport clubs

Fan behavior has shifted from large audiences physically together to more remote yet more engaged behavior. While ticket sales dipped during the pandemic, fans found new ways to build communities, including chatting, sharing, betting, and co-watching. There is no doubt that COVID was a catalyst for increased digital connectivity and the effect it has had on supporters and how they engage with clubs, content, and communities.

For example, non-live event content has increased dramatically in interest and especially among the younger generations. Content not directly related to an event, such as documentaries, a quiz, behind-the-scenes footage, or virtual events, has managed to lower the barrier for many potential sports fans that are usually less engaged. We call this “complementary content” as it builds interest and engagement prospects but does not substitute or measure up to the actual live event. It’s a crucial trend for clubs to proactively respond if they want to acquire and retain supporters.

Clubs should create fan-engagement strategies beyond posting pictures on social media, which shows how clubs aim to keep supporters engaged all year round. As much as it remains a challenge that football is a seasonal sport, it also represents a blue ocean of opportunities for how to engage fans.

Aside from other apparent trends such as supporters using multiple devices or the fact that football is generally competing for people’s time with different activities, one key behavioral aspect is supporters increasing their ability to multitask during games, both at home and during the game at the stadium. The younger generations are leading the race, but all supporters are generally either writing emails, ordering food, playing games, using social media, or using other apps while watching a game. Clubs should be aware of this trend as it opens an exciting space for new sponsors and activation that fit the supporters’ format, timing, and desires. Football is an ecosystem consisting of many different stakeholders, and all stakeholders in this game should have a role in designing an effective fan engagement strategy.

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THE CHALLENGES 

First, technological evolution requires a willingness to adapt if clubs want to take advantage of such change. Strong leadership is the only thing that will provide this type of willingness, and it will also ensure that implementation is operationalized and the necessary, appropriate resources will be reserved.

The willingness to adapt needs to be followed by a deep understanding of the economics behind fan engagement and why it is essential for sports entities. The more you engage with fans, the better your odds are of securing their loyalty and getting them to buy tickets for games, spend money on merchandise, share their experience with others or even pay for the league’s TV channel to watch their favorite team play. It’s a complex puzzle that takes time to develop, but it’s essential for long-term success. Having a clear vision, identifying organizational objectives, allocating resources, doing market research, and finding activities to engage fans are all important pieces that must be taken seriously.

As clubs implement new technologies and adapt to new trends, they need to customize the journey to various supporter segments. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to fan engagement; different supporters have different needs. It all depends on their level of commitment to the club, their previous transactions, their demographic data, and their interests. This is challenging because it requires the ability to source, structure, and utilize big amounts of data that can personalize each supporter’s experience. 

Moreover, protecting supporter data is essential to the GDPR regulations. If clubs decide to utilize data, they should also take data protection seriously and ensure all regulations are followed. An essential aspect of this is working with reliable partners that have a similar mentality toward the relevance of their supporter’s digital footprint. This is essential for the future.

Lastly, ensuring that you are engaging, not annoying your fans, and not distracting from your core product are probably the most significant challenges many clubs will face. Fans don’t want to get bombarded with irrelevant information but content that adds another dimension to their experience. Finding this balance is key to success in the fan-engagement space. 

THE ROLE OF FANS NOW AND IN THE FUTURE

Clubs need to meet fans where they are. They need to extend fan engagement beyond traditional event coverage and convert their audience into revenue. Fans are at the heart of these processes and should be used as a resource. 

However, football is an entertainment product at the core, and to convert supporters into revenue, we need sportive products that capture and keep people’s attention. A sports property such as the UEFA Champions League must be designed to attract attention; otherwise, fans will not watch, so we should listen to the fans and their interest. This is also valid for clubs: they need to think in a supporter-centric way and design journeys based on what pains and gains their supporters experience. 

Robust campaign engagement techniques should be applied all year round to feed the appetite of the modern football fan living in an information society, extending the supporter experience to more than just 90 minutes.

Fans are a key force in the market and should never be neglected. It sounds euphoric, but there are good examples where clubs have co-developed products/services based on feedback from their fans. In the end, supporters are customers, so the industry should create experiences worth their money. 

Lastly, clubs should actively get assistance from their supporters to create the community and the identity any club needs to attract newcomers successfully. This is an excellent reason why clubs and supporters should work closely together.

How can clubs leverage the power of the crowd (fans), and in what aspects? 

There have been multiple attempts to leverage supporter power at various levels without great success as the enthusiasm quickly drains out. We believe the key to success lies within the club’s ability to create unique experiences. This is the experience economy. We live in a time when fans can access most merchandise and standard offerings. However, what are clubs doing to create the next level of engagement? The power of the crowd should be reflected in the experiences the supporters have access to. Supporters already leave money on the table, but where is their experience-ROI?

Having a crowd is a privilege as it can generate a community, sales, and loads of data if the club works effectively. However, the relationship between a club and its supporters should be mutually beneficial. To keep access to their crowds, clubs need to innovate and provide unique engagement elements.

Personalization is the key to bringing this experience to life, so how can it be achieved? 

Data, data, data. Persistence without insight leaves us with stagnation. We need to analyze the data we gather, structure it to provide valuable insights and make data-driven decisions. There is a reason why big data has become such an important aspect of almost every industry. Because if organized and managed effectively, it can provide fruitful insights that can help us achieve business objectives. Here, clubs should use best practices from consumer loyalty outside of the world of sports— where brands build relationships with customers to produce affinity and greater share of wallet, but the most basic incentive behind the investment is to classify and collect data on the consumer base. With this information, we can distribute personalized information to individual supporters based on the stage in the customer journey, their level of commitment, interest, and demographics.

CASE STUDY: HOW CROWDMANAGER LEVERAGES THE POWER OF FANS THROUGH FAN ENGAGEMENT AND FAN DATA MANAGEMENT 

Crowdmanager.io is a platform for Fan Engagement and Fan Data Management. The platform collects and retains fan data through campaigns, which is then utilized to reward supporters for their engagement. The obtained data is then used to retarget the fan based on their demographic and interest info. Controlling fan data and enticing fans digitally increases the value of sponsorship for the brands. In addition, the Crowdmanager platform provides sports companies with tools for revenue-generating activities such as crowdfunding, auctions, and lotteries. 

The platform also includes typical fan engagement tactics, including voting, polls, quizzes, predictor games, instant win (i.e., scratch card), and the classic “pick your dream 11”. All the campaigns are designed to work with any distribution, social media, embedding on the web, or in-app.

Client Use Case: Liga Portugal

Liga Portugal is responsible for the top two divisions in Portugal. A league with a passionate following and a proud history. The league wanted to offer their partner Bwin a new way to activate their sponsorship, engage their fans, and tap into the valuable data in their pool of dedicated fans.

How it was done

Fans love to predict matches. So Crowdmanager set up a simple yet sophisticated way for the fans to predict the outcome of the different games in each round. The login process is hassle-free with the SSO (Single sign-on) to the fans league account, and the fans can have their say in seconds. The league handles the data with care. They understand the responsibility of handling personal information.

The Outcome 

For Liga Portugal, this was a great way to activate a sponsorship. Bwin, like other sponsors, is looking for more than just getting its logo in front of eyeballs. They want to be present in that moment when the fan interacts with the brand. For Bwin, prediction is an opportunity to connect and convert that fan into a lead. If not a loyal customer. The digital format is also per the trends nowadays and appeals to various generations.

For the fans, each prediction goes into a ranking system. By gamifying the predictions, Liga Portugal can present scoreboards and rankings. Giving prices to the best predictors round by round. Every week, fans can return to the website, check their status, and eventually add to the total traffic.

About Crowdmanager

Crowdmanager.io is the Fan Engagement and Fan Data Management platform that brings fans closer to sports brands. With more than 150 clubs, leagues and federations we engage, and reward millions of fans across the world.

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