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COVID-19 has rocked the sporting world. The industry was put on pause, clubs and venues had to restructure and reshape their digital strategy to keep sports fans entertained and engaged. However, with deeper research into the digitalisation of the sports industry, it looks as though we were already heading that way.

The Digitalisation of Fan Engagement

To engage 21st-century sports fans, digitalisation is the secret! Discussed by many within the sports & entertainment industry, stakeholders must accelerate their digital transformation journey or face losing fan engagement.

Pre-COVID-19, studies reported that:

  • 66% of devoted fans go online at least once per day for sports-related reasons
  • 72% of sports fans are most engaged by exciting pre-game content
  • 52% of all sports fans use a tablet or smartphone to access sports content while watching televised sports

This research emphasises the importance of digitalisation for fans, demonstrating that fans rely on digital platforms for entertainment. Over the past three-to-five years, the implementation of club Apps and smart venues has become extremely competitive in keeping up with the latest technologies, such as AI integration and high-speed Wi-Fi, ultimately changing the way fans perceive sport and entertainment.

With the end of lockdown in sight, clubs and venues will need to adapt to the post-COVID-19 “New Normal”, while also competing to take digitalisation even further. With high levels of anxiety, once venues open their doors, the number of fans making an immediate return is expected to be low. Particularly those with young children or older relatives will be reluctant to return unless the correct safety measures are in place.

Many venues are inputting new technologies and communication methods to ease this anxiety and ensure the safety of fans. Clubs are promoting the use of mobile ticketing, contactless payments, in-App click and collect food and beverage purchases to keep concession lines down, and the use of camera and heat tracking to send notifications and updates to aid fans in avoiding specific gates and areas. These notifications and updates highlight the importance of communication with fans…

Communicating via different channels – put the content where fans want it

With no sport throughout lockdown, it has been more important than ever before to retain a sense of community. Fans have needed club engagement to preserve the connection and to boost morale. By fans selecting a preferred channel for communication, clubs can provide specific and relevant information, thus reaching a wider audience. The rate of churn remains low, user activity increases, and fans feel connected to their club once again.

Due to club communication experiments during COVID-19, the use of blogs has increased dramatically over the past three months. Blogs can highlight all club updates and answer any questions fans may have – “Will there be any historical games streamed online?”, “What measures are you putting in-place for fan safety?”, this can then be pushed out as a notification in-App, attached to an email, or posted on social media, covering all communication channels.

Apps and newsfeeds can include engaging features like voting polls “Rate the Goal”, as well as new engaging content such as players tips and tricks, or training from home videos. Our partner, Rover have supported their club clients in creating winning content and campaigns. Clubs send these out to a pre-collated database as a direct-to-pocket notification. Clubs can then analyse what content performed well and with this data, they can commercialise these new features. By providing this value to existing partners and sponsors, clubs can deliver engagement and partnership/sponsorship value.

To make fans feel safe, clubs will be highlighting information on in-stadia safety – sending personalised pushes straight to pocket based on their location, informing on nearest exits, toilets, hand sanitiser dispensers and more. Other information should include safety checklists before you attend an event. “Ultimately, communication and messaging will be at the heart of building the confidence that venues are once more a safe place to be” – Mike Bohndiek, CEO, PTI.

Using analytics allows for personalised experiences

To ensure that we achieve the above, we need to go back to basics…data. Clubs and venues need to analyse their data to not only understand their fans but also to track and trace which methods of communication work best for their club. Essentially, clubs need to create a unique and personalised experience for fans that is engaging and emotive. Personalisation is not just adding the recipient’s name onto a push or email, it is understanding their behaviours, preferences, and how to target them.

From this collected data, clubs can utilise specific campaigns to better target a fan network. This is crucial for club loyalty programmes and can improve their overall fan experience, as well as club revenue by promoting the correct products through the right channel at the right time, improving retainment, increasing sales, website traffic, brand/club loyalty and reducing churn. From a sales perspective personalisation can deliver five-to-eight times the ROI on marketing and lift sales by 10% or more, personalised emails generate six-times higher transaction rates if done correctly.

The lack of personalisation or use of the wrong analytics can have devastating impacts on fan engagement, as they will no longer feel valued or engaged, leading to fans becoming inactive for longer periods of time or even de-activating their account. A study by Average and Researchscape highlighted that nearly three-fourths (74%) of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (e.g., offers, ads, promotions) appears that has nothing to do with their interests. Another study showed that half (50%) of Millennials and Gen Z say they will ignore communications from companies unless they are personalised for them, and 73% expect companies to communicate with them in real-time according to SalesForce. To conclude, without the use of personalisation clubs will not only limit themselves from a revenue perspective but could face the loss of their fans forever.

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