It’s a rough time for the sports industry. Only 53 percent of the sports events scheduled for this year are likely to take place, according to an analysis released by data-driven sports marketing agency Two Circles in April. It estimates that the industry will generate about $62 billion less in revenue than the $135 billion projected before the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s an estimated industry revenue decrease of about 46 percent. To recoup a small portion of that revenue for owners, sponsors, players and associated businesses, teams must quickly develop new experiences for their fans to enjoy.
While sports fans are now in their homes rather than in the stands, teams can still provide digital experiences to connect with their audience and support the sporting value chain. Before the pandemic, teams may have considered conducting a few small-scale experiments with advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and social media platforms. But now they are learning that those tools are imperative for remaining connected to their current followers, expanding their base and proving that advertisers will continue to get payback from sponsorships even when sports fans aren’t physically in the venues.
That’s good for both business and sports lovers. When teams virtualize the traditions of their games — from tailgating parties to annual draft picks — they can build more personalized experiences and continue to foster a sense of community.
To capitalize on virtual sports experiences, team leaders must be smarter about how to put data into play. Sports teams generate large amounts of data, and concatenating it is the key to not missing out on critical nuggets of information about their audience. There’s a great opportunity to learn more about their fans and to build deeper relationships with them.
It’s about data triangulation — what activity the sports fan is engaged in at that moment, what location the person is in, and what action can be promoted based on that data. For example, a fan jumps online to stream the NFL draft (activity) from a mobile device at home (location based on GPS information) and up pops a two-for-one hamburger coupon that can be cashed in at a local fast food restaurant (action). The fan is hungry and happy to get a targeted, personalized offer, and the restaurant is happy to make the sale. And, the team adds another proof point to its sponsorship value. It can now convey to new, local sponsors that providing a community-based experience compared to a more traditional broadbranding activity at a stadium can help increase their profits.
Content aggregation can be more sophisticated, with teams tapping into social media comments and analyzing trends through AI to learn new things about their followers. Maybe sports fans are using Twitter to say how much they’re missing the garlic-seasoned fries that were so much a part of their onsite game experience. So, for the next game day, a team may partner with a local restaurant on a “take-out tailgate” campaign to offer an all-in-one package that includes those fries.
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be about the money. A team can really get creative to engage fans and promote community. For example, it can crowdsource rich content from the sports fans themselves — asking them to use the same hashtag to post photos or videos of themselves making their own version of garlic fries. Or it can bookend events such as the virtual NFL draft with predraft team and fan interactions, along with a postdraft analysis of the results.
The analytics-powered moves that teams are making now to keep sports fans and sponsors engaged are going to have a life well beyond the current crisis. They provide a way to keep the excitement going for loyal sports fans who no longer live in the area, and those who can’t afford to pay steep prices for tickets. Additionally, virtualizing sports fan engagement helps build new audiences. European sports teams have their eyes on raising their profile in America and have already increased content production for social media channels. They are using the resulting data to create a world-class fan experience while making personal and tailored connections.
In the end, everyone wins.