The (very) wide world of the sports fan
As the final seconds ticked down on Super Bowl 50, there were two decidedly different emotions permeating Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers fans. The orange and blue of the Broncos were flying high while for Carolina, it is “wait until next year”. But it wasn’t just joy and pain being felt in person in Santa Clara — it was around the world in the form of fan clubs and other supporters groups and individuals.
Years ago, we may very well have not known about the British fan who discovered the Broncos as a teenager in 1977. Nor would we have discovered that there is a huge Panthers fan in Germany, who never misses a game. Technology has enabled a new form of fandom and, for teams in any sport and any league around the world, it continues to open up tremendous opportunity.
In local team cities and regions, there is a natural phenomenon where love for a team is passed down through generations. Families continue long-held traditions. For clubs and leagues, this is a positive, but it also is logical and there can be a ceiling of opportunity. As globalization continues at a rapid pace, the question becomes: how do teams get new blood in the mix?
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Obviously, digital plays a prominent role. It provides the tools to allow fans to engage with friends, co-workers, organized events — and directly with the clubs. From fan meet ups to direct incentives from teams and leagues, the new “hotbed” of fandom knows no geography, but there are some key issues to consider to ensure that the relationships are, and continue to be, meaningful.
For clubs and leagues, the age-old question becomes: what is the “value” of a fan? Yes, just having a fan in the first place is an important step, but how can a league get the most out of each fan, in a productive way that provides a true value exchange for each?
There really is no one blueprint for success and the metrics are different. For some teams and leagues, video or OTT premium subscriptions is their best opportunity. Merchandising, especially for larger global clubs (especially in soccer, with the likes of Manchester United) is a key driver of success. Some dig deeply into data, at a more granular level, to determine the best approaches in specific geographies. It is a highly complex proposition — but each team certainly has an opportunity to build their global base if they understand what can work best for them. Smaller clubs and teams with fewer resources can benefit, but they need to be more selective in their approach.
Technology is, theoretically, leveling the playing field. But understanding regional behaviors is critical. Again, there is no one strategy that works across the board, but being authentic and understand behaviors is key.
A North American fan, for example, expects a rich mobile app and multiple layers of digital engagement, including the opportunity to purchase right from the app. In stadiums, they expect wifi and all of the digital opportunities possible. It’s not a luxury. It’s an expectation.
In Europe, the expectations are different. Fans are generally more focused on the action happening in front of them on the field.
In China, there is likely no expectation for a team to have a mobile app — but rather a chance to interact via the more popular social apps there.
Additionally, as it relates to globalization, opportunities for revenue shift. Charging $5 a game through an OTT channel may be perfectly acceptable to someone in the US, but completely outrageous to someone in Malaysia, for example. As an organization, we look very deeply at these nuances and advise clubs and leagues on the right ways to authentically engage with fans while showing clubs and leagues the right way to monetize. It is a delicate balance — because if one fan is turned off by the experience, it could have a ripple effect throughout the entire fan base in specific geographies.
We’ve had a front row to the digital transition happening in sports — and there are a few key lessons that our clients learned along the way.
The profound move from desktop to mobile was a shock to the system. Not everyone was prepared to have half of their audience show up to their digital properties via mobile devices, especially on game day. One can imagine the backlash, when the desktop version of their site rendered on mobile devices — and it had a profound effect on revenue, especially retail. That’s why, for a number of years, we have strongly advocated for “mobile-first” strategies as a starting point, Obviously, it will mean different things to each club, but going mobile first has been a huge help for teams and clubs and their engagement with fans.
Another lesson learned is having a level of patience, while moving quickly, to get clubs and leagues in the right place with fans. Some clubs had to move from desktop to mobile/responsive web. Other went mobile first with sites, then over to apps. Now, the conversation is squarely around virtual reality (VR) and the prospects and opportunities this technology presents. Though it is mouth-watering to think about the possibilities, the fact is that VR strategies may take 12 to 18 months and a handful of clubs and leagues have the resources to move forward with it. The conversations with leagues, clubs and brands around all of this new technology is most certainly exciting but, as a leader in the sports technology space, our job is exercise the right levels of constraint and patience to ensure that it’s the right decision at the right time.
The sports world has a decided advantage over other industries. There are passionate fan bases that aren’t going away any time soon — and the category has benefited from that. Sports leagues and teams didn’t necessarily have to be on the bleeding edge of technology. It hasn’t traditionally been a category that needs disruption, but the wake-up call is likely coming soon if it isn’t here already.
Is eGaming going to erode the traditional sports base and become the Uber of sports? With nearly 70 million people playing eGames each month and 11,000 people packing Madison Square Garden on one day for an eGaming competition, it’s safe to say that there is some competition in the mix.
Will mobile devices replace TV networks as more and more people get their content over multiple devices? It’s possible, and a good question to ponder as interaction changes rapidly.
Will new sports erode the larger leagues? Will the younger generation be more apt to follow other leagues and take progressively take away share from the likes of the NFL, NBA, NHL and others? How will brands play a role in all of this?
There are likely a million more questions to ask and as the sports landscape continues to fragment, some will become more important than others sooner than later.
The good news is that we’re asking these questions in the first place. At Omnigon, we’re fortunate to have a wealth of talent and expertise to take a good hard look at each of them — and, with our recent partnership with Infront Sports & Media, we’re best prepared to help build a robust future across the entire sports ecosystem for brands, leagues and teams.
Igor Ulis, CEO, Omnigon