How can football clubs embrace emerging technology to keep modern fans engaged?

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There are an estimated 3.5 billion football fans across the globe. That means one in every two people in the world considers themselves a fan. But what exactly is a fan? Is it a season-ticket holder; someone who watches every match on TV; a childhood fan; someone who buys a jersey; a Facebook follower; a fan that lives on the other side of the world?

The fact is, the definition of a football fan varies according to who you speak to and, it seems, the defining characteristics are far too broad. Traditionally, people used to support teams based on family preference or where they were born or grew up. But with the help of social media and global TV rights, football has become a truly global game.

It's a subject Betway covered in its documentary, Over Land And Sea, earlier this year, which told the story of Pan, a Chinese West Ham fan who started to support the club after playing Football Manager in 2005. The conclusion: what differentiates a true fan is support through tough times. A fan who lives 1km from the stadium is no different from a fan who lives 10,000km from the stadium; ultimately, passion is not dictated by geography.

PrettyGreen's Lucy Mart speaks to Emma Diskin, chief marketing & communications officer at Socios.com about how football clubs should embrace emerging technology to keep the modern sports fan engaged.

Lucy: So why the need to define a fan; why does any of this matter?

Emma: The answer to that is simple - because the business of football has changed; being a football fan has changed. It was Peter Moore, the CEO of Liverpool FC, who said that gaming, and in particular Fortnite, represented one of the biggest threats to recruiting new football fans. But I think this threat can also be extended to include social media, content platforms, player channels - anything that competes for a fan's attention. On the one hand, younger fans are a generation that is being priced out of the live game, and yet, the proliferation of social platforms has given them unfettered and closer access to both football content and players than any generation before them.

Lucy: So what can clubs do to ride this wave of change?

Emma: Connect with fans outside of the stadium. This is something that has been particularly challenging for clubs, especially when you consider that the majority of fans across the world never enjoy the in-stadium experience. Take for example Juventus. With an estimated 423 million fans around the world, how do they keep them all happy? On match days, 41,000+ fans (the capacity of the Allianz Stadium in Turin) will attend a match, which represents not even 0.01% of their fan base.

Recognise the needs and desires of different fan segments. How much can football clubs really know about the 99.9% of their audience that sits outside of the in-stadium experience, especially when their brand is licensed and franchised across multiple other consumer outlets - sports brands, social media channels, domestic and global TV distribution for example? How can you market to an audience about which you know very little?

Harness new technologies. The football industry in general needs to harness new technologies to avoid being seen as irrelevant. Millennials don't engage with football in the same way as older generations. They use multiple and varied platforms to consume content. The unlimited availability of online media means that football fans who live and breathe the ‘beautiful game’ can tap into an inexhaustible pool of football-related content. This has created a new breed of fan that needs more than just 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon for their fix. Their content consumption is driven by immediacy and mobility, with fans seeking out content and effectively pulling together their own highlights packages from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Lucy: So how do clubs better engage their fans in order to avoid losing them? Social media has been fully harnessed, so what's next?

Emma: Of course I'm going to say blockchain. When Socios.com announced its partnerships with Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus just over a year ago, there was little understanding of how blockchain could be integrated into the sports arena. Fast forward to December 2019, and the landscape has changed enormously.

We are only at the very beginning of our journey, but take Juventus as an example. For the past 8 years, every goal scored at the Allianz Stadium has been celebrated to the tune of 'Chelsea Dagger' by the Fratellis. It's a song that has become synonymous with the club.

Now, for the first time ever, the club are asking their fans to choose a new song. And in partnership with Socios.com, they're using blockchain to do it.

Four songs have been short-listed, and fans vote on what they prefer, with the new song revealed in January, when they score the first home-goal of 2020. For the hundreds of millions of Juventus fans around the world, this is a huge leap forward. Why? Because the song they will sing when Ronaldo or Dybala score a goal at the Allianz, will be one chosen not by the club's management team, but by the fans; their opinion was counted, their voice was heard."

Lucy: In a recent statement, Giorgio Ricci, chief revenue officer of Juventus, had this to say: "This partnership shows once again how much technological evolution and innovation are two priorities for Juventus, also in the way we relate to and connect with our fan base."

Socios.com is a fan engagement and rewards platform that combines a local pulse with global relevance, connecting fans to a community that is united by their passion for their team regardless of geography. The platform gives their partner clubs - Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, West Ham United, Atlético de Madrid, AS Roma, Galatasaray and esports team OG - a unique and unprecedented perspective of fan culture and insight. It helps the teams to define the different types of fans, and tailor rewards according to needs and desires, and in turn, helps them to create a connection with every fan category, whether it's Fan 1.0 (local) or Fan 2.0 (global). Just as all consumer brands segment their audience or user base, so do sports organizations need to segment their fan bases according to how a fan interacts and engages with a club. So how does Socios.com work?

Emma: "Fans acquireFan Tokens, branded crypto assets for their club which they can use to vote in club polls and surveys (binding & non-binding), allowing them to have a say on certain club decisions. They also earn reward points for engaging with their club through the app; these reward points can be exchanged for club merchandise and unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as the chance to watch a game from the hospitality box, play a game on the pitch, or meet the players."

Lucy: And what is the benefit for sports teams?

Emma: "Fan Tokens appeal to the intrinsic sense of ownership every fan feels about their club. Sports teams see the value in this, as well as recognising that rewarding fans will ultimately bring them closer and increase loyalty. They realise the value of the platform in attracting and retaining supporters in both the short and long-term, as well as reigniting the passion of lapsed fans, speaking directly to those who feel that their support has been rendered dispensable and giving them a platform where they’ll have indisputable proof that their opinion counts.

They recognise that our platform has what it takes to keep the modern fan engaged in the digital age over and above generic match day content, which they can get from multiple other sources."

With dozens more teams from football as well as other sporting verticals waiting in the wings, blockchain, through Socios.com, is stealing a march on fan engagement for the sports industry primarily because the platform can go a long way in satiating the appetite of a modern fan who wants, nay expects, a deeper connection with their club.

Lucy Mart, head of communications, Pretty Green

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