Brand Strategy Sports Marketing

Football's fan future: Virtual attendance, broadcast concessions and a touch of AI


By Sam Sadi, CEO

April 5, 2024 | 8 min read

25 years ago LiveScore Group was but a Teletext hack to acquire faster football results. The Premier League was also minnow. Now the business is proof that even the smallest innovations can change the face of football. CEO Sam Sadi explores the wave.

Will fans experience live sports in VR

Predicting anything is hard. Readers might point to Nostradamus or an episode of The Simpsons from the 90s, but ask any punter, and they will agree.

2016 was the year of shocks. Trump, Brexit, and Leicester City’s 5,000/1 Premier League title triumph. Granted, there were Foxes fans who took the bet, but anyone who claims they truly predicted Leicester to win the league at the start of the season is insincere. They had a new manager, a squad of relatively unknown and inexperienced players and had only just survived relegation in the previous campaign.

From Leicester City and the highs of the Lionesses’ success through to the lows of a pandemic-induced pause to life, the unwavering support of fans has been the lifeblood of the sport. It perfectly encapsulates the true power of football to unite, inspire, and captivate people around the globe.

The lengths fans will go to for information about their team is astonishing – just look at those Arsenal fans who’ve combined a love for Flightradar with David Ornstein’s social feeds to uncover evidence of new players’ arriving for medicals during the transfer window.

25 years ago, there was a football-captivated programmer from South Africa, who enjoyed hiking on the weekend and craved more information on his beloved Manchester United. Peter Jerie wanted to get the Red Devils’ score updates during his long weekend treks, so he crafted code to receive Teletext updates to his phone via SMS. This service proved popular with Jerie’s friends, and in 1998, LiveScore was born, providing sports-obsessed fans with real-time updates wherever they are.

To mark LiveScore’s 25-year heritage, we unveiled the Evolution of Fan report. The study examines how the football fan experience has changed through the years and look ahead to the exciting yet apprehensive future for fans, brands, and advertisers as technology continues to evolve the fan-match experience.

While Leicester City’s story underscores the unpredictability of what comes next for football, there are several trends and developments that we at LiveScore believe will shape the future of football fandom over the next 25 years.

Scrapping the 3pm blackout will instigate a shift in broadcasting

The landscape of football broadcasting has undergone significant changes over the past quarter-century, from Sky Sports delivering Premier League games exclusively throughout the 90s and 00s to today, where the distribution of broadcasting rights has created a fragmented subscription-based frenzy in which multiple streaming service providers all fight for the wallets of football fans.

In the coming years, one likely change is scrapping the somewhat antiquated 3pm broadcast blackout. Most fans do not want this in place and will seek alternative, perhaps illicit, methods to watch games that aren’t legally televised in the UK. This will be a win-win for fans and rightsholders, with an opportunity to continue to grow revenue.

This would then instigate a re-bundling of broadcasting rights, with a renewed focus on delivering a streamlined, user-centric experience through direct-to-consumer platforms.

That’s not to say Netflix will be the home of the Premier League after the next rights cycle. Traditional broadcasters are acutely aware of the threat of streamers, and they are committing huge budgets to adapt. It is also feasible to see rights holders develop their own platforms, with the famed but illusive ‘Premflix’ peering over the horizon.

These platforms will prioritize fan experience, offering flexible subscription models tailored to individual preferences, with fans having the flexibility to choose subscription levels, unlocking various features and content, and offering a seamless and consolidated viewing experience.

Expect combined attendances for physical and virtual fans

For many sports, the broadcasting experience can be more entertaining than the physical experience. In football, soaking up the physical atmosphere is still highly sought after, with attendances as high as ever up and down the leagues. Even so, stadiums have evolved into tech-savvy hubs, with giant screens, mobile ticketing systems, and interactive fan zones enhancing the live experience.

As we look to the future, technologies like virtual reality (VR) promise to revolutionize in-stadium experiences, transporting fans to the heart of the action like never before, allowing them to watch games live as if they were physically present. Additionally, the emergence of the metaverse (or whatever we will be calling it next) offers the potential to connect fans globally in virtual stadiums, creating a shared sense of community across countries and continents.

These experiences won’t be there to replace the match-going experience but rather enhance its appeal and provide a flavor of what to expect. Clubs will look to the virtual world as another revenue opportunity, and I foresee clubs offering premium virtual matchday experiences to sell out digital stadiums, conceivably offering a first-person view of players on the pitch, managers on the touchline, or maybe even from the comfort of hospitality…

“Today’s attendance was another sell-out of 175,000. Thank you to everyone here and at home for your continued support.” Just as music charts have adapted to include streams, attendance figures might soon combine physical and virtual fans.

Nobody will watch an AI league

It’s no secret that the rise of AI has far-reaching potential to revolutionize society. This digital revolution has already paved the way for more personalized experiences, fuelled by AI algorithms with the power to fuel a vast reservoir of individual data, and dynamically curate content based on individual preferences. This personalization extends beyond match updates to include tailored news feeds, personalized highlights, and predictive analysis.

As we harness the power of AI to capture the individual essence of each fan, we can anticipate the emergence of new sub-communities centered around niche interests and preferences, who will then be able to connect and celebrate their nuanced love of the game.

Both VR and AI are there to enhance the fan experience, not to replace it. There is a reason everyone is trying to simulate our world using technology; true reality is unpredictable, heightened with emotion and augmented by compelling stories.

Soon, the technology will exist to create fantasy fixtures of former legends, teams, and managers, such as pitting Manchester United’s ’99 treble winners against Manchester City’s equivalents of last season. Fergie vs Pep, De Bruyne vs Scholes, Haaland vs Cole, fans might be intrigued to see the result as a one-off, but would they commit to watching a full fictional game, or even an entire league season?

Looking back at our retrospective journey through 25 years of football fandom, I found myself reflecting on the remarkable evolution that has brought us to now – the milestones, memories, and moments that have shaped the way we experience the beautiful game. From the humble beginnings of Teletext to the digital age of real-time updates and immersive experiences, it’s been an extraordinary journey. I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation and fan engagement, ensuring that LiveScore remains the ultimate companion in the world of football.

So, what else do I envisage for the future of the beautiful game? Well, I think two things are for certain - firstly, technology will continue to elevate the football fan experience and will ultimately be driven by the needs and wants of the consumers of the sport. Secondly, football will never cease to provide those spectacular moments that shock, amaze, and leave you speechless. It will continue to be the game that we all love.

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