Sports is an emotional force that isn’t bound by geographical borders, religions, age, or gender. Perhaps this is why the sports industry is one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing entertainment industries.
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By 2026, the global sports industry will be valued at a whopping $700 billion, according to experts. From live sporting events, sports management education programs, sports marketing to merchandise — the world of sports and every associated facet is predicted to continue along the growth trajectory.
But this industry growth has not remained unchallenged. 2019 and 2020 saw one of the most significant blows to the sports industry.
The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns caused several businesses (including sporting brands) to shut down, with professional teams losing revenue and sports managers going out of business. Empty stands signaled a sense of doom across the industry. Even after lockdowns eased, fans felt reluctant to leave the comfort and safety of their homes to watch sporting events.
This catalyzed sports marketers and agencies to consider more innovative ways to connect with their fans. The virtual watch party was born, enabling sports fans to support their teams while interacting with other fans (and even athletes) – ushering in a new age of sports entertainment.
But what challenges, demands, and opportunities do our increasingly digital world present? And how can sporting brands and teams successfully position themselves for maximum engagement in this dispensation? Let’s find out.
Understanding The Sports-Crazy Customer: Who Are They and What Do They Want?
In the early 2000s, you could find yourself visiting the local sports bar to watch a much-anticipated match with strangers. Strangers present for the same purpose. You’d scream, shout, and return home with either a sense of victory or your head hanging low.
This experience alone would be enough to fuel conversations for days after. Fast-forward to 2022, and while this experience is irreplaceable, today’s fans demand so much more.
Gone are the days when court-side experiences were enough to keep sports-hungry fans satiated. Now, it’s all about creating a dynamic, multi-platform Customer Experience (CX).
Sports-crazy customers are people like you and me who crave a sense of belonging and a community. The desire transcends simply wearing a team jersey to show support for a favorite team. There’s a need to connect with others over a shared interest as a part of the fan community.
Passionate fans (or ‘customers’ to us) expect some sense of return for the amount of time, emotion, and resources they invest in their favorite game.
And why shouldn’t they?
Sports teams and managers have realized that they must ramp up their offerings to retain existing fans. Creating an interactive environment that draws fans in to participate is a surefire way of achieving that goal. But how can they accomplish this?
With technology, of course!
Technology helps brands to build a nuanced and holistic network of engagement channels to keep fans hooked and always wanting more. Apps, games, social media hashtags, conferences, etc., can keep fans engaged at all times.
Let’s delve into how top sports teams and leagues have used technology to their advantage to create exceptional customer experiences for their fanbases worldwide.
Addressing Sports Fan Needs In a Post-Pandemic World
Sports teams are branching out and transitioning into media and entertainment companies to garner fan attention. Teams consolidate content from sponsors, broadcasters, and marketers to deliver near real-time content to their fans. The sports industry is one of few that doesn’t need to depend on an active customer or fan acquisition strategy. Fans are typically long-standing supporters with passions that run deep and through generations.
What sports teams need to figure out is not how to create more fans but how to maintain high levels of engagement in a fanbase that already exists. Here’s what works in today’s world:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is an indispensable tool for maintaining fan engagement and satisfying the growing needs of a global and culturally diverse fan base.. It’s highly intuitive and can be used for various purposes – serving highly personalized content to the fanbase, speeding up the post-production workflow, deploying official chatbots that connect with fans live during matches, and collecting consumer data to strengthen advertising.
Who knew back in the 90s that ‘e-Sports Athlete’ could turn into an actual job title? And one that pays handsomely too. Online gaming has been one of the biggest drivers of the sports industry.
Video games kept many going through the lockdown and helped boost fan morale. The market always needs creative, independent, and non-independent games with quality graphics and a compelling objective.
Just look at how well FIFA and Fantasy Football are doing. eSports games like these create an additional layer of interaction and connection between fans.
VR and AR
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are great tools to have at your disposal. With virtual reality, you can invite fans to official stores and create interactive experiences for them like never before.
Augmented Reality helps with the retail aspect of sports entertainment too. Some websites allow you to virtually try on sports shoes before buying them, helping the consumer make better-informed purchase decisions.
More than ever, customers want to feel like they’re doing their bit for the environment. Social and environmental causes are becoming more pressing for fans, thanks to increased consumer awareness and education.
Knowing when a major sports team or league cares about issues plaguing our planet is always good. Whether it’s merchandise made from recycled plastic or team players actively using their platforms to address societal problems, incorporating sustainability is a win/win move.
Integrating a Media Assessment Management System
OTT platforms and social networking sites have made streaming and sharing data inexplicably easy and widespread. So teams need to safeguard their content and control their narrative.
The objective is to maintain a commercially intimate relationship with the customer base, sponsors, and broadcasters. Sports teams can unlock their digital archives and leverage their existing digital content with a robust media assessment management system.
Media asset management (MAM) is software that helps users store, process, and distribute multimedia files throughout the content lifecycle. Next-generation solutions handle every type of rich media file and integrate tightly with essential editing tools to produce and distribute finished content as close to real-time as possible.
How Can Modern MAM Systems Sports Businesses?
Modern MAM systems put cutting-edge next-generation technology in the hands of sports industry professionals – especially those lacking in technical expertise. For instance, broadcasters represent a significant revenue stream to sports teams, generating more revenue than sponsors or fan bases.
Consequently, they retain copyright exclusivity of broadcast content. However, the rise of shareability and social media loosens the broadcasters’ grip on content and threatens revenue.
MAM systems help teams stay in control of their data (archived or live data) and deliver tailor-made content necessary to remain in contact with global fan bases.
For example, the soccer club, InterMilan was able to monetize 600TB of digital archives using a media asset management system, and juxtapose historical matches with real-time matches, to the delight of its fans. By making its archives searchable and using AI to find and repurpose content, InterMilan could drive engagement with 26 million global fans on social media while using metadata for rich analytics.
The sporting industry landscape is fast-evolving, and so are the solutions available to ride the wave and increase fan engagement profitably. Sports teams and franchises are going through a digital transformation and becoming media and entertainment companies. The secret to a successful digital transformation and growth in fan engagement in the sporting industry lies in choosing the right technologies to digitally transform the way that sports teams and clubs engage their fans, sponsors, and broadcasters. A robust, modern media asset management tool is the key to customer-centric digital transformation that can give sports businesses an edge in today’s ever-changing consumer landscape.