The future of sports seems to always be talked about. Will people still enjoy seeing two people box it out in a ring or will the consumers taste change to the hype-filled world of e-sports. That’s a larger question that only time will tell. But there is one thing that can help shape the path of sports no matter what the actual activity is and that’s the experience. More specifically the relationship, brand, loyalty, and passion that an activity can create and drive with consumers. In fact 54% of the reason why Millennials are purchasing tickets to sporting events isn’t even for the love of the sport or the team according to Skidmore Studios. That’s where a little thing called marketing comes into play and becomes the crucial gateway for the future of all sports.
Well, actually this Marketing thing is a massive umbrella that seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year it’s brought up in conversation. But the crucial parts that I’m going to explore here pull at the consumer and their relationship with the sport. Just so you’re aware I understand the term sport is a highly contested term, but for me, I’m going to refer to it relatively loosely and include e-sports, ostrich racing, drone racing, American Football, Boxing, Nascar, and of course Soccer.
The sports world isn’t what it was like 100 years ago. Your local team doesn’t just send an ad in the metro newspaper and instantly fill the stadium. The world has shifted and sports brands are global businesses no matter if their team plays internationally or not. This conflict of international brand and local entertainment opportunity can challenge many and shift priorities to somewhere they might not really want to be. This flux in priorities means driving an amazing consumer experience globally and actively engaging locally is necessary to just survive, let alone thrive.
So what drives an amazing “experience” for a consumer? I think a large laundry list of nice-to-haves can be boiled down to three large points Engage, Excite, Enrich.
Engaging isn't just a nice buzzword.
It's about bringing someone into an activity. Pulling the consumer closer to the action.
The fan is no longer just a face in the crowd. They are a person with a multitude of dimensions. They have a Twitter handle, a Reddit username, a favorite drink, a favorite seat, a smartphone in their hand, and most importantly a personality to connect with. Sports have to recognize this and all the other dimensions that make that fan who they are and create amazing content that makes sense to them.
Each sports brand has a voice, a tone, and a message. Connecting that to your individual fans and what many call the “superfans” will develop relationships that won’t only spread through them but through their connections and their world.
There is no barrier between the fan and their favorite player anymore, social media destroyed that wall years ago. Allowing conversations and fan-sourced content to come to the surface and provide a voice to the fan base is not only possible now, but will be necessary for the future. You can start seeing this shift in how Twitter is allowing users to be actively involved in the conversation and it’s time your sport embraces these voices.
There is something special about Soccer.
In the way they are able to engage their clubs fans and have them form their own "superfan" groups.
The leagues around the world are dedicated, passionate, and excited about their sport and this is a massive piece of the future consumer’s experience. Does that mean that every fan must be standing for the 90+ minutes of a soccer match chanting at the top of their lungs the songs and chants while smoke rolls around them and drums bang loudly? No. But I can tell you the more people doing that the more people around them are excited about the game and it completely shifts the experience.
A great white paper from Skidmore Studios around Millennials and Game Experiences shows that 79% of respondents didn’t care whether the team has a winning or loosing record when it came to purchasing tickets, they cared about the experience. And a crucial piece of this experience isn’t just to excite and engage them that one time. It’s to enrich their entire experience, from awareness and intent to post-event interactions and relationship molding.
This piece is crucial and one that many sports push off.
They just let it slide by when in reality it’s the lifeblood of the experience. The post-event interactions matter. The follow-up matters. The Instagram photo the fan posted matters. Where they bought their ticket matters. Each one of these data points allows a brand to make themselves 10x better. It allows the brand to be in their everyday life.
Can you offer a flat discount on hot dogs for everybody? Of course! But what about the 50% of people that buy hamburgers each time they come to the game. They don’t want to eat a crappy hot dog. Enrich each fan’s experience with better knowledge.
Make it personal. Remember the professional camera team you see on the field grabbing the perfect shots of the game. Turn them around during off-peak times and bring them into the crowd. A professional picture of a fan enjoying their time at their favorite sporting event is one simple way to enrich the experience.
Enrich the post-event interactions by sending them this picture, some stats of the game and depending on their purchasing behavior, which you should already have, decide to give them a value-add offer on their next match or create a completely different offering for them.
Today’s competitive enterprise market allows for a massive understanding of clients. This technology should be leveraged to not just sell tickets to potential fans of a sport but build a relationship with them. A relationship that should engage, excite, and enrich their entire experience.
Is this a perfect world where the right value-add marketing is customized to the consumer specifically. No, but many pieces of this puzzle can be done right now. The glue of Enrich can be challenging, but the pieces of Engage and Excite are plentiful and available.