Has COVID19 been a blessing in disguise for fan engagement in sport?

It’s no myth that global sports fans have been crying out for sport to return. Viewership and almost every digital stat have peaked like never before during lockdown. Everton vs Liverpool became the most viewed Premier League game OF ALL TIME with 5.5m fans tuning in. The National Hockey League’s international website traffic has experienced a 28% rise compared to last year, Twitch received over 3 billion watched-hours of content for the first time, and the esports sector has accumulated close to 1 billion viewers worldwide. Fan engagement has become more digitally influenced than ever, and COVID19 will only underpin this theme for the future of sport. This week’s blog will demonstrate how COVID19 has leveraged sports fan engagement strategy.   

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Without fans, there is no atmosphere, passion, and reason for sport to exist as the industry heavily relies on supporters to survive. Tickets, merchandise, food & drink sales, broadcasting and exclusive memberships are all financially driven by sports consumers. COVID19 has brought a detrimental economic deficit of some tournaments, including The Premier League, reportedly losing £177 million from ticket and corporate hospitality sales. This pandemic has been a wake-up call to the industry to ensure fans remain connected to the sector considering their value as a fundamental stakeholder.   

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The role of sports marketers is valued more than ever to ramp up the industries content game. The profile of sport needs to remind its audiences it’s still here and not to substitute it with Netflix series’ or Disney films! Lockdown has seen the time spent online to skyrocket. Over 40% of internet users are spending longer on social media, watching news coverage, TV and films through the COVID19 outbreak.

Times have changed from the average fans’ most prized possession being an autograph from their favourite player. Now supporters are more interested in receiving personalised messages and gestures from their favourite players in the game. Matchroom Boxing Director Eddie Hearn has created a virtual show with a former professional boxer; Tony Bellew called #TalkTheTalk. The show sees boxing professionals discuss all things to do with the past, present and future of the combat sport. Despite boxing’s long-awaited return this month, it has proved a useful scheme to keep its consumers engaged throughout its absence.

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The Premier League had formed an eSports tournament called ePremier League invitational. Premier League footballers and other special guests come together to compete in an official FIFA 20 tournament. This venture timed perfectly considering the growing demand for esports during COVID. Gen Z gamers are at present, watching an hour longer of gaming content compared to traditional sports content per week. Mobile gaming has increased significantly throughout lockdown, seeing a 71% increase of people from 2015 playing games on their phone which makes mobiles the most popular gaming device in history.

Amazon-owned platform Twitch has been dominating the esports streaming space, receiving a 63.8% increase in gaming content which is more than double against Facebook Gaming, YouTube Gaming and xCloud. Twitch has proactively pushed boundaries by launching its own sports channel called TwitchSports. The streaming giants have also formed partnerships with Arsenal, Juventus, Real Madrid and PSG. These deals will share exclusive content of the clubs to leverage their brand to Twitch’s highly-captivated young audiences. Football’s sharpness on esports growth is well-tuned to continue their evolution to becoming a global entertainment business by collaborating with diverse sectors.

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Away from the internet, the industry has more reflection time to understand how they can take the stadium experience to the next level. The capacity for creative change through technology is possible as we’ve seen, replacing billboard advertising space to tune in home-audiences via zoom and producing audio fan sounds through AI. What could we see with mass spectator returns to stadiums? AI serving you your food and drink directly to you? Devices by your seat showing you the match from different angles or even perhaps live Q&A’s through the stadium by each fan being providing a mini-microphone. The opportunities are endless.

As well as adding to the stadium experience, the home experience has room for development. Such as providing fans with a choice of watching the match from different live camera angles, having a live stats widget shared on your viewing screen throughout a game and even a live social media mosaic integrated on your screen rather than having to check another device for live updates.

Understandably, the essential driver for successful fan engagement is to ensure your consumers feel a personal and unique connection. Younger audiences have proven to be the most influential demographic to affiliate with online content, and the sports industry has prioritised that space. Moving forward, based on illustrious esports growth during COVID19, the platform could have a place amongst the traditional sports broadcasting world, eventually leveraging the audiences that big competitors like DAZN, Sky Sports and BT Sport enthral.

Technological activations in stadiums can expect to develop, such as more proactivity to apply data to underpin an authentic and personal fan experience once audiences are returning to stadiums. It wouldn’t be overwhelming for fans to receive more personalised messages from their favourite athletes, directly encouraging them to buy into services. Wider variety of camera angles providing the fan multiple game perspectives at once would be a shout as well.

COVID19 has created mass amounts of animosity in sport, but as we’ve learnt, every industry can grow from adverse circumstances.

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Published by Ash

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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