Fans are what make sport; their passion, loyalty and enthusiasm has turned what was once a hobby into a $120 billion global industry, leading sports franchises to reassess the way they engage fans and how they value that relationship.
Digital marketing enhances sports fandom
Organisations have responded by rebuilding their engagement model so that digital services are at the centre, allowing for round-the-clock connection with fans, boosting their franchise and outputs even more.
An engaged fan experiences and influences sports in a number of ways: by watching broadcasts, attending games and events, subscribing to content via social media or fan clubs and by purchasing branded or sponsored merchandise. As its foundation, an engaged fan spends time and money consuming content and experiences generated by the industry they love.
Supporting a sports team is evergreen, and frequent team progress updates and information about the personal lives of their favourite players can be fed to fans across multiple channels all day, every day.
One brand who capitalises on this is the marketing team behind Manchester United Football Club. So strong is the support for, and stand-alone marketing clout of, the team, it was the first of its kind in 1998 drop the words ‘Football Club’ from its logo and shirt emblem, truly cementing its place as a global brand beyond just the game. Confirming this, in January 2013, Manchester United became the first sports team in the world to have its worldwide market share valued over $3billion by Forbes Magazine.
To optimally engage fans, investing in research and expertise to understand their behaviour and habits – in relation to both on and offline marketing and content – is key. By personalising fans experience of the subjects they are passionate about, and delivering round-the-clock digestible content to subscribers, this approach can be incorporated into an effective and relevant engagement strategy:
• Encouraging fans to not only watch games on general and (where available) team specific broadcasts, but also attend events and fixtures, is a key contributing factor to their engagement with their surroundings. Prompting fans to share their experiences online and across social media platforms, causes engagement and audience reach to increase exponentially, creating user-generated digital marketing content.
• One business who has harnessed the value of both sporting fixtures and their fans with great success is London based online-bookmakers Betfair. Founded in 2000, the Betfair Group Plc has grown into the world’s largest internet based betting platform, with a net income of almost £40million in 2012. By negating the establishment of bricks-and-mortar holdings on the high street, Betfair have made their services – online and on smartphones – available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of sporting fixtures and timetables. Betfair Mobile, for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android, allows users to bet-in-play during live events across a wide spectrum of sports worldwide, through 20 different language sites, including French, Spanish and Italian. The Betfair smartphone app allows live betting, as well as real-time match updates, scoresheets and game statistics, bringing consumers closer to the game wherever they are, and whatever they are doing.
• Using carefully researched and analysed fan data to specifically target advertising and sponsorships creates a tailored multi-channel marketing strategy, delivering relevant and engaging content to maintain fan participation and following.
Online fan engagement represents the biggest change in content ownership, distribution and consumption in the last 50 years. It is imperative that sports management teams thoughtfully and successfully distribute content across a number of digital platforms in conjunction with establishing partnerships with several broadcast partners in order to maximise and mobilise fanatic engagement.
Global telecommunications provider O2 has been a main sponsor of the English national rugby team for over a decade, and has developed relevant sports apps, content and physical perks for use on their smartphones and at their venues to increase and capitalise on fanatical engagements with the game. O2 Priority, a service that promotes the needs of O2 customers above those on other networks in certain situations, allows users to purchase tickets for important sponsored fixtures ahead of those not on their network, and a designated area of their branded stadiums is reserved for complementary refreshments and entertainment during matches. O2 have also created the O2 Matchday app for smartphones, which allows users access to live text commentary, game statistics, facts and match highlights and a live feed sent to the app from the referee’s on-pitch microphone.
Gathering data on digital preferences allows content providers to tailor outputs to live streams, news and blog articles, reviews, technical coverage or video and audio content. Launched in 1998, the Manchester United brand extends to MUTV, a dedicated subscription-based satellite television channel broadcasting matches, highlights, interviews and club news to fans across the world, generating the club over £100m in 2012. MUTV was initially part owned by Manchester United, ITV and BSkyB in equal shares, before the global football brand sought complete ownership of its output, finalised in January 2013.
By tailoring your content and digital marketing strategy to capitalise on the continuous rise and influence of fan bases, sporting experiences can be enriched to deliver deeper engagement and dramatically increase the opportunity for successful marketing and revenue streams.