The world of sports, like many sectors, has been disrupted by Covid19. Whilst this has brought its challenges, it has also created an increased focus on the role of digital engagement strategies and direct fan engagement.
This shift was evident pre-Covid, but the cancellation of live events has only highlighted the value of engaging with and interacting with fan bases on owned platforms.
Sports organisations worldwide are heavily investing in building direct-to-consumer digital strategies, applying fan engagement tools to increase brand awareness and reach, and drive conversions, often in the form of subscriptions, merchandise, and ticket sales.
As sports organisations start to look at themselves as media companies with a direct-to-consumer model, every fan touchpoint can be an opportunity to connect and convert. By looking at a fan's journey, we can break down the outcomes into three stages: attention, conversion, and commerce.
Attention: At this stage, you are looking to ensure your content reaches as many fans as possible as often as possible. You should be providing fans with content that helps them feel engaged with your brand, and you are looking to give them opportunities to connect with you in meaningful ways.
Conversion: Once you’ve got your audience’s attention, how do you keep it? This part of the process is all about turning those engaged fans into registered users and then customers, bringing them back to your experiences time and again to maximise the opportunities to persuade them with your messaging. To do that, you’ll need to drive data capture— asking them to share contact information, for example— so that you can retarget them with personalised messages and inspire transactions.
Commerce: Now that your audience is regularly coming back for more, you can work on developing their value. This is where you deploy the purchase-based calls to action and start to see the changes to your bottom line.At each stage in this process, you need to make sure you provide the right experience and fit it into the broader context of your direct-to-consumer strategy. This guide will walk you through the journey from awareness to conversion, leaving you in a great position to drive D2C outcomes with fan engagement.
Step 1: Build awareness and reach
Social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Tik Tok have changed the game by connecting directly with fans. Sports organisations can extend their reach globally by using these platforms, delivering short-form, entertaining content to enormous audiences instantly. The connection between a brand and its fans is powerful, but just as important is the sense of togetherness these channels foster.
Your use of social channels needs to align with your D2C strategy. Building a community around your brand is a powerful tool, but your social media’s secondary purpose should always be to drive traffic to your owned properties. When you engage with fans on your owned app or website, you gather and own the data from their engagement. This data is a crucial building block of your direct-to-consumer model. Once you’ve collected that data, it belongs to you, and the opportunities from that point on are immense.
Liverpool Football club exemplified this when they harnessed the power of their vast social media following to promote their Match Centre experience. Their campaign reached an audience of thousands of receptive fans and brought them to the club’s digital properties.By combining the reach and influence of social media with the data-gathering abilities of owned fan experiences, your organisation can form the foundations of a powerful D2C strategy.
Step 2: Drive first-party data using gamification and interactive experiences
Once you’ve got your audience’s attention and fans are coming to your website or native app, the next question is: how can you unlock the value of that engagement?Sports fans are competitive by nature, so using gamified experiences can be a great way to maximise their engagement. Gamification keeps fans coming to your properties time and again, and grants you access to a treasure trove of behavioural data, full of insights into their traits, preferences, and the actions they’re likely to take in the future.
The world’s most prominent sports brands are now tapping into the power of interactive experiences to invigorate their fan engagement strategies and drive D2C outcomes.
Sports Apps and Gamification: A winning combination
Gamified experiences are great at driving users to action. Gamification mechanisms, such as rewarding users for repeat visits or engaging with multiple pieces of content, are widely used across the digital space. Making the experience genuinely valuable and exciting drives participation. Still, audiences will quickly dissipate if your gamified experience feels more like a chore than an exciting opportunity to connect with you. Done well, gamified experiences leave your fans feeling closer to the sport they love.
Interactivity can also increase dwell time, meaning that your fans spend more time on your owned platforms and are more likely to return to you in future, giving you that all important ‘stickiness’. The longer audiences spend engaging with your content, the deeper their affinity for your brand and the more likely you are to be front of mind the next time they go looking for ways to connect with their favourite sport.British motorsport giant Goodwood has also seen considerable successes in this area. During their SpeedWeek in 2020, they gamified their vast digital content offering, rewarding users with points for making predictions and sharing opinions. Those points then translated into a reward system, meaning that the more users engaged with the content, the greater the value of their reward. This proved to be a powerful driver of interaction, with users returning throughout the three-day event to build up their points and earn bigger and better rewards.
Whether fans are in the stadium cheering on their team, watching the game live from home, or looking to relive the excitement of the last match and gear themselves up for the next, your digital interactive experiences have a vital role to play.
LFC deployed their Match Centre experience to bring interactivity to all aspects of the game. During the match, fans watched along, accessed live, exclusive commentary, and connected with fellow supporters, club officials, and even the players themselves. Outside of game time, the opportunities to engage with the club continued, with interactive videos, votes, polls, and trivia coming together to form the ultimate destination for any Liverpool FC fan.
Match Centre also offers your sponsors the opportunity to hold an influential position within the digital experience. By advertising as part of an interactive experience, your sponsors unlock access to a fully engaged target audience.
LFC demonstrated that sponsorship calls to action can be incorporated organically within the experience. By building sponsored placements into the content on offer without disrupting the user experience, their sponsorship offering was a cut above the standard digital inventory available from competitors.Interactive Video ContentYour interactive digital experiences don’t need to be reliant on a team of people consistently generating brand new, purpose-built content. Adding a layer of interactivity is a great way to maximise the value of content and assets you’ve already created. Archive footage of previous games or behind-the-scenes interviews and training can be easily converted into interactive ‘what happened next?’ quizzes, where fans are rewarded for their knowledge.
If you’re ready to move beyond the attention phase of your fans’ journey towards conversion and commerce, you can even incorporate interactive shopping experiences into your existing video content. By triggering targeted, timely calls to action, you can drive merchandise sales in an organic way that fits within the context of your video. Users can ‘favourite’ products they see and return to them later, so they’re not taken out of the viewing experience. This allows your videos to deliver on both engagement and conversion.Many sports organisations will be used to seeing the most significant spikes of activity on their digital properties while their matches and events are live. That’s only natural— after all, big events are when the majority of your audience is tuned in! However, to capitalise on the value of that audience, you need to be thinking about engaging them not just during the event, but before and after too. If you can extend the audience’s attention beyond that traditional window, you create more chances to build a real, meaningful connection to your brand. In turn, you gather more data and are more likely to succeed in guiding the audience along your customer journey, ultimately delivering more value from their relationship with you.
Step 3: Use first-party data for personalisation, retargeting, and driving transactions
Increasing your brand’s reach and awareness is a vital first step on your fans’ journey, but any good fan engagement campaign shouldn’t stop there. Your next goal is to increase the value of your audience. Average Revenue Per User (or ARPU) is an excellent way of understanding what this means in practice. Essentially, your fan engagement strategy should be concerned with achieving the greatest possible value from each user.
This may seem counterintuitive. Historically, sports organisations have focused on commercialisation models reliant on expanding the audience as much as possible to encourage as many users as possible to make at least one purchase. However, this approach relies on a finite resource. No matter how good your campaign is, you’ll eventually run out of new audience members! Concentrating on ARPU means taking a more focused, targeted approach— delivering hyper-personalised content and retargeting the same users consistently— with the end goal of driving repeat purchases or new subscriptions.A successful ARPU-based strategy relies upon good first-party data. To personalise your offering and retarget audiences, you need to gather a solid foundation of customer data within your Customer Data Platform. Fan engagement experiences can feed directly into these platforms, allowing you to personalise their experience and bolstering your ability to retarget those users in future.For instance, EA Sports uses their Player of the Month voting experience to engage with a global fan-base and encourage them to get involved in something they care about: voting for their favourite player. The data gathered is then used to retarget engaged football fans and persuade them to purchase a copy of FIFA.
Ultimately, the more you know about your fans, the better equipped you are to build a long-term connection with them, delivering engaging digital experiences that feel relevant and maximising value for both your brand and your sponsors.
Step 4: Connect digital and in-stadium interactions into one seamless fan experience
Today’s sports organisations need to know that a fan’s journey doesn’t start when they enter the stadium and end when they leave. Sports fans expect an organisation’s presence to run across multiple channels and span in-stadium and digital realms.Connecting those touchpoints into one cohesive fan experience and fan engagement strategy could be the key to maximising your ARPU.Take, for example, a fan who decides to buy a ticket to the game next weekend. You can drive them to your digital experience to download their ticket or access a map of the venue ahead of match day. Now that they have connected with your digital presence, you can promote your other content to them. Maybe they’ll decide to review the highlights video from last week’s game and participate in a gamified interactive video that offers them the chance to earn points towards a season ticket. This prompts them to sign up for an account where they share their details like an email address or phone number, giving you the ability to retarget them across multiple channels.Fast forward to game day, and the same fan is taking their seat in the stadium when they spot one of your outdoor billboards advertising 20% off this season’s merchandise within the app. Having already created an account, they decide to open the app and make the purchase. They can share a link with their friend, encouraging them to sign up and redeem the offer too. Now you’ve gathered first-party data on the friend, and you’ve driven two additional transactions.That’s how powerful this type of fan engagement can be for your D2C strategy!By blending the stadium experience (ticketing, event attendance, merchandise and outdoor advertising) with the digital (gamification, interactivity, data capture and retargeting), you can build the foundation for brand new fan relationships that deliver massive value for your organisation.
Step 5: Use a real-time engagement platform to deliver powerful fan engagement experiences at scale
The most powerful fan engagement strategies address fans at all points along their journey. At the beginning of this journey you have engagement, bringing fans back to your digital properties repeatedly and allowing them to form a natural affinity with your brand. First-party data helps you personalise your digital experiences, building upon that engagement and making your messaging more persuasive, leading you towards the ultimate goal of maximising the value of your audience via conversions and commerce.For most sports organisations, this needs to be done on a scale of thousands, so how can you reach these figures and deliver the most valuable outcomes?
Monterosa / Interaction Cloud™ is the real-time engagement platform that delivers on all three of these goals at scale. It allows you to connect with a global fan-base, increasing the volume of experiences, engagement, data, and conversions.