Fan Engagement US Style

Sport for Business caught up with Stephen Person, Vice President of Sports and Entertainment with FISH Technologies in the US on a recent visit to Ireland. The company is part of all the major US sports engagement campaigns from Major League Baseball to the MLS and the NFL.

What are the major changes taking place in what is provided for fans by venues and demanded by them as a result?

The major change taking place is the dramatic shift in experiential entertainment. Brand sponsors are focused on experiential marketing activations as a response to consumers demanding an improved fan experience. Event organisers, leagues, and teams have the opportunity to be a key bridge in the relationship between fans and their favourite pastimes, teams, and players.

Event organisers, leagues, and teams have the opportunity to be a key bridge in the relationship between fans and their favourite pastimes, teams, and players.

Brands are shifting from traditional B-to-C activation concepts centring around products to more immersive experiences that hope to build an increased level of brand affinity. Those organizations who are most successful at adapting to this trend are those that have capitalized on this shift by focusing on the fan experience and creating more opportunities for brand partners to authentically connect to fans at major Fan Festivals, watching parties, or on mobile tours.

Those organizations who are most successful at adapting to this trend are those that have capitalized on this shift by focusing on the fan experience and creating more opportunities for brand partners to authentically connect to fans at major Fan Festivals, watching parties, or on mobile tours.

Who are the organisations that are leading the way?

In the US, all of the professional leagues have adopted the strategy of enhancing their Fan Festivals and non-gameday activities as a way to meet the growing demands of sponsors, while simultaneously providing fans with an improved experience. The NFL is driving this change with a massive focus on their event portfolio, from enhancing the traditional NFL Experience at the Super Bowl to a massive event around the NFL Draft, to major fan festivals in the UK and Mexico.

The NFL is driving this change with a massive focus on their event portfolio, from enhancing the traditional NFL Experience at the Super Bowl to a massive event around the NFL Draft, to major fan festivals in the UK and Mexico.

At FISH, we have been very fortunate to be an industry leader in supporting the NFL with their objectives, along with the NHL, MLB, MLS, NBA, US Open Tennis, PGA, Nascar, and many others. Our specialty, and the keys behind our Live Event Operating System, are helping the leagues, teams, or event organizers “own” fan data, grow their existing fan databases and CRMs, understand fan engagement at sponsor activations at events in order to maximize ROI for their corporate partners, and to grow corporate partnership revenues.

We also have a great group of partners, including EventEase in Ireland, who have really championed the powerful impact that our program can have on improving fan experiences, while at the same time creating a comprehensive and actionable set of data points.

As organizations continue to evolve, they must focus on better understanding their fans from a data and analytics perspective. Just knowing who fans are is not enough. Leading organizations acknowledge that they need to know what moves the needle with their fans. What sorts of activations and experience are attracting and engaging what demographics? How are improvements in fan experience correlating to building more affinity between fans and brand sponsors? What is quantifiable?

How would you justify investment in technology versus the physical aspect of engagement through people and processes?

Most organisations have similar objectives – enhance the fan activation experience (allowing the fans to easily collect and share content), drive meaningful data for all stakeholders (themselves and their brand sponsors), position themselves as a strategic partner with their brand sponsors, and leverage the data to grow sponsor revenues.

I think where some organizations have struggled with a justification to invest in technology is by evaluating it through the lens of a sunk marketing cost, and not having the foresight to see just how valuable that investment can be towards helping drive more value to the sponsor partner ecosystem. The reality is that an improved fan experience that can be validated by improved data collection and measurement, creates an opportunity for organizers to leverage new digital opportunities to sponsors, thereby creating new potential revenues streams to offset the initial investments.

 

On a this trip to the UK and Ireland to support our partners at EventEase, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with a number of the top sporting organizations and sponsor agencies in the region, and came away impressed with the vision many expressed about a willingness to “think outside the box” of traditional sponsor deals and marketing activations and focus on embracing technologies to stay ahead of the curve.

Many of the leading football clubs in the world are already embracing the philosophy, as seen any their annual trips around the world for exhibition games, their mobile tours to build fan bases in different markets, and their investment in building youth academies around the world.

Where will next major changes emerge?

Frankly, we as a sports and entertainment community can barely keep up with the changes emerging now on daily basis. Content currently is key and stands to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Therefore, changes in the dynamic of fan engagement will be centred around how to we maximize the ability for fans to access cool and meaningful content, while always mindful of being relevant to the sport. VR and AR are becoming increasingly more popular and will continue to bring fans closer to the action with the ability to provide them with an immersive experience they can’t otherwise access. It will be exciting to see the evolution of how new technologies are implemented in both the gameday and non-gameday environments.

Are Millennials different in what they do and what they want?

Absolutely. Millennials represent a new wave of fandom; they have specific wants and needs with regard to their experiences with a particular sport, property, league, or team, and are not shy about voicing their desires. Millennials inherently have become much more savvy in how they consume sports & entertainment, and they focus is predominately centered around the experience. They not only want, but expect to be entertained, and that onus is on the property to deliver. While Millennials still consume sports and content with the same passions as the previous generation, their willingness to find alternative content if their needs are not being met is also high. They have options, they know it, and they are willing to pivot when unfulfilled.

Millennials inherently have become much more savvy in how they consume sports and entertainment, and they focus is predominately centred around the experience. They not only want, but expect to be entertained, and that onus is on the property to deliver. While Millennials still consume sports and content with the same passions as the previous generation, their willingness to find alternative content if their needs are not being met is also high. They have options, they know it, and they are willing to pivot when unfulfilled.

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