Lessons in Fan Engagement

We may fondly imagine that sport is a leader when it comes to fan engagement and digital content and it is getting there but the second annual Fan Engagement Conference in Kilkenny (FECKK) heard that we still have a long way to go.

“The sports who will survive and thrive in the new media world need to consider themselves as 24/7 content houses” we heard from former Chelsea FC Marketing Director Ben Wells.

“Selling boards and boxes to a sponsor is a long way down their priority list and a far cry from the direct contact they crave with the mass audiences, or at times the committed niche audiences which sport can deliver if done right.”

The day kicked off with Mario Leo of Result Sports updating on the way the major European soccer teams are managing engagement.

He told us that the focus was still very much on Asia where in Indonesia as one example the average football supporter is a ‘fan’ of no fewer than seven Premier League Clubs.

Sport for Business stepped in to lead a panel discussion with Barry Cunningham of the IRFU, Alan Milton of the GAA and Stuart Vose of Sunderland.

We spoke of the challenge of ‘always on’ and ‘always innovating’ demands on the limited resources still available within sporting bodies.

Sunderland has grown its media team now to eight and while the budgets available may not yet make that a comfortable reach for our own sports it is a pointer to the future.

Expansion is working for the FAI though in a local context. Ian Mallon and Darragh McGinley were there to pick up the award for best fan engagement sport in Ireland for the work they have done in terms of developing original video and social content and significantly expanding their audience over the past two years.

Producing content is rarely easy though not often so difficult as it was for Gavan Hennigan who gave us a powerful story of how he had crossed the Atlantic as a single rower, battling external and internal demons and sending social posts by text without any ability to see or feel the response he was getting.

Hennigan has tuned a challenging life into one that is now, humbly but effectively one that is making a difference in the lives of others going through mental health issues.

He is working with charity Jigsaw to put structure on the impact he can have and is deserving of as wide an audience as possible.

He also deserves more than a second look from sponsors, possibly among those of you reading this for his next adventure a solo row from New York back to his native Galway.

A departure past the Statue of Liberty alone would create great storytelling potential alone, never mind the powerful motivational push it could provide to teams and customers back on dry land.

Join us tomorrow for ten key takeaways we learnt on the day from these and other speakers including Gerry Nixon of Vodafone and John Carey of AIB on how they have engaged fans through their major partnerships in sport; from experts in the field of eSports; from Adrian Bevington on how the highest levels of football in Britain deals with the challenge of expectation; from the man behind Barcelona’s fan engagement on how hype works and from others who answered the call from Trevor Keane to come share learning and insight in the historic surrounds of Kilkenny and who are looking forward already to next year and the progress that can, must and will be made.


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