TURNING SPECTATORS INTO CONNECTED FANS: THE FUTURE OF SPONSORSHIP
Empty stadiums and lockdowns have changed sports viewing forever. Here’s how to create better fan experiences and brand connections with cutting-edge digital tools.
The final whistle on the pandemic hasn’t been blown (yet), but the good news: we’re finally ahead on the scoreboard. Globally, there are still a few lockdowns and empty stadiums, but for the most part, sports have started coming back and we’re seeing more people cheering on grandstands and celebrating in pubs – and we couldn’t be happier.
While it’s been tough going, we’ve come out of this with more digital tricks up our sleeve – and the best part, everyone gets to win if you get both the physical and digital activations right. The fans get a better, more connected experience, while sports marketers get richer access to fans wherever they are: stadiums, bars, or at home. This leads to more data and more engagement, and that means better ROI.
But don’t just take our word for this. Research shows that a sponsorship investment can yield 10 times the return of a traditional media campaign, and fans are three times more likely to purchase, and twice as likely to recommend a sponsor of a team they love.
However, this comes with an asterisk. To unlock all these rewards, you need to play a smarter sponsorship game, one that’s covid-conscious, mobile-first, and which goes past the conventional marketing approach of defaulting to ground activations. While those face-to-face experiences undoubtedly still offer value, you need a comprehensive hybrid strategy that also creates and maintains one-to-one fan conversations on digital channels, and which includes a second-screen strategy.
Thankfully, you’ve now got a powerful digital toolbox to play with: Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR), Blockchain, fanbots, and our personal favourite, versatile digital tokens like Virtual Atoms (VAs). These VAs can be linked in an email, embedded in a digital banner, inserted into a social media post or grabbed from the TV during a live broadcast: the possibilities are literally endless.
You just need a creative idea, some strategic thinking and the right partner. Here are three ways to create connected fans and leverage more digital interaction:
1. OWN (AND SELL) THE MOMENT.
The good news: these new digital tools have given brands the chance to create shared digital experiences that engage fans collectively, no matter where they’re watching from. The Hungry Jack’s Free Throw Promotion in NBL rewards home fans with a free cheeseburger if the away team misses two penalty throws in a row. The cheeseburger can be redeemed with a match ticket or through the NBL app if the viewers are watching at home. It’s a smart digital and physical activation, but it also plays on home support, and it’s a natural fit with the game.
Another way to own the moment is through gamification, like we did with the WHAAATA SIX campaign with Sydney Water and the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder cricket teams. Using their social channels, the players invited fans to register to play along at home during their games. Every time their team hit a six, fans would get a chance to play the game and instantly win exclusive merch. For every six entries, fans would also go into the draw to win a meet-and-greet with the players – an extra incentive to bring players back each game. The instant-win approach added excitement, urgency and anticipation to an already gripping competition.
There are benefits beyond gamification and competition drives: you can even sell special sporting moments as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). It provides another revenue stream and offers up opportunities for collaborations with other brands, or even as prizes for competitions. One of the biggest players in this new field is global marketing heavyweight Gary Vaynerchuk: he’s launched VaynerNFT, a consultancy to help brands plan, strategize and execute on NFT strategies. Their flagship client is Budweiser, and they’re betting big on making monetary value from sporting moments.
2. CLOSE THE LOOP.
Besides offering much deeper data insights, one of the biggest benefits of these digital tools is that it can provide access to fans before and after the game, and outside of the sporting venue. If your fans aren’t allowed to come to the stadium, your brand could be part of the at-home viewing occasion by partnering with companies like Deliveroo to deliver packs when the games are being broadcast. Or you can work with retail partners for home delivery. This is a way to drive trial as well as engagement around the sponsorship property.
Additionally, you can use your data insights to discover what your fans are doing before and after visiting the stadium, and then create tailormade experiences with partners – either for food, drinks, or custom activations with third party suppliers. One massive opportunity is with betting and blockchain technology – as customer data can help offer bespoke offers to fans at the right value and time.
3. PUT FANS IN THE GAME.
This is another area of fan engagement that’s evolving fast. Fans get to see new perspectives of the games via cameras integrated in the player’s jerseys, like First V1sion, or in the sporting equipment, like the Brazucam – a soccer ball with 6 built-in cameras for the World Cup. Alternatively, you can listen to referee microphones or compare real-time player stats through wearable sensors.
The future here will be shown by AI-powered cameras, drones, and 4D cameras: it’s going to upgrade how sports are covered and consumed – and it will all be available in stadiums through 5G. This new speed will also help spectators in new ways, from finding an empty parking spot through to ordering food online to their seats.
AR can also create new experiences, and it can be coupled with digital tokens to offer a whole new level of physical and digital crossover. It can provide an in-depth analysis of the game and overlay graphics on video replays giving the audience a greater understanding of events. It can also offer a whole new level of player & fan photos, as shown with this ‘Pose With The Pros’ with the Dallas Cowboys: it has earned over 50 million impressions and counting!
But that’s just the start, thanks to cheap VR technology like Google Cardboard, you can offer branded viewers access to rich 3D VR that’s arguably even better than watching at the stadium. VR has already been used for years by mainstream sporting brands like the San Francisco Giants, Manchester City, and Juventus, but now it’s levelling up. A VR company named Beyond Sports has created an app that allows fans to design their own sports viewing experience, right down to even creating their own digital avatar which they can insert into these virtual worlds. It’s no longer just about participation, this opens a whole new world of fan-based content creation and hyper-personalisation.
I’m a media and marketing all-rounder, with 15 years’ experience across a range of channels. I’m fascinated by the shop floor and ‘real world’ and love getting out in the field, experiencing the action first-hand, and gathering and sharing consumer insights and knowledge.