Sport competitions have been a source of entertainment, joy and excitement across all cultures for centuries. In a previous blog post, we saw how the latest technologies are being used to boost player performance in both the professional and amateur sporting arenas. Today, we look at how these technologies are transforming the experience of another crucial player – the fan.
For the last decade, fan attendance at live sporting events has been in continual decline. The improved quality of traditional broadcasting and newer live streaming services, coupled with the decreasing price of high-resolution television and internet has brought about options for fans to enjoy watching their favourite sporting competition from the comfort of their sofa and even from any connected mobile device. As a result, sporting event organizers are having to come up with new and innovate ways to attract spectators back to the stadiums.
Sport associations, clubs, and event organisers are increasingly turning to new technologies to boost engagement and loyalty from sports fans and provide more engaging experiences both in and out of the stadium.
Social Media and Mobile Apps
As with brands and businesses, social media has changed the way fans interact with their favourite sport teams and athletes. Social media platforms give teams and athletes the space to communicate with their fans directly, provide timely updates about internal developments, collect feedback and share fan generated content. Fans can also communicate to each other, building a sense of community. While there’s a risk for spread of misinformation and fake news, well controlled social media is a good way for sport clubs and teams to connect with and nurture loyalty from their fans.
Similar to social media, mobile apps have become an essential part of fan engagement. Today we see many examples of teams and leagues creating apps to connect and stay in touch with their fans. Sport apps can provide fans with a wide range of information and services, like real-time scores and statistics, news updates, inside stories and reports, live game streaming, tickets and merchandise purchases, and even food and drinks orders at the stadium. Sport mobile apps are also an ideal playground for gamification as part of rewards schemes aimed at building fan loyalty and advocacy.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
AI technologies are increasingly being used in various aspects of sporting practice and management. It’s not hard to notice a rising trend among sport fans of using a second screen while watching live sports on TV, whether to track the related player stats and reactions on social media, or to exchange comments on those with friends. To provide a rich watching experience, stadiums are now installing large scoreboard screens above the field, enhancing the spectacle and bringing fans closer to the game. As well as displaying live scores, organisers are making use of a plethora of data about the players’ and teams’ past and real-time performances, to provide spectators with distinctive insights in a novel and interesting format otherwise not available.
Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies
Going a step further with innovations, AR and VR technologies are being used to hook fans wanting to immerse themselves into a sporting event by adding a virtual layer to the live unfolding event. For example, AR technology can be used to provide fans with real-time player performance statistics, such as player speed and distance travelled during games, overlaid onto a live broadcast. The most common application of VR technology is the use of VR headsets to create virtual tours of stadiums, allowing fans to explore the facilities in a 360-degree view. VR headsets can even virtually put a spectator into a game, letting them get as close to the action and their favourite players as possible. While these technologies are still relatively expensive and not widely affordable, their potential benefits make them an exciting area to watch in the world of sports.
Fantasy sports have revolutionized the way fans engage with sports, allowing them to create their own virtual teams composed of real-life players and compete against others based on the real-life performance of those players. Fantasy sports platforms like ESPN, Yahoo Sports, DraftKings and others have seen significant growth in the past few years, especially with the temporary halt of live real-world sporting events during the recent COVID pandemic. These platforms allow fans of all skill levels to participate in a wide range of amateur and professional leagues and competitions. With millions of participants joining, fantasy sports have become a multi-billion-dollar industry and an attractive space for sport teams and brands to connect with fans. While there are critics arguing that fantasy sports can promote gambling addiction, it cannot be denied they make for a strong channel for nurturing fan spirit and engagement.
Through these examples we have seen that new innovative tools and platforms have drastically changed the way fans experience sport. They offer convenient and interactive ways for fans to engage directly with their favourite teams, athletes and sporting events. As these technologies continue to evolve, they will further open new avenues for multi-channel approaches to fan engagement and truly immersive fan experiences. Wise use of those avenues will be crucial for sport teams and organizations to reach new audiences and deepen their connection with existing fans.