Alongside our celebrations of England’s Lionesses bringing football ‘home’ with their Euros 2022 win, more conversations than ever around the investment needed in women’s football from grassroots up to the national and international levels are taking place. Nothing does more for sport than the sweetness of a hard fought victory and whether its football, rugby, netball, hockey or darts, there is much more to supporting sport beyond attending matches and competitions.
Only a fraction of fans are able to see their teams and heroes live – which offers a huge opportunity for teams looking to maximise engagement, involvement and sponsorship opportunities, not to mention attract new supporters.
Fans may be some of the most loyal ‘customers’ in the world when it comes to their teams and players, but keeping them engaged out of season and beyond ticket sales can be almost as important as what’s happening on the pitch. Sport marketing is more than just getting bums on seats and merch.
Swansea City FC was one of the first teams to embrace its own app as a means to digitise sales and expedite stadium entry back in 2018. Since then, the role of team and organisation-based apps has gone beyond football and evolved from serving as an alternative to paper tickets to one of creating communities. To varying degrees, sporting apps provide interactive and compelling content as well as allowing fans to engage with their team and each other, regardless of whether they are season ticket holders or armchair commentators.
The goal of these app-based communities is to provide an immersive experience for fans regardless of whether they attend one match a week, a month, year or even a single one in their lifetime. Creating these experiences outside the pitch became even more important during the pandemic when competitions and matches were at a standstill; they helped to keep people connected to each other, their favourite teams, players and sports.
In addition to creating goodwill, building camaraderie and communicating with fans, these communities also provide a wealth of data that teams and organisations can access and use to tailor content, services and offers to fans in support of their clubs. The organisations set up to capture this data – and integrate it with data captured from other channels like Insta, Twitter, email or other social platforms – are able to create more comprehensive fan profiles. This single customer view helps sporting organisations, teams and clubs tailor their communications to fans, keeping them engaged year round.
Whether it’s reliving that final goal and the refrains of ‘Sweet Caroline’ through an in-app karaoke competition, celebrating the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay win via social media or a well-timed email inviting commiseration over a missed try, good content needs to capture and channel the joy or tears of sport. To truly channel their passion and translate it into engagement, the content should be an experience in of itself: relevant, interactive and fun.
We can learn a lot from the gambling industry when it comes to the art of timing interactive content with half time and advert breaks. A clever competition timed to land during these downtimes is likely to encourage punters to stop scrolling on their phones and take part, helping to drive engagement and traffic to a sponsored product, for example.
In addition, the highly competitive battle for broadcast rights in sport means an ever-increasing number of subscription-only channels, limiting access to matches and games for many fans. To keep them from feeling alienated clubs have sought to create interactive game-day experiences through gamification, running competitions predicting line-ups and scores or encouraging fans to upload their own pictures and team-based memories. Virtual stadium tours using live content from player tunnels, other areas off the pitch and past footage are also popular ways to drum up excitement and engagement during matches, or even in the off season. And as virtual reality technology continues to improve and become more accessible, I have no doubt it will play an increasingly active role in enriching the fan experience and providing unique opportunities for sponsors to reach them.
Fans are a huge part of the joy of sport, but let’s not forget about grassroots development – where would our local teams and favourite athletes be without this? Whether you’re a young kid with glasses longing be a hockey umpire, an undiscovered cricketing hero playing on your local pitch or the next Beth Mead, Sarina Wiegman or Owen Farrell, engaging online can go a long way to helping you connect with your local sports’ organisations.
Targeted communications from these entities can flag up local tournaments, training opportunities and coaching courses, helping to identify, reach and engage new talent when it comes to athletes, coaches and referees. Sharing player stats, local team scores and highlights also raises the profiles of athletes and officials playing and working in the lower leagues, helping them develop their game, attract more followers and gain greater access to opportunities for moving up the ranks.
Experiencing the joy of victory and the agony of defeat is what sport is all about. We can’t all be athletes – or even watch them live – but feeling connected to our heroes and fellow fans are a huge part of what helps sport to grow and flourish. Digital platforms and communications can help make this happen by building communities and promoting engagement, loyalty and a love of sport around the world.
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