What are the challenges and future opportunities in fan engagement?

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Fan engagement is a much more complex, dynamic and exciting area than ever before, with opportunities multiplying with the advancements in technology and shifting sands of fans' consumer behaviour. GlobalSportsJobs is providing the best talent in the spheres of data, content, marketing and technology to help sports organisations captivate and grow their respective audiences. We asked our clients, all market leaders in this sphere, about what the future of fan engagement might look like.

The sports fan of a few years ago was a much simpler beast. They consumed sport passively from a stadium seat or sofa, and through magazines and newspapers. Now, there are a myriad of ways for fans to sate their sporting passions, and sports organisations have to work much harder to reach them across this multitude of platforms. It's a challenge, but these new avenues also provide rich potential to deepen engagement, extend reach and provide handsome commercial returns.

One of the biggest challenges (and, conversely, opportunities) in the world of modern fan engagement is the revolution in how sport coverage is delivered to the consumer. 'Over The Top' (OTT) digital streaming services are beginning to land significant blows to linear broadcasters in the battle for rights.

The modern-day audience prefers to consume sports content in a more snackable way on portable, interactive platforms. The likes of Snapchat, Facebook Live, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Twitter give rights holders a great opportunity to appeal to existing diehard fans and new, untapped audiences, and content has to be moulded to suit each platform of choice and each fan's personal preferences.

Exclusive TV rights deals are lucrative, so giving that content away (often for free) on digital platforms presents a tricky revenue/reach decision for rights holders. The likes of cricket's world governing body the ICC have seen this not as a conundrum, but an opportunity, releasing a ground-breaking suite of engaging content and services across multiple social media platforms during the recent ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales.

Many motor sport championships sanctioned by the FIA, the global motorsport federation, is also "detonating" their fan engagement to capitalise on these new opportunities to engage fans, while the NBA are among the global pioneers in this space with NBA branded grass-roots basketball youth development programmes in potential growth markets such as India, a plethora of innovative digital engagement tools and its own NBA League Pass OTT subscription service which includes match coverage in virtual reality.

The latter is seen as one of the key fan engagement opportunities of the next few years. Just 1% of NBA fans actually see a game in person, so VR (and soon, it's predicted, holographic coverage) is being invested in heavily as providing the 'next best thing' to a courtside seat, enabling fans to see and hear the action in 3D, real-time.

A bi-product of the fracturing media market is the opportunity it opens up for 'minor' sports and rights holders of new, dynamic sports products and events, who can engage with fans directly, when their only previous method of wide exposure would have been television.

The leading international sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media, for example, recently launched the Hammer Series cycling event, which will be streamed on Facebook Live and YouTube.

Attracting talent to the industry to drive this explosion of digital innovation is one of the challenges affecting many sports organisations. The skillset needed to execute modern fan engagement strategies – particularly around data – is more advanced than ever before.

GlobalSportsJobs is leading this recruitment drive, as CEO Will Lloyd explains: “The sports industry is becoming more mature and has a big need for digital talent. GlobalSportsJobs is at the heart of trying to attract a greater quality and diversity of talent to ensure this marketplace continues to grow in a meaningful and mature way.”

Finding new ways to hook in and immerse fans into sport content and brands will be a fascinating area in the coming years as technology advances.

Rights holders and sponsors are digging deeper into their sport than ever before to bring fans in-depth, access-all-areas coverage and use it to its maximum potential, engaging fans proactively rather than presenting it to be consumed passively.

OMNIGON, market leaders in consumer loyalty, audience growth and digital content delivery, work with a long list of sports federations and rights holders. Their recent work with the International Ski Federation, for example, allowed fans to vote for best World Championship moments and season highlights and make predictions for the coming season. Built using PollPro – part of their own ProSuite range of engagement tools – these products are responsive and are embedded within the FIS mobile app (which OMNIGON also designed).

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One area ripe for development and creativity amidst the shifting sands of the way fans consume sport is sponsorship, according to data driven sports marketing agency Two Circles.

In a blog by Director of Global Consulting Phil Stephan, he comments: "Whilst brand and consumer behaviour has changed, the sponsorship industry is largely doing as it has always done.

"Brands are getting smarter, recognising that they can leverage the hype around sport events whilst cutting sports rights owners out of the equation and going direct to the audience. If rights owners stand still, brands will move away and it will be increasingly difficult for ‘traditional’ sponsorship to compete in a brand’s marketing mix."

With so many platforms and mechanisms for fan engagement, and new ones emerging all the time, the coming period will be a case of simply "seeing what works," according to SVG Europe (NB they don't appear on the GSJ client list, so no link) - a group that supports Europe's professional community that uses video, audio, and broadband technologies to produce and distribute sports content.

Traditional linear broadcasting is certainly being threatened and its response will be intriguing, but across the digital landscape, with OTT services, virtual reality and the rapid evolution of social media, the possibilities are almost limitless.


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