The digital stadium and the future of fan engagement in sports

Many times I was asked about how I see the future of sports. Will sports keep the same shape in the entertainment industry as they did so far? How will the evolution in sports entertainment, driven by technology, change the fan experience? What does it mean for sports teams that their fans are now engaging with the club on an ongoing basis and sometimes solely through digital mediums?

At LoudStand we try to answer these questions by making things happen. We want to be part of the change and ensure that the future of fan experience will be even more meaningful. We want to make sure sports teams can close the gap with their fans, helping them build a digitally oriented stadium enriched by fan’s analytics.

What is a digital stadium and how did sports entertainment get here?

The first thing to acknowledge when thinking about the future of fan engagement is the concept of a digital stadium. The last 15 years switched the paradigm of sports consumption for the fans. It changed from a live game experience where the fans got together in the same physical space, the stadium, to an omnipresent digital space in which  fans engage regardless where they are. The old live game experience is now replicated into different sorts of audio-visual content and interactions, that allow the fan experience to be longer, more frequent and have an increasingly higher reach. So will sports change as a form of entertainment or will fan experience actually change? The answer is: it already did and will continue to do so!

Today, fans support their team on an everyday basis through different streams of information and entertainment, being Facebook and Youtube the main alternative streams1. The main highlight of the fan experience is still the match and the stadium atmosphere, but these are deconstructed into a huge diversity of animations and possible interactions which do not happen in the physical world. With the mobile breakthrough happening now on a global scale and a cultural change driven by the millennials – and not only in developed countries -, a rising set of devices and applications are providing continuous means for fans to be part of their teams’ daily life like never before. It is a fan-club relationship that surpasses the boundaries of the game itself.

Time and space became less relevant in sports entertainment. What was in the past an experience that was concentrated in a particular time and space is now distributed into many fragments of “being a fan”, that happen in different moments and across the whole globe. This change also blurred the criteria for fan loyalty towards a sports team. Team performance is always an important factor, and of course the family history. But the hometown, in the past the most relevant factor driving fan loyalty for a sports team, is no longer a requirement. Independently of the sports team size, the fans going to the stadium normally represent less than 50% of the overall team’s fan base2, and that’s why it is important to unlock the potential of the digital stadium – the maximum addressable fan base that a sports team can enable remotely through technology.

Anfield's Old Main Stand in 1965
How are sports teams unlocking the digital stadium?

With this concept in mind, we can now see sports teams organizing pre-match contests and giveaways in which the fans from all over the world can be part of the match preparation making them feel part of the coaching team, either by watching the streamed training session or by making their smart choices on sports fantasy leagues. We can see in-game features, where the fans who are physically at the stadium are rewarded for their support through their smartphones and share their prize with remote fans, or can even use live assistance technology to better interpret the match. In addition, there are now endless post-match interactions representing 77% of fans content engagement3 in which fans engage with the latest events, statistics or polls, allowing them to be on top of every information they can engage with. These are sports team initiatives in the pursuit of connecting with their fan bases. So, will sports teams have to be fully digital in order to be prepared for the future of fan engagement?

What we know from today’s numbers is that many teams already have a more relevant fanbases online (in terms of size, engagement and ticket sales), which demands their structure to adapt and means their reality is less physical than it ever was. There is an endless potential for the future of fan engagement and the role of the fan, especially with 5G and Virtual Reality technologies in pipeline for implementation. But using today’s technological potential of smartphones, mobile apps and data analytics is the first step to achieve the digital stadium. When the digital stadium is fully unlocked, sports fans stop being mere spectators or consumers, but become participants that are part of the sports action.

LoudStand mobile app - the first step for a digital stadium

LoudStand is unlocking the digital stadium for football clubs and making sure football fans can truly participate in their favourite clubs daily life. Before, during or after the match, through our mobile app, everyone will have the chance to show their support, give their opinion, and be rewarded for their effort while we make sure the fan voice reaches the club in real-time.

Sources:

1. Avid Sports Fan: Digital Media Habits 5th Annual Catalyst Fan Engagement Study

2. 9th Edition UEFA Club Licensing Benchmarking Report

3. Loyalty Scoreboard: exploring fan engagement, 2015 Deloitte Development LLC.

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