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From Field To Fan: How Sport Is Reinventing Its Relationship With The People That Matter Most

A year after Euro 2020 was postponed, footie fans are on the edge of their seats as Euro 2021 began. The question sports marketers are asking themselves is what will we see differently post-COVID, and what does that mean for brands, teams and engagement strategies this summer?

The past 12 months have seen sports clubs adapting fan engagement strategies to reach into the homes and on to the screens of their fans. Teams have had the chance to experiment and refine their approach to staying connected with fans. Here are four tips for football clubs to gain momentum in 2021 and maximise these key ‘moments’ taking place in football in particular this year.

 The launch of 5G across the globe means the network is now finally able to create fast, interactive, multi-person experiences for fans to consume.”We know how enabling technology is for fans, and we should expect to see a totally different Euro’s thanks to the brand new, ‘pandemic-driven’ bespoke experiences that are now on offer” – Marcus Hadfield, Chief Strategy Officer, Apadmi.

Raw Content Formats

The latest research by We Are Social and Hootsuite found that, on average, seven out of every 10 internet users worldwide between the ages of 16 and 64 watch online streamed content every month. This translates into a significant revenue stream in sport and the wider entertainment sector.

 Born out of necessity, one of the most successful new content formats of 2020 was video-from-home. Fans have enjoyed being invited into the homes and lives of their favourite sports stars. The ‘raw’ feel of this content, often shot on a smartphone or laptop webcam, has removed the barriers between fans and talent.

The sponsorship of Euro 2021 by TikTok will see a surge of home interviews or TikTok challenges giving fans this level of access, even after social distancing regulations are lifted. This enriches the experience of supporting a team and offers more context and behind-the-scenes insights than fans have ever had. UEFA’s  marketing director, Guy-Laurent Epstein, named TikTok as “one of the most talked-about digital entertainment platforms within the last year”.

Where Fans Play’ is TikTok’s first work celebrating the partnership. New Order’s Blue Monday shows us a bunch of iconic football moments, interspersed with TikTok creative moments. It signals that this mix of footage and fandom will be the cornerstone of the partnership. Naturally, the brand secured the permissions to use the content back catalogue and licensed soundtracks, and built AR filters too.

We asked Jason Harborow, MD of Global -13 and sports expert what he was looking forward to seeing during this tournament and he said: “What I’m most looking forward to seeing during this European competition is how the fans engage with all these new touchpoints which has seen impact on the way people consume, access and share what they’re enjoying about the matches ahead. With Tik Tok being a key part of the tournament we will see ‘in real time’ a focus on fan reaction to action on the pitch.”

The match-day experience

One of the biggest changes felt by fans during the pandemic has been the matchday experience. While for some teams, only a small portion of their fanbase could be present to watch ‘live’ fixtures, now many are playing in empty stadiums.

This change has led to many teams super-serving their entire fanbase with matchday content. Manchester City has been a leader in this area, producing both pre-match, half-time and post-match live shows for fans to have their say and connect with the club off the pitch.

Giving fans a place to meet and share their opinions has been a central component of fan engagement for the past year. Fans have responded to live social broadcasts. In fact, 82% of people prefer a live broadcast over a social post.

Content is most valuable to fans when it’s live. Clubs need to ensure they are able to deliver highlights and live broadcasts at speed.

In 2020, the NBA partnered with Microsoft to allow fans to virtually sit in the stadium and join other fans to cheer their teams on. A Tap to Cheer feature allowed virtual celebration. 

Monetising fan engagement

To offset the revenue lost from ticket sales and physical sponsor activations, many sports teams have been able to ramp up their content monetisation efforts with digital activations and direct-to-consumer offerings. Last year, several NFL teams allowed fans to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves in the stadium, for the joy of spotting themselves in the broadcast. 

Facebook Fan Subscriptions

In September 2020, FC Barcelona became the first sporting organization to offer Facebook’s Fan Subscription service. Fan Subscriptions offer access to premium content on Facebook for a monthly fee and can also be used for exclusive PPV live events. They contain unique content formats and interactive experiences, while fans get the chance to join an exclusive Facebook group for their interest.

Going Direct to Consumer

Clubs can also generate a simple and cost-effective D2C revenue stream using premium digital content.

Betting - The Euro Top Stats And Records

Sports betting is a huge opportunity to monetise your offering and engage fans. A 2019 survey by Global Web Index found that 60% of US sports fans are more likely to watch a game if they have placed a bet on it.

The worldwide growth of in-play betting over the past decade has fuelled further opportunities via real-time engagement (RTE) platforms. Pundits  looking to make a fortune from their favourite teams and players can ready themselves when the games finally begin. Euro 2021 betting sites are already in full fledge so fans can conveniently gamble on any of the 24 qualified teams and also monitor as Europe’s best teams clash for the cup.

The key here is the ability of both teams, sponsorship brands, content brands and the betting sites themselves to provide fans with useful data in order to make informed bets and deliver results in useful formats which make betting informed, fun and helps fans engage with teams as well as players more intimately.

With our Lions starting positively in the tournament, we have already seen that Euro 2021 will set the pace for major sporting events like the upcoming events including Wimbledon, Olympic and Commonwealth Games and Premier League. 

How fans will engage will show marketers and clubs how to navigate 2021 and beyond. 

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