Sporting conglomerates around the world have been relooking their customer engagement strategies to make sporting events more accessible to a wider range of fans and spectators, and tap into new geographies and demographic groups. The reason is simple: the more followers of their events they can attract, the more they will increase the financial stability and strength of the franchise. This provides resources for growth and expansion and gives them the ability to attract top talent.
The evolution of sports in the digital age
1. Really Big Data
“With 650 million sports fans, Facebook is the world’s largest stadium,” writes Steve Kafka, product manager for Facebook Sports Stadium. The numbers at the intersection of the digital environment and sports are truly impressive. Data analytics, which makes it possible for organizations to analyze immense amounts and varieties of data. Related technology trend starting to make a big impact on sports is the Internet of Things, whereby organizations collect and analyze data transmitted from myriad network-connected devices.
2. Everything Revolves Around the Smartphone and Mobile Technology
By 2020, 70% of the world’s population will be using smartphones, predicts Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson. Smartphones, and in particular mobile messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are how fans increasingly experience sports—watching videos, chatting with their friends about games and matches, and reading social media posts from their favorite athletes. It is also where savvy sports marketers are engaging that (mostly) youthful audience, through targeted content and interactive capabilities.
The international appeal of sports competition and superstar athletes is only increasing, spreading virally through social media and mobile technology. The lesson for sports entrepreneurs is the same as it is for every modern startup: Think globally from day one.
4. Athletes as Media
Portuguese footballer Christiano Ronaldo, superstar of Real Madrid, is, by at least one measure, the most popular athlete in the world, with 200 million fans following him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
5. Immersive and Interactive Venues
Every major sports stadium worth its luxury loges has a giant videotron screen that prompts fans to send text messages to pick their favorite plays or vote on trivia contests. The most sophisticated sports venues feature Wi-Fi capabilities that let patrons listen to play-by-play, watch commercials during TV time outs, order and pay for food delivered to their seats, even check bathroom waiting lines.
6. Proliferation of Channels
New online sports outlets are beginning to challenge the traditional media players. New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter’s sports website. Facebook’s aggressive move into sports parallel’s its embrace of video content and, as a result, look for Facebook to start bidding for the rights to broadcast NFL games.
7. Virtual Reality
Sports organizations already use VR technology as a tool for training their athletes—and helping them avoid injuries.
8. The Rise of Fantasy and E-Sports
Parallel participation in virtual sports is even more intense, and immersive, in the world of online gaming. EA Sports’ widely popular soccer video game series (current release: FIFA 16) has spawned an international playoff competition.
The stadium of the future
The challenge is creating an environment where unique and meaningful event experiences can influence fan behavior over a long period of time and extend that experience beyond the game, beyond the venue, and beyond the season to create a true year-round relationship.
The stadium of the future must take into consideration the entire fan experience lifecycle: the process of buying a ticket weeks in advance to following up with the attendee in the days after an event concludes. The technology in these building must be sustainable, so that it can grow or scale with the advent of new innovations, and technological systems should learn from and adapt to fans’ usage patterns to better accommodate guests’ needs. Technology also should be utilized to create unique experiences, so that fans recognize the value of paying to watch an event in-person as opposed to at home. Finally, venues should accommodate and respond to a variety of fan needs, so every fan feels as if the event was personalized for them.
The stadium of the future does not necessarily need to be built from scratch. Given the large capital requirement to build a new venue, investing in “technological renovations” may be the best method for teams to increase attendance, boost fan loyalty and spending, and make stadium operations more efficient while creating the last memories fans covet.
Sports professionals should keep an eye on the premiere eSports events, not just to see the future of gaming and the next generation of sports stars, but as a case study in operating a league that knows no physical or geographical boundaries.
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