Fan Engagement: The Most Misused Word in Sports
Understanding the overused buzzword in sports (and how it applies to all facets of your daily life).
This Thursday, millions of Americans will be watching Thanksgiving sports.
And whether you’re aware of it or not, fan engagement will play a piece in your experience.
It won’t just be the sports teams trying to engage you as a fan — but brands, companies, commercials, and your cousin trying to sell you life insurance.
But what does fan engagement mean? And how does it impact you?
First, let’s define it…
Understanding Fan Engagement
Breaking it into two parts you get…
Fan — an enthusiastic devotee, usually a spectator
Engagement - a feeling of being immersed in an activity and taking action
Fan engagement refers to the process of “engaging” fans to take action and providing them with an experience of something bigger than themselves.
With sports now on a global stage (and 24/7 access) this is more important than ever before.
The thing is…
Fan engagement doesn’t just apply to teams, clubs, leagues, and major sports organizations.
It’s important for athletes, companies, investors, brands, creators, and anyone trying to turn fans into active participants.
In a way, fan engagement is just a catchy buzzword for sales or customer loyalty.
So how is this accomplished?
The Rise of Storytelling
Fans love stories and emotional content.
They like the underdog but also want to know everything about their heroes.
Look at what Drive to Survive did for F1 racing in the United States. The same concept is sure to be applied in pickleball as it continues to grow.
It often takes years for these content series to come out.
To grow a league, business, fan presence, or team loyalty — organizations should be thinking about their own in-house series.
I know creator economy experts love to say that “every company is now a media company”, but I think that’s too vague (and mostly wrong).
Of course, every professional sports team should be functioning like a media brand — their entire business is built off of spectators.
But the B2B company selling software to the team doesn’t have to be a fully pledged media company.
I still think it’s important for the B2B company to produce some of their own content — whether that’s deep dives on the space, an interview series, or fun content around an event they hosted.
As I said, fan engagement goes beyond just sports fans — it’s engaging those that are semi-interested and pushing them down your funnel.
Let me tell you why this is important…
The Younger Generations
Being born in 1998, I’ve grown up alongside the rise of technology.
I’m pretty tech-savvy and have a deep curiosity for trying to figure out where it’s headed (hence this newsletter).
The one thing I know to be true is that my generation judges things quickly (and first impressions are often last impressions).
Our attention is pulled in so many different directions, if your website looks like it’s from 2005 — we’re going to judge your entire business off of that (and may never look at it again).
One of the reasons Nike continues to grow is they evolve with the times.
If you want to see where the world is headed just pay attention to what Nike is doing (lots of esports, virtual reality, and web3 for them in recent months).
My point is that in today’s time it’s both the easiest and hardest it’s ever been to get a fan/customer’s attention.
The average person sees around 10,000 ads per day and US adults are spending over half a day (12+ hours) consuming media.
Content will be the key to fan engagement, customer loyalty, or whatever you want to call it.
The Next Frontier of Engagement
If you spend time on Twitter, you’ll often hear the phrase “build in public”.
With so much content, news, PR releases, etc — it’s important to show updates at many stages throughout the journey.
People want to feel like they’re with you along the entire journey, not just at milestones.
Teams displaying the star athlete’s personality off the court.
Founder of a company shooting content at an event they’re hosting.
Leagues creating a documentary to tell the story of how they were founded.
I continuously think about this:
Social media has us following everyone else’s journey — with so many options, who do you ACTUALLY want to follow?
That’s why I’m extremely particular about what people, brands, and companies I follow.
On the flip side, I’m constantly thinking about how to become a “character” that others want to follow, root for, hate against, and watch on my journey.
*I’d like to think I’m accomplishing that to some extent which is why you come back time and time again to hear what I have to say*
You may not want to hear this, but…
Fantasy and betting are one of the greatest things to ever happen to sports (especially for fan engagement).
Fox Sports hosted a free World Cup “pick-em” tournament. If you have the best bracket you win $1 million dollars.
Let me tell you why this is great…
Prior to seeing this, I only planned on watching the United States play. But now, I’m going to watch other games to see if I picked them right.
And this doesn’t even get close to March Madness.
The American Gaming Association predicted that $10.4 billion would be bet on March Madness last year.
The crazy part is they estimated only 3% ($295 million) to be wagered legally. The other 97% ($10.1 billion) is from offshore books and local bookies.
You can see why there’s a rush to legalize gambling (more taxes for the state).
The Next Stages
Fan engagement and customer loyalty will be taken to new heights as technology continues to evolve.
AR and VR will quickly improve and watching a game from a virtual environment will no longer be an exception going forward.
Data plays a huge piece in the equation as well.
It’s extremely hard to get honest feedback on anything — people are nice to your face, cautious on social media, and brutal behind your back.
Tools built to get TRUE insights for teams, leagues, companies, brands, and organizations will be in high demand.
Younger fans grew up playing video games. Rather than simply consuming content, they want to have a direct impact on things — they want to be in control.
Allowing fans to make choices for their team:
drafting the players
calling the plays
picking the uniforms
Fan Controlled Football (FCF) is bringing this to life and it’s wild to watch.
Pushing to web3, DAOs will gain ownership stakes in teams, leagues, and companies which will transform decision-making.
Fans of the future want to be owners.
It’s no longer just about watching a team, but owning a piece of them and helping to make decisions (however big or small).
I think there are so many opportunities in the fan engagement space (from startups to small businesses).
If you’re looking to build a sports-focused company — now is the time.
Fans expect content and engagement 24/7, so anything to help keep that alive is valuable to companies, teams, leagues, and more.
As the world goes more digital — technology will continue to assist sports, but nothing will trump live events for the foreseeable future.
And the next time you hear the word “fan engagement”, realize they’re just talking about “customer loyalty”.
Thanks for reading today! Have an AWESOME Thanksgiving with family and friends.
No post on Friday, but we’ll talk on Sunday during the weekly roundup.