Fusing Fan Engagement with Technology in Sports (this is the next wave of innovation)
Immersive technology is ushering in a new age of sports fandom.
And it might just be sports’ saving grace…
As of 2022, 27% of Generation Z said they actively dislike sports. While that (isolated) percentage may not trigger executives to sound the alarms, comparing it to previous generations tells a completely different story.
(But investors, sponsors, and founders… there is an opportunity to rewrite the narrative)
Let’s break down the numbers 👇
Fandom Is Always Transforming
Generation Z is about half as likely (0.5x) as millennials to watch sports and twice as likely (2x) to never watch. Additionally, Generation Z is less interested in sports properties than the general public.
As marketing professor Michael Lewis stated in a recent New York Times article, “If sports fandom is formed by early experiences, these results suggest that fandom for major American sports will crater in the decades ahead.”
Maybe now’s the time to sound the alarms.
What’s Being Done
Thanks to fleeting attention spans and the surplus of content — today’s fans have much higher expectations when it comes to entertainment experiences.
The casual fan will only watch the Detroit Pistons lose so many games without turning off the television, picking up the controller, and taking matters into their own hands via NBA 2k.
To address the concerning decrease in live-game viewership, leagues like the NBA and MLB have experimented with new tournament formatting.
In-season tournaments, playoff play-ins, and rule changes (pitch timer, defensive shift limits).
While these iterations may help quell viewership woes in the short term, they should not be seen as a long-term solution.
So where do leagues go from here?
Integrate solutions into live game products that encompass the desires of Gen Z:
Thankfully, immersive technology can do just that (and more).
Fans — engage with their favorite players and teams in new, more exciting ways.
Leagues — unlocks new revenue streams, drives higher levels of engagement, and fosters community.
By definition, immersive technologies create distinct experiences by merging the physical world with a digital (or simulated reality) through mediums such as Augmented Reality (AR).
AR is disrupting the sports industry and enhancing the fan experience for the better.
These innovations fall into three categories: hardware (physical products), digital experiences, and live activations.
Meta Quest VR
Apple Vision Pro
Many teams are taking the risk and diving head-first into the metaverse. FC Barcelona, Manchester City, and the Brooklyn Nets are just a few of the teams that have created virtual arenas for their fans to explore.
So why are teams investing in mixed reality?
Immersive viewing experiences: give fans access to different camera angles and player perspectives that they otherwise would not have access to
Interactive elements: virtual merchandise stores and mini-games encourage greater participation among fans
Enhanced interactivity: consolidating information into one “reality” keeps fans eyes glued on the screen for longer periods
For the first time in the league’s history, the NBA will make a select slate of games available to watch on a Meta Quest VR.
The jury is still out on wearables (and their hefty price tag) and whether or not they are simply a fad.
Alternate Telecasts (Slimecast, Manningcast, etc)
Interactive Overlays (Amazon stat overlays)
Group Viewing Experiences (ex: Hangtime)
Alternate telecasts are the poster child for successful digital innovation. At the forefront is the NFL with Nickelodeon and Disney partnerships.
Cowboys vs. 49ers (2022) on Nickelodeon and CBS Sports was the most-watched NFL wild-card game in 7 years, averaging 41.5 million viewers across both networks
Toy Story Funday Football delivered the biggest live event to date on Disney +
Interactive overlays have also proven to be a successful method to increase engagement. In 2021, YES Network introduced Live Stats and Watch Party to Nets’ broadcasts.
Average streams per game increased 212% YoY
Average time spent per unique user increased 130% YoY
With the popularity of streaming platforms like Twitch in conjunction with Gen Z’s desire for more community and authentic connections, the shift towards more interactive and communal broadcasts makes perfect sense.
MSG’s Las Vegas Sphere
Baltimore Raven’s “Mixed Reality Raven”
Game Changer MVP’s “Filtered Fan Cam”
When thinking about how to leverage technological innovation to capture the next generation of sports fans, it's important to create authentic solutions that resonate with your specific fan base.
Immersive technology can enhance the fan experience by giving fans unprecedented access to their favorite players, teams, and stadiums.
According to a 2022 Ipsos Global Augmenality Shift Study, 67% of consumers are interested in using AR during events while 48% of brands are interested in providing AR during events.
This is why Brightline’s patented technology, Pose With, has been a super interesting case study to watch.
Their technology checks all three boxes:
Pose With allows fans to interact with their favorite players either in the venue or in the comfort of their own homes (leaving them with a personalized and shareable experience).
So why’s this interesting?
The experience has driven massive fan engagement, ticket sales, merchandise purchases, social investment, and more.
The Dallas Cowboys’ “Pose with the Pros” partnership produced a significant return:
Used in 80+ countries
100k+ users within the 2023-2024 season
4,500+ fans use “Pose with the Pros” every game
Generated over 500 million impressions within the first 30 days
In addition to the Cowboys…the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, and the United States Men’s and Women’s National Teams have also deployed the technology.
Today’s fan, more than ever, craves an authentic connection with players. This technology makes that happen.
Brightline has created something special — an experience that has revolutionized fan engagement as we know it. I'm sure other sports properties are taking note.
There is no denying that immersive technology is a significant part of the future of sports.
But how do stakeholders craft effective solutions that produce the desired effect?
I have a few ideas:
Digital-first experiences are never going to replace the in-person viewing experience, craft solutions that complement and enhance the in-person experience
Rather than changing the live game product itself, change the way it’s presented to the audience
Do not underestimate the power of emotional investment, create products that leave fans with lasting memories
Immersive technology is the key to unlocking the potential of the next generation of fans.
It’s only right that today’s guest is Brightline’s GM and Chief Futurist, Tyler Gates.
We dive deep into immersive technology and how it is going to completely transform sports.
Tyler also talks about how they almost broke the internet with their Cowboys experience at AT&T Stadium.
Highly recommend. Listen Here.
Thanks for tuning in today!
I hope briefings like this excite you about the future of sports (certainly do for me).
Andrew & Becca