SBJ/April 10-16, 2017/Opinion

Fan-first technology helps teams, brands build affinity

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At the keynote of the 2016 Sports Marketing Symposium, Rich Luker provided a moment of clarity for the sports industry’s unprecedented predicament — fan avidity among millennials is declining. Digital natives are flocking to native mobile content platforms like Snapchat, yet linear TV is the way most sports are broadcast. For teams and sponsors seeking to entice millennials with virtual reality and mobile content, and build a fan base with new sports offerings, they should remember Luker’s advice: Sports don’t build fans, but rather, fans build sports.

For sponsors, it’s key to remember that being a fan isn’t just about consuming content. It’s about passion, joy and being part of a community — the human experiences that go with being a fan. To reach millennial fans, sponsors should use technology to elevate the humanity of the fan experience. Specifically, use technology to empower fans to build what they’ve always loved.

We’ve outlined five ways in which fans build sports, and found examples of technology that facilitated fans doing what they wanted most.

Fans build sports to know a team from the inside out

For die-hard fans, the action begins in the preseason, when they get a detailed look at their team and a sense of what’s in store for the season. Watching players get evaluated lets fans engage in the work that goes into getting ready for opening day.

To feed this fan ritual, the Atlanta Hawks livestreamed an entire preseason practice on Facebook Live in October 2016. This practice featured a 5-on-5 team scrimmage, letting fans see the whole roster in action. The livestream captured 1 million views from the Atlanta Hawks’ 1.6 million fans on Facebook, meaning it reached over 60 percent of their Facebook fan community, assuming each person watched the video once.

But more than just social media engagement, the team gained something more, which was empowering die-hard fans to engage. By helping these fans get closer to the team, the Hawks provided a bonus to the fans who will be the team’s biggest advocates in the year ahead.

The Atlanta Hawks’ livestream of an open practice on Facebook garnered more than 1 million views.


Fans build sports to connect with icons

A young fan meeting their favorite player to get an autograph is one of the most iconic experiences in sports. And player-branded apparel celebrating the icons fans create is a huge driver of retail sales, as fans seek to get closer to the players they love by wearing their gear.

Under Armour has enhanced this routine with the UA Play app, which brings players to life at retail with augmented reality. Using the app, customers see an interactive animation of their favorite player when pointing their phone at specific fixtures and boxes. Each Under Armour Brand House has a specific set of player animations, such as Tom Brady in Boston, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Misty Copeland in Orlando.

By creating an augmented reality shopping experience, Under Armour is creating a new way for digital natives to connect to their favorite player and actively help build each icon’s story and community.

Fans build sports to share historic moments

Fans love to celebrate shared moments of glory: With victory parades, flags hoisted in the rafters of the stadium; and of course, with apparel commemorating the year their team took home the hardware. At the start of the 2016 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave fans a new way to celebrate their championship with a first-of-its-kind augmented reality version of the championship ring. Fans using the team app were able to use their phone camera to see a virtual version of the ring on their hand. Technical glitches were plentiful in the first iteration, but for fans who had waited over 50 years to see the Cavs win another NBA championship, waiting a few days to get an app update wasn’t a big deal.

Giving fans a virtual ring of their own was a great way to take the highest joy possible for a fan of the team — winning a championship — and make it personal.

Fans build sports to share a language of trivia and insider knowledge

Fans love to learn little things about their team and favorite players so they can connect with each in the specific language of sport. The Washington Capitals have responded by building a Facebook Messenger bot to give fans a digital companion to help them follow the team and connect with each other. The app provides basic information, such as schedules and how to buy tickets, as well as interactive engagement, with a trivia game and “Easter eggs” to be found by dedicated users. Further features include real-time highlights and a dynamic experience that personalizes based on fan behavior, turning the bot into an extension of the fan’s circle of friends.

Fans build sports to create communities with shared purpose

At the most basic level, being a fan is about being part of a group that shares your joy upon winning and pain upon losing. Digital has long facilitated fan communities, and more recently, social networks have built specific features to help fans connect to each other in new ways, including Twitter Moments, Facebook Sports Stadium and Snapchat Live Stories. And now, with the globalization of sports, the Rooter mobile app has created ways for fans to accrue social currency by competing with other fans to try to be the most passionate.

Rooter allows fans to find each other all over the world and connect through their shared passion for favorite teams and players in global leagues like cricket, tennis and soccer. Rooter also allows fans to compete to see who can be the most passionate by accruing in-app points — by taking trivia quizzes on team and league history and conversing with other fans during live matches.

Superfans can see their effort rewarded in the accrued points and visible leaderboard positions.

Stop thinking of tech tactics; start thinking of fan-first creation of sports experience. Teams and brands shouldn’t start out saying, “we need an augmented reality platform.” They should focus on building a fan platform facilitated by technology. The experiences that will rise above the clutter will be the ones that use technology to elevate the human moments of being a fan.

Alexander Liss is vice president and director of analytics at Momentum Worldwide.

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