How do you keep sports fans engaged? We identify three different fan engagement strategies that will help your brand connect to its fans more meaningfully
Brand activations and brand experiences have become an integral part of sporting events all over the world. As stadiums get larger, sports personalities become stronger, and teams and sporting locations become more brand-affiliated (with many teams or individuals becoming something akin to brands in themselves), more and more events managers and marketers in the world of sport are exploring brand activation opportunities. The result? A long list of possibilities which not only add to the overall experience of the event itself, but which have the potential to build lasting relationships between sports fans, and the brands they come across while attending events.
Sports events – which are often based around the same notions of identity, excitement, and optimism that innovative marketers want to elicit in their target audiences – are the perfect places for brand experiences and brand activations. With a savvy approach, an open mind, and by implementing social media and technology, it is possible to build authentic, lasting, and impactful relationships between sports fans and the teams (or brands) they love, which tap into that atmosphere of jubilation and interaction that’s at the heart of a truly great sports event.
Establishing Fan Engagement
There was once a time when watching sport was much more of a passive pastime. It was, in the truest sense of the term, a ‘spectator sport’ – something which involved sitting in the terraces, cheering along, and then heading home. Today’s fans are considerably more demanding, and want deeper engagement with their favourite teams, their top players, with their beloved venues, and with the brands who make up a key part of the overall experience. Sports fans in the 21st century want, more than anything else, to be part of the action; the conversation; and feel more than mere spectators.
There are many ways to boost fan engagement and make the most of sports events for brand activations. Here are three top tips for tapping into the energy and optimism of the terraces, and ensuring fans are happy, engaged, and primed to become the loyal customers your brand or event needs.
Newsletters and Social Media Contests
Whenever possible, you should be tying your newsletter in to your social media accounts. A great way to boost fan engagement is by setting up social media competitions; Twitter contests during or just before matches is a great way of inviting input, engaging fans, and letting them feel as though they are part of the event. You could run a hashtag contest, a caption contest, photo competitions, or anything else appropriate – studies have shown that fans are around 70% more likely to use Twitter in order to enhance the experience of the event, so tap into this social media platform, and see your levels of engagement rise.
Do all you can to encourage conversation, and set up spaces where your fans’ voices can be heard; either by sending out feedback forms to your mailing list, or go with the easier and more contemporary option by posting questions on your social channels, setting up surveys via Facebook or Twitter. You could even invite the fans to share specific memories or photos, and get the conversation flowing that way.
Actionable steps such as these won’t just boost engagement and get fans feeling like part of your brand family, they’ll also provide you with valuable insight into how well your efforts are resonating with your core audience!
Bring Fans Closer to the Action
Sports fans often idolise particular players or team members, and nothing boosts engagement like allowing them unique access and insights into the real lives of the stars you deal with. Encourage players to take ownership of one of your social media channels for the day, or share exclusive videos and photos of their real lives, training sessions, or charitable endeavours. Personal blogs, too, can be a great way to provide those extra insights, and bring the fans closer to their favourite sports stars.
Of course, you can step things up a gear by hosting special meet and greet events with the players, or host competitions which involve prizes such as coming along to a training session, winning signed memorabilia, or opportunities for an exclusive money-can’t-buy experience. The England Footballers Foundation specialise in these up-close-and-personal encounters – often aimed at younger fans these experiences boost engagement and excitement with each promotional drive.
Understanding the Three Levels of Expression and Manifestation
In order to boost fan engagement, encourage long term relationships between the fans and your brand, and make those marketing efforts all the more effective, it’s important to be aware of the different fan engagement strategies out there. The majority of these strategies are based around the trinity of fan engagement behaviours, which are as follows:
Online non-transactional behaviours would include following social media accounts associated with their favourite sports teams or the brands associated with them, consuming the content, contributing their thoughts and opinions, and even creating their own brand-related social content for sharing with their networks. Offline non-transactional behaviours would normally take place at the events themselves, and would include everything from encouraging and supporting the brand, to sharing positive word-of-mouth support with their friendship group.
As the name suggests, transactional behaviours are those which involve the fan spending money on brand-affiliated products, services, or experiences. These would include buying tickets, purchasing branded memorabilia or other items, paying for season passes, or signing up for paid memberships or paid content. Transactional behaviours and non-transactional behaviours usually go hand-in-hand: customers already engaging in non-transactional behaviours should already be interested and ‘warmed up’, ready to be converted into paying customers.
Encouraging fans and prospective brand customers to become involved in a long-term and loyal relationship with the brand is the ultimate goal of every brand manager or marketer. These customers will have a lasting emotional connection with the brand, and their favourite sports team will become a part of their identity, which they will share with others, and champion. Customers engaging in transactional behaviours are already on the way to establishing a relationship with the brand – it’s your job to boost engagement and use brand activations in order to get that ball rolling even further.
How to Bring Brand Experiences into Sporting Events
As we’ve discussed, bringing brand activations and experiences into live sporting events is a fantastic way to boost engagement. They allow fans to get ever closer to the brand they love and identify with, and establish long term fanbase relationships.
All over the world, sports venues and event managers are looking for ways to increase engagement and fan enjoyment, and push branding possibilities further. While this can involve grandiose and expensive displays of interconnectivity, it really doesn’t have to: often, the simpler, tried-and-tested brand activations are the most effective. Here are some of the most popular techniques for bringing brand experiences into sporting events:
The Photo Booth
Who doesn’t love a photo booth? There’s a sense of retro fun about these activations, and there is loads of opportunity for branding, from superimposing brand messages or logos over the photos, to setting up the photo booth to automatically upload the pictures on the brand’s social media channels. Contemporary photo booths come with a plethora of cool features, such as gif file creation, virtual backgrounds (such the option of having your photo featuring in the sports team lineup) and much more besides.
Get your fans to show off their skills inside the venue, and give them the chance to win some unique branded prizes. This could be a penalty shoot-out area, a basketball hoop, or virtual sports game setup. You could even turn this idea into a genuine tournament, and get the most skilled fans to compete against each other in order to win a grand prize at the end.
Sports fans love competitions, especially those which can be engaged with during matches. Photo and caption competitions have been part of the sports activation family of engagement practices, and social media connectivity has opened up endless variations on this theme. Text-to-win sweepstakes are a great addition to this (as well as hashtag-based competitions of similar format), as long as the branded prizes are tempting enough to encourage mass participation.
Surprise and excite your fans with your branded goodies. Lots of sporting venues and events now sell different tiers of tickets to fans, with higher tiers coming with swagbags full of exclusive branded material and items. You could also up the ante by including a limited number of VIP experiences or signed items (eg a signed football shirt) in every 100 swagbags, which would add a competitive or sweepstake element to the activation.
How Sports Teams Engage Fans with Venue Experiences
Keeping fans engaged live at the venue is as important as ensuring they’re staying engaged while at home, online, or sharing stories at their local with their friends. Here are three approaches which sports teams and brands regularly employ, to ensure peak levels of engagement are maintained during the events themselves.
Satisfying Fan’s Expectations
This can be something simple like timely playing the team’s signature music, or ensuring that the mascots are present and correct. In the world of sports experiences and activations, consistency is key: make sure you’re giving the fans what they want, what they expect, and what they increasingly demand from the overall encounter with the brand.
Today’s sports fans want to be closer than ever to the action, and they’re increasingly willing to pay a premium in order to have a more exclusive, unique experience of the events they attend. By setting up tiers of exclusivity, offering VIP or pitchside tickets, meet and greets, and privileged access to otherwise private aspects of the event, you can help establish those all-important long-term relationships.
Boosting the Experience via Technical Channels
Many venues have leaned into the curve of smartphone usage during live events by offering free WiFi at events venues, and allowing fans to enjoy a more immersive experience. Having a running commentary via social media channels, and inviting hashtag interaction from fans has proven to be highly successful, and has provided a more holistic brand experience via the medium of smartphone technology. Photo activations incorporating experiential tech work particularly well when brands want to involve fans, generate live and online hype, and create a real sense of community.
How Sports Events are Utilising Brand Activation
Manchester City considers itself a football team ahead of the curve when it comes to fan engagement and brand activations. Their team-up with the Snappie iPad app saw promo staff conducting impromptu meet-and-greet moments around Etihad stadium, during which fans could express their thoughts and love for the team. The videos were then compiled for sharing on social media, and the brand gained a deep insight into the hopes, wishes, and feelings of the fans.
This fascinating and creative brand activation for the 2018 world cup really hit the right notes when it came to allowing fans to have their voices heard, and their own creativity counted. Hyundai ran an online competition which allowed fans to submit slogans for the 32 competing teams, and then a poll voting for the winners. The best slogans were then printed on the sides of the team buses, where they could be seen at the venues, on the media, and all around the world.
As one of Wimbledon’s key sponsors, Stella Artois always make bold efforts to enhance fan experiences and show off the latest technology for their brand activations. In 2015, they established a brand activation which set the template for many to follow: they created a VR flying experience starring Rufus the Hawk (the venue’s beloved bird of prey), which captured the eccentricity and fun of the event, and allowed for fans to enjoy a lasting – albeit unusual – memory to take home with them.
Boosting Brand Experience and Encouraging Fan Engagement
As we’ve seen, there are plenty of ways top sports teams and events are encouraging fan engagement and establishing brand relationships, many of which are utilising innovative technology and new approaches to marketing. It’s a truly exciting time to be creating brand experiences for fans of sporting events as traditional techniques make way for more inventive, immersive experiences and activations.
With the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, not to mention the Olympic Games next summer, there’s never been a better time to enhance your sporting event with brand experiences and activations that will unite your fan base. It’s time to create deeper brand engagement with your audience – let’s get the ball rolling! Drop us a line or give us a bell to design your brand experience.