By: Quinton Porter, VP of North America at Pico

When it comes to the evolution of technology, sports leagues and teams have never been far behind. From high-tech stadiums, to data-tracking cameras, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and more, there has always been one central focus within each upgrade and installation – the impact and effect on the fan experience. With the 2020 NBA season at an end, and other leagues following suit, it has been an interesting journey as a former athlete turned SportsTech director, and fan, to watch and see how leagues, teams and players, successfully managed to play within a bubble, in physically fanless stadiums, yet continued to create unique, memorable fan experiences in and around each game.

When we talk about tech and sports, some might think that the “tech” stands for and only means anything that’s high-tech. Virtual Reality, AI, Wearables. But the tech experiences within the industry also included its use of social media. And social media was one of the first technologies implemented into team and leagues digital strategies.

Sports teams and leagues have seen enormous success with social media, garnering the second highest engagement rates across Facebook, (alcohol beverage pages being the first). Which makes sense when you think about why tailgating is so fun. Sports fans are engaged and are engaging by nature; which is part of the reason why major league sports teams have found so much success within each platform. That, plus their A+ content, has led to a huge, global growth of their audience. Suddenly, everything became accessible. And followable. The high engagement of accounts like NBAMemes on Instagram, houseofhighlights, and the billions of views on the NFL’s official Giphy channel, has proved that sports fans are hungry for their team content, news, and updates unlike any other industry. And when you look at the evolution and adaptation of technology within the sports industry, it’s important to also look at the adaptation and acceptance of tech by its fans. Sports fans will welcome, use, and engage with technology if it means a more quality, fun, and enjoyable experience.

Digitizing an Experience

Many fan experiences in sports can be classified as digital ones. Catching up or checking in on your phone, visiting your team’s website, tweeting about the game with a shared/trending hashtag – these are all digital fan experiences. It happens so organically that it becomes part of the game-day ritual and fan experience. Teams that have undergone digital transformations have taken these moments and found ways to utilize them to create a more engaging, personal fan experience.

What we’ve seen at Pico – with clients ranging from the NBA, NFL, NHL, Bundesliga, and more – is that when a team uses a digital solution like ours, and pairs it with the great content they’re already creating and sharing, they’re able to learn more about their fans in a much more personal way. Who they are, where they are, their preferences, the content they relate to most, their favorite player, team moments, and consumer habits to name a few. Through data-driven yet personal strategies, fans are able to feel more connected and engaged, while teams and organizations are able to meet their business goals. And in 2020, with a global pandemic underfoot, in a digital world, personalization is key.

Let’s talk Digital Activations

Let’s talk about digital activations – something that you see often in sports media. Take Twitter polls for instance. You know them, you love them. They make for great debates and you’re able to see what your fellow fans and peers think through the results. But how does a Twitter poll actually help a team learn more about their digital fans, the ones who voted and commented, other than their preference on that one specific topic? Well, it doesn’t. It just makes for engaging content.

We would suggest elevating that fan experience and actually generating value from it. Call on your fans to vote on who they think will score the first touchdown, first basket, goal etc. for a chance to win a free jersey. Let them have some skin in the game too. The fan is now met with a fun and interactive voting game (aka: digital activation) where more than one question can be asked, and more information can be learned on that fan in the flow of the conversation. Ask your fan if they would like to be notified via email if they’ve won, ask who their favorite player is, how many games they’ve attended – all of these data points mean something. Not to be repetitive, but now you know who their favorite player is, the best way to contact them, how many games they’ve been to — what merch to push, what type of tickets they’re especially interested in. This creates a space for true customization and personalization of a fan experience going forward  – even without gameday.

With teams and leagues around the world adapting to new ways of playing and sharing, the sports industry is facing some interesting challenges. But time and time again, the sports industry shows us its perseverance while leaving their fans at the frontal point of every decision.

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