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Loyalty & Retention

3 Ways To Bring Sports Fans Back Through Mobile

Patrick Cotter  //  July 15, 2015  //  4 min read

As a multi-trillion dollar media and entertainment industry, the impact of professional sports is undeniable. Whether you’re a die-hard fan who follows their team’s every move or someone who pays closer attention to the Puppy Bowl than the Super Bowl, we’re in an age of unprecedented access to sports. Yet for all the perks of a 24-hour news cycle, a record number of television contracts, and true globalization of athletes, there has been noticeable decline in attendance of live sporting events, leaving franchises to handle significant revenue loss without a clue how to bring fans back.

For college football (routinely home to the largest crowds and stadiums in the world), 2014 yielded the lowest average attendance in over 14 years. A drop in gate attendance can certainly be attributed to a team’s performance on the field, but in most cases today, it’s not always the root cause.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 3.48.40 PM

Image courtesy of The Big Lead.

In Atlanta, despite finishing their 2014 season in first place and residing in the ninth largest city in the US, the Hawks still ranked 17th in NBA attendance. Attendance decline has been felt internationally as well, where 17 professional soccer leagues reported a decrease of 5% or more from 2012- 2013; in New Zealand, rugby crowds have dropped by 30% in the last eight years.

Though franchises can still rely on media rights, merchandise, and sponsorship deals, ticket sales remain the number one source of revenue for most teams. A recent PWC report noted that in North America, gate sales accounted for 28.6% of total team revenue in 2014. With a projected market growth of 4.5% in 2013-2018, PWC anticipates gate revenue to increase 2.8%, while media rights and sponsorships are projected to increase by 9.1% and 4.8% over that same time period.

As the home viewing experience isn’t likely to get worse any time soon, increasing attendance will require a philosophical change in how teams interact with their fans as franchises compete for peoples’ attention and dollars. Stadium upgrades such as jumbotrons, broader food options, and unique experiences may help attract fans, but mobile development will play a significant role in the effort to put fans back in the seats.

Below are a few of my favorite ways mobile will impact the modern fan experience:

1. Smart Arenas

With the Sacramento Kings leading the charge, the evolution of “smart arenas” has been designed with a mobile-first approach. These arenas offer options to order concessions, view bathroom lines, purchase in-game seat upgrades, and even sync with drones to help locate parking from your mobile device.

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Image courtesy of Xconomy.

Smart arenas are also equipped with Wi-Fi for fans to access as they enjoy the game. While having the same Wi-Fi capabilities as a McDonalds may not seem revolutionary, a recent Cisco report found that Internet access is as important as food, water, and shelter in new situations to one in three college students and young professionals.

2. Fan Engagement and Identity

Rather than waiting for fans to enter the arena to engage, franchises now have the ability to activate communities of fans at any time and through multiple channels. In Winnipeg, the Jets celebrated their return to the NHL playoffs by asking fans to wear white and promote the game with the hashtag #WPGWhiteout. Adopted by nearly the entire city of Winnipeg, the white out mobilized an entire fan base and was given a special shout out by the NHL Network as the third star of the game.

In Atlanta, the Hawks partnered with the dating app Tinder for their “Swipe Right Night.” In Seattle, where the Seahawks fans are branded as the 12th Man, number 12 jerseys were the 10th highest selling jersey in the NFL last year. When franchises give fans their own identities and set them up to engage with other fans through their mobile devices, a new kind of team loyalty is born. As franchises continue to experiment and cultivate communities of fans, mobile will be an increasingly valuable tool to promote and manage events and initiatives.

3. Video and Data

Making an appearance at Wimbledon, IBM’s Watson processed the nearly 3.2 million data points captured throughout the tournament, enabling tennis fans the ability to instantly query things such as average serve speed and match trends. Given the proliferation of services like Meerkat and SnapChat to capture video, coupled with the adoption of advanced stats for player performance and live tweeting generating just as much dialog as the announcers themselves, following and interacting with game play from a mobile device has become the new norm.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 3.40.47 PM

Image courtesy of Wimbledon.

With Yahoo set to broadcast its first NFL game and the NHL experimenting with smart uniforms to track player movement, where and how we watch a game has and will continue to evolve. Fans are given greater insight into areas such as shot selection and efficiency than ever before, and we’re closer than ever to creating a customized viewing experience fans can consume through their mobile devices.

Wrapping It Up

In the same way smart businesses evolve to better address their customers’ needs, the franchises and sports teams who embrace change and listen to what their fans want will be the ones who ultimately succeed. While you can certainly build to what you think fans want, why not speak directly to your customers and let them decide for you?

About Patrick Cotter

View all posts by Patrick Cotter >

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