How sports technology will change the fan experience post cornavirus-induced break

Over the past one month, teams, leagues and media outfits have swung to combat needs of the biggest contributor of sports – The Fan.

Tenzing Niyogi April 28, 2020 11:37:42 IST
How sports technology will change the fan experience post cornavirus-induced break

Over the past one month, teams, leagues and media outfits have swung to combat needs of the biggest contributor of sports – ‘The Fan’. Fans watch the games and wear the colours and go to the arenas and provide the roar of the crowd. Only now, there cannot be any crowds. Sports is a force that brings us together, but togetherness is now forbidden. The underlying business concern: What will be the future of the sports fan once live action is back?

How sports technology will change the fan experience post cornavirusinduced break

FIle image of cricket fans. Reuters

The ongoing sports hiatus has got everyone wondering how this mega pause button might perpetually alter the way sports are consumed and played once the pandemic withdraws its clutches. The expectation is that the booming business of sports will return — players will once again take the field, content holders will draw the last straw of revenue and fans will arrive in crowds at the gate and in front of the TV. Or maybe not.

As a fan in India, there are no sponsored Power Plays, Strategic Time Outs now. With no games on the horizon, domestic leagues have taken a solidarity stance of postponement or cancelled big ticket events and brands are increasingly trying to find newer ways to connect with consumers. Digital engagement tool has become a priority for brands connecting with consumers.

The world of sports is changing rapidly, and marketers will have to explore new landscapes for both short and long term. What if this brings Fan Connect 2.0?

Understanding fans, maximising opportunities

Historically in our country, sports have been an incredible unifying platform for communities to come together. There is a human need to connect and lock arms. Till the nostalgia content can help maintain engagement in the short-term by means of flexibility and removing paywall on second screens, it is unlikely to hold fans’ interest over a period of weeks and months, but that won’t last long, at some point it is going to have to move into providing content that both engages fans more deeply, and is able to offer something sponsors can latch on to.

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Over the last three years, viewership of kids (<15 yrs) in IPL has registered 52 percent growth. Similarly, domestic leagues in football, kabaddi, badminton, volleyball etc have garnered a fair bit of young fans. Is there an opportunity with team owners to create a new fan base? A perfect success story lies in what NHL Power Play™ did by providing a forum to share feedback and collaborate on ideas and engage the next generation.

Forget 360 degree, think 365

While, traditional sports are looking to capitalise on immersive technologies and esports, Formula1 and NASCAR have taken pole-position in this move online and has notably put much of its social media and marketing focus into its online offering. While the eNASCAR series drew more than 1.3 million TV viewers, F1 held the inaugural virtual Bahrain Grand Prix hosted Golfers, pop stars and Olympians on a virtual grid driving 3.2 million viewers online and 1.2 million on broadcast.

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Spotify has witnessed with a spike in listening to Artists who livestream concerts. Likewise, sports leagues, franchisees and star performers can stream content around health & fitness. Indian fitness icons like Virat Kohli, Sunil Chettri, Vijender Singh, PV Sindhu, Leander Paes who cater to different age groups and target audiences could deliver performance driven health insights. This will appeal to sports fans whilst also casting a wider net to attract a new viewer.

Innovative interactivity by teams and athletes

Team owners of local leagues like Indian Premier League (IPL), Indian Super League (ISL) along with broadcaster have relied upon their content bank till now. Star players of Mumbai City FC, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Jaipur Pink Panthers could go that extra mile and create multiple live video sessions discussing how they develop pre-game team strategy, locker room secrets, favourite moments etc to build a sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connect’ with fans. Insta Live practices are becoming a new normal, athletes are in a unique space to converse and take suggestions from fans directly.

The transition period

Even this pandemic gets contained, will fans be wary of going to stadiums and arenas and be part of large gatherings? Will they simply prefer the new view from home, especially as extended-reality technologies such as AR and VR continue to evolve? This is where technology and innovation will play a critical role in integrating sports.

Preparing for a slow return

It is an unprecedented time in the world of sports. Can we consider that these restrictions are the new brief into understanding a sports fans mind? Not just those who go to the events, but also those who regularly follow the action from home anyway. Developing a Two-pronged approach, wherein brands and team owners can use this opportunity to build new audiences and engage with fans a bit differently, then audiences will be very grateful for outfits that entertained them. Objectives of brand extension and fan engagement in this case are met in times like these.

Tenzing Niyogi is the CEO of Ultimate Kho Kho and is currently developing India’s first professional Kho Kho league to be launched in 2021. He has more than 16 years of experience across sports strategy planning, broadcasting, sponsorship, development of leagues/Sports IP and events. 

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