Jason Thomas, Chief Executive of global payment and data ecosystem Tappit, explores how building fan engagement during the pandemic using emerging technology can pay long-term dividends.
COVID-19 has caused the sports industry to undergo the most challenging year in history. While times are different, teams are doing big things to make the most of their 2020 seasons, with the help of technology, whether that’s engaging with fans from afar or hosting fans in-stadium.
And by keeping their current fanbase engaged, as well as continuing to grow their reach and capabilities, sports are poised to come back bigger and better than ever.
Teams have gone through sufficient trial and error to determine how to operate and ensure sustainability in these uncertain times. And it’s all about maximizing fan engagement and utilizing technology now to prepare for success later on.
Everything boils down to engagement
While fan engagement has long been a priority for sports teams, it’s more crucial – and different – now than ever. Engaging with fans through uncertainty, connecting with them, and driving loyalty will take teams through the pandemic and prepare them for the “normal” times ahead.
In order to understand how to really facilitate successful fan engagement from afar, it’s important to look at a sports engagement model in a new, different way than we have in the past. Traditionally, teams have been heavily been focused on enhancing live in-venue experiences and building fan connections by hosting them in venues.
But amid COVID-19, that concentration has obviously become far less significant, and industry focus is now on connecting with fans in other ways, and finding alternate means to bring them closer to live action.
In today’s world, this is done most effectively through social media and targeted customer relationship management. Over the past six-plus months, we’ve seen a number of teams champion their networks to connect with fans in unique ways, like Matisse Thybulle of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers and his frequently-uploaded vlogs that give fans a glimpse of what it’s like to be inside the NBA bubble.
Not only is this a smart move by Thybulle in that it could open him up to potential new business opportunities as an influencer, but Thybulle’s genuine engagement with fans – whether they’re fans of the 76ers or not – is keeping them apprised of NBA life at a distance.
Multiple sports leagues have also found their sweet spot on TikTok, which has proven to be a win-win for teams and fans to stay connected throughout isolation. As fan-favourite short-form video platforms continue to catch the attention of generations beyond Z, it will be important for teams to continue to keep a pulse on the platforms their fans are actually using.
How technology can drive the transition from online engagement to confidence in stadiums
The adoption of emerging technologies such as cashless systems will also be key for sports teams to take that next step and welcome back their fans post-pandemic. And while the majority of sports teams are not allowing fans to attend live games this year, there are a handful of teams that are hosting a limited capacity of fans in-stadium while implementing health and safety precautions for events.
The National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance, have adopted a white-label contactless payments system, aiming to bring safe and seamless mobile payment technology to fans, ultimately facilitating the best possible experience during these challenging times whilst keeping them engaged with the team’s own app.
Through those payments, data is generated for the teams that, in turn, generate insights on fan habits that will enable unique, tailored interactions and take fan engagement to the next level.
Another example is facial recognition scanning. While it seems obvious, this technology enables event attendees to navigate their devices in a way that minimizes touch, which couldn’t be more COVID-19 appropriate. And while facial recognition scanning comes with its pitfalls and privacy concerns, it’s likely that significant improvements are on the way for facial recognition technologies as teams and venues work to facilitate smoother, contactless fan experiences.
RFID cashless systems, via wristbands or cards, are also in the mix as another key player that will become a gamechanger for events in the new normal. While they were traditionally known to reduce theft and fraud and speed up transactions in the past, some RFID cashless systems can serve additional purposes like conducting “yellow card” functionality, by which event staff can block purchases of age-restricted menu items to support responsible consumption and maintain social distancing at the same time. They can also be used to store emergency contacts.
Finally, 5G mobile networks will additionally play an active role in fostering both an enjoyable and safe fan experience. The enhanced mobile throughput will ensure that effective channels of communication are implemented for fans, players and staff alike, further improving social connectivity throughout the stadium, as mobile devices are becoming even more essential to our daily lives. Not to mention the augmented and virtual reality experiences that come with 5G will simply make sports events more fun.
What lies ahead for sports teams
Fast forward to 2021. The teams that have taken the extra steps to connect with fans during the pandemic, and have invested in key emerging, cashless technologies will be the ones that come out stronger, more sustainable, and with greater profits in the long run.
And as a result, their fans will not only trust their future return to the stadium or arena – whenever that is – but they’ll want to return like never before.