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Jason Thomas | How can sports engage fans now for a successful return

Jason Thomas, Tappit chief executive

The arrival of Covid-19 has hit the events industry hard, but sports are poised to make a big comeback – with or without fans physically present. In these unprecedented times, the ways that sports teams engage with their fans now, could ultimately determine their success. In the US, we’ve seen sports organizations like Ultimate Fighting Championship restarting operations by hosting UFC 249 in an empty arena, while Nascar engaged fans through its virtual iRacing Series before jump starting on-track races with the recent Nascar Cup Series.

For other sporting teams and events that are still on pause across the world, they’re finding ways to connect with their audiences – not only by keeping their current fan base engaged, but also by growing their reach, enabling them to return bigger and better. With uncertainty surrounding the start of the next sports season, let’s take a look at what teams and events are doing to combat these long postponements without losing fans.

Taking it up a notch

While sports are on pause, keeping the link between what can be done with fans behind closed doors at home and making it relevant to the team is essential to keeping fans engaged. By harnessing their social media influence, many sports teams are using their online presence to not only keep a regular dialogue with fans, but to also make their activities relevant to the lockdown situation.

Take Manchester City in the UK. They have debuted #citizensathome game plan with motivational videos on keeping active centered around soccer, thus promoting healthy activity in isolation and maintaining a constant thread of engagement with fans. Supporters can tune in for new content such as workout videos or interviews with their favorite players.

Fans want news

New players and big announcements are an important way to bring fans into the fold. There has been a high volume of tweets and retweets of big sporting news stories on social media by fans, which hypes the excitement for the new season ahead. We only have to look at the National Football League’s Super Bowl LIV Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, for retweet inspiration with hashtags, #Runitback #ChiefsKingdom celebrating their latest new player acquisitions.

During the subsequent NFL Draft, teams posted roster updates and videos of future players, which was a great tactic to maintain fan engagement and build anticipation.

Challenge, Set, Match

“Can you watch all 11 hours and 5 minutes of Isner vs Mahut in one go?”  – a heavy challenge issued by Wimbledon’s twitter feed. Social media competitions are another way to drive fan engagement by motivating audiences – not only to participate with a chance to win, but also to relive their favorite iconic sports moments. Fun and entertainment coupled with ensuring relevance of the sport is a successful approach to maintaining momentum amongst fans and building excitement for the next event.

A virtual change of scenery

The sports industry is continuing the innovative trend of keeping fans upbeat, enticed and ready for the return of live sports by offering free stadium and arena pictures as backgrounds for video conferencing. The Dodgers,Washington Redskins, New York Jets and New England Patriots are a few that have made pictures of their iconic stadiums available for free, while the New York Mets have also made personalized team jerseys for fans to set as their phone backgrounds. These are excellent ideas to always remain in fans’ lives – even during lockdown.

E-sports revolution

Letting fans channel their inner soccer manager is the 21st century way of increasing soccer fandom. Bringing rivalries back to life and firing up competitiveness is a tool the clubs are harnessing with the power of e-sports. While real-life soccer games are being suspended, FIFA has launched worldwide tournaments #stayandplay, ensuring that fans don’t feel as if they are missing the action and cleverly keeping next season’s fixtures top of mind. This has also been creatively linked to the current worldwide message of “stay at home” helping people feel they are contributing to keeping people safe by playing e-sports.

Relevance and entertainment paired with regular social media activity is the key to keeping fans loyal during the coronavirus pandemic. In order to keep fans engaged, teams need to maintain a strong online presence and entertain fans through regular updates and activities that can be done during lockdown.

This is the time for leagues, teams, and venues to harness their brand strength to increase momentum and fan engagement ensuring that even more fans return to stadiums when doors open.

Jason Thomas is the global chief executive of Tappit, the global payment and data ecosystem for sports, events, stadiums and venues.

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