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Cutting through the noise: Why sports need to own the fan engagement journey

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 28: Brian Hill #25 of the Tennessee Titans gives his gloves to a fan after an NFL preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium on August 28, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Bears defeated the Titans 27-24. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Sports fans have never had more information at their fingertips. Before, during and after every moment of any game, fans can gorge on vast amounts of content, delivered to them by multiple parties.

For the individual fan, this is hugely appealing. But for sports leagues, federations and clubs it is a growing issue.

Increasingly, fans are consuming content from third parties rather than from the rights-holder. And the less an individual fan interacts with a sport’s digital channels, the less valuable they are to the rights-holder and their sponsors.

Unless sports own the fan journey, they will struggle amid an increasingly competitive world for a fan’s attention and fail to realize the full value of their audience.

Competing in an attention economy

Leagues and clubs aren’t just competing with other content producers in the sports industry. They are in a constant battle with other forms of entertainment, jostling for that increasingly valuable commodity – a fan or consumer’s attention.

A fan’s attention can be spent on anything from reading a game summary to watching highlights or purchasing tickets for upcoming games. The last 18 months of empty stadiums have stretched the notion that ‘sport is nothing without the fans’ to near breaking point. But the sentiment still holds because whether in-person, digitally or through broadcast, fans and their attention are the vital ingredients that make sports relevant and financially stable.

Leagues and clubs are in an enviable position compared to content producers in other industries. Sport is one of very few forms of entertainment that is still at its most engaging when consumed live, creating a natural content cycle before, during and after game-days.

But some rights-holders have become too focused on game-day content, creating a vacuum where brands and publishers would hope to capture fans’ attention and dollars during other windows. As Brent Lawton, VP, Media Strategy & Business Development from our partners at the NFL recently outlined, telling stories outside of the live game window is a central part of our new partnership.

Like many sports, through their data, video and reach, the NFL have amazing assets at their disposal – assets we’re putting to work through “adding to or supplementing what’s going to happen on a Sunday by telling those broader stories, keeping the momentum and interest in what’s going on between game days”.

But for sports to stand out from other entertainment businesses, in and outside of game-days, they need to develop the right engagement strategy for the right fan.

DENVER , CO – AUGUST 28: Fans watch as the Denver Broncos gets hyped up before the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Empower Field at Mile High on Saturday, August 28, 2021. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Creating super fans

Without the attention of fans, sports can’t exist. But attracting that attention and the revenue opportunities it brings can’t be done with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Different fans want different types of content but even if sports don’t have the tools to deliver an entirely personalized experience to each individual consumer, they can still tailor their content for multiple layers of fan.

For example, to re-engage dormant fans, leagues can use simple, quick-fire tools such as quizzes and polls. These free-to-play games are effective at grabbing a fan’s attention, particularly when based around major recent sports events and topics.

Casual or part-time fans are another key group for sports to target, to make them more engaged and increase their monetization potential. Moving them up this scale may require a greater degree of personalization in the form of bespoke fan videos that could provide a behind-the-scenes tour or messages from high-profile players and coaches.

For the most ardent sports fans, leagues and clubs need to go further, delivering content and platforms that they can engage with every day. Season-long fantasy sports games are a staple part of this, providing consistent content that can accompany the game-day essentials such as live game statistics, highlights and interviews.

Sport’s global appeal is rooted in its unpredictability. No two plays are the same and leagues must recognize that the same is true of their fans.

ORCHARD PARK, NY – AUGUST 28: Buffalo Bills fans celebrates a touchdown during the second half against the Green Bay Packers at Highmark Stadium on August 28, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Unique Fan Experiences

The degree of personalization a sport will be able to deliver will depend on how much value they provide to their fans.

The more content and value a sport provides to its fans, the more information they can get back. But ultimately a sport must understand what content the fan wants for this value exchange to take place, something that has become more complex as fans consumption habits continue to fragment.

Ultimately if sports continue to provide more and more content and engagement opportunities, they can then further tailor their content, and the time at which it is delivered. To cut through the noise and build meaningful connections with their fans, sports must be able to personalize each fan experience based on an individual’s content preferences, purchase history, and more.

At Genius Sports, our major focus over the last year has been developing our media and fan engagement solutions for sports. Through our partnership with the NFL, acquisitions of FanHub, Second Spectrum and now Spirable, we can unlock huge value for our partners at each step of the fan lifecycle.

We know what the modern fan consumes, how they consume it and are now at a place where we can enable sports to capture the interest of the most casual fan through to the ultimate supporter. Our technology helps sports combine their game and fan data to be used in meaningful ways both internally and for official sponsors.

The opportunity here is enormous. Live sports events have always attracted the largest TV audiences and advertising budgets and, while that spend has been increasingly divided amongst multiple content producers, leagues and clubs are still in the box seat.

It’s time for sports to take more ownership of the fan journey and deliver the entire experiences their fans demand.

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