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Why 2023 is the year of hyper-personalisation in fan engagement

Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the Fifa World Cup trophy (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

If 2022 was the year that hyper-personalisation emerged in sport, a combination of market demand, technological development and consumer behaviour is set to herald an acceleration towards an increasingly tailored fan experience in 2023.

Indeed, as the industry enters the New Year, it is now impossible to ignore the opportunities hyper-personalisation presents.

Research by McKinsey & Co outlined a direct correlation between personalisation and monetisation, with a customisation strategy generating a typical revenue uplift of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent, and up to 25 per cent for online direct-to-consumer brands. The study also found that 71 per cent of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions.

The next step

In this context, hyper-personalisation represents the logical next step.

Whilst personalisation efforts can begin with understanding basic behaviours, motivations, and demographics – in order to deliver more relevant marketing content via a preferred communication channel, for example – hyper-personalisation digs deeper into data to facilitate experiences and interactions that are truly tailored to an individual.

“Certainly, fan expectation is now a clear driver for hyper-personalisation in sport,” Mike Falconer, Sportradar Strategy Director, says. “If you look at what platforms like Amazon, Spotify and Instagram are doing, you can see the bar that they are setting, and of course sport has to compete for attention against other areas of entertainment.

“Sport is arguably playing catch-up with the experience consumers are enjoying in other parts of their lives. However, sport has woken up to the fact that, on the back of the loyalty it already enjoys, an ever-more personalised approach will lead to direct revenue and economic benefits, and the technology is now available to facilitate it all.”

Evolving audience

Such embedded loyalty may have made sport historically complacent in its personalisation efforts, but hyper-personalisation offers an opportunity for it to close any gaps versus other entertainment verticals, with fans acting as willing participants.

Sport enjoys a head start against other entertainment verticals due to the arguably unmatched emotional connection that can be nurtured with an individual, who wants to be as close as possible to the teams and athletes they follow. Furthermore, people of all ages, and especially those from younger generations, appear to be more willing to make their personal data available as long as they know that increasingly tailored experiences are being crafted with it.

“With Generation Z, there are clear indicators that they are consuming sport differently than their predecessors,” Falconer adds. “Younger consumers understand the quid pro quo, and if their data is being provided to facilitate a better experience, they are happy to provide it.

“If we are talking about monetisation, it is important to point out that although there is a commercial wisdom that people under 30 are unwilling to pay for great content, such a statement is actually untrue.

“If you look at the over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms and the way some leagues are monetising their younger audiences, there is a clear willingness to pay for an experience that is customised to them individually.

Unique challenges

However, the widespread interest in sport – encapsulated by the billions of viewers who tuned in worldwide for last year’s FIFA World Cup – underscores how hyper-personalisation in sport is uniquely challenging.

“Sport has a huge global audience, so its scale is unmatched, and it happens in real time,” says Falconer, who cites an example from North America, where U.S. operator FanDuel processes 70,000 transactions per minute on a typical NFL game night – more than double Amazon’s average ecommerce orders per minute.

“It has taken some time for the technology to be good enough to deliver meaningful personalised experiences in this context, as personalised experiences for live sporting events need to be instantaneous.

“This highlights the importance of automation, because you can have as much data as you want, but if you don’t have the technology to deploy it to enhance the experience at the required moment, then it is pointless.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping sport to negotiate these complexities, as reflected by the focus of AI-driven iGaming solutions provider VAIX, who Sportradar acquired of last year.

“AI is going to dominate in this space, because it is the only way to provide hyper-personalised experiences in sport, at scale,” Falconer adds.

In fact, during the 2022 World Cup, FIFA partner and leading games platform, Roblox, utilised such data and AI capabilities to provide fans with a completely new interactive content experience via live and post-match virtual visualisations. For Qatar, player tracking data was processed to instantly create hundreds of highlight clips of animated avatars for the platform’s over 200 million users, which racked up millions of replays within days.

Hyper-personalisation foundations

Meanwhile, for the sports leagues and organisations themselves, there are concrete steps that can be taken so they are ready to embrace the age of hyper-personalisation.

“It starts with understanding the customer base and that requires a cultural change and buy-in from everyone, right to the top. Whilst the U.S. leagues have always been obsessed with understanding fan behaviour, data and more advanced technologies are now enabling them to better assess their fans’ needs” explains Falconer, who adds that hiring talent from outside the sports industry helps an organisation to broaden its horizons and develop new ideas.

“We are seeing a significant and marked change over the past 24 months with regard to sports organisations focusing on getting those foundations right by understanding and collaborating within the industry, whilst ensuring they are complying with data-privacy regulations.”

Last year, for example, the NBA launched its new membership service, specifically designed to deliver tailored and unique content to fans based on their individual interests. NBA ID links fan experience across all the rightsholder’s existing products – including its app, NBA League Pass – to serve personalised features to end users, including behind the scenes footage of their favourite teams and players, as well as access to new mini-series.

Investment increase

Investing in the quantity and depth of data collection is anticipated to grow sharply in sport this year, particularly through research and development (R&D). This tallies with broader strategies in the technology space, with R&D spending between 2019 and 2021 by the five tech giants – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft – increasing by 34 per cent.

Furthermore, there is a growing appetite to call upon the services of businesses like Sportradar, which has positioned itself at the intersection of sport, data, betting, and technology.

“We have witnessed a significant change in the priority of organisations and companies in sport,” Falconer says. “They are more willing to invest in facilitators of hyper-personalisation.”

Evidence of this includes Sportradar’s 2021 acquisition of Fresh Eight, the leading personalised messaging platform in sports betting. Since integrating Fresh Eight’s technology into its own ad:s marketing platform, the company has reported a multi-fold increase in the number of sports betting clients using this service, demonstrating the benefits of hyper-personalisation first hand.

“It is a really exciting time, there are progressive players in the industry who have done the hard yards and, with this technology in place, fans will really begin to enjoy the fruits of hyper-personalisation in 2023 and 2024,” Falconer adds. “At Sportradar, we are continually investing in and growing our own programme in this space to enable our clients to realise this potential.”

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