We as humans are hard-wired for engagement. We crave the ability to connect, feel, and vibe with others. It is how we become a part of a community.
The same applies to the sports fans that walk through our stadium doors each game. We can’t expect the action on the field, court, or ice to fulfill their need for connection. If we do, we live and die by those game results.
It is vital for each team to have an effective fan interaction strategy within your organization. Different ways in which we can help fans connect together and feel like they are a part of the team. Fan engagement is the surefire way to not only build a fan, but make sure they come back each game, whether your team is having a winning or losing season.
Today, we’ll dive into how you can build fan engagement in sports and reap the rewards when you do. There are many new ways you can keep fans engaged for years to come.
How Do You Increase Fan Engagement in Sports?
Before we get into the tactics of increasing fan engagement, I think it is important to understand the foundations first. If we can focus on these, we can begin to create a successful engagement strategy. This is an important factor in your club’s stadium experience and in connecting sports brands with real time user engagement.
Get your fans talking about their favorite sports organizations. There is no bigger tool for sports marketers than loyal fans. For many fans this goes beyond the sporting venue and sporting events and carries over into daily life and social media platforms.
Engage Fans and Build Culture
When we think about our gameday culture, the first thing that comes to mind is authenticity. How can we morph our gameday into something that fits our city, fan, and sports culture? And really this is a focus on what makes us as a team unique?
There is a big tendency in sports clubs to ‘steal’ other teams’ engagement tactics. While they may work in the short term, you constantly need to think about “does this fit my team’s uniqueness?” It’s important for sports leagues to be aware of providing a unique fan experience. Fans’ thirst needs to be quenched.
I would urge you to have this discussion in line with a group of your most loyal fans. There have been cases where teams have tried to build new cultural identities without consulting the soul of the organization, the fans. It almost has never turned out well.
In order to build your team culture, you need to define what makes your fanbase unique. This is the first step toward redefining or building your fan engagement strategy. Before you think about tactics, you need to build & define your team culture on game day.
Capture New Sports Fans
Once you’ve identified your team’s uniqueness or culture, the next step is to think about your newer fans.
Did I throw you off here? You may be thinking about the loyal fans that come to games each and every time the team hits the field?
First, based on building the culture above, hopefully you have them bought in already and an active part of your plan. They don’t need to be educated on your team’s culture.
But fans who walk into your stadium for the first time are a blank page. Many times they enter and have no idea what to expect. This can cause them to feel out of place. Have you ever been to a party where everyone else knows a particular dance (like the wobble) and you don’t? Ya, it gets awkward. You want to be a part of the cool kids…you just don’t know how.
Now think about when that has happened and a friend helped you learn it. Now all of the sudden, you are a part of the group. You feel comfortable, but more importantly, you now become in the know. You literally join the tribe. Next time you see someone confused, you can help them join.
Fan engagement is a kind of two-way relationship. Whether working with large fan bases or smaller fan bases, season ticket holders or different audiences, the significance of fan engagement results in transactional behavior fueled by fan loyalty.
When you build your fan engagement plan, the most important item comes with easily educating NEW fans on the culture you’ve built. Think about the key moments in your game when you can help fellow fans learn the culture and key tactics.
Answer the question “How will future fans react to this fan engagement tactic? Will they easily know what to do?”.
Sports Team Loyalty
We talk a lot about loyalty in sports, but many times it’s in terms of our current loyalty from fans. We piggyback off the loyalty our fans have had for decades.
But what about the next generation? How do we make sure that we are building team loyalty with them?
Sports fan engagement builds team loyalty. As I mentioned above, once you join that group, once you know that dance, you now have joined the group. You are a part of something.
The same goes with sports teams. The way you build loyalty is by engaging fans at the game consistently, giving them reasons to fall in love with the team and game-day atmosphere.
When you think about building your fan engagement strategy, your goal should be “how do we turn newer fans into loyal fans?” and “How do we have our current loyal fans help shape the culture and engagement so they won’t be put off by sports fan engagement tactics?”.
What Is Digital Fan Engagement in Sports Marketing?
Adding digital to your fan engagement tactics maximizes the results.
As with most things, digitizing your consumer marketing helps you reach more fans while making it more efficient to connect. The next stage where fans interact lives firmly in the digital version.
And most fans want to engage digitally. Today everyone has a phone, which opens up multiple channels and opportunities to connect with your team and gameday.
Here are a few digital ways you can maximize your sports fan engagement with technology.
Team apps are a powerful tool to help your loyal fans stay connected with your team on game day & beyond. It can become the central control center where your team can push news,
More importantly, though, you can help maximize the number of campaigns that engage fans by adding them to your apps. Many of the clients we work with at SQWAD put their activation games like our Trivia or Scratch & Win in their app.
Why? It is the easiest way to connect with current loyal fans WHILE incentivizing newer fans to download the app and become a part of the team tribe. Apps are a great sports marketing platform to help reach your fans, new & old.
Your social media channels become a window into your team. They are a way for current fans to stay connected….but maybe more importantly a great way to communicate your fan engagement campaigns with fans.
The ability to reach a large number of fans with one post makes it a valuable channel to entice fans to connect with your team and give them a glimpse into why they should connect with and follow you.
Authenticity is key with your social media channels, but this allows you to reach your entire city with just a few posts if done correctly.
I love when your brand partners get involved with sports fan engagement campaigns for two reasons. First, many times it is a great way to finance your fan engagement campaign (think about the rally towels at playoffs, if you can place a logo on the towel you can cover the cost for that fan engagement campaign).
Second, it helps transfer some of the goodwill that the brand has built over to your team. Adding in sponsorship activation is the most efficient way to grab that affinity and piggyback off of it.
For example, if your fans love a brand like Dunkin’, and you launch a Dunkin’ Race campaign, the fans will connect with it more due to their affinity for Dunkin’.
Overall, it’s a win-win to add brand engagement to your consumer marketing…but be sure to make it feel authentic.
As with brands, influencers are a great way to help build authentic value with your fan engagement campaigns. You are using their goodwill and affinity to transfer over to the thing you want fans to connect with.
Influencers can come in the form of players, coaches, mascots, and even famous superfans. All of these people carry influence and by having a human face (unlike many brands) it is easier for fans to connect with.
Don’t forget influencers when building your campaign strategies. Their unique platforms work great to increase the fan base through video content, live stream posting and social media platforms.
Digital contests are a perfect way to jumpstart your sports fan engagement strategy. Fans love to compete and more importantly win things.
When we see a digital contest, it instantly pulls us in as fans. It grabs our attention. It pulls at our want to compete and win.
They are also a great way to pull in your sponsors and add them to your fan engagement campaign. You can add in branding and sponsor coupons to create an authentic sync with your fans.
If you want a great way to jumpstart a fan engagement campaign, digital contests are a great way to start with this form of fan engagement technology.
Effective Sports Engagement Strategies
We’ve gone over the foundations and digital channels that are best for your fan engagement campaigns. It’s time to start crafting ideas.
As you start to craft them, there are a few key strategies to help make sure they are successful with fans.
Make an emotional connection
Sometimes we get bogged down in the details of a strategy and focus on the tactics. Before you do, you need to ask yourself “is this campaign building a connection with fans?”
Connecting emotionally helps fans buy in. It helps them get attached. It helps them remember and look forward to the campaign each game.
For example, with the Dunkin’ Race launched through SQWAD at every Chicago Bulls game fans select the characters they think will win, Cuppy Coffee, Biggie Bagel, and Dashing Donut.
As fans choose the characters they begin to have favorites, ones they find themselves cheering for each game. They start to connect with the characters and outcomes. They are ecstatic when their favorite character crosses the finish line.
Not only do more fans participate, this connection with the campaign gets fans talking, and fans interact with each other ahead of each game. This connection becomes a staple with loyal fans.
When you build your fan engagement strategy, think about items that will help fans make an emotional connection with.
Get fans involved in the game
Getting fans involved in your game is key to capturing new fans and building loyalty. If you can connect them with the action with in game promotions…your fan engagement will return 2x.
A great example of this comes with tying a stat in the game to a reward. With the Chicago Bulls SQWAD launched a digitized version of their 4th Quarter Franks in game sports promotion.
If the opposing player misses two consecutive free throws at a home game, every fan that registers wins a free hot dog. The fan’s receive the offer in their email inbox instantly to redeem on the way home.
Now in the 4th quarter, a key moment in the game most of the time, fans are cheering even louder than before to throw the player at the line off. They are involved in the result by making it harder than ever for the opposing player to miss.
If you can get the fan involved, it will enhance your fan engagement campaign and pull them closer to your team.
At SQWAD we run a lot of digital campaigns to boost fan engagement. We’ve found that no matter how engaging an activation is…prizing helps take fan engagement campaigns to the next level.
It doesn’t have to be a huge prize, while fans would love to win a signed jersey they are just as pleased to head home with a free hot dog.
Many people are motivated by rewards, offering prizes for your fan’s fan engagement efforts is a great way to reach more fans and boost the success of your campaigns.
Piggybacking off the above, sponsor prizes are a great way to reward thousands of fans for engaging with your campaigns. Whether it’s a free hot dog or a percentage off their next purchase, sponsor prizes can help drive fan engagement.
With those sponsor prizes comes coupon codes. Most partners want to track how many were redeemed on a given night. Most of the time you want to track that as well so you can prove value for them partnering with you on the activation.
At SQWAD, our contests can take over 1 million unique sponsor coupon codes and easily send them to fans to redeem at the sponsor’s location.
With coupon codes comes the ability to measure results. Be sure to consider these when adding prizes to your campaign.
Lasting memories is the ultimate goal with any fan engagement campaign. If we can cause fans to think back on a fan engagement campaign they’ve interacted with it will build loyalty and repeat interaction.
As you create your campaigns and strategies, what are some key ways that you can make the campaign last in the fan’s memory? What will cause them to go home from the game and remember the interaction the next day?
Creating memories is vital for a fan engagement strategy that will last for multiple seasons.
Fan engagement is vital for your sports team. Finding key moments outside of the action on the field to help fans connect more with your team is how you take a new fan to a loyal fan.
As you think through these moments be sure they are authentic, build culture, and are remembered by fans.
To drive more revenue for your team, add in your sponsors.
At SQWAD, we can help. Our suite of digital activations easily connects with your fans, are measurable, and help you close more sponsorship revenue. We’ve launched with over 49 sports teams and logged over 123,000 hours of fan engagement screen time.
Learn more about fan engagement and how SQWAD can help your sports organization by scheduling a demo.