The Importance of Fan Engagement in Sports Marketing

30 Jul 2018 - Michaella Fenton

With the rise in technology and social media, today’s empowered fans are now following teams in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. In exchange for their loyalty, they demand a new level of intimacy from sports teams - from chatting on social media to a behind the scenes glimpse of the action. Fan engagement is important for creating emotional bonds and longer lasting experiences during and beyond sporting events themselves.

The success of this year’s World Cup proved how those who aren’t regular fans of a sport can become heavily invested in a global tournament by improving the fan experience for viewers worldwide. This has demonstrated the value of doing research into fan engagement in order to cultivate the overall experience.

Case study

Earlier this year, we completed a fan engagement research project for our client, Force India Formula One Team (RPFI). As the Official Digital Partner to the team, we work alongside them to improve their relationship with their fans - both online and offline. This user research is noted as one of the first to be centred around fan engagement in a Formula One team.

Force India identified that there was a lack of understanding and data on their audience; who the fans are, what makes them loyal and what content they need across the different channels to keep them invested in the team. Following this, Orange Bus conducted several research studies to help develop RPFI’s understanding of their fans to improve their current online offering and  better serve them.

Putting fans front and centre

During the second week of Formula 1 testing at Circuit de Barcelona, we met fans in person to find out what they liked, disliked and what more the team could provide to their supporters. Through surveys, face-to-face and remote interviews, a content audit and analytics reporting, we captured some fantastic insights for the team to use in their 2018 F1 online strategy. Analytics data found that the team have a global fan base, therefore the research Orange Bus conducted reached out to the far corners of the globe.

Our findings proved that most participants wanted to connect with the team via their smartphone and on social media - particularly engaging with posts that had a personal tone of voice. They enjoyed behind the scenes posts about the cars, drivers and the organisation.

After helping RPFI to implement changes to their strategy from this research, Will Hings, Head of Communications at Force India, said: “The response from fans has been great - in less than a year, we’ve seen our website engagement figures jump up more than 65%”.

How do you begin your fan engagement journey?

Fan engagement has changed over the years, it no longer just means putting bums on seats in a stadium or race track. You need to engage people inside and outside of the venue, all year round.

1. Personalise the experience

As humans we crave the emotional experience behind activities. Emotional motivators such as belonging, success and excitement make a user loyal to a product or service - from becoming hooked on a Netflix series, to always visiting the same burger restaurant. By creating a personalised experience, fans will gain a sense of belonging and security. It’s important to find out what content your fans want to see, and to adapt it accordingly - whether that be online (e.g. social media, your website) or offline, like at the sports venue.

2. Reward loyalty

Have you ever used your Costa Coffee loyalty card and remember the sense of achievement you felt when you got that free vanilla soy latte? That feeling resonates with your fans and it’s simple to achieve. If most of your fans are engaging with you on social media, give them a shout out or a retweet; a small gesture can go a long way!  Consider rewarding fans through competitions and giveaways - just like that free Costa Coffee latte, they will feel a sense of happiness that makes them come back and continue their loyalty towards your organisation.

3. Think of the bigger picture

Remember that fans can live globally in areas you might not have considered or heard of. Use social media insights and your website analytics to find who you need to target your content to, and find out the needs those users may have through surveys and interviews. Also consider that your content may not translate well to fans who do not understand English, therefore having translation options or providing alternatives to this audience ensures they’re not forgotten.

As a product and service design agency, Orange Bus are experts in fan engagement research and delivering digital solutions to research results. Contact us on the form below to find out how we can improve your relationship with your supporters.

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