With any relaxation of the lockdown still forthcoming, the nation is turning to sports to keep morale boosted. And, whilst we can be thankful live sports are still on our screens – how are rights holders and brands maintaining, or even growing, that all important fan engagement?
The 2021 season of sport is now well and truly underway with last weekend hosting the Six Nations, Australian Open, Super Bowl and England Test Match, to name just a few. The Mongoose team look at how different sports are adapting to ‘the new normal’ and the opportunities there are for more creative fan experiences.
The global pandemic has magnified the need for increased digital content in football and a lot of teams, rights holders and brands associated to clubs have embraced this. Sky Sports have launched a new ‘Fanzone’ feature, which allows friends to watch games together in a private video room where they can chat as well as influence the crowd noise they hear on screen and join with in-match polls. A team that’s really stood out for its fan communication is Manchester United. As the most followed Premier League football club, it’s doing something right and as well as investing in on-going high quality video content with celebrities and influencers on their YouTube channels, it recently launched a fan engagement app, taking its fan engagement to the next level.
There’s been huge opportunity for brands to capitalise on their audiences over the last year by understanding the tone of the nation. Now more than ever, sports, rights holders, teams and players have a responsibility to utilise their powerful and influential platforms to help promote global and community led initiatives – you only have to look at the incredible work of Marcus Rashford, to see the power of purpose-led marketing on engagement. However, it is crucial to ensure partnerships and campaigns are authentic as the values belonging to organisations must marry up with what they’re promoting.
Come August when the new season starts it will be fascinating to see the new approach from brands, teams, rights holders and all those associated to the beautiful game, what will they have learnt and what will be different? There’s a real opportunity to engage fans within stadiums, as COVID safety rules may still require spectators to turn up an hour or so before kick-off. Fans need to be welcomed back as the support from home has been phenomenal.
In 2020 cricket was the first sport to come back to our screens live, implementing a bio secure bubble around players, staff and broadcasters. It set the benchmark for wider sports around the commitment to fans and the game in getting back out there amidst a global pandemic and is a credit to those involved. And, while the fans at home couldn’t be within the ground themselves, for the first time in 20 years, the experience was shown live on the BBC with the IT20 England v Pakistan, and Women’s Series v West Indies, flagging the flag for the broadcaster.
But it’s not just rights holders looking to keep the fan engaged, our recent work with ECB sponsor New Balance has focused on maintaining that fan engagement in an online only arena. With just social channels to play with, we looked at how we could launch the new IT20 shirt summer whilst still engaging fans. So our focus shifted to an attention grabbing creative campaign and high quality content that would be amplified through fan favourite players and influencers.
And as we look ahead to the rest of the year with a packed summer of Cricket, T20 World Cup in October and Ashes to end the year, it is set to be one full for us all to watch somehow.
The NFL created the ultimate virtual fan experience with the TikTok Tailgate, hosted by Steve Harvey and MJ Acosta, which took place just before Superbowl LV last weekend. Fans were encouraged to use #TikTokTailgate and #SuperBowlLV to get the celebrations going; videos that have used the former have received a collective total of 343.5M views so far. Miley Cyrus kicked it off with an hour-long live concert on the NFL’s TikTok account for the virtual crowd and a real-life audience of 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers. The tailgate also featured appearances from a number of celebs including Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine, as well as a few TikTok foodie creators who shared their favourite gameday recipes which fans could then recreate. The online event again shows the power of purpose led marketing and how authentic partnerships can capture fans attention.
Like most elite sports, boxing has had to operate with limited or no fans, affecting the viewing experience, with big fights looking undervalued due scenery and production levels. Having said this, leading UK and worldwide boxing promotions company, Matchroom have adapted superbly during the pandemic, with the CEO, Eddie Hearn even setting up events at Matchroom HQ’s back garden!
With fighters having to enter a fight bubble a week or so before Matchroom bouts, the creativity of the content produced during the build-up has been fantastic. As usual they are miles ahead of the competition.
It hasn’t been all sun and roses for Matchroom, with some of their key stable members losing fights over the last year. Their heavyweight world title hopeful, Dillian Whyte, suffered a huge setback and suggested that the lack of atmosphere/no atmosphere played a part in his knockout defeat to Alexander Povetkin back in August. We also saw the ferocious Featherweight Josh Warrington, who would normally bring half of Leeds with him to a fight, lose by knockout on Saturday night by Mexican underdog, Mauricio Lara. This led to arguments that the sport is suffering without fans, especially when a lot of professional boxers rely on being supported by their fans and sell tickets themselves.
Like most sports it’s been a seriously tough time for the industry and the return of fans would be welcomed at all levels. Small hall events haven’t been able to operate, as most of the time it’s considered to be a success if you break even. The industry will change for sure, instead of the face to face meetings that require hours and even days of travel, people have realised this can be reduced to virtual meetings, which will hopefully speed up match making.
The introduction of sport streaming service, DAZN to the UK market could see a huge shift in regards to how fans consume the sport and could cause quite the stir with Matchroom boxing’s existing broadcaster, Sky, as they partner with both of them.
The Australian Open made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the tournament had even begun from charter flight chaos to players practicing in hotel quarantine. The negative feeling was certainly carried over into the event where stadium stands were scarcely occupied with a maximum of 30,000 fans each day and the usual buzz of the vibrant slam significantly missing. Not long after a five day ban on fans was announced due to an outbreak of COVID cases in the area. Unfortunately, it’s a routine we’re likely to see a lot of as the world works to get the pandemic under control. But hopefully fans will feel assured there are safety protocols in place and will be enticed to attend when the ban is lifted for the semi-finals.
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