Thanks to the combination of fast internet, smartphones and social media, today’s fans are always connected and even, some have argued, “hyper digitalised”, voicing their passion on Twitter, Facebook and every other social network out there. As a result, many of us now watch games while bantering with other fans on our mobile phones – the so-called “second screen – and Facebook reports that of the 1.3 billion-plus people on Facebook, 500 million are “hardcore football fans”.
As a result, social media is a critical connection not only between clubs and fans – but the attraction and retention of new fans – allowing sporting organisations to amplify their messages, discuss and interact with supporters, potentially strengthen team identification and successfully grow their fan base. But how many clubs are truly realising the influence of social media on sport and harnessing its value when it comes to fan loyalty?
With happy, loyal fans buying tickets, replica shirts and programmes and, perhaps most importantly, spreading team news and passion to those surrounding them, it is vital that sporting organisations take the time to engage fans and contribute to their overall experience to boost business. So how can clubs ensure they are using social media strategically, making themselves attractive, not only to fans but to potential sponsors and commercial partners?
Social media provides a platform for sports organisations and teams to enhance the commitment and engagement of fans by creating new and interactive experiences, particularly ones that seem exclusive and only available to a select few. However, there can be a void when it comes rewarding fans with the kind of unique experiences they truly want. Engagement in sport is about building deeper connections with fans and the 360-degree view of a fan that comes from data is, without doubt, the best route to determining the tools a club can use to assist conversion at every stage of the fan journey. This enables clubs to build a stronger relationship with fans with content and offers which are relevant to those preferences and needs. This creates an effortless bond with the fan meaning that every fan feels valued and has enriched interactions with the club because the club understands exactly who they are and what they want. It also reveals how a club can get the most out of each fan, in a productive way that provides a true value exchange for each.
To create an all year-round relationship with fans, sports clubs therefore need to find reasons to engage with their fans beyond the regular season and playoffs. They need to understand what motivates their individual fan behaviours and preferences to deliver experiences that nurture loyalty and extend it beyond the field. With each fan touchpoint an opportunity to collect valuable data that can drive further value to both clubs and sponsors, social media is one way of achieving this.
In a world where clubs and players are picking up more and more revenue, with some collecting billions through endorsements and TV, we don’t want fans to feel left behind. We therefore work alongside our partners to give something back. We understand that fans want to be recognised for their loyal support, and by giving them the chance to save money, alongside clubs, we can drive a more positive relationship between clubs and their supporters.
By targeting club-specific supporters on social media and providing them with exclusive offers (which involve a saving element) that can’t be accessed anywhere else as thanks for their loyal support, we’re driving a more positive relationship between clubs and their supporters.
Social media’s human-to-human contact is a game changer for sports organisations. We drive popularity by giving supporters what they want to hear on social media, and the exclusivity around our content contributes to a positive perception. Getting to meet, speak to or interact with your favourite player is a dream shared by countless sports fans but only a decade or two ago this dream was limited to those who could afford to attend games, special events or autograph signings. However, that’s no longer the case. Athletes have taken to social media, with many responding to questions, retweeting fans and generally interacting with the people that idolise them. Whether team-organised Q&A sessions or spontaneous discussions, these social media conversations bring fans closer than ever to professional athletes.
Another important part of social media is using humorous and potentially viral content – leading to empathy between supporters and the club and a greater digital reputation. When Derbyshire Police made it pretty clear that they too weren’t thrilled with the date change of the upcoming Nottingham Forest vs. Derby County match, responding on Twitter that: “We can confirm that @SkySports have been removed from our Christmas card list this year”, the tweet went viral, gaining a whole lot of attention from irked Forest and Derby fans who shared their disappointment.
Content that focuses on the fans or pulls them into the conversation has major implications on how involved fans feel in their teams. By asking fans to submit photos, comments, videos and suggestions, and then highlighting this content on official channels, you not only show that you’re listening but that they have an active role in your team. And a fan that feels like they’re contributing is going to be a fan for life. Liverpool FC encourages young fans to post their drawings on the team website or social media channels; a great way to cement their passion for the team and create lifelong fans. Other examples include voting for “the player of the year”. The inclusion of the fan on such a basic level can have a significant impact on their loyalty.
By offering exclusive content, being honest and human, and involving fans in their social media channels, sports teams, athletes and leagues of all levels can increase fan loyalty and have a lasting impact on their business success.