What’s on your fans’ sporting bucket list

How experiences are the ultimate reward for sports fans

Christmas throws up the usual dilemma of what to get the sports fan in your life. Perhaps you’re considering upgrading to a new Sky Q package, getting the latest club scarf or shirt, or even a novelty reindeer head cover for their golf club? Or maybe, like many others, you would prefer to gift an experience of a lifetime, – let’s face it, which golf fanatic wouldn’t want to be on the 1st tee at the Ryder Cup or the 18th green at The Open, or which cricket enthusiast wouldn’t want to be at the opening day of The Ashes series?

 Recent studies have shown that consumers’ interest in owning ‘things’ has waned and increasingly they have turned their attention to experimenting with new experiences. This has been dubbed the “experience economy” and experience ‘bucket lists’ have grown in popularity. Sports clubs and sports event organisers have prospered as a result and getting hold of tickets to these ‘bucket list’ sporting experiences have become like gold dust - making the prospect of attending them harder but more enticing than ever.

Recent research has found that despite a lack of success for our national clubs in the last four decades, the FIFA World Cup Final still takes the number one spot on fans’ ultimate sporting bucket list, with more than half (53%) of British sports fans hoping to attend the quadrennial contest. But while football dominated the top 10, iconic British sporting occasions such as Wimbledon and The Grand National are also on the ‘want to do’ lists, with the majority of events in people’s top 10 list available to attend on home soil. The full list can be seen here

What’s driving the shift to experiencing rather than owning? Is it millennials and the advent of social media? Whereas it used to be the case that we were judged by our car, clothes or wallet, now we post Instagram pictures from centre court at Wimbledon, or Snapchat images at the Rugby World Cup. So, are clubs making the most of this shift in fan behaviour and attitude? From race-day events through to well-established annual events, how does each venue ensure more consumers – wannabe loyal fans and spectators – still aspire to come through their turnstiles, ensuring spare cash is spent at their stadium, racecourse or club?

While loyalty programmes are more important for professional sports teams and venues than ever before, there can be a void when it comes to rewarding fans with the kind of unique experiences they truly want. Today’s fans want to feel special, prioritised and, ideally, surprised! Without a doubt, fans find the most value from unique experiences that they can’t access elsewhere, not just the odd discount.

Most fans have an emotional connection to their favourite teams and athletes.  And those loyal fans need to continue to feel connected to ensure they remain engaged. Clubs need to capitalise on this feeling – and encourage even more loyalty - by rewarding fans with unique benefits such as upgraded seats, attending a pre-game warm up, meeting the players or getting a behind-the-scenes tour. Special experiences like these could be the tipping point that turns a casual fan into a season ticket holder or convinces an at-risk season ticket holder that it’s worth it to renew.

So, is this the way for clubs to surprise and delight todays’ sports fans – create ‘money can’t buy’ experiences (the ‘golden ticket’) that ensures their events are on the fans’ bucket lists?  Well, giving your most loyal fans (for example, those who have chosen to be part of your club’s loyalty programme) a dream experience which is normally reserved for VIP’s and celebrities is certainly one way to delight and reward them. 

What is for sure is that to create a year-round relationship with fans, sports clubs need to find reasons to engage with their loyal supporters beyond the regular season and playoffs.  They need to understand what motivates their fans’ behaviours and preferences and then deliver experiences that nurture loyalty and extend it beyond the field of play.  Ideally, they need to find out what’s on their fans’ ultimate bucket list at their club or stadium and then offer ways (through targeted and achievable rewards) to help them turn their dreams into reality.