Going deep to connect with sports fans

In the digital era, connecting with sports fans has become much more complex than pennants and peanuts. Fandom comes in all shapes and sizes and the types of engagement – from casual to committed, game-day or 24/7, big screen or mobile ­– create countless opportunities for teams, leagues and rights holders to personalize experiences, build loyalty – and increase monetization.

Sports is unique in its ability to engage fans on deeply emotional levels. Converting those passions to dollars in the big-business world of professional and college sports requires insights into what makes fans tick. For a sports video industry that repeatedly has pushed the envelope of game coverage technology, this means leveraging an entirely new set of systems. The industry needs to be able to examine more closely the “why” of fan behavior and pave the way for new features – individual targeting, building cohorts of fans and even wagering – that enhance the fan experience. And like a wide receiver tiptoeing down the sideline, it needs the agility to tap into those passions as fans’ viewing behavior evolves.

Maximizing television engagement in an increasingly competitive world requires teams, leagues and rights holders to know how to leverage data to instill in viewers the same powerful emotions and sense of belonging that fuel fervor and build communities of fans at live events. In the same way that pre-game tailgates and postgame beers begin and end game day, sports television should be an arc of narratives that enhance the experience: statistics, lineup changes and other predictive data building momentum toward the event; an immersive in-game environment including viewer-selected camera angles, graphical overlays, and social viewing; and post-game reports with fantasy sports data, user-generated fan videos and other features that extend the value of content.

Whether a team has a third-and-8 on the Lions’ 33 in the waning minutes of a tight game or it’s on its way to a blowout win – or loss – in the third quarter, the same opportunities apply for rights holders. What’s the key to keeping viewers focused on the screen? How can creating connections across fans mimic communal viewing experiences? “What do you wanna bet that Lundqvist lets one in right here?”

At the same time, however, rights holders are grappling with changes in viewer demographics. While sports viewing and high-quality, big-screen environments have historically gone together like Brady and Bündchen, younger viewers are less inclined to grab a Bud, a bag of Doritos and a BarcaLounger. Studies show that social viewing is changing fan experiences; according to a report from Imagen, Millennials and Gen Z fans are approximately four times as likely as Baby Boomers to watch three or more hours of non-game video content per week. How that shift will impact the platforms used and the buying and selling of sports rights has yet to play out.

Through our work with sports telecasters, we know what’s important to fans. We’ve gained deep insights into the parallels between content metadata and video analysis, psychographics and emotional payloads, habit formation and engagement, or habitual fandom and retention motivate fans to action. We know that knowledge of consumption patterns, content attributes and user psychographics can help sports rights holders build profiles of viewers that are the foundations for richer fan engagement. And we’ve created a robust platform that can accommodate the crunch of peak usage with ultra-low latency.

We’ll address many of these questions in future blogs, but for now we’ll keep the takeaway simple. In the digital era, sports telecasters need new tools and systems that can help them pinpoint fans’ hot buttons. By understanding the depth of engagement, what fans are watching, and how, when and where they are watching, they can drive relationships that pay off in loyalty and monetization and can build platforms that can evolve for to meet needs in the future.


André Christensen