What trends are driving sports and fan engagement in 2019?
I have been fortunate to have lived a life where sport is part of my every day. From my childhood learnings in a small country town on how to roll and water a turf wicket to enable a fair contest over the weekend (a decent track needs a minimum of 12 hours rolling), to personal interactions in sport with Executives and leaders of associations, clubs and facilities – means that the separation between work and leisure has become invisible.
Upon entering the domain of a corporate entity in MSL, the leading global providers of modular SaaS solutions into the sport, leisure and hospitality industries; the responsibility to shape the view ahead through relationships and curiosity continues. I initially applied the strategy of ‘Immerse – Engage – Extend’ to determine how I could extend the MSL vision into new emerging markets.
MSL successfully partners with any business that has a community at its core. This can be anything from helping a local golf club coordinate their tee-off times to managing memberships at large-scale stadiums. There is an emotional connection between these businesses and the services they offer their communities and MSL has always been there to help deliver these fulfilling experiences.
In this period of analysis and reflection, certain aspects were apparent in having the greater impact upon changes now and ahead.
1. Shift in Broadcast Capability
The shift in broadcast capability, through the application of digital methods, across any platform or device, to suit the demands and needs of an expanded audience, is a key global driver.
In India for example, sport is not only highly competitive, but is now viewed as entertainment. This shift to entertainment is unlocking new commercial opportunities in the market. One example of this is the emergence, in scale and visibility, of a domestic and indigenous sport, Pro Kabaddi.
It is second to IPL on broadcast numbers with an audience in excess of 300M from live matches being broadcast across 8 channels and mobile.
Locally, in Australia, further trends are emerging now that several of the larger sport associations have secured major broadcast deals beyond the $1B level to secure the funding for immediate needs and strategic growth.
2. Data as Insight
Access to data is becoming less of an issue and the new normal.
There are a multitude of systems to capture data around membership and/or participation (NetSetGo, Auskick) and deliver interaction across the entire community (MyCricket). Complementing this are other systems which capture live scores and encourage instant sharing of results.
The challenge ahead though is more on being able to effectively extract, compile, analyse and utilise the data to improve the core business functions. One prominent AFL club, with a qualified fan base of more than 700K individuals, have invested in dedicated internal resources with data engineers and analyst roles to manage the multiple millions of qualified data points that flow from transactions and interactions across POS, membership, events and social.
The purpose of this strategy in becoming closer to directly understanding the data and being capable of providing a better level of interaction and feedback loop with members, sponsors and partners to establish stronger relationships.
It’s about understanding the end-to-end customer journey, from when they first encounter your website online or via a booking agent, through to making an enquiry and ultimately staying at your hotel.
But the opportunity for data collection doesn’t end when the guests leave your hotel. In order to further build guest loyalty, hotels need to engage their customers on an ongoing basis. This involves better understanding customer behaviour derived from operational and marketing data to help inform your loyalty programs for more successful future brand engagement.
3. ‘Engagement’ is the new battleground
The summer of 18/19 has revealed at scale, the new level of strategic thinking from sport and iconic events, to encourage the unknown or unseen audience to become involved.
During the Border-Gavaskar Series between Australia and India, with so much new content being available as Channel 7 and Fox Sport took over the long-held position of Channel 9, the ability to watch so much more of the game reached a whole new level.
Cricket Australia themselves, broadcasting across their own digital platform with Cricket Network, created micro content to large numbers. An example of this is the video of Virat Kohli batting in the nets. It went viral with 1.2M+ views on Twitter and 500K+ view on YouTube, all carrying the logo, social handle and hashtag of new major sponsor – and this happened all before a ball was bowled in the actual game.
Beyond the digital world, community events aligned to sporting matches were activated to create an atmosphere of celebration of what unites tribes.
The Indian Summer Festival, was a successful program, held at the MCG, that extended across cricket, music, art, food and film to redefine the concept of identity and build a closer awareness of the shared culture that extends outside the boundary.
Another event which continues to evolve and innovate with the changing landscape around leisure is the Australian Open.
The AO continues to track as the best-attended tennis tournament in the world, No.1 among the Grand Slams since 2015. This year, the AO partnered with Fortnite, the global gaming phenomenon that is changing the gaming industry like never before, to host a Fortnite event over the weekend of the AO finals.
Demonstrating unique leadership, being closely watched by colleagues and competitors, Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said, “We’re proud of our reputation for delivering world-class events and are always looking at new opportunities to reach more people. The Fortnite Summer Smash at the Australian Open will see some of the best gamers from around the country do battle just hours before the world’s best male tennis players compete for the AO title.”They offered a significant prize pool of $500K and an opportunity to play in a ProAm on Margaret Court Arena.
Jesse Eckley (RNG_X2Twins_Jesse) from Brisbane took home the championship prize of $100K in the solos tournament, defeating Naro Vong (Araki) and Jadyn Lam (NotNaapr) who each won $50K.
Jesse played alongside celebrities like Dr Lupo from Nebraska who has 2.9 million followers on the streaming platform Twitch, 3.1 million followers on Instagram and 1.2 million fans on YouTube.
This is taking an iconic event deep into the territory of a new massive and emerging audience. Consider the following Fortnite Summer Smash fast facts:
• More than 1500 Fortnite gamers from around Australia registered within 10 minutes for the chance to take part in qualifying for the Fortnite Summer Smash.
• Five hundred people took part in qualifying on Saturday 26 January with the top 20 from each heat earning a place in the finals.
• One hundred contestants took part in the solos tournament which saw RNG_x2Twins_Jesse taking home top prize of $100,000.
• Fifty pro Fortnite gamers and 50 celebrities from Australia, Canada, China, Great Britain, Japan, Korea and the United States took part in the Pro-Am charity event.
This iconic event, with deep historical significance has looked outside itself for innovation. The ability to search deeper within the established audience, identify the opportunities available globally that are associated to the demographic, has uncovered new methods of fan engagement.
A willingness to partner, rather than view outsiders as a threat, has enhanced the scale of interest.
At the peak point of the event, where eyeballs on television and digital streams are at a maximum, being able to draw in tennis players active in gaming (e.g. Nick Kyrgios, Call of Duty fan) creates another channel to attract extra interest.
So what does all this mean?
In closing, welcome to the Metaverse. A collective virtual shared space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds. A lot to comprehend, yet we have Marshmello thankfully providing a master class in what this means.
This week, for 10 minutes, Marshmello played the first ever Fortnite Concert, Live at Pleasant Park, to an estimated audience of more than 10 million concurrent viewers which is still trending on YouTube with the views at 20M+.
From all of this, access to data to deliver an intentional customer experience is accelerating into unseen segments and territories for sport.
The time for open and clear thinking beyond historical and traditional behaviours to implement strategies and solutions with a data partner to leverage the established access and converge into the assets available has arrived.
Those that embrace the opportunity will continue to see success and thrive in an ever-changing leisure landscape.