Post pandemic professional sports: It's a whole new ballgame
August 27, 2020
Professional sports organizations must re-imagine the in-stadium fan experience to the remote fan experience.
“Take me out to the ball game…” are words we normally hear this time of year in packed stadiums across the country. But this summer, those stadium stands are silent. Due to COVID-19, the professional sports scene has dramatically changed. All major sports leagues in the U.S. will have limited to no fans at their events to help contain the spread of the virus and assure the safety of players, fans, and stadium personnel. Professional sports organizations must now focus on the remote fan experience as sports leagues begin their seasons without fans in the stands watching, and with the loss of substantial revenue.
The venues have changed — but the goals remain the same
Organizations cannot sit back and offer just another game on TV. They will need to provide remote fans with a truly personal and immersive experience. Prior to the pandemic, stadiums had three major goals: fan satisfaction, fans sharing their positive experience with their family and friends, and increasing sponsorship opportunities. Fans not only went to the stadiums to watch a game, but to take in the atmosphere, escape from everyday work/life stress, enjoy stadium concessions, etc.
Today, organizations must provide an equally satisfying, multi-layered experience that fans will share with their friends, and that will increase both viewership and sponsorship. The digitization of sports and the remote fan experience can strengthen engagement, build brand value, and drive revenue growth.
Sports organizations must find and build upon the natural linkages between in-stadium experiences and remote viewing experiences and laser-focus their attention on each fan through hyper-personalization. They must also keep in mind that the in-person experience is multi-layered. Below is a high-level fan journey map showing how fans typically engage in the process of attending in-person sporting events:
In-person games offer multiple fan touchpoints
For sports organizations to be successful in the post-COVID-19 arena, it is critical that organizations carefully review the traditional touchpoints in the fan journey as a starting point. From there, they can think about how - and if - these touchpoints can be translated to the remote fan experience.
By employing AI and fan data throughout this journey, organizations can provide a richer fan experience that will keep fans engaged throughout the lifecycle and offer a more personalized experience. As a direct benefit for the sports organization, having this fan data will provide more sponsorship focus.
To implement a successful remote fan experience, organizations must bring in a cross-functional team that includes technologists, researchers, strategists, and partners to strategize specific tactics that will provide a great fan experience remotely. The team will carefully review the experience, products, and technology to offer a seamless end-to-end solution for the fan.
Scoring big with technology
Shortly before COVID-19 stopped sports in their tracks, Capgemini published a report, Emerging technologies in sports: reimagining the fan experience, that explored how in-stadium innovations might impact the fan experience.
The research found that emerging technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and augmented reality will be critical in defining the future of the sports fan experience and how the sports fan engages in real time. Sixty-nine percent of fans reported that the use of emerging technologies had actually enhanced their viewing experience – both inside and outside the stadium.
While the report focused on optimizing the in-stadium experience, much of that learning can be transferred to our current context.
In fact, sports organizations across the world have a huge opportunity to tap into the evolving expectations of fans, and indeed athletes, to create a more connected, customized, and personalized engagement experience for the new remote fan. Effective use of emerging technology in sports represents a significant brand value and growth opportunity. Fans are not only engaging with emerging technologies when consuming sports, they are also willing to reward organizations that offer them a good tech-enabled experience.
What do fans want?
Capgemini recently conducted research with avid sports fans and asked them all the same simple question: “How can professional sports organizations provide a great remote fan experience for their fans during the COVID-19 pandemic?” All of the responses gathered can be directly tied to a fan experience illustrated in the graphic above, which is a positive thing for sports organizations. Here are some of the main takeaways:
Keep it real
The most common theme emerging from our research about the remote fan experience is centered around AR/VR. A majority of the participants indicated that the best way to replicate the in-stadium experience is via AR/VR. Additionally, participants are willing to pay a premium for things like courtside virtual seating or other “premium” seats. Participants also thought that virtual players in the home — via AR/VR — would also add to the fan experience. Physical attributes such as stadium seats, concessions, and the crowd experience are extremely important to the remote fan experience and need to be taken into consideration. Fans will not want to sit and listen to announcers speak for the entirety of a game. Media and stadium operators should be prepared to pump in artificial crowd noise to replicate fans during a game. Organizations should also look to partner with local restaurants and breweries to offer exclusive discounts and delivery prior to and during games to substitute for the concessions food and drink normally sold at games. Organizations can also sell replica stadium seats that mimic the actual physical seats in the stadium stands. Watching a game from an actual “stadium seat” can help deliver a more in-stadium fan experience.
It’s still a team sport
Fans also reported they are not interested in watching games alone. Overwhelmingly, sports fans wanted to view a game with another person, whether this was at their home, via AR/VR, or a technology such as Zoom, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts. A majority of the research participants will be viewing game information on multiple devices and following conversations on social streams to enhance the fan-to-fan experience. They will be looking for organizations offering in-game discounts for sports clothing, memorabilia, and future events. As a result, greater discounts should be offered to fans who upgrade their service to a premium service. Sports organizations should provide individual game experiences for the fans, not just a generic app with team information. The ability to follow a game in real-time promotes interaction with other fans. With multiple devices, fans are also more likely to partake in in-game gambling during events. Partnerships with online sports gambling platforms should be explored by major sports organizations.
Make it personal
Another major theme is around fan personalization. Today on PGATour.com, viewers have the ability to follow a select group for the entire duration of a round. Fans want to have the ability to watch their favorite player on the field at any given point during a game. A stadium camera would be fixed on a specific player so a viewer can watch their every move during a game, just as they would if they were in a stadium.
The Oakland A’s recently announced that they will be offering their fans the opportunity to purchase “Coliseum Cutouts”. Fans will upload a picture of themselves and the club will place cutouts of individuals in the seats at the stadium. For an additional charge, fans can select “Foul Ball Zone Coliseum Cutout” and if a foul ball hits the cutout, the Oakland A’s will send the fan the ball directly to them. This experience is part of a well-thought-out plan to keep fans engaged while watching games from their homes.
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the global sports industry. Sports organizations have invested heavily in providing awesome fan experiences in stadiums across the world. That world has changed — at least for now. As we adjust to the reality of watching sporting events remotely for the foreseeable future, organizations must now shift their focus to providing great remote fan experiences. It’s a whole new ballgame. But with smart strategy, flexibility, and passion, it’s a game that can be won.
Director, Strategy & Growth
Dennis McGuire is the Director of Strategy & Growth at Idean (part of Capgmini Invent). Dennis is responsible for strategy & business consulting, UX research & design, digital transformation, customer & employee experience, and product management with key strategic accounts. Dennis is also an avid professional sports fan rooting for all Philadelphia sports teams.