For a long time collecting trading cards was a thing. Exchanging your Rahul Dravid card for a Sachin Tendulkar one or throwing in a Sourav Ganguly card for an Anil Kumble number was the ultimate high point of sports craze among fans. But that was the '80s, '90s and perhaps the first decade of the 2000s. New-age sports fans have found their fandom mojo in the metaverse and NFTs. While gamification of their preferred sports has increased their engagement in the space, digital collectibles have made fan engagement more immersive. Brands are making the most of this modern avatar of sports fandom.
A recent report by Ormax Media says India’s sports viewing fan base is 136.3 million while 317.8 million Indians are active players of at least one outdoor sport. Add to that the access to technology and the possibilities are limitless for the stakeholders. Technology is now a key driver in the sports space. From fantasy sports platforms to NFTs, brands are using these new found tools to engage fans and accelerate their reach across audience demographics.
But what is leading to the growth of this technology backed boom in this space? ‘Digital fans,’ says experts.
“Stakeholders in the space have understood that the digital fan today plays as much of an importance as the tangible family comes to the stadium and because of that, they have started adopting a lot of these technologies,” says Chiraag Paul, Co-Founder, CEO, Proem Sports, a sports software-technology company.
Paul explains how his company uses data as the primary tool to leverage fan engagements.
Case Study - FC Goa
FC Goa, for instance, one of Proem’s clients that is an Indian professional football franchise based in Goa and competes in the Indian Super League, is committed to engaging their fan base to help them strengthen their relationship with the club.
“With the help of our customer data platform, they wanted to leverage data to understand their fans better and engage different segments of their fan base with highly personalized campaigns leading to better outcomes.
The company mapped out FC Goa’s Data landscape and with their pre-built connectors, started ingesting data from social, website and transactional systems into their CDP (customer data platform).
The result? FC Goa finally had an accurate understanding of their fan base and the opportunity to expand their marketable universe. With time they saw 44X lift in email open rates and 34 per cent increase in merchandise sales alongside growth in other fan engagement metrics.
Lifting game and fan spirit and building communities
Aayushman Sinha, co-founder and director at creative agency BlackCab explains the possibilities in the space. The three popular formats used by brands to leverage overall game spirit and engagement using technology according to him are - social that is used for hygiene, updates and campaigns; AR, VR and gamification that is used for engagement and NFT’s that is used for building communities.
“A mix of three formats can provide strong fan affinity and engagement to teams, players, their sponsors and more. We’re seeing a lot of these being implemented across the board and as access to technology becomes more widespread - the TV screen will be replaced with more engaging experiences simply through a smartphone,” he says.
Elaborating on how engagements can be created, Sinha says, “Imagine wearing a headset at an experience zone that takes you through the dressing room of your favourite team, your favourite player walks up and gives you a high five and you get to see them prepping for their big game or standing courtside reliving your favourite moments from an iconic game. This is what technology is doing these days.”
Leveraging tech to create experiences
Shradha Agarwal, CEO & Co-founder at digital marketing agency Grapes talks about the benefits of using AI in fan engagement.
”AI allows fans to browse through players and team statistics, interact with the clubs or teams without disrupting the video stream, and enable tickets and merchandise purchased with the help of real-time, on-screen player recognition solutions. Edisn is one such SportsTech startup that enables contextual content delivery while facilitating merchandise monetization,” she said.
Gamification is another example that can help brands personalize their content and offerings depending on data. It can even come up with play and earn events during the off-season to maintain the brand engagement with the fans.
The Sachin Saga VR from JetSynthesys Gaming, for instance, is a virtual reality cricket game that lets users play cricket as the Tendulkar. But this is just one example. There are a hundred other examples of simulated reality backed games that are enhancing fan engagements and giving brands the opportunity to track and reach out to their TG.
However, brands should be careful about choosing platforms and technologies to ensure seamless experience and prevent fans from getting overwhelmed.
Sunny Bhanot, co-founder and chief technology officer at digital collectibles marketplace for cricket NFT says, “Technology enables fans to engage with the sport beyond the stadiums and big screens (TV) and extends it to the small screen (mobile phones) and even off-screen but Ffr brands to deliver on the exciting possibilities of emerging technologies, it is critical not to expose the users to the rough edges and create a stable and secure experience.”
For example, Rario makes officially licensed digital cricket collectables accessible to fans at affordable prices on a certified-secure platform, leveraging blockchain as proof of provenance. Fans can not only own the collectibles of their favourite player or team, but also engage with the sport with their friends through Rario.This is an exciting time to be a sports fan and even more exciting for marketers looking to leverage sports to engage and build deeper relationships with fans.