The Definitive Guide to Sports Fan Engagement
Sports fans are some of the best fans in the world, as they’re passionate, loyal, and big spenders. Financial resource MakeMoneyinLife.com notes that in 2020, the average sports fan spent $725 a year. Engaging with sports fans is critical, as it can hold their interest, ensure their loyalty, and possibly grow your audience if they tell their friends. What are some sports fan engagement ideas?
Here’s how to attract fans to sporting events and keep them coming back for more:
- Connect on social media
- Host a contest
- Use email marketing
- Work with great sponsors
- Embrace experiential marketing
- Create VIP experiences
In this ultimate guide to sports fan engagement, I’ll discuss further the benefits of connecting and engaging with your fans and go over the strategies above on how to do it. I’ll also share some metrics for measuring the success of your sports fan engagement campaign, so make sure you keep reading!
The Benefits of Sports Fan Engagement
Have you ever seen a sports game go on in an empty arena? Of course not! Without fans, sports just aren’t worth playing.
Fans provide the roar of the crowd, the excitement that pulses throughout the building, and the instant reactions that keep games interesting. They make sports fun. You need them.
Treating your sports fans right with fan engagement opportunities can be highly advantageous, as I’ll show you in this section.
Keeps Loyal Fans on the Hook
When a fan has been a part of your audience for long enough, they generally know what to expect. They’re aware of when tickets will go on sale for the big games and how much they’ll be charged.
When they visit their favorite arena, they know what to expect at the merch booth and what kinds of food options are on the table.
Sure, the sports games themselves are different enough, but when everything else is the same-old, same-old, it all starts to get a little boring after a while.
At that point, it becomes easy for a fan to say they’ll skip a game this year, especially if they begin having other life obligations or money gets a little tight.
Maybe by skipping a year, the entire experience will feel fresher. Besides, they can still watch the game on TV, and that’s what matters the most.
You don’t want to have your fans slip into this complacency if you can help it. While you can’t obligate your audience to attend every game, you want to give them something to keep coming back for.
That should be more than the game and the sport itself, but the entire experience from start to finish.
Even if you have a winning formula for sports fan engagement, you can’t rest on your laurels and keep repeating the same thing every year.
All that’s doing is dissuading your most loyal customers–the ones who make one or more games an annual part of their lives–from wanting to come back.
You want to continually grow your engagement efforts so they always feel fresh.
Incentivizes New Fans to Keep Coming Back
When a fan is happy with their experience at a sports game, it’s one of those things that they can’t help but talk about, especially when it’s done well.
When fans go to your games and have a stellar experience every time, they’ll post about it on social media, on fan forums, in Discord, and elsewhere on the Internet.
Leads who have been thinking about picking up tickets to a sports game but have been on the fence might finally feel incentivized to make a purchasing decision after hearing enough about the awesome experiences that fans get.
They want that experience for themselves!
Builds Deeper Passion
I talked in the intro about how passionate sports fans can be, but don’t be fooled. Passion is a fire, and you have to stoke the flames to keep them burning.
Going back to my example from the subsection before, a disengaged fan is not feeling very passionate.
When you give them personalized, exciting experiences that make attending sports games memorable, then that passion is reignited and burns perhaps more brightly than ever before.
Passion is also contagious and can spread among your sports community, making everything bigger, better, and even more larger-than-life.
Rewards Your Sponsors
Passionate fans aren’t solely beneficial to your sports organization since a passionate fan usually has deeper pockets, but they’re valuable to your sponsors as well.
A sponsor wants the full degree of audience turnout to maximize the chance of converting your audience. When a sports audience is having an epic day due to fan engagement, that audience is primed and ready to go for conversions!
Makes Fans Feel Special
Sports have millions of fans a pop. In a large crowd at a live game, a fan is still one of thousands and thousands of people.
Sports fan engagement, especially the personalized kind, can make your fan feel like an individual even among a huge sea of fans. That goes a long way towards increasing positive feelings and loyalty!
6 of the Top Sports Fan Engagement Ideas
I hope the last section got you more excited than ever about connecting with your fans in meaningful ways through fan engagement.
Without further ado then, per the intro, here are 6 of the top strategies to engage sports fans.
Connect on Social Media
Sports leagues and teams can attract millions of social media followers. How well are you using this gargantuan social media presence to connect with your audience?
No, I don’t just mean following a social media content strategy where you post regularly. That’s great, but it’s all terribly one-sided, don’t you think?
The sports fans like and comment on posts, or retweet or repost as appropriate, but what are they getting out of it besides valuable content?
Connecting on social media means taking it a step further.
Make the social media experience more interactive at every turn. Host polls that fans can vote in. The polls shouldn’t be low stakes but about something that matters.
Perhaps you run a poll where the audience vote determines which charity a sports team will donate to or what color gear a team will wear. Maybe fans even get to choose the entertainment for the game, selecting between a half-time show or a national anthem before the game.
Since you get to pick the poll options, your sports organization is still in control at the end of the day. However, you’re giving fans a degree of that control too, and it does mean a lot.
Your social media account can begin posting engagement-centered content that features your athletes. Perhaps you upload epic replays on social media in real-time, interviews with athletes, or a video showcasing an athlete’s workout routine.
You can also create social media challenges, especially on platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. If a player uploads a video challenging a fan to do a challenge, you can bet that the challenge and accompanying hashtag are going to surely go viral.
Host a Contest
Another fantastic way to engage with sports fans before, during, and after the game is through contests.
This is one of those foolproof methods for increasing fan engagement because few fans can resist the opportunity to win free stuff.
For pre and post-event contests, you could host them on social media, on your website, or even in association with a radio station, a sports television network, or a sponsor.
Some types of contests are more engaging than others though, so tread carefully. For example, you could ask your audience to design a new team logo or maybe put together a makeshift sports uniform with only the clothes already in their closets.
Photo contests are another great contest idea in that same vein. Fans can take pictures of something in a challenge-oriented fashion and then post them.
What makes these kinds of contests engaging is that fans are producing something that your sports organization can showcase during and after the contest. Fans will be jazzed to see their photo on your social media.
Even if they don’t win the grand prize, for many fans, that’s a prize enough in and of itself.
Speaking of prizes, I’m sure you’re very eager about how you should reward fans for participating in these engagement-boosting contests.
Well, unlike the average company that has to rely on an awesome prize like a car or a big amount of money to get people interested in a contest, your sports organization can give out just about anything and it would be a great prize that fans want.
Maybe it’s free merch, two front-row tickets to the next game, a backstage tour of the facilities, or a meet-and-greet with a sports star.
Now, I touched on contests during sports games, and I want to talk about them more now.
These are a different animal since the contests have to be less involved. Perhaps your sports organization has an app that fans can download to participate in raffles or other types of contests.
Or you could even do a contest where a mascot is somewhere in the building and whoever spots him first and takes the best photo wins.
Those classic contests where fans get to come down to the field and toss a few basketballs or hit a few baseballs are timeless for a reason. The participant gets to feel like their favorite athlete as they enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime vantage point.
This is another one of those contests where the participation is practically the prize in and of itself. That said, you still want to make sure you’re offering your audience a fantastic prize.
Use Email Marketing
Your sports organization surely has a robust email list considering how many eager fans there are that want news and tickets. Are you using email marketing to the fullest to engage with your fans?
If not, then it’s time to change that.
Let’s start with your subject lines first. If you’re not writing engaging subject lines, then no one is going to bother opening your emails.
According to FinancesOnline, 64 percent of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone.
Whether you go with subject lines that invoke a sense of FOMO, add an odd emoji or two, or write a mysterious headline, what you should certainly be doing with your headlines is adding personalization.
The email open rate might be about 22 percent higher by using a personalized subject line, says conversion resource Invesp.
When you send messages to your sports audience, not everyone should receive every last email. You should use segmentation so the messages have a more personalized, tailored feel.
Be sure to make the emails worth reading too. Perhaps your email subscribers get early-bird access to tickets, early news on team drafts, or other exclusives.
If so, then you can be sure your sports organization will have a healthy email open rate!
Work with Great Sponsors
Earlier, I talked about how your sponsors benefit when your fans are passionate and engaged since they’ll be more receptive to your sponsor.
That said, it only works if you select quality sponsors that gel with your audience’s needs and interests.
If you haven’t already surveyed your sports audience to get a feel for what makes them tick, it’s critical.
In your survey, you’ll ask your audience all sorts of pertinent information about who they are. Where do they live? Are they married? Do they have children, and if so, how many?
What kind of industry do they work in? What is their job title? How much money do they earn?
You need to know what kinds of brands they use, consume, and enjoy. Based on those brands that you know your sports audience engages with, it should be easier to find a quality sponsor.
Let’s say that a large subsection of your audience likes earbuds. If your sponsor produces earbuds or other similar devices like headphones, then you already know your audience will be interested.
Your sponsor gets the full breadth of engagement at their booth or activation (more on those to come in just a moment) and your audience likes your selection of sponsors. Everyone is happy, which means your sponsor will usually be willing to work with you again.
Embrace Experiential Marketing
Okay, so I said I’d talk about sports activations, and I want to do that now.
Activations are also referred to as experiential marketing, which is a type of interactive marketing that strives to create a memorable experience for fans.
This post on the blog will give you some great sports activation ideas to get you started.
A pop-up bar is a fun idea for the adults who want to get their drink on before the game (which is most of them).
Branded photo walls or props will surely have fans of all ages pulling out their phones before the big game, during intermission, and maybe even afterward.
People love taking photos to commemorate a special occasion, and a branded photo wall makes the perfect backdrop to showcase all the fun they’re having.
Perhaps a sports team playing the big game can create their own Snapchat filter with the help of your sports organization. During breaks in plays, your audience can have a lot of fun taking Snaps with the funny sports-themed filter.
If your sports organization has an app, the app can also be a great way to create experiential marketing opportunities throughout the entire game.
Perhaps fans can engage in some harmless free sports betting or vote in live polls on who will win the game (with the results displayed on the Jumbotron during intermission).
Create VIP Experiences
How do you treat your sports fans like they’re the best people you know? By giving them the royal treatment, of course!
Exclusive VIP experiences will make subsets of your fans feel like kings or queens.
Perhaps you have fan loyalty days once a month for your longest-term fans, or fans on your email list get exclusive access to a lounge. You can even have ladies’ days, men’s days, or kids’ days so that every group gets to feel special at some time or another.
So what does a VIP get, you ask? Access to things that the average fan does not, of course.
Perhaps they have their own lounge or skybox complete with refreshments, plush seating, a phone charging station, and exclusive merch that’s theirs to take home.
The VIPs could get special parking, early access, meet-and-greets or backstage access, food and drink vouchers, or merch discounts.
Even though it’s only one day, the incredible experience you created for your fans is something that could stick with them for a lifetime.
Measuring Fan Engagement – Is What You’re Doing Working?
You’ve gone through a lot of time, effort, money, and planning to improve your fan engagement. You think it’s working, but you’d like more concrete answers than that. Is there any way to be sure?
Yes! As a matter of fact, you have several ways.
You’ll recall how I talked earlier about the importance of issuing surveys to learn more about the demographics, psychographics, and geographics of your sports audience.
Well, the survey you’ll send after an event is of a different nature.
Think of this as more of a customer satisfaction survey.
You’d issue the survey a day or two after the event, but no longer than that. You want all the details of the sporting event to be fresh in the fan’s mind. The sooner you can issue the survey, the better.
In the survey, ask them how they enjoyed the event, but quiz them on specifics. Did they participate in your activation opportunities? If so, how many?
Do they recall seeing X sponsor at the event? What about Y sponsor? Did they engage with these sponsors? If so, which ones? If not, then why not?
Did they download your app and use it during the event? If so, what do they think of the app?
You will receive a myriad of feedback, some of it good, and some of it, not so good. What you’re looking for as you collate the feedback is common trends or threads.
If 1,000 people downloaded the app and liked the same things, then you know to keep those things for the future. If another 800 people who used the app all didn’t like a feature, then it might be time to rework that one.
Social Media Engagement
You’re already using social media as a major vehicle to drive engagement. Yet exactly how receptive is your sports audience to your social media efforts?
You can’t just rely on the number of likes your posts receive and use that as your only measuring stick. Instead, you want to use a metric known as the engagement rate.
The engagement rate tells you how many interactions you get for each follower you have. It’s a much more useful measurement than counting likes.
To calculate the engagement rate, take the interactions your last post received and then divide it by your followers. Then multiply that number by 100.
The interactions include shares, comments, and likes. You’d add those together.
You’ll get an engagement rate as a percentage.
The average engagement rate is between one and five percent. As a sports organization, your engagement rate may easily surpass five percent.
If so, great! If that’s not quite happening yet, then now is not the time to panic. Keep engaging with your audience and your engagement rate will naturally go up.
App Downloads and Usage Behavior
The last metric you can use to determine your rate of sports fan engagement is how many downloads your app has gotten and how your audience uses your app.
Why do I want you to go deeper than simply the number of people who downloaded your app? Well, because anyone can download an app and then delete it five minutes later.
If you have 10,000 app downloads in one week but fewer than half of those people kept the app for longer than 24 hours, I wouldn’t call that a success, would you?
If you glean metrics such as how long your audience is using the app and even how (such as participating in contests, discussion with other fans, or purchasing tickets), those kinds of metrics are much more indicative that you’re engaging well with your audience than just who downloaded the app.
Sports fan engagement is critical if you want to keep your fans happy for the long haul. Through contests, social media, email marketing, activations, VIP experiences, and connecting with relevant sponsors, you can ensure your fans always have a blast when they see a sports game!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.