Four ways technology is changing sports marketing

Sports fans are so much more than traditional consumers. Marketing to them requires a very different mindset from marketing to a typical consumer


Teams in several leagues ranging from the English Premier League and the National Hockey League are using wearable technology to improve player conditioning and performance. Photo: AFP
Teams in several leagues ranging from the English Premier League and the National Hockey League are using wearable technology to improve player conditioning and performance. Photo: AFP

When making typical purchase decisions, like buying Diwali gifts for the family, my behaviour for the most part tends to be rational. I look at the perceived benefits versus the costs incurred and then decide. When it comes to making any decision as a sports fan, though, rationality gets tossed out the window.

How else would I explain sitting in the exact same position all day while watching V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid lead India’s famous fightback at Eden Gardens, or making sure I always have my favourite jersey on during certain matches? Sports fans are so much more than traditional consumers; sport is passion and is sometimes linked to our very sense of identity. And marketing to these sports fans requires a very different mindset from marketing to a typical consumer. New-age technology is changing the way in which leagues, teams, broadcasters and brands are tapping into this avidity to create compelling fan experiences. Here are four emerging technology trends that are changing the way marketers can excite and engage sports fans.

Data-driven storytelling: Technology, ranging from optical tracking to wearables, is giving us data like never before. The National Basketball Association has been using SportVU tracking across all its venues since 2013; the National Football League is adding a sensor inside its football; and teams in several other leagues ranging from the English Premier League and the National Hockey League are using wearable technology to improve player conditioning and performance. All this technology gives us access to newer and richer data points—distance run by players, algorithms to capture exact player movements, peak speeds and much more. While this data can help with player selection and strategies, it will also be used to tell stories, and marketers should look for opportunities to give unique insights to sports fans.

Virtual reality (VR): Sport is one of the natural playgrounds to experiment with VR and create money-can’t-buy experiences for fans right in their living rooms. From broadcasters experimenting with VR during the 2016 Olympics and US leagues trying it during live games to surround content that allows fans to get up close with their stars, this hot technology is already changing the way sports fans experience games. Though there are some areas which need to be worked upon to ensure VR is reaching the masses, it is clear that this will become a significant form of content consumption in future.

Fan engagement at scale on social media: Simpler technological innovations on social media can help drive fan engagement on a massive scale. Take the International Cricket Council, for instance, which allowed fans to collect virtual trump cards on Twitter using the hashtag #WorldT20Heroes. Through use of technology and algorithms to power automated responses, these virtual cards achieved massive reach with over half a million tweets. Other brands have been using technology to power unique first-of-its-kind innovations to excite fans. The Indian Super League, for instance, had its Facebook cover photo automatically update whenever there was a change in score in a match during Season 1. The best part is these nifty little innovations help brands reach millions of fans that are already on social channels.

Sports stadiums going digital: Globally, we are seeing “smart” arenas come to the forefront with high speed Wi-Fi, giving spectators a seamless in-stadium experience. Fans can use their phones to make their arena experience much easier—scan tickets, locate their seats, order food and more. Going forward, they will be able to do a lot more. Think in-venue live polls and quizzes, interaction with athletes and getting unique second-screen content! Beyond that, stadiums themselves will get larger. Fans from around the world can feel a part of the experience by being able to send their wishes on digital signage or even viewing a game “at the stadium” through interactive video technology.

There has never been a better time to be a sports fan. Technology is giving fans the ability to experience the game like never before and stakeholders are willing to invest to make this happen now. Now it’s about figuring out what position I need to stand in with my VR headset on to make sure it helps India win the game. Technology may change the way the game is seen but a sports fan’s irrationality will always stay the same.

Arvind Iyengar is chief executive of Sportz Interactive.

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