Turning digital engagement into business value: the new lifeline for sports

2020 was a year like no other for sports. While the challenges of empty venues are temporary, the effects of the massive shift to digital during the pandemic are here to stay, creating new paths to value for clubs, leagues and federations.

In a recent technology survey of sports industry experts, investors, founders and professionals, an overwhelming 78% said that fan engagement technologies such as live-streaming, esports and content would make the biggest impact in the next 12 months[1] – and that was before COVID-19. Since then, as lockdowns hit, digital channels filled the gap felt by fans.

At the same time, with fewer events generating less revenue, sports organizations have had to work creatively to find or increase other streams to compensate. In Europe, particularly for football leagues who have relied heavily on traditional broadcast rights, the landscape is shifting.

Sports go digital

All sports embraced social media trends to stay in touch with fans through online chats, polls, quizzes, video posts and stories. For instance, Liverpool Football Club uploaded videos of players’ home workouts for fans to join in with via Youtube. Video gaming and e-sports also took off, led by the e-Premier League FIFA competition, for instance, and live e-sport races between Formula 1 drivers. There was a huge appetite for this: the FIFA e-final had 3 million viewers on Facebook and 400,000 on YouTube, with a 275% rise in viewers after the first round.

This mix of traditional and Over The Top (OTT) broadcasting, live-streaming on demand, user-generated multi-media and grassroots content is now the norm. As a result, sports organizations face more competition than ever for fans’ very thinly spread attention.

New digital platforms and aggregated data

Digital platforms, enabled by cloud production together with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, offer clubs, leagues and federations new ways to reach fan bases and automate the delivery of different types of content to appeal to different demographics.

Following UFC Fight Pass's success, some sports organizations have launched their own live-streaming platform to generate more and more content that can be monetized on all their channels with the affordability, agility, and short time-to-market of digital solutions. Innovations with FinTechs to launch fan tokens and other paid-for services, for instance, will generate value.

Advertising, merchandising, betting and sponsorship opportunities

Yet this isn’t just about generating content around competitions and events; there are business-critical opportunities to aggregate and learn from the data gathered via digital platforms to generate insights that turn fan engagement into revenue. Broadcast / direct-to-consumer OTT capability is accessible to all levels of sports organizations and competitions, with quantifiable tracking of fan behaviors and preferences. This direct access and deepening understanding of large fan communities can stimulate new advertising opportunities, as well as giving leagues the option, for instance, to launch league pass packages or commercialize their content into the global betting and media markets.

Sports clubs and bodies can also grow opportunities for sponsorship. Global agreements enable sponsors to generate value through brand awareness and visibility with sizeable fan communities in different regions. For instance, Asia-based sponsors of high-profile UK football clubs have seen huge advantage in using sponsorship arrangements to generate a deeper understanding of fans in different geographies, then activate those new markets through highly targeted and personalized fan communications and campaigns.

Successful examples

Atos works with clubs, leagues and federations worldwide, identifying key opportunities and objectives and implementing integrated fan engagement strategies to deliver those objectives. We worked with UK’s governing body for tennis, developing and delivering a digital fan engagement vision and strategy using Salesforce.org as its state-of-the-art CRM platform to engage clubs, fans, players and coaches throughout a personalized customer journey to drive participation and performance across UK tennis. We developed and now operate the new digital platform of a major European Football League that generates new individualized insights into fan relationships with their football club, in turn creating experiences that improve fan engagement with the League through new digital assets.

2020 was a year like no other for sports. While the challenges of empty venues are temporary, the effects of the massive shift to digital during the pandemic are here to stay, creating new paths to value for clubs, leagues and federations.

Unprecedented insight and agility

With the effects of the pandemic, the sports industry has changed forever. Its drama and passion have successfully been transferred online, generating huge opportunities for sports organizations at all levels to blend the physical and the digital worlds to create a seamless ‘phigital’ experience that delivers value.

As we start 2021, the new lifeline for sports organizations is to invest in phigital engagement by establishing the right Customer Data Platforms, underpinned by a robust data vision and strategy. Using these, they can generate and push out a vast range of content, know what their fans are watching and saying, and use those insights to grow revenue – all while staying agile to flex to fresh challenges and the demands of the ´new normals´ to come.

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About Fabrice Doreau
Head of Strategic Engagement for the sports industry
Fabrice has more than 15 years of experience in the sports IT market for the Olympic Games and other major events, helping Sports & Entertainment industry leaders develop and implement disruptive digital strategies and services. He is responsible for driving innovative business deals and setting up partnerships with clients, cultivating relationships with start-ups, sports media agencies, telecom operators, third-party sports data providers and industry influencers. Before joining the division of Olympic Games and Major Events at Atos, he developed the Sports & Media market in France for Worldline over seven years. Fabrice is a graduate of Network & Telecom Engineering and Commercial Negotiation.

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About Rahul Mali
Global Digital Strategy Offering Lead | Sports & Entertainment Consultant - Northern Europe, at Atos
Rahul is the global Digital Strategy offering lead and keeps abreast of how the incumbent business model continues to be disrupted across all industries to bring the maximum value to our clients. He works across industries helping clients frame the future of their business through digital. Rahul is adamant in the value of having a high quality adaptive digital business strategy in place to thrive in the market; enabling clients to succeed in the short team, be ready for disruptive forces and to achieve their digital vision. Furthermore he is extremely passionate about how digital disruption is influencing the Sports & Entertainment sector and how clients can capitalise on the benefits available.

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