How technology is revolutionising the fan experience in sports

By David Ingham, Client Partner, Media, Entertainment & Sport at Cognizant.

  • 6 months ago Posted in

Data analytics weaved its way into sports over a decade ago and is now deployed across all aspects of professional competition. In a match or race, a tiny margin can make all the difference, which is why the advent of data analytics was welcomed with open arms by teams looking to improve their players’ performance. All sorts of data-gathering tools have been introduced to sports, from chest bands to equipment like the Babolat Play connected racket used by former tennis number 1 Rafael Nadal, with the hopes of improving his backhand.

Keeping players healthy physically and mentally is another priority area in which teams have used data analytics. Using available information to foresee and prevent potential injuries and monitor players’ mental health are essential for a team’s success. Outside of the field, the vast amount of data available on teams and individual players is also used by betting companies to provide users with analysis on the best odds.

The latest trend in data, however, particularly focusses on the fanbase. Keeping fans loyal to a team and offering them more opportunities to engage, means clubs will be able to increase or at least maintain levels of revenue that come from stadium tickets or merchandise sales. Here are a few ways in which organisations are already using data to keep fans engaged in the age of constant distraction.

Understanding why fans are coming to games

Professional sport is viewed by broadcasters as an entertainment vehicle, centered on making it as enjoyable as possible for the viewer, to keep them tuned in. Companies and teams understand that for many fans a match is more than just a game: it’s about the experience, the atmosphere and the community behind each team.

So the first step is to tap into what brings a fan to the stadium or to watch the game on tv. In turn, this will inform the way in which teams improve different fans’ experiences and offer tailored sports experiences based on individual preferences. Organisations have to ask themselves questions like, for example, is a fan watching the Wimbledon final because Carlos Alcaraz is playing and she follows him because both of them are Spanish? Or is she watching the game for the love of tennis? Once companies know the answer, they can leverage technology to keep all sorts of fans engaged and staying relevant, by providing them the right level of involvement and the information they are most interested in, straight to their devices.

Turning fans into active participants

In today’s data-led world there is an increasing amount of information on each individual fan, which allows for greater hyper-personalization of the sports experience, inside and outside the arena. Teams and sports organisations have detailed insights into what individuals’ preferences are and have the resources available to tweak an experience accordingly. For example, some fans will want to see game-insights and how their favourite players are scoring, while they are watching a match live. Others, who might not have been able to tune in, would like to receive the latest stats in their email, so they can check while on the go. However, a third group will not want to receive any notifications during the game, but will appreciate a post-match debrief over email.

Using fan’s devices, emails and social media platforms is a practice already embraced in the world of football. The English Football Association, alongside Cognizant, launched the For Girls digital platform prior to the UEFA Women’s EURO, a mobile-first platform designed specifically to increase the participation of women and girls from all backgrounds and abilities by providing them with the latest news, content and information in real time, and signposting opportunities for them to get involved. Similarly, in 2022, Wimbledon started using big data to help improve fans’ tennis knowledge, after noticing that most attendees didn’t follow tennis during the rest of the year and were not familiar with most of the players in the game, which was a barrier to engagement.

Improving the stadium experience

While fans spend most of their time engaging with their favourite teams and players outside the stadium, it’s essential for teams to use data during matches too.

For the last few years, and even in those before the 2020 pandemic, the number of fans attending games in stadiums has decreased across the world. The BBC found that stadiums across the UK were reporting much higher attendance numbers than was later visible during the games themselves. Council and local police information showed that for West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester City games, there was between 8% and 22% difference in numbers reported by stadiums.

Bringing sports data to the fore can radically improve a fan’s experience while they are in their seats. For instance, teams can use screens across stadiums to show player and sport insights, engaging fans in new narratives. Available tech can be used to play interactive quizzes, or other fun challenges, that fans can access via their phones. An improved live fan experience will bring more people back to stadiums, which for clubs will mean more ticket sales and increased revenue.

Conclusion

Sports organisations have a lot of available information about both their players and fans, and it would be a waste not to use it to benefit all the parties involved. Using data, teams can come even closer to their fans, regardless of age and tech-savviness, and keep them engaged and interested, inside and outside the sports venues. Keeping fans engaged is good for team morale, as well as club revenue. Whether it is tailored communications or gamifying a live sports event, there are endless possibilities to leverage tech and data for everyone’s benefit.

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