Modern mobile and social technologies have transformed the way fans consume sports and how they interact with their favourite clubs. Teams and rights holders are constantly looking for new methods of getting their supporters connected and adding value to fan experiences.

To achieve that, sports clubs need to better understand what ignites the passion of fans and immerses them in the match experience. Building a strong connection requires showing the supporters that they matter—that the club cares and is listening to them—and will, in turn, deliver on the match day. Clubs can only do that if they truly get to know their fans.

From the clubs’ perspective, fan data has, therefore, become an extremely valuable asset. Only those teams who identify ways to gather, analyse and utilise it are able to grow their fan engagement. To maximise value from the data, it is necessary to keep these 5 crucial points in mind.

1. "Ask" - fan surveys and opinion communities

Getting the right answers, requires that the right questions are asked! Clubs should not be afraid to ask fans for opinions (whether good or bad!) if they want to get to know what motivates them to get involved. Giving the fans a platform to speak with the team is a necessary step to building stronger relationships between the two parties, but it is also crucial to then use and integrate fan feedback and supporter ideas.

While the traditional surveys – where clubs learn about fans, habits, demographics and match day experience – are still proving very insightful, it has become extremely important to focus on fans feedback about club developments – that is where clubs learn what fans think of them.

For example, AS Roma, the Italian football club, as part of the process for getting that valuable fan feedback, used Reddit to get supporters’ opinions. The club has then designed its new website based on ideas submitted by Roma’s most creative fans.

The team’s head of digital, Paul Rogers, who joined Roma from English Premier League club Liverpool, says “We simply said, ‘We want to launch a new website and we want to know what you want and what you don’t want. If you can help us, great. If you can’t or you don’t want to, we get it.’ The response was very positive and actually very helpful. Were we surprised? Not really. If you’re honest with people and treat them with respect, you generally get the same in return.”

2. "Listen" - social media activity

The least direct way of getting to know the fans, is through monitoring and analysing their social media activity. By engaging online, sports rights holders can open new communication channels with their audience that, if done effectively, can increase fan engagement.

Stadia Solutions work with a number of sports sponsors to understand their exposure on social media, and unsurprisingly some of the most engaging content comes from the athletes – not the official channels. Digital communication with the athletes, clubs and brands has become an essential element of sports. However, creating a Facebook or Twitter page, or an Instagram account is just the start of it. Fans will only engage with the clubs through these platforms if they find exciting and unique content there.

The key to making the most of the clubs’ social media activity is in real-time engagement, which allows you to get your message into whatever the fans are already talking about. Social media is a valuable gathering point for immediate feedback from the supporters. Teams need to develop their social media strategies to grow interaction and engagement, traffic flow to official websites and also, the in-stadia experience.

In motor racing, for example, the Formula E Championship has introduced FanBoost, where fans vote for their favourite driver to have a power boost in a race. Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E Holdings, said: “Through social media, fans are having a real impact on the result of a race. It’s no longer 100% about the skill of the driver and performance of the car. It’s also about fans’ input.”

3. "Gather relevant data" - advantages of providing WiFi, mobile apps

New mobile technologies are transforming sports business. While many stadia, like Celtic Park, now offer fast WiFi connections – allowing tens of thousands of fans to engage with the team by tweeting, snapping and posting about their match experience – it is in the rights holders’ interest to encourage fans to not only transmit their own messages but to provide real-time consumer data.

Clubs need to find out exactly who each fan is. By collecting, updating and enriching fan preference, demographic and behavioural data, clubs can begin to better target their marketing efforts towards the fans, and personalise their experience leading to higher engagement. Data captured in ecommerce systems (including ticket sales and merchandise), WiFi databases and mobile apps provides invaluable data that clubs use to strengthen their relationships with the fans.

4. "Analyse the data and use it wisely" - get your facts right

Nowadays, sports teams must not only gather the fan information but also put the numbers in context in order to ensure engagement. By really getting to know the fans, clubs and rights holders can build fan loyalty. Understanding fan culture and personalising the fan experience is the key to converting single game attendees into valuable shirt-wearing season ticket holders.

Teams that add value to fan experience, having learnt from the fans’ habits, command greater income for sponsorships and media rights. For example, a study conducted by Campaign and Rugby World revealed that over 8 in 10 fans (83 per cent) use their smartphone prior to kick off and over half (55 per cent) ‘actively’ second screen whilst watching a game. This presents a great opportunity for both clubs and brands to get engaged with the rugby fans on match day, either via social media or mobile apps.

5. “Get the fans involved” – be creative and make the fans feel a part of the community

Bringing innovative, personalised experiences such as man-of-the-match voting into the fans’ match experience, makes the fans feel part of match day and drives their loyalty. Recently, for example, Manchester City has announced a partnership with a mobile fan engagement technology company Ballr in an attempt to strengthen the club’s relationship with supporters in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.

The soon-to-be-launched Ballr Football app is based around a free gaming platform that drives fans to compete and communicate with each other during real-time sporting events. Damian Willoughby, Senior Vice-President of Partnerships, City Football Group, said: “Our new partnership with Ballr is an exciting opportunity to engage with Manchester City fans in the digital sphere and to offer them further opportunities to connect with the Club. Manchester City is committed to enhancing the fan experience and bringing supporters together.”

Conclusion

With the growth of online and mobile channels, delivering an engaging and consistent fan experience has never been more challenging. The role of supporter engagement will only increase in the future as the next generation of digitally savvy fans grows in number.

The ultimate goal for all sports clubs is to learn from their fans using the in-depth knowledge of their behaviours gathered in the stadium and via digital activity, and then communicating with them accordingly. By putting fans’ needs and wants first, clubs and venues have a golden opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with their most important customers – the supporters.