Some aspects of life were always destined for a digital revolution. It’s not hard to see the benefits of incorporating technology into, say, the workplace. Indeed, it’s a desire to improve this area of life that mostly drove technology development in the first place.
While the rise of digital infrastructure may have sprouted in realms where the benefits were immediate and obvious, today it affects everything. There’s virtually no arena in the modern world left untouched by technology. And this includes aspects that historically have a direct and local connection, such as sports.
The impact of technology on the sporting world, especially in the past decade, has been nothing short of spectacular. It may seem nothing out of the ordinary now. But digital integration with sports was not always a foregone conclusion. Far from it.
Automation and the rapid emergence of data-generating and processing devices pervade our lives. And that includes the area of the so-called sports “fan experience”. How? Let’s take a closer look at a few ways:
Sports clubs are not businesses in the traditional sense before the turn of the 20th century. But now, a lot of professional teams are not only globally popular but worth billions of dollars. Thus, social media is abuzz for sports organizations such as the New York Yankees, LA Lakers, and Real Madrid, more than it would for more orthodox companies.
For sports teams, social media sites Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram present a tremendous opportunity to expand and solidify their fan base. With the power to control their content and customize, or even automate interactions, these sites brought down the divide between idols and fans. Now, a professional sports team can bypass media outlets entirely and speak directly to their supporters.
In the pre-internet age, interest in a sports team would intensify only during the season. The hype may be extended if the team reaches the play-offs or even the title series. But thanks to social media, today’s sports organizations can maintain a near-permanent interest in their club. If there’s no game taking place, then no problem. Instead, fans can view old clips, video highlights, and anything else that happens behind the scenes, including players’ antics.
It’s essentially as if the clubs have a television channel that beams content not only to the most hardcore of fans but to anyone who cares to re-watch those amazing dunks, home runs, touchdowns, and goals.
Historically, direct participation in sporting matches was only possible when attending the event in person. But things have changed. The emergence of game-specific chat forums, betting sign-up offers, and ‘Watch Together’ remote-viewing platforms allow fans to feel being a part of the action. Even when they are many miles away from the stadium.
The interactive capabilities that internet technology allows provides a massive shift toward greater fan engagement. The old ‘messenger and receiver’ relationship between sports teams and fans has given way to an increasingly symbiotic one. It becomes a conversation, one that benefits both parties.
Mobile applications also allow fans to engage with the team and sport they love even during the off-season. If they’ve missed the action, they can always catch up through their smartphones. Throughout the week, they can dive into their Fantasy Football team just by opening an app. Every top-level professional sports team has its app too, which offers a personalized and customizable experience.
Sports clubs used to attract the support of fans only in their locality, along with the revenue that comes with it.
While the screening of matches on television did allow for fans in other states and countries to follow a particular team, the level of support they can provide was limited. They were considered outliers since all the worthwhile actions take place in and around the stadium.
But the internet changed all that. These days, it almost didn’t matter whether you live five miles or five hundred miles away from the team’s home court or field. You could be a bona fide supporter. The list of advantages that local fans have over remote fans is becoming shorter and shorter. They still exist, but the lines are more blurred.
Technology has allowed sports clubs to move away from the nucleus of their local area and become a kind of omnipresent component of their fans’ lives.
Into the Future
So, if that’s how things look right now, what may we expect in the future? To get an idea of what the fan experience may look like in 5, 10, and 20 years down the line, we should look at the emerging disruptive technologies, and how sports teams (and sports broadcasters) will implement them into their operations.
Let your imaginations soar and visualize the following:
Virtual assistant bots will allow clubs to offer a personalized and all-around improved experience to their fans, especially for those located in countries that speak a different language.
Perhaps most exciting of all is the development of object-oriented media, which will significantly improve the viewing experience for fans who can’t be in the stadium to watch the game first-hand.
Given the significant developments made in most aspects of sports engagement in the past twenty years, it’s perhaps a bit odd that the viewing experience has remained mostly unchanged (excepting the video quality, which significantly improved). There may be more camera angles, but the standard image and view have remained the same.
In the future, it’s predicted that 3D technologies will allow fans to watch the match from any angle they like. They’ll be as close (perhaps even closer) to the action as they would be if they were at the venue.
And what about inside the stadium? Smart Stadiums that incorporate IoT (internet of things) will offer a more personalized and smoother experience. Integrated augmented reality will provide on-demand data and stats that offer a more immersive experience while watching the game live.
Sports teams, like most companies, were slow to pick up on the possibilities of technology for their brand, but they fully understand the importance now. In the coming years, incorporating technology into the overall fan experience will likely be given increasing priority status.