August 4, 2019
By: George Colony
Creating Meaningful Connections with Fans: Sport Tech’s Next Step Forward
When it comes to today’s sports fans, a visit to a stadium or arena to watch their favorite team or athlete is no longer enough to keep them engaged and satiate their appetite for the game. Instead, they’re eager to be closer to the action on the field, court, or green. Whether that means influencing outcomes, predicting plays or betting on the action, it’s clear that fans want to be active participants, not passive viewers.
Until recently, fan engagement efforts came in the form of kiss cams and live-streamed games on social media. Today, however, companies are leveraging advanced technology to bring fans experiences that they’ve never had before.
Industries across the board – from recruiting to construction – have seen a shift towards augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The sports industry is no exception. In 2017, the Golden State Warriors live streamed their home opener, ring ceremony and raising of the championship banner. It became the first live-streamed VR sporting event, and fans were able to watch the game courtside via a professional broadcast camera on the court. Since then, AR and VR have been able to take fans everywhere from the stands to the locker room.
But augmented and virtual reality can only bring the fans so far. While fans are able to sit courtside from their couch and virtually tour their home team’s locker room, virtual experiences lack what fans really want, which is a piece of the action. This is evidenced by the massive popularity of daily fantasy sports and sports betting. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the fantasy sports industry is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion a year in the US and Canada, and to have 59 million players. And the sports betting industry is even more expansive. Following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May 2018, the US sports betting market exploded. It’s projected to reach at least $3.1B in annual revenue by 2023, according to research conducted by Gambling Compliance.
While those work as an adjunct to the games, another experience debuted last year that gives fans what they’ve always wanted: control. Your Call Football is the first to provide fans with an opportunity to influence real, live games by calling the plays that are actually run on the field by professional football players and coaches.
YCF transforms the spectator sport into an interactive, social and competitive experience. Through its patented technology, fans vote on a set of coach-selected plays with the majority play executed on field. Games are live-streamed online and in-app with zero latency – critical to delivering a real-time interactive experience. Fans accumulate points based on their play-calling skills and compete with other fans for cash prizes. During its inaugural season in May 2018, YCF’s fans called more than 300,000 plays.
It’s the type of technology that can be applied to any number of leagues or exhibitions, like the Pro Bowl where fans could call passes for Tom Brady or runs for Todd Gurley.
Ultimately, I believe that in the not-so-distant future, the above-mentioned technologies will converge in creating an unparalleled experience for sports fans. Just as the smart home went from sci-fi dream to today’s reality, so too will fan-controlled, technology-enabled sports franchises.
Just imagine: a world where fans are completely immersed in the physical, statistical and analytical aspects of the game in real time. Fans put on their VR headsets and transport to the sidelines. Players are decked in wearables and data is transmitted directly to fans. Player #1 has an increased heart rate – maybe he’s getting winded. So, at the next opportunity you call a play that doesn’t involve him. As the game commences, you receive data on how other fans are calling plays. You notice that the majority tends to favor sweep plays, but Team #2 is on the offensive and their fullback isn’t as quick as you’d like. You decide to go against what will likely be the majority voted play in the hopes of scoring the maximum amount of points for your play-calling skills.
It’s just one example of the shifting landscape, one that will see teams and leagues creating deeper, more meaningful connections with their fans, who will become part of play, not just the viewers.
About 15 years ago, I ran into then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue at an event. Within our conversation, I asked him when he was going to get fans more involved in the action. He laughed and then said, “George, when are you going to do it.” We’re there Paul.
George Colony is an investor in Your Call Football and also serves as the Chairman. His day job is founder, chairman and CEO of Forrester Research – one of the world’s most successful independent research and advisory firms with locations in more than 30 countries. He is one of the most influential thought leaders in the world of business and technology, and is a trusted advisor to executives around the globe, providing context and clarity around the digital disruptions that change the way we live and work.