October 24, 2019
By: Your Call Inc.
Then and Now: The Evolution of the Modern Sports Fan
The sports industry has come a long way since 3000 BC when wrestling ruled the sporting world and cave drawings were the primary way to share information about it. In fact, a PwC report estimates that the sports market in North America alone will reach $80.3 billion by 2022. And the fan experience seems to be evolving even quicker, or at least as fast as technology allows. As these changes occur, it’s important for sports teams and related organizations to understand the mindset of the modern sports fan, including the value they place on the teams they follow, and the experiences they’re seeking.
Teams have dedicated more time and resources in recent years to this dynamic, often seeking to create more personalized experiences – both at and away from the stadium. What’s clear though, is that the modern fan will continue to evolve, creating great opportunities and challenges for those in the sports industry.
Passive Viewing Is in the Past
The days of sitting back, for several hours at a time, and passively watching a game disappeared long ago. At this point, fans have fully transitioned from passive viewers to active participants. It’s what we’ve built our business on and it’s truer today than when we conceived Your Call Football back in 2012. Whether it’s influencing in-game action, predicting the plays on the field or crowdsourcing team decisions, the rise of social media and the creation of new technologies have allowed fans to become far more immersed in the action than ever before.
And it’s never been easier to have an interest in the games themselves. Fantasy gave way to daily fantasy and now to legalized wagering. Thirteen states have legalized sports betting, taking in a combined $8 billion in bets in their first year, and more than 20 others have pending legislation.
Fans also consume a variety of relevant content 24/7 and big-name players are capitalizing on this captive audience. Facebook is expected to live-stream sports through its Live and Stadium services, and in 2016, Twitter won a $10 million deal to live-stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Games. Alternatively, some organizations are experimenting with subscription-based, direct-to-consumer models or their own channels, such as MLB.tv.
New Technologies Are Revolutionizing In-Home Viewing
New technologies are creating a multitude of ways for fans to consume and interact with their favorite teams and players from the comfort of their own homes.
Not only are organizations giving fans in-helmet mic conversations and more camera angles, they’re using high tech equipment and data tracking to help deepen the connection between fans and players. Wearable technology like microchips in athlete gear and sensors in helmets and mouthguards can monitor everything from movement and heart rate to impact and fatigue.
Connected televisions are also on the rise, offering personalized viewing options. Samsung’s piloted Sports Live feature lets fans choose which stats they see, and the March Madness App from Apple TV allows fans to watch two sports on a split screen. To take it one step further, emotional and mood recognition technologies will eventually allow fans to physically interact with on-screen content (think: wave your hand to watch an instant replay) and virtual reality will allow people to toggle between athlete, referee and fan.
Fans Demand More from Their In-Venue Experiences
Finally, it’s no secret that venues have been struggling to attract fans. Tickets are getting more expensive and as we mentioned, in-home viewing experiences are getting better by the day. So, fans need extremely unique and memorable experiences to entice them to swipe their credit cards and swap their couches for stadium seating.
The concept of the “smart stadium” continues to gain traction, and perhaps no team is ahead of the trend more than Amsterdam soccer team AFC Ajax that plays at Johan Cruyff Arena. When it plays host to the UEFA European Football Championships next year, the arena is expected to be a technical, data-driven marvel. A new digital platform allows fans to connect to the stadium via smartphone for directions from home to their seats, including real-time traffic updates and parking availability. Additionally, the system will allow Ajax to record and analyze every player’s movement and performance.
The industry has come a long way in 5,000 years, but one thing is certain when it comes to the industry’s future: in order to continue flourishing, sports properties will need to understand the lifestyle of their fans and continue to explore, and invest in, new ways to engage them.