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COMMENT: Enhancing fan engagement during lockdown

By 8th December 2020 No Comments

Ian Sharpe, CEO of Promethean TV, on the efforts being made by the sports industry and sports TV to encourage and enhance fan engagement during lockdown, and some things that haven’t worked.

When we launched Promethean TV in 2016, the year 2020 seemed remote – a date with which to conjure the future. We talked about 2020 Vision and made predictions as to advances in online viewing. 2020 was to be an Olympic year, filled with golden opportunities for the sports industry. We even named ourselves after the Greek Titan Prometheus, whose name means forethought.

Of course, when 2020 rolled around for real, it proved the year that nobody saw coming. The Covid pandemic turned the world upside down. Without so much as a whistle, everything from the Premiership to pick-up matches in the park suddenly stopped. The simple act of spectating became cause for concern as stadiums everywhere were labelled as vectors of disease. Advertisers who planned to spend $48 billion globally on sports sponsorship, the strongest growth in a decade – up 5% on the previous year – abandoned their intricately laid plans.

I sit on the leadership board of the Sports Innovation Lab out of Boston, Massachusetts. At the end of this unimaginably long year, even as we grow accustomed to our ‘new normal’, I can attest that the best and the brightest minds in the sports industry are still grappling for answers as to how they can aid the return of fans and spectators to live sporting events.

And while we don’t have a sporting vaccine just yet, the prognosis is – at least – reassuring.

The Road to Recovery

The modern stadium is a veritable Colosseum, pulsing with multistorey video walls and a variety of entertainment from mascot antics to fireworks. The cost, both in match tickets and time commitment, was already high before Covid tipped the scales. To make matters worse for the clubs that own them, the stadium experience faces increasing competition from improved home viewing options, powered by better camera angles, the growth of augmented reality, and multi-platform, multimedia experiences.

Fortunately, one thing that hasn’t changed is our desire to be in the moment. In the Netflix age, where consumers are no longer tied to broadcast and cable schedules to catch their favorite shows, live sports have remained the exception. Sports is one of the last bastions of content that fans will go out of their way to watch live. This passion has always equated to revenue for sports teams, advertisers, and OTT streaming and broadcast media companies. The key is finding the right way to tap into that passion.

A Taste of Your Own Medicine

Of course, it isn’t as simple as trying to simply replicate stadium ticketing – which the English Premier League seem to have found out the hard way. They have faced a wave of criticism for charging fans to watch some games via pay-per-view, on top of regular subscription fees. Five matches per round not initially selected as part of broadcast packages were made available via Sky Sports Box Office and BT Sport Box Office as a way to generate revenue – but in some cases fans decided to give an equivalent amount to charity rather than pay what they saw as an exorbitant price tag. Viewing figures for the Pay Per View matches remained undisclosed – a likely sign of abysmal take up.

Build It And They Will Come

The backlash is proof that even the most ardent fans are concerned about affordability in the middle of a pandemic. Thankfully, there are other ways to recreate the stadium experience that might be more palatable to the risk-averse.

One notable trend in 2020 has been the amount of consumers who have embraced e-commerce and online ordering, driven by the necessity of global lockdowns. Seeing the shift from physical to digital, advertisers have been quick to follow them with online campaigns, able to see a measurable ROI that is often lacking from sponsorships. Big Tech showed huge growth for advertising revenues in Q3, a trend that other broadcasters can capitalise on with the right offering. The same Big Tech is increasingly encroaching into bidding for sports rights – armed with revenue and opportunity, it is no secret that they pose an existential threat to traditional broadcasters.

Big Tech has found new ways to keep fans engaged and capture their attention with compelling, authentic experiences. While the single most important factor for sports fans remains the quality of the broadcast or stream, Deloitte published research last year that suggested that overall satisfaction was only 39 percent for the broadcast and OTT experience. That leaves significant opportunity for continued technological advancement for fans looking to consume sports across devices and integrate augmented reality, social media, and gambling into their viewing experience.

Utilising a captive audience for growth

There is no better time to expose adrenaline-starved viewers to new broadcasting technologies, and the viewing levels and captive audience for live sport on television will rarely be higher. Many fans are reliant on watching sport on television all year round and will be reluctant to return to sporting venues for some time to come.

At Promethean, we’ve rolled out a number of these technologies in South East Asia, a region that is making great generational strides in connecting with its consumers, either through the ubiquitous mobile phone or easily accessible Set Top Boxes. We’ve had success with live Man of the Match polls; interactive advertising during half-time; and coupons that encourage one click e-commerce. Our broadcast partners allow their audiences to literally tap into passion.

New technologies are here to stay

Ultimately, improving the broadcast and OTT experience has the potential to improve overall fan satisfaction for the clubs as well, resulting in increased opportunity for better financial outcomes. More than 60 percent of fans surveyed correlated a great broadcast experience with becoming more engaged with the team, as well as being more likely to both watch and attend a game, and nearly 40 percent felt closer to team sponsors.

Sport as we know it won’t return to a normal capacity for a significant period of time. For broadcasters, opportunities to further develop their technologies and interactivity to allow fans to connect better with their teams in a virtual environment will only continue to grow, improve, and find better ROI with a captive audience.

Let’s continue to build on a virtual sports network to keep fans close to the club they love.

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