“Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours, where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on an acre or two of ground, where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park. Sport is a theater where sinner can turn saint and a common man become an uncommon hero, where the past and the future can fuse with the present. Sport is singularly able to give us peak experiences where we feel completely one with the world and transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential.” (George A. Sheehan)
For professional sport teams to connect successfully with fans and to enhance the total experience of attending a game, the team must strive to control what goes on before, during, and after the game. That may seem simple but it actually requires intensive and serious planning exemplified by the right strategy to follow to give fans what they want. As a supplement, teams must also seek to communicate effectively with fans before, during, and after the game to stage the game experience to build brand equity. One key lesson to add is that teams must ‘control what they can control’. The latter refers to the fact that sport teams often experience ups and downs and it is important to pursue to get fans to take ‘some kind of ownership’ over the team even though the team does not win all games. In professional sports, it is about winning but to create game experiences on that premise alone is not a good strategy. Instead, teams must sit down and design an effective game-day experience strategy with clear objectives, resource allocation, strategic partners and competence requirements.
Just to give a few benchmark examples or ideas on what to do before the game:
- In US sports leagues, ‘tailgate parties’ is a common phenomenon. It is heavily used in the NFL. Boston Red Sox of MLB has been allowed to make use of the area leading to Fenway Park on game days. This is used for controlled ‘tailgate parties’ where several segments of fans can buy food, drinks, merchandise etc. Controlling such events is an influential touchpoint to build a bridge between fans, sponsors, and other team stakeholders with the goal of enhancing the entire experience.
- Creation of instant messaging techniques or communication tools providing fans with the latest match news, interviews with fan representatives inside or outside the stadium, stadium food/drink specials, special offers from sponsors – conducted so that the game experience becomes a consistent experience of value for several stakeholder groups. The key is to produce integrated media impact surrounding the game experience and that involves various media platforms including traditional mass media, team web site, game-day catalogues, social media etc. Social media such as Facebook or Twitter may serve as a platform to control fan management. Pre-game promotions or special offers on these networks made available to followers containing a special code to gain access to stadium club level, sponsor lounge or pre-game speeches by team members. Other opportunities contain best pre-game photo where the winner will receive a seat visit by a prominent team member (can be shown on video screens in the stadium to enhance fan equity). And of course, sponsors can be integrated in this process to construct some commercial value.
- Events outside the stadium are popular among the strongest sports brands in the world. At all major UEFA competitions such as EUROs or UEFA Champions League Finals, there are fan zones, special events or specific sponsor locations in the city center or near the stadium. For sports teams, this can be applied in smaller scale but it is still imperative to take advantage of the commercial and fan assets, which are available. That may include street teams representing the team, ‘special walks’ to the stadium led by the official fan group, media portrayals from pubs, bars or restaurants known to host team fans.
- For any professional sports team, it is of high value to get people to attend the stadium hours before the game and spend time or money. To attract families for instance, it may serve a purpose to arrange pre-game parties and contests inside or around the stadium before the game, e.g. a ‘fun zone’ entailing kid-focused activities, contests, sponsor activation, sampling, music or lotteries. In the process of managing this, remember that the team represents a service culture where every employee or volunteer should meet and greet fans with a smile. Each employee sends a signal affecting the overall image of the team.
- Seattle Seahawks of the NFL & the ‘12th man’.
- Seattle Seahawks of the NFL & the Blue Thunder Drumline.
- Ohio State University has a tradition centered around the university’s ‘marching band’. The band meets in a large field house outside the stadium area. Walking from the field house to the stadium, the band has established a tradition around a parade, in which fans walk with the band to the stadium to attend a football game. It is a powerful tradition and Ohio State University’s stadium has a capacity for approximately 102,000 for American college football (huge industry).
- FC St. Pauli’s football team has proud traditions underscoring the story telling of the team. The team enters the field accompanied by the AC/DC song ‘Hells Bells’. An interesting feature about FC St. Pauli is that the club’s hardcore fans are placed under the VIP fan section behind the goal. It is an interesting appeal that the ‘Ultras’ stand beneath the VIP-area. The VIPs have often sent free beer down to the ‘Ultras’ – an extra twist in an exciting culture.
- The expression ’War eagle’ is more than just a ‘battle cry’ for fans of the Auburn Tigers collegiate football team. It is also an indication of a way to ‘greet’ fans and build a ‘sense of fan unity’. ‘War eagle’ is also the name of the eagle, which flies over the stadium before each home game and lands on the middle of the field. There are different myths associated with the eagle, click this link to learn about these myths.
Just to give a few benchmark examples or ideas on what to do during the game:
- Hamburger SV has found a very direct way to show the club’s appreciation of fan loyalty. At every home game, it is possible to nominate candidates for ‘fan of the day’. Criteria for nomination includes that the fan has expressed a high degree of loyalty or a remarkable effort to support the club, e.g. the fan has attended all away games during the season. As a surprise, the ‘fan of the day’ will be found by a TV-crew on game-day and will be placed in a ‘special seat’ at pitch level during the game. Click this link to learn more about HSV’s ‘fan of the day’ concept.
- Celtic Football Club from Scotland offers fans the opportunity to buy pictures and messages to be shown on the big video screens during game-day. Click this link to learn more.
- ‘Kiss Cams’ are very popular in the US. Even President Obama was caught on camera during a basketball game – click this link to see Obama on camera.
- Nike Shout is a social platform designed to give fans the ability to ‘shout out messages’ in support of your favorite team – “Nike Shout was a social installation designed to give fans a real voice, in real-time, on game day. With fans submitting messages of support for their team or favourite player via the Nike Football Facebook App or with #hashtags on twitter, messages would queue in real-time, before being displayed on huge LED displays that run the length of the field, during games.” (source: click here)
- Interview fans before the game and show it on the big video screens as half time entertainment.
- Create a contest where fans can win the right to announce the players or their favorite player when the game is about to begin. It is huge for fans to feel close to their idols.
- The ‘Golden Scarf Ceremony’ is a tradition linked to the home games of Seattle Sounders from the MLS. It is a pre-game/in-game tradition where fans recognize the effort of a person, who has done something remarkable for the local community or the soccer community in particular. The honored person is presented with a golden scarf, which he/she will lift over his/her head and signal to the fans to do the same. It is a great example of community outreach tying fans to the games and the club and it has given the club much positive exposure. Click here to learn more.
- FC Copenhagen from the Danish Super League has a tradition when the team plays the last home game before the summer. Fans are motivated to bring their inflatable water toys and let these free in the seating area to wander around. Click here to learn more.
- The ‘viral life’ surrounding professional teams can be brought into in-game experiences. For instance, Spike Lee & Carmelo Anthony collaborated on ’shooting a movie’ about Carmelo coming back to his home base in New York to play for the New York Knicks. That gave the Knicks a unique story to portray.
- The secret in dealing with in-game experiences is to implement activities, which add to the game experience while not detracting from fan enjoyment. So find out what fans want. For instance, music can be applied to accent moments of the game and/or to incite specific fan reactions. Find fun ways to entertain while creating value for sponsors!
- Portsmouth Football Club has engaged their fans heavily in creating good fan experiences. Click here to learn more.
Just to give a few benchmark examples or ideas on what to do after the game:
- When Schalke 04’s football team from the German Bundesliga built their new stadium ‘Arena auf Schalke’ (Veltins Arena), the stadium was built with a draught beer system to facilitate better and faster access to beer for the fans. Today, there is a ‘fan party atmosphere’ at the stadium after games and the beer turnover has been increased significantly. Click here to learn more about the stadium.
- Post-game wrap-up interview on court/field/ice is a good way, in which fans can connect with their idols after the game. It will keep the fans in the arena for a longer period of time.
- Contests where fans can win a player autographed item or win access to the locker room.
- Exit couponing where the club provides fans with offers for post-game entertainment (e.g. restaurants).
- A TV or radio show hosted at a sponsor’s pub or restaurant or in one of the lounges at the stadium.
- Post-game parties at Stadium Club/Restaurant.
- Post-match texts with ticket offers for next game.
In general, a point of differentiation is important. It is also essential to understand the factors, which actively define a good experience and to fully comprehend how experiences may facilitate revenue streams for the club and value for fans and other stakeholders without disturbing the core product, e.g. a football game. The core product must not find itself drowning in irrelevant commercial messages. In that regard, it is important to create a link between the core product, side events/related experiences so that the core product is enhanced. TV-screens in the toilets can prevent fans from missing key moments of the game. A ‘penalty shoot-out’ at half time during a football game where fans can win ‘interesting prizes’ may give sponsors relevant exposure and fans an experience directly connected to the core product.