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Steve Madincea | The battle for fan retention in the Covid-19 era

Steve Madincea, co-founder and managing partner at Fantastec, discusses ways rights-holders can turn to emerging technologies to engage fans at a a time when stadiums are closed and live viewership is falling. Steve Madincea December 10, 2020

Live sport has returned to viewers’ screens, but a return to pre-Covid viewership levels has yet to be achieved. Sky’s Premier League viewership was down in October and tennis’ US Open hemorrhaged 45 per cent of its viewership this year. This poses the question: why are fans tuning out when lockdown restrictions on our social lives suggest we should be glued to our screens? As the virus rumbles on, followers of the beautiful game are greatly missing their sense of community. Social media can only deliver so much before fatigue quickly sets in. Superficial likes and follows are down significantly from their heyday as they cannot provide the meaningful connections fans crave so dearly. So how do clubs with a massive international following find new ways to engage across the globe? How can teams interact in meaningful ways with the new mobile-first generation? How can they engage them with a shared appreciation of the new pandemic sporting spectacle?

A changing game

Live match scheduling has been altered like never before because of the delayed start to the football season, and multiple sports are now competing for fans’ attention simultaneously. Without live fans in stadiums, there is also a sense these games are in some way less important. Together, these factors have combined to create an alarming drop in TV and online viewership. The theatre of the “grand occasion” has been diminished. Compounding the drop in TV and online views, the traditional revenue pillars for football clubs are crumbling. Teams can no longer entertain tens of thousands of fans on matchday at their expensive stadiums. As one example, Borussia Dortmund reported matchday revenue dropped from €8.6m in the first quarter of 2019/20 to €0.2m in Q1 in 2020-21. The team’s broadcast revenue more than halved as well. Sports fans are accelerating their desire to consume sport in something other than the traditional long form of media currently being served up to them, which means clubs must distribute content across multiple digital platforms to serve the modern fan. Access must feel unique and authentic, not contrived.

Can tech create new ways to connect?

A few pioneering teams are already experimenting with augmented reality, stats overlays, unique visual angles, and a host of innovative and immersive technologies. Others are offering VR headsets to stream visually enhanced matchdays into your home. Users can quickly become matchday producers with real-time stats, behind-the-scenes footage, and replay opportunities. The future is all about personalising the in-game experience for this massive worldwide digitally knowledgeable audience. Blockchain is the technology offering the biggest upside for new and valuable ways to connect with fans around the world and importantly protect a team’s intellectual property. Working with this unique decentralised business model allows clubs to maximise scalable direct-to-fan networks at a low cost and crucially in a secure digital environment. Clubs can motivate fans to share information through loyalty programmes, creating digital collectibles, memorable fan experiences and other incentives in exchange for critical fan data now the domain of third-party platforms. It creates a genuine two-way relationship, keeping fans coming back for more. This increased visibility to all of a team’s followers’ interactions can only help clubs better define more customised and personalised fan experiences. Fantastec SWAP is an example of the way blockchain is being used to provide authentic and verifiable team assets to this mobile-first generation. Working with leading European football clubs such as Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, SWAP’s unique blockchain base was specifically created to enhance fan retention. Each SWAP digital collectible is an exclusive team asset and provides an irrefutable, unique record of this team IP. Player signatures, usually out of reach for the everyday global football fan, can now be secured at the click of a button and stored securely on the blockchain.

The route forwards

The financial tremor of the pandemic will continue to be felt for a long time, so a new way of thinking is imperative in every club’s recovery plan. Clubs must create new revenue streams immediately and ensure they are focused on growing and retaining their worldwide fanbase. It is vital teams focus on preserving and building the shared sense of community giving football its unique ability to connect and engage people from all walks of life. The path to sustainable growth lies in embracing new technologies with customised fan retention strategies. This will allow clubs to consistently reach worldwide audiences via different, innovative platforms with authentic and meaningful connections. This kind of retention methodology and thinking marks the beginning of a new era for fan engagement. Steve Madincea is co-founder and managing partner at Fantastec

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