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The Rise of Virtual Fan Experiences - Better Than The Real Thing?

(Make sure to take our quiz below!)

In this new world of social distancing and stay at home measures, sports fans are missing out on attending games and meeting their sporting heroes in person.

Companies who provided opportunities to win match tickets and VIP experiences have had to think outside the box to deliver these prizes. Whilst the majority of teams and companies are trying to cater to their fans virtually, few have really knocked it out of the park.

Amongst it’s resurgence on the track, McLaren F1 have also brought in a revitalised digital marketing campaign over the last few years, focused on fan engagement and rewards. This meant McLaren were already in the mindset of turning something into an opportunity to reward fans.

The first example was during the 2020 F1 season where no fans were allowed at the races, let alone near the drivers. McLaren set up a contest to allow fans to do a Q&A over Zoom but what made it special was the setting of the F1 pit garages during a race weekend. This is something only family and invited guests have access to outside of the team.

The second example was for the launch of the 2021 McLaren F1 car where they made the livery reveal a big virtual event. They had a screen with a 100 strong fan wall, all with Mclaren branded caps. This was the backdrop for the driver interviews so the fans were a smiling billboard for the brand during the event.

The lesson to take from Mclaren F1’s virtual prizes is there is always an opportunity to include your fans virtually. The fans get the thrill of meeting their heroes and the company gets brilliant material for marketing.

Another which stood out in virtual fan engagement is NBA team ‘The Golden State Warriors’. Located in the most expensive seats in the house, behind the home team’s bench, a massive screen filled with fans watches on.

Whilst players can see the screen and see the support, the fans have access to multiple camera angles during the game. Imagine being able to teleport across the court to catch the best view! Other features include splitscreen views, virtual chat rooms to talk to other fans and direct communication with the players as they prepare to walk on to the court.

This type of fan engagement is important in two ways; firstly it keeps the fans connected. This is the most obvious point and is the main focus of any team trying to keep their fans. Secondly, it keeps the players connected to the fans. We all know how much atmosphere fans bring and how motivating fans can be. So for the players to interact with their fans and to see them cheering from afar brings back a little bit of the home team advantage.

This all sounds great, however, will it ever beat being there in person? Time will tell.

What can really compare to having your photo taken next to your favourite athlete or watching the final moments of a race from the grandstands? Millions, maybe even billions of fans may never attend a live event or get the chance to meet their favourite sport’s hero in person. With the massive global reach sports has, these virtual experiences are the best way of engaging worldwide fans. As they continue developing, fans will have more access than ever before to the sports they love.

What’s your ultimate virtual fan experience? Take our 2-minute survey and tell us what you crave...

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