• Darren Thang

Reimagining, reinventing and redefining the fan experience in Asia Pacific to a whole new level



APAC marketing manager Darren Thang observes that sports brands in the region are primed and already evolving, delivering the optimal omnichannel experience that fans crave.


Sports lie at the cutting edge of culture and little else triggers more passion on a global scale than the fan experience. It is the ultimate melting pot, bringing together people of all races, ages and ideologies. Despite the venerated position sports has in our lives, the fan experience has remained largely unchanged throughout time. However, as consumers’ consumption behaviour and expectations change with the advancement of technology, and the recent pandemic, sports brands need to be prepared to reimagine, reinvent and redefine the fan experience to a whole new level.


The truth is, sports brands and stakeholders have seen the importance of change for some time, and have embraced digital transformation for years, notwithstanding at a rather sluggish pace. However, the focus has always been on achieving excellence in terms of performance and results, which is assumed to automatically drive the rhythmic, loud chanting and most importantly, the attendance of most, if not all fans. As a business, the goal will always be getting fans to be loyal, getting their continuous support, which will hopefully translate to paying consumption and ultimately driving revenue.


Troubled times for sports brands due to the pandemic


With the sudden inception of the pandemic, we can all agree that the sports experience has been altered forever. Competitions and events were cancelled for long periods of time and even when they eventually continued, they were held in empty stadiums, or arenas. Athletes had to adapt, to become used to extended periods of isolation and ironically competing on the world’s biggest stages without the immense roar of the crowd.


And when the stadiums and arena doors finally opened, the results were not reassuring. Inevitably, there are increasingly more choices for fans’ attention and Covid has accelerated that trend. In short, fans are forming their new habits and unfortunately, this involves them decreasing, or even abandoning their engagement with certain options, such as sports, entirely.


Not all doom and gloom - light at the end of the tunnel


As the saying goes, sport without fans is soulless, as they are the lifeblood of the game. What is continuously evolving are the ways that fans experience sports. It is imperative for sports brands to recognise the value and importance of fan engagement by evolving alongside them.


When fans are placed at the centre of a sports brand’s strategy, it focuses on the value brought to them and the experience they have receiving that value. A study by Bain and Company showed that successful sports brands understand how they stack up against competitors and have precisely chosen new elements to deliver over time. Which value exchanges a sports brand should focus on developing will depend on their unique situation - for the new experiences to resonate enough with fans, to capture and keep their attention, they must have a clear value.


It has been observed that sports brands are increasingly dedicating more time and resources toward cultivating a strong relationship with their fans. Buzz phrases such as endeavouring to create a personalised fan experience, allows them to better understand and better serve their fans.


As such, sports brands are tapping into innovative emerging digital technologies to be at the leading edge of strengthening fan engagement on social media, inside stadiums and arenas, and digital platforms such as mobile apps.


The Life of a Connected Fan - The Omnichannel (Embedded Finance) Experience


The fundamental principles of being a sports fan remain the same: it is all about engaging with favourite athletes, or brands, building a sports-centred community and experiencing amazing moments.


The omnichannel experience can start with the first customer interaction on digital platforms. This is why first and foremost, sports brands need to invest into more relevant content for their digital platforms, sharing historical and long form clips via social media, and increasing the type of content provided to their partners. The multi-platform approach allows fans to consume both freemium and premium paid content using their preferred platform and supports constant engagement, even when it is not “match day”.


The next stop on the fans’ journey could be the purchase of tickets and this can be done easily through digital platforms. If fans are from overseas, they can also be directed to purchase other essentials such as accommodation, flights, insurance and even transport, such as car rental. More importantly, this provides sports brands with the perfect opportunity to cross sell - the opportunity for fans to order pre-game snacks and beverages, meals to be delivered seat-side, or even personalised and increasingly digitised sports merchandise and memorabilia, which can be traded amongst enthusiasts.


It is worth noting that according to Forbes, the market is worth a staggering $370 billion.


During key moments of the game, stadiums can send special offers to fans, also through digital platforms such as mobile apps, prompting them to make an impulse consumption after an important and amazing moment. Fans can also engage with in-play gambling, placing bets on before and during a game. Each digital touchpoint gives stadiums a better understanding of fans and how they engage. The data generates insights that will drive further strategies. As fans leave the stadium, they can be given loyalty rewards redeemable on their next engagement.


Out of all these experiences, it shows that while the main sporting event is still the most important aspect of the experience, it is not the only aspect anymore.


Tying it all together with embedded finance experience


Like any other consumers, fans will inevitably be exposed to the potential pain of paying - the cognitive dissonance one feels when making and wanting to make a purchase. Yet, that is the most important aspect that sports brands,or any businesses, has to be mindful of, is revenue for the business.


It has been proved that the pain of paying has been found to be stronger when paying physically. Therefore, building out an omnichannel experience, enabled by embedded finance experiences, will no doubt be the most optimal way for sports brands to gain the engagement and loyalty of most fans, given how it focuses on the value brought to them and the experience they have receiving that value. This means that as fans go through an optimal digital customer experience, the concept of finance should be as out of sight and mind as possible, to ultimately spur and encourage fans’ spending.


Most importantly, embedded finance turns anonymous visitors into known fans. Sports brands will be able to get insights into purchases and habits which can help them create personalised experiences to drive fan loyalty.


Conclusion


Gone are the days when engaging the fans meant offering them a standard program with all the players numbers as they walked in the event venues. Fans are passionate and inquisitive - they want to learn in depth about their favourite team and athletes and they want to do it rather impatiently.


Sports fans now not only expect, but demand convenience, cocktailed with an amazing experience and are simply not willing to settle for less. Thankfully for sports brands looking to elevate their matchday experience, technology is the great enabler and will only become increasingly important in the coming years to enhance this experience.


While embedding finance experiences reflect a global shift toward creating amazing moments for fans, it provides sports brands with opportunities to improve operations, build relationships with fans and increase their business revenue. Engaging with fans and providing a personalised experience has the potential to enhance fan loyalty.


To get the most out of this technological evolution, sports brands should partner with a trusted expert who understands sports, fans and the technologies needed to enable a richer finance experience for fans. Innovative technology solutions will increase both the enjoyment and engagement your fans will experience whether they are watching at home, or in the stadium.


Connect with our APAC team who are also sports enthusiasts as we are excited to partner with sports brands to co-create amazing moments that matter for fans. Use the power of Railsbank embedded finance experiences to create the rewards that fans desire, drive traffic to sponsors and deliver new fan generated revenues. Work with a single global partner, which removes the complexity, cost and time to market to achieve this goal with ease.