How can UK venues and rights holders prepare for the next generation of fans?

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

The Maverick Group consider the evolution of fandom and how marketers can keep up.

Every team, stadium and venue owner will tell you the fan comes first – but is that the reality? Nick Addecott, director sports & entertainment at The Maverick Group explores whether venues are doing enough to keep fans happy and returning week after week.

Historically, UK sports have enjoyed fierce loyalty from fans, but times are changing. As new generations become sports fans, it’s time for rights holders to raise their game.

Meet the new, digitally-savvy fan

The way Gen Z and millennials consume entertainment has changed, and so have their expectations. With a vast digital universe surrounding sports and teams, many fans approach the whole experience in the virtual sphere. Betting, predictions, teams news, fan base communication – devices are the first stop for the digitally savvy fan.

Rights holders have an incredible opportunity to tap into this world by embracing an increasingly sophisticated array of technology. Retaining and winning fans starts with enhancing the fan experience – both virtual and live events. By creating a true ‘fan-first’ experience, designed for today’s digital audience, rights holders have the potential to future-proof their business.

Make match day about more than the match

The key is to create a seamless, frictionless, engaging experience that excites fans as much as their team’s performance. To make match day about more than the actual match.

A lot of stadiums in the UK are old buildings that rely on season ticket sales to fill seats. It’s the traditional model, but that doesn’t mean the fan experience has to follow suit. By applying a data-driven digital strategy, stadiums can improve fan experience and engagement, leading to a more personalized, relevant and enjoyable experience. The revolution has begun, but it’s in its infancy.

With the majority of UK stadiums at the early stages of their digital journey, we need to look abroad for inspiration. Let’s take a trip across the pond for a truly 21st century fan experience.

What can we learn from the States?

The recent Super Bowl LVI at the newly-built Sofi Stadium in LA is a fantastic example of a full-blown, well-designed, digitally immersive experience. Earlier this year, Sofi’s owners launched the Hollywood Technological Alliance, a strategic steering group made up of 12 industry behemoths: Google, YouTube, Verizon, Samsung, Ticketmaster and Square to name but a few. Their remit was to help develop cutting-edge, modern interactions and solutions for their guests across sport, entertainment and retail. And, if some of the initiatives in play at the Super Bowl were anything to go by, the group is smashing it.

With the Sofi Stadium, the fan’s experience starts well before match day. Everything is perfectly packaged in the Sofi Stadium app, from the ticket purchase to the pre-visit info. You use the app to scan your digital ticket, pay for everything within the stadium, and log all your benefits, rewards and offers.

The app is a true match day companion – and that’s not all. It’s also a playground for the multitude of Sofi’s partners to engage and excite fans at the event and those watching around the world. For marketeers and brands, the virtual experience is becoming as important as the live experience: look at how Verizon used their technology to offer fans the opportunity to engage with seven different camera angles to watch the game the way they wanted. Their AI-powered Airship Battle was insane and brilliant.

What does this do for the venue owners?

Firstly, and most importantly, it’s about data. Giving an organization the ability to own meaningful and insightful data is the most powerful thing we can do. As the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee once said, “Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves”. Being able to fully understand who is at your venue, who is watching virtually, and how they behave is the only way to effectively grow your business.

Through data and insight, venues can create a more personalized, enjoyable and relevant experience for every single fan. It will allow them to create a truly 365 business and have the power to engage with fans every day of the year. At the same time, data will enable venues to create more meaningful and creative partnerships and grow their global fan base. It’s the marriage of thrilling physical competition and next-generation technology. Everyone’s a winner.

At The Maverick Group we are excited to be going on this journey with stadiums and rights holders in the UK. Our combined expertise means we can create a truly integrated and connected ‘fan first’ experience for iconic sports venues and help grow and future-proof their business.