8 Takeaways From The 2014 Sports Fan Summit Conference

As I learned in my recent podcast with Sean Callanan of Sports Geek, sports fans around the world share a lot of common traits, desires, and options and, therefore, sports business ideas are relevant at the global level. Australia, Callanan’s home country, recently hosted a conference – the Sports Fan Summit – at which leaders throughout the sports business world converged to discuss the present and future of fan and brand engagement, driving venue experiences and ticket sales, and more.

After building a recap of the event, here are 8 key takeaways, based on the portions of the event shared on Twitter.

1. The biggest $$ comes from TV rights fees and gate, but opportunity is in mobile

The huge valuations and revenue growth in sports have largely come from increasingly exorbitant rights fees from media networks with trusty ticket sales providing a reliable boon. But as the so-called bubble gets bigger and the finite amount of content, and time in the day, becomes more difficult to navigate, the industry must evolve. Instead of trying to squeeze more dollars out of broadcasts and ticket sales, the field must shift and colonize (monetize) the new, growing frontier – mobile.

2. Rights are going away from participation and more toward activation

We’re a long way from logos and presenting sponsors and the sentiment expressed at the conference reinforced that notion. While the time-honored assets still hold value, partners want to move away from being passive participant to more active participation – being part of the fan discussion and truly engaging with fans. This is how activation is most effective – building relationships between a brand and fans through emotional ties, spirit, values, utility, and empathy. The notion of passive, static sponsorship is, thankfully, a thing of the past, it would appear.

3. WOW your fans

(Note: This can apply to any industry) While those working in a business of frequent transactions (in sports, those in Major League Baseball hosting 81+ home games can agree!) have it it a bit tougher to constantly and consistently “wow” their fans, this principle can and should guide your messaging, campaigns, events, and activations. When fans interact with your brand, you want them coming away with a story to tell (and want to tell), anticipating the next time, and blown away by the experience, regardless of which facet of the experience it is. Evaluate the fan experience holistically and “wow” them at each step.

4. Don’t just focus on the undiscovered fans and escalating casual fans – maximize and retain current fans

One of the speakers hammered home the frustration with too much of a singular focus, oftentimes, on finding new leads and building new customers and fans. While this is a vital concern, it can’t be at the expense of retaining current, loyal fans. In fact, a statistic brought up at the conference reinforces this point – for one sales team, it costs five time more to successfully recruit a new fan than to retain a current one. On a related note, it was suggested to never neglect your most valuable and loyal customers. “Don’t undercut your best customer by facilitating your worst customer.”

5. Maximize the value of your audience

The valuable commodity that sports teams have that brands want is their huge, engaged audience. Don’t ever take this for granted and always give it proper value. A speaker from the National Football League, Julie Perlish, noted that last year’s Superbowl produced 1.8 billion social media impressions. Too often, social and digital media assets are throw-ins for marketers and sponsors, but the numbers are staggering and do not need to be discounted.

6. Don’t target fan niches one campaign or game at a time, integrate fan bases year-round. Be authentic

Perlish also emphasized, as did others in attendance, that targeting emerging and niche audiences like women and Hispanics cannot and should not be a one-off or series of one-offs. It needs to be built into the brand and integrated in everything an organization does year-round. These audiences are some of the most vocal and active when it comes to brand evangelism and only by building lasting relationships over time will this latent value be fully realized.

7. Empower your fans to live out your brand through your brand’s product

Fans are inspired by their teams (and brands they love) and the best activations lead fans to aspire to be greater, through integrating their experience with that embodied with your brand or product. This potential is incredibly strong in sports. As Jason Sargent, Managing Director at Red Bull Australia, noted: “Lifting the lid on athlete sponsorship and the power of Red Bull empowers success and dreams for sports fans.”

8. Don’t underestimate and under-utilize the value of social media listening

A key takeaway from the conference came from Jeramie McPeek of the Phoenix Suns and that is to never forget the value of listening. Social media, McPeek hammered home, is a quasi fan focus group, and to ignore this expression of fan sentiment isn’t just potentially irresponsible, but wasting. There are ample authentic fan insights and thoughts out there to be discovered (and shared across departments for actionable learnings). Fans will keep talking and posting whether you want them to or not; not listening is simply a loss.

The best part about the sports industry is the willingness (and eagerness) of its members to share and discuss ideas. This industry is truly global and thought leaders from around the world can constantly learn from each other. Thanks to everyone that helped share and spread some of the knowledge that came out of Australia in late June at the 2014 Sports Fan Summit!


Posted by Neil Horowitz

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