Sponsorship and fan experience: what challenges for the coming sports year?

Sponsorship and fan experience: what challenges for the coming sports year?

How can we overcome the new challenges associated with the physical absence of fans in stadiums when sports competitions resume? How to ensure fan engagement while re-activating the impl…

How can we overcome the new challenges associated with the physical absence of fans in stadiums when sports competitions resume? How to ensure fan engagement while re-activating the involvement of sponsors? Involving and mobilizing fans has been the most important challenge among all the difficulties that had to be faced from the kick-off of the first European competitions, since the outbreak of the pandemic. While reducing the enthusiasm of the public for the event itself, partners and sponsors have been deprived of the usual means, tools and spaces, necessary for the continuation of projects developed within the framework of partnerships with clubs. These projects always took into account the physical presence of fans at the event as the only certainty among all the variables to be taken into consideration.

Every day, sport has to face the uncertainty resulting from the management of the health crisis caused by the COVID pandemic. This need, which is becoming more and more urgent, is pushing the public, sports institutions and governments to take care of the protection of the entire sports environment: from athletes to fans. If in France the debates revolve around the gauge of 5,000 spectators, the physical absence of fans in stadiums is being acted on in many countries, at least until the beginning of the year 2021 and this leads the entire sports industry to look for an innovative perspective to stay in touch and activate the fans: if they are physically away from the event, they must remain emotionally involved and strongly attracted to the game on the field.

The stadium experience has to turn into home entertainment. This transition marks a change in the approach to show sport that goes from the “face-to-face” experience to the “immersive” experience. The first is based on maintaining a separation between the media and the fans as if their paths did not intersect. With the immersive approach, the media becomes the way to capture the gaze of the fans and take them to a dimension different from that of the real, but which reminds them of the face-to-face experience in the stadium, lived before the pandemic. Fans can thus benefit from new digital experiences, with the use of tools and platforms to which the lockdown period has now accustomed them.

The sports industry must take into consideration this substantial change that affects both the distribution and consumption of content. This change must be linked to the many other strategies to improve the offer of home entertainment for fans. That’s what a lot of clubs, leagues and international bodies are already doing.

Home sport: from Major League Soccer in the US to UEFA

Sports leagues and clubs want to make their fans benefit from an offer appropriate to the experience at home, which should be immersive and differentiating. The “Cheer from home” initiative, developed by Heineken and MLS (Major League Soccer), is a concrete example of this. Football fans in the USA can take a selfie while toasting from home, post the photo on the official account @Heineken_US with the hashtag #CheerFromHome and receive at home a package containing the necessary to reproduce the atmosphere of the stadium at home. The box contains an authentic replica of a stadium chair, food to be consumed during the game and other gadgets of the Heineken brand. Fans in some cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco can even receive a six-bottle pack of Heineken 0%, the new non-alcoholic beer launched recently.

Sponsorship commitment: new opportunities and new markets

These initiatives, taken as part of joint club and sponsor strategies, add value to sponsorship agreements. They develop a kind of commitment, to see possibilities never explored before. Clubs can offer new added value to existing contracts with their partners and reactivate relationships that were previously partially or completely severed with the outbreak of the pandemic. Clubs can find and follow alternative paths with their partners to create a new dynamic with fans through innovative opportunities to gain visibility.

Often, the experiences made by the clubs influence the choices of the leagues, which analyze the means implemented and the results of these actions. As a function, they decide to take inspiration from these examples and invest in synergies with sponsors, ready to access new ways of interacting with its audiences. Today it is necessary for companies and clubs and leagues, to imagine a different future, which could be much more exciting in the field of technology.

Technology and Sport: Oculus Quest and Playstation VR

The sports industry needs to focus on innovative concepts, based on a higher level of technology, such as that of MLB (Major League Baseball) in the United States. The league offers a virtual reality platform that offers the opportunity to experience the game in a much more interactive way thanks to Oculus Quest. This device differs from the others: it is a stand-alone helmet, also called an all-in-one visor, which can be used freely and does not need to be connected to a PC or smartphone. This device can easily track hand movements and guarantee an immersive experience like never before. Fans become more engaged and have a truly immersive experience, since the device allows them to move, walk and interact in a specific area without additional sensors or cables.

At the same time, Sony is working on an updated version of Playstation VR for Playstation 5. The latest generation console is supposed to be launched on the market this winter, to attract Playstation fans but also to retain those earned during the lockdown period.

Serie A or Ligue 1, the same challenge: shaping new ideas and digitally involving sponsors

The 2020/2021 football season in Italy will probably be played behind closed doors. Unless the spread of the pandemic can be strictly controlled and the logistics of the venues can be adapted, fans will not be able to physically attend the competitions but they will have new opportunities to engage with their team thanks to the digital experiences resulting from the lockdown period. Other leagues and clubs, sports or foreign, will provide examples that can inspire Italian clubs. Creativity and the ability to engage technology partners and sponsors willing to get involved will be crucial. They will have to be ready to understand the new dynamics of interaction with fans in order to develop a sports experience at home. By showing these features, Italian clubs will offer new experiences and sponsorship opportunities. As a result, clubs and sponsors will generate new sources of income.

With 0 or 5,000 spectators, the choices of Ligue 1 will have to be oriented in a specific direction: to make the virtual fan experience a recognizable and immersive process. The supporter’s path is supposed to cross the path of the event, if only virtually. This development will be supported by both sponsors and technology. An era of radical changes for the sports entertainment industry awaits us: the key to winning on the field will also be to quickly observe, develop and adopt new solutions.

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