The Importance of Fan Engagement in Sports

The numbers don’t lie. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the big four professional sports leagues in the United States billions in lost revenue.
A screen with virtual meeting of fans via virtual platform
Many sports teams are now engaging their fans via virtual platforms

Covid-19 forces sports to adapt and survive

With the exception of the NBA loss, these figures don’t even take into account the impact of the virus on TV revenue. While other sources quote other figures, they’re all huge, and it’s impossible not to draw the conclusion that the virus has had a significant financial impact on teams and leagues alike.

Empty football stadium
Almost all sports stadiums have had to close their doors due to Covid-19

The picture isn’t any brighter when it comes to college sports. An analysis from Brookings reports: “The combination of these factors [limited crowds and fewer games due to COVID-19] is costing universities tens of millions of dollars and upending the underlying business model of college sports.”

Perhaps a bit less obvious, but possibly even more important than a drop in revenue, are loyal fans who are disengaging from their favorite teams due to limits or outright bans on attending games, unpredictable team health and scheduling aberrations.

Rekindling that fan engagement can take a long time. Although not a perfect comparison, consider the impact of the MLB strike of the mid-1990s. The highest per game attendance fell 20% in 1995, the year following the strike, compared to the previous high, and it took a decade for the league to set a new record.


Fostering fan engagement is more important than ever

It’s incumbent upon teams, leagues and universities to do whatever they can now to buoy interest and foster fan engagement.

A recent video discussion organized by the Sports Video Group examined what Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, and AMB Sports + Entertainment, have been doing to promote fan engagement this season.

While the effort has evolved as the season progresses, all of the steps are intended to build excitement and hold fan interest.

One on the speakers on the video, Julia Chongarlides, manager, Stadium Productions, at AMB Sports + Entertainment discussed this evolution. It included tactics as diverse as prompts by the P.A. announcer, “who has really good energy,” and family members introducing players coming out of the tunnel, to displays of live fans brought in remotely on the Halo Board—the circular-type video display at the top of the stadium, which has “brought a lot of energy to us,” she said.

A women speaks to the fans while a man is playing football
Atlanta Falcons players’ families provided pregame introductions prior to the home opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks. Image Credit: SVG

This was made possible by using technology such as TVU Partyline, which enabled AMB Sports + Entertainment to bring between 25 and 50 people into the stadium virtually and to respond in real-time to what is happening on the field, so their engagement with the team and the action is in sync and their excitement is contagious.

The same strategy is popular elsewhere. At the University of Alabama, fans are brought into Bryant-Denny Stadium virtually, appearing on the stadium’s new 30-foot-by-67-foot video display boards. Once again, TVU Partyline enables fans to react in real-time to the play on the field due to the super fast video roundtrip.

While nowhere near the level of excitement tens of thousands of cheering fans onsite can deliver, bringing scores of fans onto stadium displays virtually maintains connection with the fan community, while giving those watching at home the chance to share the emotions of the game.


Giving the power to the fans

In a related but slightly different case, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks leveraged Partyline‘s superfast 500ms latency to bring remote guests into the production of a special live-streamed virtual NBA draft party. As reported by the Sports Video Group, Partyline was used in conjunction with the TVU Anywhere broadcast-quality live transmission app for mobile phones for live off-site remotes.

A man in front of the screen with many virtual screens
TVU Partyline was used in the production of the draft party for NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Photo: Drew Frank, Atlanta Hawks

While each of these approaches aims to keep fans engaged during COVID-19 restrictions on attendance sporting events in person, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about how technology can be used once the pandemic subsides to promote greater engagement and make up any ground lost during the outbreak.

One rather obvious approach is to enable fans pre-game and post to shoot what’s happening on game day, submit their live video to the cloud and produce a livestream. Think NFL Game Day shot and produced by the fans.

While this concept could be modified for any sport, imagine thousands of college football fans equipped with TVU Anywhere on their mobile phones shooting tailgate parties live, streaming footage to the cloud and a university producer taking in all of those livestreams, switching between sources and pre-recorded segments using TVU Producer and streaming the show online and to social media sites.

Not only could a show like this supercharge fan engage, drawing in those at the game and at home more deeply, but also it could create new sponsorship, revenue and promotional opportunities for the athletic department and university.

While COVID-19 has upended the normal ways fans engage with their favorite teams, the sports leagues, teams and universities that are turning to technology to help maintain that connection are keeping the embers burning in the hearts of team faithful till things get back to normal. They may not be able to make up for the revenue losses they’ve experienced during the pandemic, but they can make the most of a bad situation by seeing to it that their fans still care about their favorite teams.

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