Courtney Jeffries is CEO of VRTL, a virtual event solutions company designed to be the virtual venue of fandom.
When it comes to fan engagement, there are two types of fans: those attending events in person, and those who are remote. As brands continue exploring holistic fan engagement strategies, including virtual solutions, a significant gap remains in both unmasking that remote fan and delivering a meaningful experience so they are properly secured into a revenue-impacting customer funnel.
In the sports industry alone, it is clear given the global nature of sports fans worldwide that not every fan can attend events in person. Stadiums and arenas can only fit an extremely small percentage of fan bases, leaving the majority of fans unaccounted for in data collection and revenue optimization.
Current solutions enable remote fans to stream games from their homes, but they often miss out on activities like merch stores, half-time shows and meet-and-greets with the players. This tells me that many event organizers aren’t thinking of fan engagement beyond the arena, which makes it more difficult to retain fans who are unable to attend in person. Given that fans are the main source of revenue when it comes to sporting events, this creates a major problem for sports marketers. Fortunately, there are solutions and best practices they can utilize to combat this issue that I have learned through my years of experience in the industry.
Strategies For Engaging Your Entire Fan Base
When planning for a sporting event, whether it be a game, fan fest or launch, it is important to keep those who are loyal but unable to attend in person in mind. Doing so will ensure that these fans remain a priority throughout the planning process and don’t become an afterthought.
Researching and targeting partnerships that specialize in fan engagement is an effective way to contest this problem if resources are not available in-house. Specialists can create a platform to host remote fans and ensure it is done effectively. Their industry knowledge also eliminates the guessing game because they can implement strategies with proven success. If a partnership is beyond the event planner’s budget, there are still opportunities to adapt current assets to include fans who are watching beyond the arena.
Creating engaging experiences to supplement what is currently available to the remote fan will not only assist with virtual retention throughout the event but can also create “buzz” among those who are tuning in. Offering experiences that help remote fans feel like they are at the event is likely to translate into commentary on social platforms, which can help expand the brand’s advertising reach.
For example, event marketers can utilize QR codes that lead fans to a swag or merch store or even offer exclusive deals or products to those who have tuned in. Another route could be to offer player meet-and-greets during or after the event that are available to those who aren’t lining up on location. A public forum or chat during the stream also allows for shared commentary among virtual attendees, mimicking the chat and banter that occurs in the bleachers. These simple yet effective additions to what is currently available can significantly elevate the experience for remote fans with minimal effort and expense.
What To Avoid When Planning To Engage Virtual Fans
Getting sucked into the idea that selling out an arena is enough is one of the main things to avoid when planning to engage the remote fan base. Most event planners are satisfied with a sold-out event, but this accommodates a mere fraction of potential revenue drivers. While a broadcast may support this revenue through commercials and streaming numbers, it does not actively engage fans or ensure they don’t change the channel. Keeping these fans top of mind when planning for a sporting event can result in increased retention throughout the stream and avoid the loss of active users.
Another practice to avoid is the overuse of virtual terms when marketing this solution. Virtual fatigue has become a major problem for marketers who continue to incorporate a surge of solutions to align with Covid-19 protocols. Audiences have created their own connotations for these terms, some of which are negative. This can be incredibly counterintuitive to what you are trying to promote. Instead, describe the experience as if it’s happening in person. Don’t mislead fans into thinking they are getting a ticket to attend the event in person, but instead use methods and terms that create an exciting, positive narrative about the experience.
When planning for a sporting event in today’s climate, an arena-sized event is simply too small. The potential benefits of engaging the remote fan are hard to ignore and should not be overlooked. They include increased revenue, fan retention and even social commentary. Maximizing these solutions can elevate the layout of current sporting events while offering a better experience for the entire fan base—not just those you can sell a seat to.
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