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July 30, 2021

Data scores big for the sports fan experience

Here’s how sports leagues and teams can boost the fan experience through personalization and real-time data analytics.

Sports are about head and heart, or so the traditional thinking goes. Now, though, another crucial element is impacting the sports industry: data. Instead of eroding the inherently human qualities of playing and watching sports, though, data is enhancing them, enabling leagues and teams to capitalize on the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model and attract more players and fans. By promoting the excitement of sports, leagues and teams also gain big business outcomes through an improved fan experience.

Most leagues and teams are rookies at tackling data and managing fan relationships. They also face a DTC pipeline that’s more fragmented than in other industries, featuring multiple stakeholders with hugely varying needs that rely on different platforms and channels.

For example, while some fans consume sports through streaming services and traditional broadcast channels, others purchase tickets through stadiums and web-based ticket services. Enthusiasts shop for merchandise at online and physical stores. Teams share performance analytics in one form for coaches and players, and another for fans. Segmentation and personalization are highly complex.

What’s more, the sports industry faces stiff competition from the entertainment sector for consumers’ time and attention. The biggest competitors for leagues and teams aren’t necessarily other sports but YouTube and Netflix. They’re in a competition for eyeballs.

The role of personalization

Capitalizing on DTC means hyper-personalization on steroids. In the UK, the Football Association (FA) is the governing body for all of football, and it manages a diversity of revenue and stakeholders that includes not only grassroots, senior and professional teams but also 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium. After a year of cancelled matches and limited play, the FA is putting data to work to coax people back into the game — and seeing big gains.

To make it happen, it’s relying on a next-generation engagement platform that we created to power tailored messaging for the FA’s many stakeholders. For example, to feed the association’s need for building elite women’s and men’s senior leagues, we developed a digital app for pre-teens and teenagers that offers engagement tools such as online gaming and social media to successfully compete for their attention.

The FA’s future vision includes serving up real-time analytics during matches, offering data-hungry fans on-field performance details like the latest stats on England captain Harry Kane.

It’s personalization at its most complex, and the FA is already seeing results. An initiative that encourages young girls to join football clubs resulted in 60,000 new participants, according to the FA. In addition, its new stadium hub triggered a 25% jump in youth registration for ticket sales, the FA notes. Through the next-gen platform, the FA expects to manage 1.5 million players this year.

Breaking through barriers

The FA isn’t alone in taking a deep dive into personalization. Legendary Formula 1 racing champion and automaker Aston Martin is looking to target and nurture a diverse racing fanbase in addition to the high-net-worth individuals who buy its iconic cars. Global racing competition SailGP is similarly looking to broaden its followers. (Cognizant is a sponsor for both organizations.)

Both motorsports and sailing face the same hurdle: Opportunities to engage are limited compared with other sports. While it’s easy to start kicking around a ball, barriers to entry are much higher for getting behind the wheel or on the water.

Engaging and expanding the fanbase is key for both sports. To connect fans with a product they can identify with and consume, Aston Martin is exploring development of custom fan experiences tailored to individual interests. For example, it hopes to use data to create one experience for fans who are longtime admirers of the brand and focused on this season’s car and engineering feats, and another for those who are, say, avid followers of driver Sebastian Vettel. (Click here for more details on how Cognizant is partnering with Aston Martin to modernize its business.)

And then there’s the power of convergence: Nielsen attributes its prediction for big growth in F1’s fanbase not only to Netflix’s popular series Formula 1: Drive to Survive but also to young drivers’ presence on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.

We’re also partnering with SailGP to improve audience insights and enable data visualization. Our team is leading a CRM implementation to help SailGP manage fan data in a single database and communicate better with fans to deepen engagement and increase the  viewing audience. To capture the exhilaration of sailing in one of the race’s hydrofoil-supported catamarans, SailGP’s plans to include an immersive fan experience that shares real-time metrics such as sailors' heart rate and supercharged boat speeds that can break 50 knots as the catamarans fly above the water.

Standing out in the world of entertainment

For the sometimes insular world of sports, DTC and personalization are about much more than technology. They require a mindset shift for leagues and teams as they take on increasing responsibility for fan relationships and experiences.

Monetization is a motivator, but so is necessity. As viewers face a tidal wave of content and entertainment options, mastering sports’ changing playbook is helping leagues and teams to stay in the mix.

David Ingham
Client Partner, Media, Entertainment & Sport
Picture of  DIgitally Cognizant author David Ingham

David Ingham is a Cognizant Client Partner for Media, Entertainment & Sport. He manages The Football Association, Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team and SailGP, among other clients, working on engagement, audience analytics & digital products.

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