Sponsorship, Soccer, Global

Opinion | The digital transformation of fan engagement through data-driven insight

AppsFlyer's Mariano Miculitzki on why now more than ever, it is important to gather as much information on fans as possible in order to create successful interactions.

by Mariano Miculitzki
Opinion | The digital transformation of fan engagement through data-driven insight

The digitisation of the way we watch, broadcast, attend, consume and engage with sports is ever-shifting. 2020 has been a year of immense challenges around the globe, and sports have become more important than ever as a way to unify and distract from the difficulties many are facing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

At the same time, it is undeniable that the industry as a whole has been greatly impacted. Seasons were paused for months on end, or in some cases cancelled altogether. While most elite level competitions have now resumed, many play out in front of greatly-reduced crowds if not altogether empty stadiums. The fan experience has shifted in ways that were inconceivable twelve months ago, and that has created a need for sports institutions to adapt and become more agile in how they reach their audience. 

Mobile marketing – as well as the data and technology that powers it – has opened up all-new avenues for sports brands to engage with consumers. It is this data-driven insight that is part of a digital transformation that is helping to drive brand awareness, satisfy fans and meet commercial objectives through unique marketing techniques.

Gaining a competitive advantage through data

Sports are arguably one of the industries best-placed to benefit from this level of digital transformation, because the value proposition is immensely desirable for the consumer. With iOS 14 ushering in a new age of mobile privacy, mobile users will be more conscious – and wary – than ever about consenting to data being used by apps. 

Big brands, like sports teams and broadcasters, are likely to have an advantage here. Fans and viewers can easily see the value in giving consent for their data to these brands in terms of a personalised service. There is also likely to be a high level of trust in the brands themselves, particularly with the teams that the fan supports. A fan of Spanish soccer giants Barcelona may, for example, be happy to be targetted with specific offers, discounts and items due to their strong affinity with the brand itself. 

Despite this advantage, this remains a highly-competitive industry, and user acquisition is a huge challenge to be solved as part of this digital transformation in sports. This is where strategic use of data has a major role to play. The goal is not simply to acquire new users, or re-engage old ones, but to ensure that those targeted are high-quality users that will help meet commercial objectives.

Sports brands can leverage this data in a huge range of ways, to meet multiple goals. We already know that when a soccer club makes a new signing from overseas, that represents a prime opportunity to grow that club’s brand awareness and acquire new fans in that territory through a marketing campaign directed at fans from that nation. But strategic use of user – and device-level data, plus audience segmentation – can greatly enhance the return on investment from campaigns like this. It allows marketers to push beyond the surface level and understand return on ad spend in specific countries, which creatives drive the most conversions, the spread of daily active users from individual campaigns, and much more.

Large-scale events such as National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, the Super Bowl, the Champions League final or the Olympics are tailor-made for targeted campaigns that sell pay-per-view (PPV) packages to non-subscribers. Marquee fixtures like el Clásico also represent ideal remarketing opportunities: the technique of identifying lapsed users and then re-engaging or reactivating them through specific targeting. 

Understanding what acquisition channels work best is one of the keys to driving growth and user retention for apps. Barcelona used AppsFlyer’s Smart Banners designed to turn mobile web visitors into users of their own official app as part of a campaign around one of the el Clásico matches, with the game itself only viewable in the platform. They targeted by geolocation and language, and this helped them to not only capture higher-intent users but also transition them smoothly from their website to their app.

Leveraging social platforms

Sports and social media were made for each other, and sports brands were not slow to realise this. Across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and newer players like TikTok and Snapchat, fans are now connected to athletes and teams in ways that were simply not possible even as recently as fifteen years ago. It’s a level of personal connection and interaction that goes far beyond simply seeing athletes competing in their day jobs: it’s behind-the-scenes access to their professional (and in some cases, personal) lives. 

From a broadcaster or league perspective, fans are used to having clips of action drip-fed into their timelines within minutes of them happening, whether it is a dramatic late goal in the Premier League or a must-see touchdown catch in the National Football League (NFL). Real-time reaction to sporting events by fans has been a part of the experience for a long time, but it’s arguably even more important in a post-Covid world: social media interaction is no longer an enhancement to the fan experience, it is the fan experience.

With this comes immense brand affinity and the levels of trust mentioned earlier – and through that comes the opportunity for sports brands to leverage these social platforms to drive brand awareness and meet their commercial objectives through intelligent marketing. 

The value of accurate data and audience segmentation

Part of this digital transformation centres around the sheer volume of data available to marketers – and the huge variety of data points. We can see different user inputs, determine multiple touches by the same users across different devices (for example from web to mobile), and build a picture of user behaviour – all for the benefit of the business.

Measuring and optimising campaign performance is a key step to this process. Accurate mobile and over-the-top attribution ensures that every app install (or other conversion deliverable) is attributed to the marketing campaign and media source that drove it, right down to the network, audience segment, or specific ad creative. Via near real-time reporting, brands can adjust budget and targeting on the fly, maximising their return on ad spend.

Accurate attribution also opens up the ability to track multiple touches by fans before a conversion takes place. It is common for users across all marketing industries to interact with multiple ads (such as promoted tweets or Instagram Stories) before they reach the final decision to sign up or install. Mobile marketers now have the power to track each step of the process, to see which ads and platforms “assisted” the conversion along the way.

This accuracy feeds into the flexibility and sophistication of audience segmentation needed to engage with relevant sports fans in meaningful ways. We touched earlier on how sports audiences are used to connecting with brands in real-time – indeed, it is an expectation that sports brands will serve the latest clips and updates as soon as humanly and technologically possible. Accurate data allows marketers to connect to the right fans at the right time, capitalising on emotional sporting moments to achieve maximum impact. 

Wrapping up

It is been a year unlike any other, and although we head into 2021 with hopes for a return to normalcy, sport has arguably been changed forever by the last twelve months. The digitisation of the fan experience was already well underway, but has been accelerated rapidly by the pandemic. 

The success of the sports industry, like so many others, rests on its ability to stay agile in these challenging times. Data-driven insight, leveraged through intelligent marketing campaigns and powered by today’s technology, will help the industry to reach, engage, and grow its audience, guaranteeing a bright future.