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Sports Tech 101 - Part two: Fan and sponsor engagement

SportsPro has teamed up with Sports Tech World Series (STWS) to bring you monthly insights into the current challenges, industry trends, innovative use cases and future predictions in sports technology. Here, STWS head of North America Thomas Alomes casts an eye over fan experience solutions and tools designed to increase value for partners.

by Thomas Alomes
Sports Tech 101 - Part two: Fan and sponsor engagement

‘Sports technology’ is an inherently amorphous and unwieldy term. In truth, technology is having a revolutionary impact on all parts of modern sports, from how it’s played to how it's administered to how it’s consumed.

For the second of our monthly expert guides, we’re looking at sports tech applications for fan and sponsor engagement. In other words, solutions designed to enhance and improve the experience of the fan, or increase the value for the sponsor, including physical and digital offerings.

State of play

Fans are the beating heart of sports. The uniquely passionate and dedicated experience of fandom has long elevated sports above other pastimes and entertainment offerings. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic and the disastrous European Super League (ESL) has highlighted, this fandom cannot be taken for granted. Sports teams and leagues are fighting for the attention of their fans. Especially amongst younger demographics that expect a level of interactivity and personalisation that sports have not traditionally offered.

Fan engagement can often be a weak, vague term. At the end of the day, fan engagement is about monetisation. It is about understanding the value exchange at an individual fan level (i.e. how do you give fans what they want, how they want it and when they want it) and from sponsors (i.e. connecting brand partners with fans in a way that builds an authentic, positive relationship). Getting to know fans, their needs and their motivations is of the utmost importance for their long-term financial sustainability. Technology, digital and data hold the answer to gaining those insights efficiently and accurately.

Sports has been slower than most BTC industries in realising the benefits of owning first-party data, rather than having it sit on rented third-party platforms such as social media. This shift to first-party data in sports and many other industries has been accelerated as big tech feels data privacy and antitrust pressure from regulators. Examples include Google’s announcement earlier this year that it will stop enabling cross-website tracking and Apple’s iOS 14.5 update enabling iPhone owners to turn off apps’ ability to track them.

The gamification of the fan experience, whether at home or in the stadium, is an example of the way teams and sponsors are trying to convince fans to directly share their personal data whilst increasing the 'stickiness' of their app or product. The higher the quality of the data on each individual fan the more teams can personalise the content they receive, which leads to longer and more in-depth engagement, which leads to better quality data on the individual fan and so on and so forth.

Providing fans with fun interactive content like mini-games, challenges or quizzes (often with sponsored rewards or prizes) are a basic yet effective fan engagement solution. Prizes can be both physical and digital, including discount codes and digital collectibles. Provided the fan has a positive experience and something to show for their involvement they will begin to form habits around the use of the app or product.

Emerging trends

With competitions postponed or cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it forced the industry into creative, tech driven solutions to retain fans’ attention and provide the promised value for their brand partners. An example of this accelerated innovation is translating the traditional analogue stadium experience, physically limited to a few thousand fans, into a virtual offering that can be monetised across an unlimited global fanbase.

This is not to say that digital experiences will ever replace the physical. As a fan, there is nothing like being there in person. However, the globalised nature of sports means that the majority of fans will unlikely experience many games or events in person. This presents a great opportunity to create monetisable digital offerings that can bring more fans into the fandom regardless of where they are located.

An example is the Formula One Virtual Paddock Club. This was introduced in 2020 in partnership with Zoom as a temporary solution to further engagement while fans were not being able to be physically present. For the 2021 season, Formula One is set to charge fans US$400 each for a two-day Virtual Paddock Club pass, as compared to a few thousand dollars for the in-person trackside experience. This provides a new revenue stream without cannibalising existing offerings.

Another example is the Golden State Warriors' 'Dub Hub' which uses LED video boards to enable fans to speak directly with players as they pass through the tunnel onto homecourt. In the same way most Formula One fans won’t make it into the Paddock Club, most Warriors fans can only dream of courtside seats. These virtual offerings create a value add to existing membership packages or a new discrete inventory for out of market fans.

As more of these fan experiences are digitised, the tech platforms by which they are delivered must continue to develop to meet the high expectations of user experience. Although fans and sponsors have been willing to accept the pivot to platforms not necessarily 'built for purpose' of virtual experiences over the last year, as this digitisation entrenches into the 'new normal' fans will expect more from how these are facilitated. This is especially true for paid experiences.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have obvious roles to play in bridging the physical, digital divide. However, the prohibitive cost of VR headsets for the average fan is still a major hurdle in its widespread adoption. AR experiences, especially mobile-based filters and overlays offer a relatively easy way to engage fans and have seen the greatest traction so far which is set to increase with the widespread deployment of 5G.

What’s next?

Digital collectibles, most notably nonfungible tokens (NFTs), and fan token cryptocurrencies are the next emerging level to digital fan engagement. NFTs use blockchain technology to authenticate both ownership and veracity of a digital item. The highest profile NFTs in sports are digital highlight collectibles such as NBA Top Shot. Although the market has cooled on the value of these collectibles, we are the other side of the hype cycle and the immense broader potential applications of NFTs in sports is just being explored.

The same can be said for the wave of cryptocurrency powered fan tokens being launched by sports properties globally. A fan token is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) scalable, tokenised voting platform that leverages blockchain technology to give fans the opportunity to buy, trade and execute voting rights in their favourite sports teams, with fans purchasing their team's fan tokens using cryptocurrency.

Part of superstar Lionel Messi’s wage package at Paris Saint-German is paid in their own '$PSG Fan Token' with the token’s value more than doubling since Messi was linked to the club. The idea of using tech-powered digital currency as a way to augment the traditional sales structure is a burgeoning trend. Whether it is a financial sugar hit (and crash) or a sustainable engagement tool remains to be seen. But what is for certain is that sports can no longer take the fan’s engagement as a given.

Innovative Companies

Below is a sample of some innovative companies offering fan and sponsor engagement solutions.


Digital engagement and sponsorship activation

Enables teams to build and launch sponsored digital contests that grow connections, drive leads, and send offers instantly to fans in stadium or at home.

Notable clients: Sacramento Kings, Dallas Cowboys, Ohio State University, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Browns, Auburn University

Tradable Bits

Digital engagement and sponsorship activation

All-inclusive digital marketing platform for sponsorship activations, social aggregation and ecommerce-integrated Fan CRM system. Collects, analyses and activates first-party fan data

Notable clients: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), San Jose Sharks, Australian Football League (AFL), San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers


Digital engagement and app development

Develops custom mobile apps for teams and leagues. Providing fans with real-time stats, multimedia, streaming radio, social-media and mobile-video technology for in-venue instant replays. Also offers an IPTV product used by venues such as Kyle Field, the Mercedez-Benz Stadium and Banc of America Stadium.

Notable clients: National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), La Liga, AFL


Digital engagement and app development

All in one digital fan engagement and analytics platform. Helps sports organisations unlock new revenue streams through sponsor activations, integrated ecommerce, NFTs and fan engagement tools such as AR filters.

Notable clients: Chennai Super Kings, Tech Mahindra, New Mexico Ice Wolves, Jamaica Tallawahs, North American Hockey League (NAHL)


Social media content curation and distribution

SaaS platform that creates a central media exchange hub and private collaboration network to enable the collection, curation, organisation and distribution of short-form digital media. Automatically tags and routes this digital inventory to galleries based on their attributes, then distributes that digital media to groups of any size.

Notable clients: Paris Saint-German, German Football League (DFL), Rajasthan Royals, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Formula One

Latest funding: US$6M Series C (Dec 2020)


Social media content curation and distribution

INFLCR (pronounced influencer) is a SaaS platform for sports team properties to store, track and deliver their content across their influencer network of athletes, coaches, former athletes, media, etc. Each influencer can access their personalised gallery of content on their INFLCR mobile app, which they can use to download and share specific content to their social media platforms, with all influencer user activity tracked back to an INFLCR dashboard for the sports team properties. Acquired by TEAMWORKS in 2019.

Notable clients: Duke University, University of North Carolina, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Kansas University, Virginia Tech, University Kentucky, Texas A&M


Social media content curation and distribution

Social media publishing tool designed to help athletes curate, post and monetise their social media presence. Facilitates the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) new 'Athlete Marketing Platform', intended to provide an avenue for more Team USA athletes to access sponsorship money that’s often not available at an individual level. 

Notable clients: USOPC, National Hockey League (NHL), Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), NFL Players Association (NFLPA), Minnesota Vikings, US Figure Skating, University of Texas at Austin, Louisiana State University, University of Florida


Fan tokens

A DTC scalable, tokenised voting platform that leverages blockchain technology to give fans the opportunity to buy, trade and execute voting rights in their favourite sports teams. Fans purchase their team's fan tokens using Chiliz, a cryptocurrency owned and operated by Socios.

Key clients: Inter Milan, Valencia, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, UFC, Barcelona, Galatasaray SK, AC Milan, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, New Jersey Devils, Portuguese Football Federation (FPF)

Greenpark Sports

Social platform

The flagship product is a native, free-to-play mobile game played over the top of sporting events. In the game fans battle their avatars to become the undisputed 'best fans' of their league and season whilst earning real and virtual rewards in the process. Targeted at the new crossover generation of sports and esports fans.

Key clients: NBA, League of Legends Championship Series (LCS)

Latest funding: US$14 million Series A (Dec 2020)


Digitally connected global stadium

Free mobile app and website that connects fans with venues televising live sport creating a digitally connected global stadium. Gamification mechanics and rewards are used to gain insights on fans at these venues whilst monetising through brand partnerships and activations.

Key clients: AB Inbev, Six Nations, NFL, Coca-Cola, Foxtel

Creator Global

IoT fan gadgets

SaaS fan experience platform linked to smart devices designed to bring the stadium experience into fans’ homes including team branded, voice activated smart speaker.

Key clients: Collingwood FC, Dallas Cowboys


IoT fan gadgets

Integrated IoT products, such as sponsor branded smart hockey goal light, reacts to events like team scoring moments or celebrations through multi-sensory engagement including light, sound and vibration.

Key clients: AB InBev, Labatt, Budweiser

Thanks for reading the second instalment of a monthly series examining the world of sports technology, brought to you by Thomas Alomes and the team at Sports Tech World Series.

In each column, we will provide insights into the global sports tech market drawn from our latest industry research, consulting clients and expert interviews. Our aim is to quickly inform you on what’s happening in the industry now, where it’s heading in the future and who are the major players, both emerging and established, operating at the cutting edge of this exciting space. 

To make more sense of sports tech, we have classified the industry into sub-categories. Having covered fan and sponsor engagement in this edition, the different areas being covered in this series are:

Stadiums and venues

Solutions designed to improve the efficiency and customer experience in stadiums and venues.

Athlete performance and tracking

Devices and platforms used to measure or track athletes with the purpose of testing and improving performance.

Athlete, team and event management

Solutions that support the management of athletes, teams, leagues and events, with a focus on improving overall efficiencies at an individual and organisational level.

Betting and fantasy sports

Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of betting and fantasy sports.

Data capture and analysis

Data processing, capture and analysis solutions that support insights and decision making for a variety of sports related organisations. 

Esports and virtual sports

Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of esports and gaming. 

Fan and sponsor engagement 

Solutions designed to enhance and improve the experience of the fan, or increase the value for the sponsor, including memberships and social media engagement. 

Media and broadcast

Solutions that enable and enhance the sharing and distribution of sports content such as streaming platforms, automated broadcast graphics and online content publishers.

About STWS

Sports Tech World Series (STWS) is the trusted resource in the global sports technology ecosystem. We provide research, consulting and market insight services to help teams, leagues, governments, investors and vendors to achieve results and meaningful impact over the hype in sports technology and sports innovation.

About Thomas Alomes

An industry consultant, researcher and speaker, Thomas Alomes is a global leader in sports technology ecosystem growth and development with a passion for connecting the best people with the best ideas. He is currently head of North America at STWS and the founder of Sports Innovation Texas.