The Sports Innovation Lab’s latest report, how to engage the continuously changing fluid fan, reflects on the fact that sport and entertainment are in a period of market disruption and convergence. Sports businesses are being challenged and forced to keep up with the latest technologies and behaviour trends that are redefining the sports and entertainment experience. In this report, Sports Innovation Lab defines a new set of rules that will allow sports companies to adapt and excel in this new age of sport. As they say:

For decades, the sports and entertainment industry has operated differently than other businesses. It has relied on enormously popular sports properties with generations of die-hard fans defined by geography, loyalty, and rivalry. Despite this [past] success, the die-hard fan is not the path to [future] growth for the sports and entertainment industry – that is the Fluid Fan.

Fluid Fans are open to change, empowered to choose, and continuously evolving. They move from one form of entertainment to another. They consume sports media and content in shorter bursts of interest instead of longer, committed periods of ritualistic spectatorship.

Because Fluid Fans are different. Traditional methods of consumer segmentation with market personas, demographics and psychographics are simply inadequate. Identifying a fan doesn’t help you understand what they do or want to do next.

We need a new approach that empowers companies in the sports industry to focus on their core business, while also leveraging the power of technology to keep Fluid Fans doing the other activities that optimise revenue.

We’re told that first fans were local, following their nearest team where everything was about winning and consumption of news was through radio, newspapers and TV. This then evolved to the global fan who supported teams internationally watching on satellite, cable and/or OTT platforms. They followed both teams and leagues where again winning was important. We’re now in the age of the fluid fan, one who changes allegiances, engages with fellow fans digitally and transmedia, who creates content as well as consumes and follows the players more than the teams.

Fluid fans are defined as:

  • Open to Change  more willing than ever to change their minds
  • Empowered to Choose – presented with more choices than ever before
  • Continuously Evolving – continuously discovering new content to love

Given this change, the report tells us there are three rules we need to follow as sports marketers in order to better do our job:

  1. Design for behaviours, not engagement – Sports organisations need a new way to measure success. Since “engagement” means everything, it also means nothing. How do you know when you’re doing engagement well? The proxy for measuring fan engagement has been time. But time is not a meaningful measure of actual fan engagement, as it does not account for what fans do, or why they are even doing it. Digital technologies have made it easier for sports fans to discover and do more. As the industry begins to understand what Fluid Fans do, it will become easier to design experiences that target and optimise for these behaviours
  2. Invest in enabling technology – Technology is the driving force that enables fans to move between modes of engagement. New technologies are creating opportunities for fans to do more. Sports organisations need to work with technology partners that enable their fans to do more while still staying in the same ecosystem
  3. Organise for agility – Every time a new technology product or service hits the market, fans will adopt new behaviours. For example, now that Alexa and Google offer voice search, sports fans settle pub debates by asking their phones for sports statistics. They expect venues to make it easy for them to hail a ride-sharing car home from the match. To compete in an ever-changing market, sports organisations need to hire new skills, develop digital talent, and implement new innovation practices. Sports can borrow best practices from other industries to prepare for the Fluid Fan

The last point really resonates with us. The sports industry is often an echo chamber with little original thought. Organisations are risk-averse and introspective in regards to where they acquire their ideas and learnings. A simple example of this is to ask yourself the last time you went to an industry conference and heard from someone outside of the sports industry?

The report goes on to share thinking from the Harvard Business Review on what the sports industry needs to do to adapt to new fan behaviours, how persona-based research needs to be ditched for a behaviour-focused approach, it shares a case study and learnings for sport from the music industry and provides sports organisations with three diagnostic questions to help them prepare for the fluid fan.

To download the how to engage the continuously changing fluid fan report, click here.

If you would benefit from the advice of a sports agency, Strive Sponsorship can help. Contact us for strategy, sponsorship, commercial, content, operations, investment and communications consultancy services.