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24 Jun 2024 16:15

Editor's Pick Mobile & Digital Recommended for You Sports Marketing

Winning plays for football clubs in the data economy

In his guest post, Thomas Euler gives actionable advice to clubs looking to level up their digital business. Euler is Co-founder of Unyfy, the sports-focused platform builder that is trusted by the likes of FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, and Basketball Löwen Braunschweig.

Football clubs face the pressing need to generate more data to remain relevant with fans, and partners and, ultimately, to grow their digital revenues. Understanding the dynamics behind this need and the methods to achieve it is key to unlocking enhanced fan engagement, growing fan loyalty, and generating new business. Let’s dissect the importance of data for football clubs in a bit more depth.

Data is relevant on two different accounts. First, the digital native generations of fans expect user experiences that are optimized for relevance. The services and media they use daily have smart algorithms that understand what interests them and use those to individualize their experience. Today, personalized content and offers are table stakes in the digital attention economy. Second, marketers have come to expect data-powered solutions to distribute their messaging in equally personalized and targeted ways. While sponsorship might have been lagging behind other marketing functions when it comes to this, expectations are changing among sponsors as well.

Moreover, there’s a whole segment of well-funded companies that do not use sports sponsorship because it historically didn’t provide a great deal of targeting. I’m thinking of the many direct-to-consumer businesses that grew over the past decade. Only a few of the biggest of them are active in sports. And if they are, they might not be spending top dollars as the data-based services clubs tend to provide are not up to their standards – think of the public reports of Spotify closing a significantly smaller deal than initially discussed with FC Barcelona once they found out that a lot of Barca’s reach didn’t even remotely translate to their user base.

But what does that mean for football clubs? How can they become better at “harvesting” data and building services based on it?

Clubs must think beyond social media and establish their own platforms, i.e. digital services that fans create accounts on and use regularly. By doing so, they maintain full control over data collection and usage, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and building trust with their fanbase. Clubs can create immersive digital environments where fans can engage directly, share their preferences, and participate in various activities, thereby generating a continuous flow of valuable data and insights.

How does this work in practice? Let me share a few learnings we have made over the years from observing how our clients use the Unyfy platform builder. We can cluster the tactics they use in three areas:

Gamification

Using gamification mechanisms such as login streaks, collecting, rankings, or earnable points, clubs can make their platform fun to use while creating a first reason for your fans to sign up.

Community

A key to success for any service or brand in digital is building a community. Offline, football clubs have done this forever. Today, many communities form online. Clubs can use this to create more interactive platforms that are the home of engaged, brand-safe communities and, in the process, get a lot of valuable insights. Integrating features such as forums, chats, and social media-like interactions on the club’s platform can significantly boost user engagement. And interactions between fans and the club, such as ask-me-anythings or votes, are particularly popular. As we see in many of our clients’ projects, being able to join the community and participate in it is often the key driver for fans to sign up.

Loyalty

Loyalty mechanisms play a crucial role in building an active user base. By letting fans earn points or unlock cool badges, football clubs create engaging experiences that reward fans for their activities. By rewarding fans for specific actions—such as attending games, purchasing merchandise, or participating in online activities—clubs can increase retention and deepen the connection to their fans. Rewards can range from exclusive content and merchandise discounts to unique experiences like meet-and-greets with players. Clubs can further enhance their loyalty programs by integrating partners into the ecosystem. Partner collaborations can provide fans with additional benefits, such as discounts at partner stores or access to exclusive offers. This enriches the fan experience and opens new revenue streams for the club.

Clubs that use these tools to create engaging platforms will have attractive digital destinations for their fans, collect insightful data in the process, and establish new revenue streams based on this. Whether those are completely sponsorship-based or even include new direct-to-fan offers is a strategic decision but both doors are open to clubs with their own platform.

In conclusion, the strategic generation and utilization of data is imperative for football clubs aiming to enhance fan engagement and loyalty. Establishing owned platforms, leveraging community tools, and implementing gamification and loyalty programs are effective ways to achieve this. By doing so, clubs can create a thriving fan ecosystem, drive continuous engagement, and establish a substantial digital business. At Unyfy, our mission is to make all this easy to implement with little or no technological prerequisites for clubs ranging from small to large.

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