COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the 2020 sports fan experience, so how will NFL teams improve fan experience in 2021? 2020 social distancing guidelines forced stadiums to open with little to no fans since the season began and outbreaks have required the NFL and team leaders to make the tough calls to limit or eliminate fan attendance for the health and safety of fans, players, and staff.
After a season of adapting to new guidelines and empty stadiums, NFL teams will need a new playbook for 2021 to improve fan engagement both in and out of the stadium. Teams that use the offseason to develop their digital transformation efforts will be breaking records for fan engagement by engaging their die-hard fans at home, re-engaging old fans that have lost interest, and expanding their reach to younger generations.
Will fans be allowed to attend NFL games in 2021?
In the 2020 season, we saw the NFL and teams brave the enormous responsibility of safely orchestrating a regular season in extremely irregular conditions. Outbreaks continued to plague the season with disruptions to play and various public health guidelines have forced teams to shuffle facilities to remain compliant.
Looking forward to the 2021 season, we can still expect to see social distancing and public health guidelines limiting the number of fans allowed in stadium, but will fans be flocking to fill the seats? When asked their favorite way to watch a game, 87% of respondents said at home on their own TVs, a 9% increase from before the pandemic. To recapture these fans in the 2021 season, stadiums will need to be proactive and intentional in their approach to make attending a game a fun, safe social engagement.
Facilities will need to be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly before each game and access to masks and sanitizing stations must be provided. The biggest shift will be in the logistics of food, beverages, and restrooms to eliminate long lines and crowding on the concourse. To replace the lines and crowding, teams will need to create a new kind of experience with clear directions on how to get to your seat, how to order concessions to be delivered to your seats, and bathroom check-ins. Teams that invest in an enhanced, safe, and more efficient fan experience will position themselves for future ROI. After the days of social distancing are behind us with a transformed fan experience, allowing their fans to enjoy more of the experience they paid to see and less time waiting in line for concessions, souvenirs, and restrooms will set these teams apart.
Digital Fan Engagement
2021 will begin a new age for digital fan engagement among NFL teams. Creating a digital fan experience will be critical in NFL team’s success both in and out of the stadium. Solutions for digital fan engagement will include much of the same technologies, but the strategies should be as diverse as the team’s culture. Marketing teams have the unique opportunity to create new, cutting-edge, memorable experiences for their fans and strengthen their unique fan cultures.
The most crucial step for teams to create amazing digital fan experiences will be identifying who their fans are, then delivering the content and experience enhancements that are meaningful to them.
Sports fans span across all age groups and interests; the platforms they spend time vary depending on their age and preferences; but text messaging applies to them all. Adopting a text-first digital fan engagement strategy will set teams up for success by reaching a wider net of their audience since 95% of Americans have a smart phone and 97% use text.
Text messaging provides an unmatched opportunity to create unique fan profiles by eliminating fan anonymity through data cleansing and using two-way text communication to gather first-party data from fans. Fans can share their gameday preferences and even send in their own photo and video content to be shared on social channels.
Building a digital fan experience with text messaging as the foundation gives you the opportunity to engage with fans wherever they are and drive traffic to other platforms. With the first-party data collected through text, new experiences can be delivered through social media platforms that are tailored to segmented audiences within your fan base.
Social Media Driven Fan Engagement
Prior to COVID, social media augmented the fan experience, but now it is the fan experience. Social media will turn watching the game back into a social event by providing fans an outlet to join conversations online by commenting on instant replays, sharing their opinion in real-time challenge polls, and interacting with athletes via live feeds.
Using the individual fan data collected through text, teams can decide which social channel should get the largest investment in their time and content to deliver enriched experiences that fans will look forward to engaging with every week.
Teams that do this successfully will gain new brand affinity and trust with their fans as they continue to meet and exceed their expectations. With the added benefit of increasing brand awareness, reaching new audiences, and meeting their commercial and sponsorship objectives through creative, strategic marketing.
After a trying year that no team could have prepared for, the future is bright for sports. COVID has forced a much-needed digital transformation in the fan experience that will create a new legacy in the world of sports. To the athletes, coaches, and staff, your efforts to maintain the 2020 season has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. The road ahead is paved with new opportunities for those brave enough to take on the challenge.
If you’re interested in learning more about text message marketing but don’t have in-house expert resources to get you started, KLaunch provides fully-managed experiential text messaging services for sports teams. Schedule a discovery call here.