6 ACTIONABLE strategies you should implement today - Owning the fan relationship.

FAN LOYALTY’ has taken on new meaning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The traditional relationship between Team and Sports Fan has been challenged by the new reality and needs to be re-defined. At a time when fans are unable to attend stadiums and are facing more pressures on their leisure spend, it is now even more important for Sports Teams to better “understand, engage and communicate” directly with their fans and work out how to optimize the value of this most avid of customer/brand relationship.


A recent survey conducted in UK and US showed Sports Fans opting out of season tickets in unprecedented numbers across the board creating a seismic shift in the business model of many teams. How Teams respond to this challenge will define the business of sports for some time to come.


Sports Teams need to focus on becoming customer-centric, data-rich and engagement-heavy. You need to turn Fans to customers and inspire long-term customer value. There are a number of proven strategies that put your customers first, membership and loyalty are core to these.


This series of posts focus on how Teams should focus on their Fans and how Loyalty Marketing and Sponsor Activations offer proven actionable strategies that will help your Team. The aim of this series is to help Sports Teams:


  • sustain and even grow the relationship with fan

  • open up new channels of data and business directly with fans “

  • support commercial revenues, even whilst stadiums remain closed

  • & optimize the value of your No 1 asset – the fans.

1. Focus on fostering goodwill

Let’s start with some basics, at such times as these Fans (like all consumers in general) are seeking reassurance from the brands they support. They are making a silent note of what you are doing and increasing their support for brands that align with their values and beliefs. As such Sports Teams need to continually demonstrate what they stand for and demonstrate support and empathy through their actions. Sometimes this might mean offering something for nothing, but this can have long-term benefits for the relationship.


According to the latest research customer messaging (through whichever media channel) should be useful, positive and consistent with your values. Don’t exploit the situation, and don’t just drive your usual messages. Show how you can be actively helpful to your Fan in the new everyday life.



Using the principle in your business:

  • show how you are being helpful in the new everyday life.

  • inform about your continued efforts to face the situation.

  • use a reassuring tone, and offer a positive perspective

  • communicate brand & community values.

  • do not exploit coronavirus to promote your Team.



2. Promote a new culture of membership

Simply pushing out content on social or digital channels may satisfy a demand but does not promote an active relationship nor direct communication with the Fan. Ultimately it yields very little, if no, actionable data for the Team. You may entertain with great content – but you are missing one mission critical outcome – you do not know who the Fan is. Teams do have access to some data – primarily ticketing focused, but this will only give you a slither of your Fan Base. Depending on your sport, league and territory, ticketing databases represents anything from 1% - 40% of your total Fan Base. The point remains that whatever the number is, it will only represent a fraction of the whole. With the now reasonable prospect that you will have to limit the number of people to whom you will be able to sell a ticket. Finding a way to collect data whilst targeting marketing and services to the wider fan base remains of huge strategic importance.


Using the principle in your business:

  • create a “free to join” membership program open to all Fans. Push for critical mass from Day 1

  • promote this across all digital & media channels with a simple sign-up process

  • offer different membership types targeted at specific Fan groupings – season ticket holders, domestic fans, international fans (by support group/region), “cradle to grave”

  • implement new business models – subscriptions, upgrades, pay to play.



3. Sponsors have a key role to play

It’s particularly striking that one in five people in the UK and US will not feel comfortable returning to live events until a vaccine is availableiv. This vacuum will only accelerate the trends we have seen in the live event offerings, with Teams and Sponsors putting more of their energy into digital activations rather than in-stadium marketing. As Spencer Nolan, Nielsen Sports’ managing director UK / Ireland puts it, “There’s no doubt that brands and rights holders are going to continue to reap the benefits of finding creative ways to reach audiences who are watching sport from home and/or following live action via second-screen experiences and social media”. Put succinctly your content will provide the backbone of your engagement, but your sponsors will provide the marketable opportunity going forward.


Using the principle in your business

  • connect your membership program with your sponsor programs

  • build / hire a team that focuses on sponsor activations (a very different task from sponsor acquisition)

  • create new digital member experiences as part of your sponsor assets – “games”, “zoom sessions”, “streaming content”, “competitions” etc… “brought to you by sponsor XYZ”

  • look beyond traditional sponsors and think wider commercial / retail partnerships. Seek out merchants that are not attracted by traditional sponsorship propositions but are willing to pay for “access” to your growing membership base.

  • look for new ways to connect sponsors directly to your increasingly growing member base using real-time promotions, incentives and click thru links.

4. Loyalty Marketing v Loyalty Program

Marketeers tend to use these two terms almost interchangeably, but there is a simple difference between them, and it is critical to understand the difference to ensure proper decision-making for a Sports Team.


Loyalty marketing is the overarching strategy that a Team needs to develop deeper connections with their fans; while a loyalty program is a tactical mechanism to support that strategy. Your membership program is the umbrella for your loyalty marketing. Adding loyalty as a tactical mechanism further differentiates the multiple membership offerings and optimizes the fan’s own level of involvement and value in the program. It also provides a framework to incentivize specific behaviors and activities.



Using the principle in your program:

  • define the member groupings (lookalike) and your strategic deliverables for each – renew a season ticket, attend a game, purchase a ticket, membership subscriptions, attend an event etc…

  • build marketing strategies that focus on emphasising “wiifm” (what’s in it for me)

  • reward instantly and frequently. One of the biggest mistakes’ teams make with their loyalty programs is making members wait too long to be able to access the benefits of the program. This can lead to inactivity.

  • think of everything as a reward – every piece of digital content, every piece of disused official notice, team sheet, name tag, unsold stock, everything that is “authentic and has a story” – the emotional hook.

  • make sure that the loyalty program is connected to all systems, devices and people

  • remember 59% of your fans like to be surprised and delightedv – so build this in. Incorporate elements of gamification into your strategy and see a 47% rise in engagement. Simple things like predictors or player stamp cards.

  • get some help with this part (program and financial design are a critical success factor).


5.Smash your silos

Smash the silos to increase data transparency across your organisation and to provide a 360o view of each Fan. Approximately 52% of Sports Organizations believe that the biggest challenge in achieving customer centricity is the presence of functional silos that prevent customer data sharing. Achieving data transparency across an organization means that teams bring more revenue than competitors. Establishing common objectives, using data as a unifying force and using effective supporting technology are key to breaking down silos and attaining a holistic view of the customer.


Using the principle in your program:

  • ensure that each fan is assigned a unique member identity; presented either as a single log-in, digital member card (QR / NFC), physical member card

  • ensure that this unique identity is presented and integrated across all systems and all devices

  • ensure that all this data flows back into a single view of each fan

  • ensure that this view is accessible to all departments and each department understands how they can utilise this customer data to enhance their offering. Drive this initiative from the very top.



6. Remove Friction

The easier it is for your fans to sign-up, earn loyalty currency and redeem for benefits, the more likely it is that they will engage regularly. The key is to ensure convenience, which will ultimately foster a frictionless experience across devices and channels.


The reality is that most Sports Teams thrive despite common points of friction – Fans simply want what you can offer. To become truly Fan Centric you need to eliminate friction at all points of interaction.


Using the principle in your program:

  • integrate all systems around the concept of a single unique identifier for each fan

  • make sure that the member identity is established at first contact (download app, purchase a ticket, purchase from online store)

  • apply the 80:20 rule – place 80% of all services behind this member sign on (SSO). Services such as access my tickets, loyalty, rewards, promotions, offers, content, games should sit behind the sign in. Whilst public domain content (in front of log-in) should be limited to less than 20% of your activity

  • make the most use of embedded services offered by the likes of Apple and Google. Why do I have to open up an app, when the service could simply pop up on my phone!!!

  • task someone with the title - SVP of HX (fancy new term for Human Experience) someone who is tasked with identifying and removing friction from your customer operations – both physical (parking, access, concessions) and digital.


Having a proactive and forward-thinking approach to your fan loyalty strategy is not always easy, Fortress US is here to help. Our loyalty strategy team has over 20 years of sports loyalty & marketing experience across the globe.

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