With the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the 2021 season, sports teams and leagues everywhere have questions to face.
Will the 2021 season be a season of playing catch-up? Or a season of historic opportunity?
Deloitte’s 2021 Outlook for the U.S. Sports Industry, did not mince words. “With ongoing restrictions to in-person fan attendance… the need is dire.” Sports leagues not only need to make up for 2020 and cope with the lingering pandemic, they need to grow their fan base in order to stay relevant.
COVID hit sports hard. According to Deloitte’s report, the NFL lost an estimated $5.5 billion in 2020 from stadium revenue, and the NBA lost an estimated $500 million from the cancellation that ended their 2019-2020 season.
Deloitte identified multiple urgent requirements for sports leagues in 2021, including the need to redefine their relationships with their fans. Even more pressing, with traditional revenue streams disappearing, leagues need to reshape and expand their revenue generation models.
One of the most important findings was the imperative “for sports organizations to invest in multichannel digital solutions (everything from streaming platforms and augmented or virtual reality to artificial intelligence and “virtual fans”).”
Furthermore, it is “no longer sufficient to simply host a stand-alone app, website, or social media account… they should be tightly integrated across channels.”
A Generational Shift
The results from Kantar Sports Monitor’s 2021 Fan Engagement Study highlight the need even better. Although most Americans found themselves at home with extra time on their hands last year, live sports television viewership declined across the board. The MLB World Series lost 30% of its viewers from 2019 to 2020. The NBA Finals lost 51% and the Stanley Cup lost 61%.
And importantly, demographic changes do not bode well for a rebound in the coming decades. While 75% of Boomers reported television as their preferred medium for sports-watching, only 44% of Millennials and 42% of Gen Z said the same.
Hidden in those numbers is an opportunity. While television may not reach younger generations, newer technologies have the potential to connect with them in ways television alone never could.
Still, only 36% of Gen Z sports fans considered themselves “avid fans,” almost a 10% decline even from Millennials. Which means leagues need to act now if they want to reach younger fans.
One question facing leagues is: can they turn the lasting volatility from the pandemic into an opportunity?
Second screen technology can fill the void left by empty stadium seats.
When the Arizona Coyotes had to close their stadium due to coronavirus, Xcite Interactive’s XEO platform created a window inside the COVID “bubble.” XEO gave fans “an immersive experience as if [they] were inside their home arena.”
Likewise, XEO delivered for LAFC during the 2020 MLS is Back tournament. LAFC chose the XEO platform because it integrated seamlessly with their existing app. Over the course of 5 games, they saw a 20% increase in engagement and fan interaction.
XEO delivered for these teams because it allowed them to connect more directly with fans. The platform also allows each team to create their own tailored experience.
For example, the Philadelphia Eagles took the QB toss game in a unique direction. Their fans had exclusive access to this version in the XEO Arcade during Eagles games. With a clever twist on the traditional game, the Eagles replaced footballs with bottle caps for users to toss into recycling bins. In the background, they advertised their Autism Foundation.
Both the Deloitte report and the Kantar report highlighted sports fans’ desire to see their teams doing good in the world. Increasingly, fans demand more from their teams or they will disengage. With two novel tweaks in the XEO Arcade, the Eagles drove fundraising for a cause and spread a message about recycling. The Eagles knew it was not enough to do good. They had to let their fans see it.
Turning Disengagement into Extreme Engagement
Deloitte’s report highlighted the need to use digital technology to create “two-way relationships with fans.” Noting that fans want to hear from their favorite players, Deloitte suggested teams encourage players to be more active on social media.
XEO offers a different solution. By delivering live or pre-programmed promotional content, the platform allows players to speak directly to fans in real-time. From warm-up videos to emotional tributes, teams can energize their fans before and during games. If sudden events require action and a message, players and coaches respond instantly with live videos sent directly to their audience.
Kantar’s report included another intriguing statistic. Even while sports-watching declined, Twitch viewing jumping 83%.
Some herald this as a sign that esports will eventually replace traditional sports. But traditional sports can actually take advantage of this trend. While younger audiences are turning away from regular TV broadcasts, new platforms are uniquely positioned to reach them.
One reason Twitch excites Gen Z is that it makes fans a part of players’ journeys. Second screen technology can do this for live sports. By replicating some of what draws teenagers to Twitch, regular sports can stay relevant.
The future has room for both traditional sports and esports. By exploiting new technological trends, both can continue to reinvent themselves and reach younger audiences.
Redefining the Fan Relationship
This is what Deloitte’s report means by redefining relationships. The XEO platform offers instant access to celebrity players. It delivers tailored experiences for every team. And it can help fans at home feel like they are at the game.
Second screen technology gives fans an extreme level of interaction. It can keep them engaged in the off-season, and enhance their experience in every game.
With sports facing a revenue shortage from 2020, teams and leagues need a new strategy. They cannot rely on television alone to build the relationships fans crave. Nor can they rely on separate strategies for separate channels. Luckily, second screen technology can help teams build a fully-integrated, cross-channel strategy to develop two-way relationships with a newer, younger audience.