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BLOG: New technologies have not been applied to tackle the racism epidemic in sport, but have the potential to make big impact

As we all come to terms with the global impact of the Covid Pandemic, we continue to face a much longer-term and deeper ingrained malaise; racism.

Racism is a centuries-old epidemic, which has manifested itself in sport. Immediate thoughts may turn to the historic symbolism from the United States, created by the actions of athletes that have made a stand. From the black glove gesture used by athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to Colin Kaepernick leading NFL players to take a knee during the National Anthem in opposition to the RealDonaldTrump. These gestures of protest against systemic problems created noise; pushing an important conversation forward.

However, when we think of racism in the bigger football markets in Europe, rather than gestures by athletes, we are drawn to the historic problem of active racism within the arenas themselves. In 2005, Marco Zoro attempted to stop the Messina–Inter match by leaving the field with the ball after being tormented by taunts from some Inter supporters. This is just one example of a litany of racist abuse, monkey chants and banana projectiles directed at black players that have left an ugly stain on the game since the 1970s.

Are we seeing enough change?

At InCrowd, we often talk about the changing consumer in a positive light and the impact the change is having on how sports are followed, watched and attended. But is there evidence to suggest that this change is having a positive impact on our attitudes to race and other forms of discrimination?

Unfortunately not it seems. Earlier this year Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger was seen complaining to the referee, with a gesture of putting his hands under his armpits, to indicate that he believed he had been subjected to racist monkey chants from rival Tottenham supporters. Last year Romelu Lukaku said that the sport was “going backwards” on racism after he was on the receiving end of similar abuse from Cagliari fans.

Kick It Out, a charity established in what was meant to be the back end of the bad old days of racism in 1993, aim to fight against discrimination in football but their most recent statistics show that the problem is escalating again. Reported incidents rose to 422 in 2018/19, up from 319 in the previous year.

The numbers could actually be a lot higher than reported. These statistics rarely tell the whole story; there are many barriers for people in regards to reporting these incidents both culturally and logistically (although you can now report via social media). 

Are we taking action?

A more pressing concern is that these are just statistics and don’t seem to lead towards enough positive, affirmative action. According to the report, the FA have not informed Kick It Out of the outcome in seventy-nine per cent of the 109 cases reported in grassroots football and 80% of the County FA verdicts. So whilst plenty of energy is going into trying to solve the problems at the grassroots level through education and reporting, there does not appear to be a strong system of governance in place to effectively deal with these issues when they are surfaced.

The rise of technology

Changes in consumer behaviour have been seismic, driven by technology and the rise of the smartphone and social media. And yet despite the ability of these platforms to offer real-time conversation and direct interaction, there has been minimal positive impact on attitudes to race and discrimination. Furthermore, not enough is being done to tackle the problem, especially considering we are now in a time when technology makes it far easier to hold people accountable.

This does all seem counterintuitive. When we talk about the changing consumer we are normally talking about the rise of the “woke” generation. However, such technology and social media are used by everyone else too and there is plenty of strong evidence to suggest that placed in the wrong hands, these platforms can be abused to deepen the problem rather than open up a conversation and reach resolutions. We are not just talking about Putin’s election rigging bot farms and Cambridge Analytica here but more nuanced systematic issues.  

A report earlier this year described a “data racism” emerging. It argues that as automated or data-driven decision-making tools are increasingly deployed in numerous areas of public life, these data technologies are actually reinforcing or codifying the systemic race bias and increasing the sense of neutrality afforded to discrimination. If the computer says no, what can I do…? An example of this bias would be using facial recognition tools in crime investigation, despite evidence that they misidentify people of colour, and in particular women.

The potential positive role of technology

So how can technology be used to drive positive change? By using technology to develop relationships with fanbases, sports organisations can hold themselves to higher standards of inclusivity and try to effect positive behavioural change amongst their devoted supporters. Technology could also help surface and deter the problems by making the process of reporting incidents far easier and perhaps more significantly, enable the ability to pinpoint and deal with the problem more efficiently and effectively. 

Imagine if you could report a problem by pressing a button on the official app and highlighting the seat number of the offender. Imagine if all tickets were digital and tied to a device so you also knew immediately who was sitting in the offending seat. If this wasn’t enough to deter a problem fan, it would certainly be enough to take appropriate action. You don’t have to imagine. This technology exists, it just isn’t widely enough implemented.

Hopefully, we all agree that it is no longer acceptable to just sit on the sidelines being passive; we must all be actively anti-racist. And in sport, let’s consider every tool that is available to us, and utilise what we have to make sure that we can deliver the same great experience for spectators, players, officials, staff – #ForEveryFan.

BLOG: Will the Pandemic accelerate the growth in larger sports clubs and leagues at the expense of the smaller ones?

I have read with interest various interpretations of how the Covid Pandemic will impact the sports industry. The general consensus is that it will accelerate the already rapid changes taking place as a result of consumption (how we follow, watch and attend sports events) driven by the smartphone and the rise of web 2.0 which will, in turn, accelerate the gaps between the richest and poorest sports federations, leagues and clubs, affirming a new world order. 

There is no question that changes in consumption have been driving a greater gap between rich and poor in the last few years and this has shown in the numbers. 

The biggest events increasingly command a greater share of fan attention, resulting in the bigger sports growing at the expense of smaller sports where audiences are falling.

There are lots of reasons for this including social followings increasing the importance of celebrity, meaning the biggest stars with the biggest followings drive interest in the team they play for and this drives the overall following and viewing of the league and sport overall. Witness the impact of Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing on the Juventus share price. However, whilst the Pandemic has certainly accelerated some consumer trends, I actually think that it will shake things up rather than simply follow the same path.

First of all bigger doesn’t necessarily mean less vulnerable. Larger event organisers, venues and clubs have larger balance sheets, but also far greater operational expenses which leave them exposed when there is no income coming in from live matches. It is well documented that Premier League clubs lose money when times are good. As a result of the Pandemic, the Premier League is having to offer rebates to its broadcast partners and 20% of the average club income is from matchday, which may not return for several months. 

Secondly, bigger businesses are often less nimble or adaptable to change and this could be a problem. As McKinsey research shows, organisations with an agile operating model are far more likely to show improvements in both execution pace and productivity. The break in the sports calendar has offered them a chance to focus on adapting products and business models to the new norm and the price for not doing so may be very high. 

Many sports in Europe are not centrally organised, which creates a fractured decision-making structure that can be an additional barrier to adapting to the current situation.

By contrast, smaller leagues and federations may be forced to work together to invest and adapt and this could be a big factor in growth, particularly in digital audiences and resulting revenue mixes. More McKinsey research shows that as much as five years of consumer and business digital adoption has happened in the last eight weeks. 

However, this accelerated change does not necessarily mean that change has followed the same path that it would have without the Pandemic. Covid has changed the way we think about hygiene, the way we interact and the way we work and this will have a lasting impact. 

The accepted norm in sport that the big will get bigger and the smaller will struggle to survive is hugely over-simplifying matters.

Many smaller sports have been dealing with the reality of not being one of the chosen ones scheduled on linear broadcasters for some time and have adapted their business models accordingly.  The Americas Cup and the World Surf League have pioneered this approach over a number of years and it has actually led to more broadcast deals as a result of the success of its digital-first strategies, exponentially growing global audiences in the process. 

We may well see a change in the world order as a result of the Pandemic but not necessarily as we might have expected. Strong leadership that is prepared to adopt change thinking combined with investment in the right areas will be the key differentiator, regardless of whether your organisation is large or small. 

 

BLOG: How rights holders are managing to enhance & maintain digital engagement during the COVID-19 crisis

In times of crisis, sport has always been a reliable and constant presence, providing its fans with a much needed emotional distraction. When sports closed their doors in March for the first time since WW2, showing the world that they too were not immune to this disease, it seemed to bring home to many people how serious this situation was.

InCrowd is a business that has spent the last five years championing the importance of engaging fans digitally as audience consumption changes dramatically. However, we could never have predicted that it would take a pandemic such as this to highlight the importance of a retained and engaged digital audience, now more than ever. Without live sport, clubs and leagues have been burdened with the tasks of keeping their audiences engaged and continuing to service commercial agreements whilst planning for a world without matchday income in which digital channels become a vital centrepiece.

In this paper, we look at how InCrowd clients are successfully navigating a situation that no one was fully prepared for, implementing new strategies and uses for their digital engagement tools whilst battling major digital media outlets to maintain fans’ attention. In addition we gather valuable insight from sports marketing experts on what we can expect for sports on “the other side” and present InCrowd’s four-step approach for rights holders, guiding them towards creating their own positive outcome to the COVID-19 crisis and placing them in better stead for when sport makes its triumphant return.

Many weeks have now passed since sport effectively went into hibernation and as the green shoots of hope emerge with the German Bundesliga having started behind closed doors and the English Premier League setting a provisional date for a similar resumption in a few weeks time. At the time of writing, rumours began circulating of other sports around the world putting together proposals to find a way back into action.

Adapting to the unknown

This situation is unprecedented, inescapable, very real and it won’t ‘just go away’. As ever, there are those that are better equipped to adapt and through this there will be clubs, leagues and NGBs that will be able to come out of this crisis in a stronger position than others.
One trend that emerged early in the UK lockdown period was that clubs are better able to retain fan engagement than Leagues and NGBs, with some exceptions of course.

Perhaps this is no surprise due to the allegiance and draw towards the club brands, however, after analysis of the content themes doing well, the majority of the high performing categories could just as easily be published by leagues and NGBs, such as iconic moments, classic matches, legends content and retrospective voting i.e. “team of the decade”.

Focus on Community

One organisation that has performed particularly well is Crystal Palace Football Club. Taking a look at mobile app engagement only, Crystal Palace have dropped just 14% of digital engagement comparing pre and post lockdown. This compares very favourably against a club average of 28%, and with two other significant football clubs that have reduced engagement by 39% and 45% during this time.

 

“The lack of football really has reminded us all just how much the game is loved and the huge role that it plays in many supporter’s lives.”

 

James Woodroof, Head of Content & Production at Crystal Palace FC explained the strategy behind their success:

“Two months of no football has been unquestionably challenging for all club editorial teams. Of course, in the grand scheme of things – these challenges and indeed the corresponding digital metrics are inconsequential, but nevertheless, the lack of football really has reminded us all just how much the game is loved and the huge role that it plays in many supporter’s lives. Therefore, one could argue that our role in providing engaging editorial content to give people an escape matters more than ever before.
As a club, we have been even more focused on the importance of our role within the community, and specifically on supporting those who are most vulnerable. Extremely early on in the crisis, we were sharing health and wellbeing advice from our club doctor for supporters self-isolating, as well as offering support to all 1,200 of our season ticket holders over the age of 70.

Our Chairman to his credit has been immensely proactive with statements regarding the club’s position on matters related to the pandemic, and also offering insightful thought leadership in terms of the various scenarios at a league level. Our manager penned a wonderful open letter to supporters, and these two articles have been our most read of all time. Our open lines of communication with our fans throughout this period about everything we are doing will undoubtedly have had an impact on our relatively healthy digital engagement levels.
We are extremely lucky to have a team of exceptionally gifted writers, photographers, social media experts, and production unit – and with the amount of time granted to us by the pandemic, that has helped us diversify our content in many ways. We have shown several classic matches in their entirety that have lay dormant for many years, supported by video interviews with the stars of those games as bonus content for our free members.

There have been regular Instagram Live interviews with first team players, even interactive pub quizzes. We also dusted off old Season Review DVDs, which were pay-per-view to raise money for our Foundation.

There have been countless phone conversations with former players that have been made into long-form reads, and we’ve engaged directly with supporters by asking them to share examples of their favourite club memorabilia that they’ve acquired, which has been illuminating for us – with several spin-off stories in the pipeline.

Finally, for several months, our video team have been working on a project where we shared our claim to be the oldest football club in the world through a fantastic short film, having been informed about new evidence clearly showing our lineage to the original Crystal Palace FC of 1861. This story has stimulated fierce debate around the world, and we have seen huge interest in our historical content since that launch.”

Focus on Content

Whilst in general clubs seem to be out-performing Leagues and NGBs, one governing body that continues to excel digitally, even during this period, is UEFA. In fact UEFA Champions League Facebook and IGTV platforms generated the highest number of interactions per video across all major global leagues and federations last month.

For our content team at InCrowd, which manages UEFA’s social content, there has recently been significant focus on converting digital audiences through to UEFA.tv subscriptions. Rather than letting the lack of live events scupper their targets, the team, along with their colleagues at UEFA HQ, have been innovative in their strategy to continue the positive trend of sign-ups by, like many right owners, turning to archive content. UEFA decided to create an entirely new brand utilising this archive footage and the result was the UEFA Classics campaign.

“In a planned two-month campaign, the KPI for UEFA.tv registrations was hit within ten days, with organic UEFA social media accounts being the primary source of new subscribers.”

Sam Adams, who heads up the content division at InCrowd, explained:

“The centrepiece of the Classics campaign was legendary UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League & EURO matches, replayed in full as live on UEFA.tv (UEFA’s OTT platform). The games went out every weekday at 17CET, the sweet spot time to hit all the key global markets. Vital to its success has been a fully integrated cross-platform collaboration plan in which UEFA’s other owned and operated channels switched focus to become referral drivers to UEFA.tv.

Our social media strategy concentrated on using Twitter cards, which have proved to be the biggest referrer, and Instagram Stories to drive fans to UEFA.tv. These posts were built upon by shoulder content tapping into fan nostalgia, while UEFA ambassadors who played in those games were also utilised (e.g. in Instagram Q&As). Classics-related video accounted for 12.5m views on Instagram the week of 4 May or 22% of all video views, demonstrating that the content was holding its own as a standalone strand.

The native platforms –– UEFA.com & competition apps –– published supporting content (video, text and still imagery) such as best moments from corresponding seasons, related match highlights, scene-setters and historical colour pieces. Following the initial success, corresponding ‘throwback seasons’ were added to each week’s content plan to enable existing competition sponsors to reignite branded partner posts on official channels.

It was then important for us to dial back the Classics referral posting frequency after its early surge, redressing the balance between our short-term campaign promotion priority and our long-term strategy to retain high engagement across our operated channels.”

Both Crystal Palace and UEFA have shown the power of utilising cross-platform marketing strategies to amplify their content and objectives; social as volume driver and converter, with owned channels hosting and converting audiences through to action like OTT subscription. But even owned channels are showing variation during this period with apps and websites performing very differently.

Apps vs Web Behaviours

The relationship we’ve traditionally observed between our clients’ App & Web audiences has been consistent across sports & types of rights holders. Web audiences can often be up to 10x the size of their counterparts, but Apps make up for this with much higher user-level engagements; the likes of Sessions per User, Page Views, Pages per Session, and Duration per Session are significantly higher in App communities. This is unsurprising in relation to their respective positions in the traditional sporting funnel –– Web typically comes into its own at the top end whereas App is stronger towards the bottom at engaging, converting and retaining audiences. But how has this landscape changed as a result of Covid-19? Below, you will find a graph that plots the percentage of digital usage that App represents, where app and website combined for a single rights holder equals 100%.

Across a cross-section of Leagues & Clubs, there is a consistent average of ~10% of digital users use the App. The global pandemic hasn’t hugely shifted this behaviour, Web & App have both seen user volumes drop at fairly similar rates since Covid-19 began. However, we noted during our research that, for 65% of the clients we reviewed in this study, the proportion of App Users has actually increased (i.e. the number of web users saw a steeper decline than app users), but the ultimate average was tempered by 35% of clients who saw particularly significant shifts in app vs web usage behavior, towards web. Notably, as demonstrated in a previous graph, it has been leagues & competitions, more than clubs, that have experienced this greater decline in usage.

Regardless of rights holder type, where we have seen the most significant changes in behaviours during Covid-19 has been in the user engagement-based metrics. Our Apps are designed to create surges of Sessions and subsequent higher Page Views due to an array of content types, fan engagements, and communication triggers. This creates a hive of activity as higher-affinity fans have a larger variety of reasons to continually return. Over the last couple of months, we have seen the high shares of app sessions & page views drop to the ~30% mark where they were previously sitting closer to 40% & 50% of total engagement respectively. One conclusion we can draw traces back to a slowing of App content production – the cornerstone of the channel’s strategy – which has naturally declined while sporting events aren’t happening, as well as the high usage of apps typically seen in-line with matches, where fans utilise the apps for stats, commentary and are often tempted to open via match related push notifications such as line-ups. Less production = less engagement.

Web usage metrics have also dropped since March, but less pronounced. This is an expected outcome, with the majority of fans checking in occasionally from a search to retrieve a specific piece of information related for fixtures, results and live scores. Reductions in content production due to Covid have essentially had less of an impact on the audience & their expectation of the channel. Overall, it’s clear that, even in these unprecedented times, Apps are still performing very well in taking big shares of overall digital engagement behaviours considering their relative audience size.

What has started to become apparent across sports & client types over the last 3 months is that general engagement, regardless of channel, is simply beginning to drop at a sharper rate. While clients have tried to pivot their content strategies to keep capturing fan attention (so far resulting in mixed success across the board), April represented a significant drop across most metrics from the perhaps more novelty period of March. This is an intriguing opportunity to more deeply understand a fan’s relationship with sports, and how a period of inactivity leading to dwindling fan attention could actually be used to better tune marketing automation and audience management moving forward.

Naturally, the recent announcements regarding the resumption of competition for many sports is dramatically reversing this decline, but we shouldn’t forget the lessons this teaches us about how important it is to be able to engage fans with diverse content outside of matches. If this were addressed it would lead to a softening of typical downward engagement trends seen in the off-season or even mini-drops seen between match weekends and competitive events.

The Battle For Fan Attention

Regardless of the impact of this global pandemic, the need for sports rights holders to diversify and upweight content production was already a key theme in the industry, mirrored by the significant appointments of personnel with media backgrounds into organisations such as The Jockey Club, Premiership Rugby and the former shortlist for the Premier League football CEO position. The approach is designed to enable these organisations to successfully capture their fair share of audience attention from their competitors and partners in media.

Too often rights holders are losing out to major digital outlets in this fight, having a significantly detrimental impact on broader commercial revenues due to the intrinsic link between audience volume and engagement levels to the size of direct and indirect (sponsorship) revenues.
This is evidenced to some degree in the graph below which shows engagement with one major rights holders website (blue) and engagement from the league’s fans with league related content on third party websites (red) two weeks before and several weeks after lockdown.

What is clear is despite no matches taking place, the aggregate of third party channels experienced a smaller drop of audience engagement. These channels are typically media organisations therefore more nimble and able to switch gears to produce both COVID related and other general content in order to minimise the negative impact.

Max Jolly, CEO of digital marketing business Arcspire commented:

 

“The challenge for a rights holder is how to be relevant amongst the major digital media outlets. How do they retain uniqueness that fans can only consume through them?”

 

“It comes down to rights holder’s providing a reason for fans to go to their own site or app. At what point am I opening a new browser tab and typing in the rights holders web address (or opening the app)? What fan need is the rights holder fulfilling at that point that they can’t fulfil elsewhere more easily? As a fan, I go to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc every day and can get my updates and news there. I may also go to my preferred news channel every day e.g. Sky News, BBC Sport, The Times, The Daily Mail etc and get my news there. I might even go to a specialist sports forum e.g. NewsNow, RugbyPass, LiveScore etc to dive deeper into my passion.

The challenge for rights holders is how to be relevant amongst these options. How do they retain some unique content or element of the relationship that fans can only consume through them? This is a lot harder when live sport isn’t being played. I think a lot comes down to good content and thinking editorially about what content is where and how it is structured and shared. This could mean sign-posting content on social channels but requiring people to come to their site to consume it fully. Once there, how is the site structured to give them the next best piece of content and keep them there, and engaged, and with a reason to come back.”

Max is illustrating a core challenge we focus on at InCrowd; the ability for rights holders to capture and engage fans. Both of which are the first two steps towards successful conversion, where conversion means an outcome which supports the commercial objectives of the rights holders i.e. a fan registration, a direct transaction or engagement with a sponsored asset. We aim to align different technologies to each part of this process and illustrate this in a typical funnel:

 

 

Whilst several challenges that might occur for rights holders that aren’t able to digitally maximise their core asset are obvious, Max highlights a slightly less obvious threat of losing this audience to more sophisticated digital players. “The interesting shift that Covid-19 may accelerate is the digital giants winning more broadcast rights. The ‘digital-winners’ of Covid-19 will have their cash reserves enlarged and rights holders may be looking to carve up broadcast deals to get maximum value. This represents both opportunity and threat. The opportunity is clear: to bring in more revenues from new ‘alternative’ broadcasters. The threat is a little more hidden. The likes of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube etc are using their engagement mechanics to capture audience attention and discussion with little investment required in the content. Every rights holder has to build their audience and connect with fans on these platforms.

Social networks simply have the scale of audience and this is therefore where most fans reside digitally too. Whilst rights holders get to connect with fans, the digital giants get to hoover up data on fans. This enables them to offer these fan audiences to any advertiser that is interested. The digital giants have much better data on fans, capture the conversation as well as the emotion, which is sports secret sauce. So as more and more broadcast rights, highlights, memes etc are shared on these channels the bigger the threat grows.

Who has the ability to turn passions into purchases? The likes of Google and Facebook are able to offer a ‘full-funnel’ solution to brands, totally independent of any official sponsorship. I can watch the highlights on YouTube and then be targeted when I search on Google. I can watch the match on Amazon Prime and then be targeted when I’m shopping on Amazon. In this world, why does a brand need sponsorship at all when the digital giants have the data and gateway to fans that they need?

If any evidence was needed, Google, Facebook and Amazon recently announced their Q1 2020 results; together they grew by almost $7billion in advertising revenues in a quarter. This represents over 3x the annual growth in global sponsorship revenues forecasted by WARC in 2020. Marketing directors are voting with their budgets. They want the accountability and performance that these channels provide.”

The InCrowd Solution

 

“When sport returns, digital is going to be a more prominent focus than ever before, a huge acceleration in a pattern of behaviour.”

 

The COVID-19 crisis will change the way in which sports rights holders engage with their audiences forever. As the head of marketing a Championship football club said to me during lockdown – “digital is all we have now”.  But even beyond the “now”, when sport returns, digital is going to be a more prominent focus than ever before, a huge acceleration in a pattern of behaviour. So what can sports rights holders do to ensure they are one of the organisations that thrive in this new era:

  1. Think and act like a media business: For a rights holder, your greatest asset is your fans, yet traditionally, sports organisations prioritise the monetisation of physical assets and real estate. At the core of a media business is it’s audience and content production is the centre of success. Offer fans experiences that encourage them to engage with you on a regular basis that goes beyond the pre-match, in-match and post-match hygiene and invest in content production and delivery.
  2. Give fans a reason to visit your owned channels: Develop a content and technology strategy that considers deployment by channel. Know what is pushed to social vs what is reserved for own channels, perhaps with even further variations for Web vs App and logged in vs logged out. What can your own channel own that third parties don’t have? Fantasy Games, Specific Player Access and even utilities like Mobile Ticketing (which for one InCrowd client drove 24% increase in general app usage) are all reasons for fans to visit your platforms.
  3. Track, measure, analyse and react: The beauty of digital engagement is the ability to know what is working and do more of it! Whilst lots of digital metrics are tracked by all organisations, many are too high level to offer real insight. We need to understand not just overarching traffic numbers, but the details of engagement by content type, by audience type, and in relation to external factors such as time and form. Use this information to build the successful engagement formula for your organisation.
  4. Know your Value Per Fan and make it a key KPI: To be a successful “media business” digital engagement can’t be pure vanity numbers. We need to focus on driving users to valuable engagements; direct ROI, data capture or sponsor interactions. Define what success from a digital user or user group looks like by measuring your direct and indirect value per digital fan. Through your approach to point 2, measure this value continually and build strategies to drive more of it.

InCrowd is here to help plan & deliver all of the above. To find out about how we can work together to navigate this new world of sports engagement, get in touch!

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BLOG: Is Facebook Venue an opportunity or a threat for sports Rights Holders?

Over the weekend, Facebook announced that its new product experimental team is launching Venue, an app for engaging fans around live events. With Venue, the company aims to offer a digital companion for live events, starting with this Sunday’s NASCAR race.

This is not the first time that Facebook has launched a broadside at its rival Twitter, which is still the primary platform for second-screen social commentary. However, this new product has some key differences. Whereas Twitter gives all commentators or fans an equal share of voice (although curated), Venue will only include well-known personalities or influencers whose opinions are deemed to carry more weight. These commentators will provide their own takes on the event and pose interactive questions and polls for those watching. Therefore on the face of it, this is more of a linear proposition where experts tell the story and the fans participate by offering their views rather than setting the agenda themselves.

This is surely a great opportunity for sports. With over 2.6 billion monthly active users in Q1 of 2020, Facebook is the biggest social network worldwide. Of these, 1.73 billion people on average logged in daily in March 2020 compared to 1.66 billion in December 2019 demonstrating both scale and growth. The Facebook network is where a massive amount of the social universe resides, let alone the sports fan subset of that universe, so this is where sports event and venue owners, as well as players and teams, should be focusing their efforts on reaching their potential global following. Right? Yes and no.

The issue with Facebook extending its social reach into our sports fandoms like this is that it further extends the existential crisis for the organisations that create, own and control the content.

First of all, unlike Twitter, this product is a direct challenge to the linear broadcast propositions that pay sports organisations huge amounts of money for the privilege and provide between 30% and 50% of the total funding. They are therefore very, very important. Facebook’s advantage is that, instead of using content they have acquired to reach ageing audiences via traditional platforms, they already have the audience that everybody is trying to reach without needing to make the investment, which potentially undermines the very existence of the sports in their current form.

Secondly, if you think about it, being a fan is about being passionate and sharing collectivised feelings and memories amongst your friends, groups of fans and communities. When you like, share or comment on a social network, that network is actually capturing your essence as a fan and that is far more valuable to a brand in terms of engagement than linear content channels.

Therefore, Facebook has the best of both worlds; a proposition to challenge linear broadcasters and the captured digital emotion of the fanbase that is so valuable to brands. Ouch. 

We talk about sports rights holders needing to win their fair share of their fanbases attention, given it is their investment that is generating the content that underpins the second screen proposition as a whole. If rights holders like Nascar use Facebook as a platform to reach its valuable audience then they have to be careful not to undermine their core. Facebook doesn’t share its data, even on your own channels, meaning you still have to buy the audience you have co-invested in creating. Here’s an example of an excellent compromise in this siutation. The content team at UEFA, working with TEAM Marketing, have evolved their approach to use social platforms as marketing channels with a priority on engagement. This drives value for its owned and operated channels and its sponsors. 

So what single piece of advice do I offer here? Of course, you need to do everything you can to stay relevant on social media, but you must ensure that this effort pays dividends to you and does not undermine your core business.

 

BLOG: InCrowd Recommends – The Round-Up

We’ve kicked off InCrowd Recommends, a series of tweets landing on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays offering recommendations from our team of sports nuts on Podcasts, TV series & documentaries and films that you should be listening to and watching. Every week, we’ll be adding to this round-up list so you can keep a checklist – ENJOY!

Podcasts

  • Quickly Kevin Will He Score? (FOOTBALL) – A series in which 90’s football aficionado Josh Widdicombe is joined by friends, and fellow 90s experts, co-host Chris Scull and ‘Director of Podcast’ Michael Marden, as the trio embark on a tour of niche football topics of the period 1st January 1990 to 31st December 1999. Worth looking back in the archives for classic episodes with the likes of Le Tissier, Lawrenson, Neville, Pearce and Frank Skinner.
  • Tailenders (CRICKET) – Radio 1 DJ Greg James, cricket legend Jimmy Anderson and The Maccabees guitarist Felix White deliver an alternative (and musical) look at cricket as well as often going a bit off-topic. Regularly funny & always interesting there are loads of episodes & live specials to catch up on. 
  • Undr the Cosh (FOOTBALL) is a podcast with Ex and current footballers presented by Jon ‘the Beast’ Parkin, Chris ‘ Browny’ Brown and award-winning writer Chris Brown. This is a very light-hearted series with ex-professional footballers who have very funny and interesting tales to tell.

TV Series & Documentaries

  • The Last Dance (BASKETBALL) – This highly anticipated series gives a definitive account of Michael Jordan’s career & the 90s Chicago Bulls, with unaired footage of the Chicago Bulls’ dramatic 97-98 NBA season. Jordan anchors the series, while star teammates Scottie Pippen and Rodman are among a host of NBA legends to speak alongside, journalists, childhood and college friends and Barack Obama.
  • Sunderland Till I Die (FOOTBALL) – This docuseries follows English soccer club Sunderland through the 2017-18 season as they try to bounce back after relegation from the Premier League. Season 2 follows the team under new ownership, as they start on their quest to climb out of the third division and bring pride and hope back to the club’s passionate fans.

  Films

  • Draft Day (NFL) – find it on Amazon Prime. An outstanding look at just what goes on behind the scenes of the NFL draft (note, if this is accurate, it is just crazy), this movie revolves around Sonny Weaver Jnr (Kevin Costner), the fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns who is presented with the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men dreams of playing in the NFL.
  • Coach Carter (BASKETBALL) –A 2005 American biographical teen sports drama film starring Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Thomas Carter. The film is based on the true story of Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter, who made headlines in 1999 for suspending his undefeated high school basketball team due to poor academic results.

 

BLOG: A World Without Sport – Part 1

It’s incredible to think that it was only two and a half weeks ago that 86,000 fans were packed inside the MCG watching the Australian Women’s Cricket team celebrate their ICC T20 World Cup title on stage with Katy Perry.

It was a seismic moment in women’s sport. Not only did the Aussie team capture the imagination of a generation of young girls with a sublime performance on International Women’s Day, but it was also the highest crowd figure ever for a women’s cricket match globally. As the sun set at the MCG, COVID-19 was simply something on the horizon. Of course, it looked terrible on the news in China and Italy, but still remained very much on the horizon…

 

 

Today, COVID-19 is the reality for every sports organisation around the world. Not even the most cautious sports executive would have forecast such a crisis. As Murray Barnett described on a recent Unofficial Partner Podcast, the sports industry is currently “punch drunk”. A situation in which no sport would be played around the world, and major competitions Euro 2020 and The Olympics would be postponed, is simply unthinkable.

Whilst there are bigger concerns for the world to deal with than the lack of sport, the COVID-19 crisis is of course unique. In other periods of crisis, from recessions to terrorism, sport has often provided comfort for people and generated positivity from the dire reality, and here we are without our usual go-to pick me up in this time of crisis.

So what do we do now?

For those currently at home (which should be everyone, #StayAtHome), the recent Netflix series “The English Game” is a great watch and a fabulous example of the power of sport as an important connective tissue to bind people together, both across and within societies. Without giving any spoilers away, the series dives back to the 1880’s and tells a story of two footballers on opposite sides of the class divide, who forge a bond to help bring the upper-class sport and its joy to the masses, in particular the mill workers of Northern England. It was the birth of modern football and professionalism as we know it, but the series at its core shows the power that sport has, even back in the 1880’s, to distract humans from life’s troubles.

 

Looking to the future

So as we navigate our way through this increasingly anxious and unknown period, the lack of sport only exacerbates this feeling. For the sports industry, the commercial consequences of media rights, sponsorship, ticketing and hospitality revenues suddenly drying up has sent shivers throughout the entire ecosystem, and will no doubt change the industry and its operating model forever. However, just as COVID-19 was on the horizon at MCG a few weeks ago, so too are the myriad of sports events that are to eventually come.

For any sports fan, the prospect of the European Championships, Olympics, Lions Tour, Ryder Cup, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and many other events sitting ready to reignite once the virus has passed is beyond exciting. As Southampton CEO Martin Semmens explained, that once it is safe to do so, the return of sport will be a crucial sign that life is ‘returning to normal’.

But for now, as fans rightly stay at home the sports series, archive footage and rightsholder digital platforms become more important than ever in keeping the sports audiences engaged (and sane!) whilst also keeping the commercial ecosystem alive. And when the sun rises, there is no doubt that sport will be welcomed back by the world with open arms, returning bigger and better than ever…

Keep an eye out…..

We’ll be keeping in touch and keeping you up-to-date with our “A World Without Sport” blog series. We’ll share as far and wide as we can when new posts go up but keep an eye on our social media channels and our website!

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InCrowd and the RFL take fan engagement to the next level with interactive video polls

InCrowd’s introduction of video polls, powered by FanScore, has driven engagement levels up for the Rugby Football League’s successful membership platform, OurLeague, enabling the RFL to further develop direct relationships and continue to create unique experiences, for every fan.

Polls have been a popular part of the OurLeague platform since March 2018, with the effective and widely participated Man Of The Match vote now broadcast, updated and announced live for various fixtures throughout the season. This new introduction of video polls takes the fan experience to the next level, giving fans the power to make personal choices based on real life game situations and referee decisions. A strategic system of app notifications, social updates and email communications ensure no fan misses the opportunity to cast their vote and have their say.

Perhaps most importantly, fans participating in the video polls are encouraged to do so behind an official FanScoreID from InCrowd, as opposed to a social login to verify and log their selections. Social may drive higher numbers but these are all anonymous to the rights holder. With this FanScore authentication, the RFL are able to learn more about their fans and can therefore serve them with relevant, personal content and activations based on past engagements.

“The live Man of The Match poll has generated incredible engagement numbers and we’re really pleased to be able to add yet another dimension to the fan experience for OurLeague members, whilst continuing to learn more about rugby league fans. The development of the video polls is an exciting prospect for us; we’re looking forward to working on new ideas with the InCrowd team.” – Nichola Spencer, Membership Manager, Rugby Football League.

The Try or No Try video poll went live in August, with Lewis Tierney’s 2016 try against Warrington during the Super 8s as the first video poll to take place. The poll received 1,438 votes over six days with a split decision of 51% Try to 49% No Try, giving a perfect edge-of-your-seat start to the video poll’s integration. The poll itself is a collaboration between the RFL and Patient Claim Line, who already sponsor the big screen video decisions in live Sky Sports games. The poll also ties in brilliantly with their tagline “know for sure” and their key message of “checking all the evidence before making a crucial decision”, making this video poll not only an exciting interactive feature for fans, but an effective and seamless activation for the RFL’s partner.

“The Try or No Try video poll is a perfect activation opportunity for us; the nature of the poll compliments our brand messaging and its really exciting to see such a close call on the first poll plus really encouraging participation numbers from the get-go.” – Alex Kenny, Marketing Director, Patient Claim Line

InCrowd are excited about the successful introduction and future of video polls as a key feature of the fan experience, for the RFL audience and across the sports industry.

Visit the Our League website here

Download the iOS app

Download the Android app

 

The roar of the crowd – a powerful fan engagement tool

When we look back at great moments in sporting history, the majority of what we read and hear of those moments is about the team or the individual athlete. However we rarely hear about what that moment meant to the crowd of fans. People don’t talk about the atmosphere in which that moment was created.

The most renowned sport stadiums are those that have an unrivalled atmosphere, where the athletes truly feel the fans’ support. But when recording great sporting moments its rarely part of the conversation. There’s a disconnect in the history books.

Ronaldo’s bicycle kick has gone down as one of football’s ‘greatest sporting moments’; not only did the Real Madrid fans go crazy but the Juventus fans also congratulated Ronaldo and made noise for that moment of utter greatness. Goosebump inducing fan scenes at Juventus Stadium, created by the fans themselves. Let’s think back to some other great moments, like David Beckham’s free kick against Greece to secure a World Cup place.

Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal for world cup glory. Andy Murray’s first Wimbledon title.

Anthony Joshua’s knockout to become World Heavy Weight Champion. The 2016 Chicago Cubs with their first World Series win since 1908.

These moments are down in the history books. One variable that never changes, no matter the venue or the sport, is the atmosphere present and the ear-splitting roar of fans celebrating. Fans that are engaged, immersed and fully present in that moment.

Atmosphere makes an event, there’s no doubt about it. I’m sure we’ve all been to a sporting event where great things have happened, but we don’t remember them because the atmosphere and event itself were lifeless. In such circumstances, we disengage with our surroundings. We watch the game and we go home.

Creating a great atmosphere incites positive changes in fan behaviour, and InCrowd have the tools to help you create the ultimate “in the moment” atmosphere for your fans. Not just for the big, nail biting events, but at every game.

We can supply any stadium with a decibel meter, installed and displayed in the stadium. These meters record and time stamp dB readings so that they can be matched with moments within the game. What if your greatest moments were documented in sporting history as not only a display of epic skill and talent but with a legitimately measured roar of the crowd to back that up? The fans would be excited to be a part of that history. To be remembered alongside their sporting heroes.

“I was there. I was in that crowd!”

Find out more about the InCrowd decibel meter and the range of fan engagement and sponsorship activation tools offered by InCrowd.

Email enquiries@incrowdsports.com.

Here are the world record holders for fan noise.

Could your fans be the ones to break the record?!

 

More than a logo – why experiences are the new impressions

DILLY DILLY!

Yes, you’ve probably heard it everywhere. It has rapidly gained traction as a celebratory phrase worth yelling at almost any social event. From a Saturday afternoon in the pub to the Augusta National Golf Club where “Dilly Dilly” was banned from being shouted by golf fans at the Masters this month.

AB InBev’s recent Bud Light campaign has echoes of their famous Budweiser “Whassup” campaign from 1999, which achieved ‘‘talk value’’ – the elusive quality that converts advertising campaigns and phrases into cultural touchstones. Just like the “Whassup” campaign, “Dilly Dilly” launched during TV spots in the USA around the NFL, building towards the brands 2018 Super Bowl slot.

By January 2018 Dilly Dilly was being mentioned 175,000 times a month on social media. The term alone searched over 300,000 times on average per month.

So, what does Dilly Dilly mean?

“It doesn’t mean anything…and that’s the beauty of it” confessed Miguel Patricio, AB InBev’s CMO. “I think we all need our moments of nonsense and fun, and in a way Dilly Dilly represents that”. Love it or hate it, in a world where billions of advertising spend is invested into sales focused SEO and programmatic campaigns, Dilly Dilly provides a refreshing example of a campaign focused on being fun and improving consumer experiences with the brand.

For those Masters fans who were banned from shouting Dilly Dilly, Bud Light distributed Dilly Dilly caps at the event. They announced on social media that “if thou cannot say Dilly Dilly, thou can still wear Dilly Dilly!”.

Fan Experiences - Dilly Dilly

Experiences is a key aspect of AB InBev’s brand communications. This is no more apparent than in how they are approaching their new and existing sponsorship agreements. A recent article in Forbes, which caused a stir on LinkedIn, outlined how AB InBev were launching a new incentive-based sponsorship model. True, on field incentive-based sponsorship models are certainly nothing new. But what stood out was how off field incentives, such as a new rights holder digital platform that engages fans or increases awareness, might spur larger pay outs.

So why is this?

Ricardo Marques, VP of Budweiser explained that “it’s no longer about the signage or the size of a logo in the stadium anymore. It’s about what people talk about and the experience they take away and talk about later”. Whether at the stadium, at the pub or at home alcohol brands have the perfect opportunity to provide a passionate sports fan a great experience that, at a relatively low customer acquisition cost, has the potential to capture incremental retail sales from engaged fans.

Within the alcohol sponsorship sector, technology is the key driver to improving fan experiences and ensuring vital brand affinity. Budweiser used ‘Touchdown Glasses’ to bring the NFL stadium experience to all fans, whilst XXXX Gold launched their tech enabled Goldie caps during last winters Ashes series. Both these cases highlight that enhancing fan experiences and driving engagement is far more important than logo badging.

 

And technology is the key.

Fan Experiences - XXXX Goldie Caps with iBeacons

Find out more about how InCrowd works with alcohol brands and rightsholders to improve fan experiences through technology. Please email enquiries@incrowdsports.com or head to www.incrowdsports.com

Dilly Dilly!

 

InCrowd appoint Dan Lipman as Business Director of FanScore

Fan engagement specialists, InCrowd, have appointed fan marketing expert, Dan Lipman, as Business Director of FanScore. Dan is joining from leading mass participation event organisers, Human Race Ltd.

Dan joins InCrowd with over 10 years of fan marketing experience and having specialised in driving and monetising customer acquisition and engagement for major rights holders including British Athletics, the Lawn Tennis Association and Tough Mudder.

Most recently Dan has been Commercial Director of Human Race where he was responsible for managing the marketing, digital and sponsor activation teams, as well as strategically advising the development of a new market-leading ticketing and CRM platform for parent company and organisers of Le Tour de France, Amaury Sport Organisation.

Dan will head-up the FanScore business division, which uses technology and data solutions to help some of the world’s leading sports audience owners, to better know, understand and monetise their audiences.

FanScore sits at the intersection where Brands, Media and Rights Holders meet, creating digital fan engagement tools and platforms that harness the 360 degree spend and attention of the sports fan and provide ROI focused digital sponsorship solutions.

Aidan Cooney, InCrowd’s co-founder and CEO stated “InCrowd have built a fantastic and profitable fan marketing platform and with Dan now coming aboard, we are going to progress our development for our clients in order to produce the most rewarding fan experience no matter where they are.”

Dan Lipman stated “I’ve witnessed first-hand how digital and social media has influenced the way in which brands look to activate to sports audiences, and the subsequent challenges this has created for Rights Holders in their ambitions to commercialise their assets.

I believe with our FanScore proposition we provide a genuine solution that will transform the ability for our partners to compete in a modern digital world. InCrowd have an unrivalled proposition and team to lead the way in revolutionising this space and I am delighted to have come on board to build on the great success the team have already achieved.”

InCrowd work with some of the biggest names in the sports industry including Premiership Rugby, 16 individual clubs, Toyota, Rugby Football League, Heineken and the ICC. To find out more information on InCrowd, please visit their website www.incrowdsports.com or contact us now via enquiries@incrowdsports.com

About InCrowd:

InCrowd provide a fan engagement & sponsorship activation platform. Our understanding of the avid and emotional mindset of a fan is combined with in-depth data analysis and ground-breaking digital technology to offer rights holders and brands a unique opportunity to reach out to sports fans in the moments that really matter. Many of the world‘s top rights holders & brands use InCrowd’s fan marketing platform to collect more fan data, sell more tickets and increase sponsorship revenue. We also help sponsors connect with new customers and convert fan interaction into revenue & advocacy. Find out more – www.incrowdsports.com