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BLOG: Gamification Series #3 – Achieving daily engagement with digital products

So far in this series of blog articles, we have explored how to drive business objectives using gamification techniques which play on our inbuilt desire to complete tasks and our satisfaction we get from our effort being celebrated.

Today we’ll be taking a look at how to specifically target increased regularity of engagement on digital platforms such as apps and websites. It’s commonplace in the digital space to use gamification techniques to build positive habits around using products on a regular basis. In the case of the popular language learning app “Duolingo”, the technique of “streaks” is used to great effect to help its users remember to spend some time every day studying their language of choice.

We’ll be delving into the Duolingo case study to explore the methods behind their implementation of the “usage streak”, and looking at how the same principles can help to bring fans back to a digital sports product or service on a more regular basis.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll mostly refer to an ‘app’ as our target digital product, but the same methodology is fully applicable to a website or pretty much any digital service/platform.

Usage streaks

Digital platforms often employ a variation of the “usage streaks” technique to help drive very frequent (daily or weekly) engagement with their product. The concept involves tracking and clearly visualising to the user how frequently they use the app or website. The aim for the user is to build up a “streak” of continued use for as long as possible without breaking the said streak. Most often, the desired engagement frequency is once per day, but the concept is somewhat flexible to other regular or well-defined intervals and can even be used over short periods of time perhaps for a one-off or a special event.

This technique can be easily adapted to accommodate a prize element, perhaps where users are rewarded with increasingly valued prizes for reaching a higher and uninterrupted streak.

Streaks are effective because they encourage users to put ever more time and effort into the app or website whilst building a usage habit.

The user doesn’t want to break the habit of using the product because doing so will forfeit all of the rewards which come in part from the effort which they have built up so far. This helps to ensure that the lure of potential prizes for reaching large unbroken streaks is always in the user’s mind when they pick up their phone. There is a fear of letting oneself down by forgetting to use the product one day, since it’s known to the user that doing so will result in them having to redo all of their hard effort to date to catch back up to the same point.

When paired with a well considered reward system, this technique can be very effective. There are two different types of reward to consider, both equally applicable. First is the rewarding of physical prizes at streak intervals. Pick streak thresholds at which to reward the user with a prize; these could increase in value as the streak gets higher. You can even set highly sought after “ultimate prizes” for extremely long usage streaks which could help with marketing campaigns and promotion.

Regardless of the actual prizes you pick, the key is to make the next prize always within reach… It may take 30 days to reach the prize you wanted, but if you are on day 23, you’ve only 7 days to go! Give up now, and you’ll be set back to day 1 again.

Second is to reward with prizes of personal and social value; essentially something with which to recognise and celebrate a user’s personal achievement. Ideally, such a reward should be easily shared with friends and peers. Typically this form of reward would be digital, meaning that it’s inexpensive and easy to distribute and as such can help to fill the gap between physical prize thresholds.

The key here is to (a) make the user feel proud of their achievement and (b) give them something which they can share with their peers to earn social respect. In existing products, this often takes the form of a personal “congratulations” screen, or a personalised shareable graphic which can be shared to social media, or even a badge which forever certifies the user’s achievement.

Case study: Duolingo

Duolingo is a very popular language-learning platform with a mobile app at the centre of its offering. Duolingo is monetised with adverts which appear after the conclusion of most lessons (lessons typically last between 5 and 15 minutes depending on format and ability). They also have a premium subscription service which offers some benefits in addition to removing the ads.

Duolingo incorporates a “Daily Streak” feature which clocks up the number of consecutive days in which a given user has completed a lesson. Upon completing the one required daily lesson, the user is shown a screen which confirms the advancement of their daily streak and congratulates them on getting so far. For reaching certain milestones, the user is also given a shareable graphic which they can post to social media or share via chat messages. Furthermore, there is an Achievement system which awards digital badges to the user’s profile for crossing big streak milestones for the first time.

Duolingo daily streak indicator. Screenshot of Duolingo on Android

Users keep track of their daily streak progress on the main app landing page, where it is clearly represented by a symbol of a flame with the number of current consecutive days streak. Users are also sent push notifications in the last few hours of the day to remind them to complete a lesson if they happen to forget, an effective backup prompt.

Whilst it is clear that the more frequently the app is used, the greater the opportunity for Duolingo to earn revenue through its ads, the streak technique serves to benefit the user as well. The streak makes you feel good about yourself as you do more practice, and the fear of losing the streak is enough to make you keep going. It helps to remind users to do their daily practice for their own personal benefit. With each day, you get closer and closer to beating your previous best and having something worthy to be proud of and show off to your friends.

It also helps to ensure that out of all the tools that language learners use, Duolingo is the least likely to be forgotten about or skipped, even on the busiest of days. As superficial as it might be to miss one single day of study, the feeling of being set back to the beginning or missing out on that next Achievement badge draws you back. You “may as well” just complete a lesson to ensure you keep on track.

This feature brilliantly combines the world of business and their corporate objectives with the key themes of self improvement which Duolingo’s users strive for, to build a product which satisfies both through engaging gamification.

Duolingo further plays on our emotions by making very good use of graphics and animations to further discourage users from forgetting to practice. If the user attempts to quit out of a lesson prematurely, they receive a graphic of the platform’s mascot, Duo – a green multilingual owl – on the verge of tears seemingly distraught that you could possibly neglect to study. In contrast, completing streak milestones depicts Duo with a broad smile, confetti and balloons. The mascot is represented throughout the user experience along with other characters to reinforce positive motivation and encourage you to not give up.

In-app graphic of Duo looking disappointed. Screenshot of Duolingo on Android

The streak feature makes it progressively harder to put the app down by building increased perceived value in your progress on their platform. So in summary, Duolingo is very effective at achieving daily retained users by engaging them through the key motivating factor which drove them to download Duolingo in the first place – their desire for self-improvement by learning a language… the embodiment of the notion that practice makes perfect. It creates a gamified value proposition to its users; “keep practising daily and we’ll celebrate your success with you”. Give up and you’ll lose out, not just in terms of progressing your linguistic skills; you’ll also have to start your streak over again.

Driving daily use among sports fans

The Usage Streak concept can be applied to any digital product. It doesn’t necessarily need to target daily engagement either.

In the case of digital products in the sports industry, the method can be targeted towards driving regular matchday behaviour.

Consider a team who wants to drive more frequent usage of their app or website. They can reward users who visit their digital platform every match day to check the scores by giving away merchandise or match tickets to users with the highest match day usage streaks. This can be presented in a fun, interactive way to users too, such as by collecting a digital stamp on their card for each successive matchday usage until they have enough to earn a prize.

This implementation provides clear indication to users about how to participate, which prizes are on offer, and how far they have progressed towards earning a prize. In doing so it keeps interest levels up and helps to show how tantalisingly close the next prize is. It doubles as a fun way for fans to track the matches they watch (either on TV or in the stadium), so that they can look back and recall their memories from throughout the season.

Streaks are not just applicable to matchday engagement, they are also a great way to run promotions or as part of a special event. For instance, a broadcast partner, club or league may be looking to increase the number of subscribers to their Premium Subscription or Video On Demand (VOD) service(s). In such a case, they are able to run a special content plan over the span of one or two weeks whereby a free piece of content (such as a video) is released on the platform for free every day during the promotional period. Users are encouraged to create a free account on the platform and come back every day to watch the new piece of freely released content. Users are able to see their current streak of days for which they have viewed the free piece of content, with each day being checked-off the list. If they come back every day during the promotional period, they can earn themselves a free one month subscription to the platform.

This approach not only gives the user added value in the form of a free piece of daily content, but it also gives them practical first-hand experience of the platform which may help them to make a decision to purchase a subscription once the promotion is over.

It serves both to drive increased usage numbers during the period of the promotion and beyond by demonstrating the value in the services offered, and gamify the process of earning a prize. The prize of 1 month’s free subscription further helps to build trust in the platform through giving users extended first-hand experiences, and can ultimately help to drive purchases.

Whether the user wins the free subscription or not, all participants will have had the opportunity to sample the benefits in one form or another. The platform may choose to expand this concept by introducing discounts for subscription purchases rewarded for reaching lesser daily streaks, further increasing the chance of a purchase.

Apply this to the context of a club shop or online store and you’ve got a way to encourage fans to purchase merchandise through rewarding them with discounts for daily interaction.

Variety is the spice of life, and the same is very much true for gamification. While a series of daily videos may be good, video content may get a little time consuming to produce.

An even better approach is to mix in different types of content for the user to engage with.

This could be articles, matchday previews, photo gallery, and more, and is highly advantageous since it puts less strain on the club’s video content team, spreading the load out, while making the experience for the fan more enjoyable (less monotonous). This is a technique commonly used throughout gamification and is described brilliantly in Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked – How to build habit-forming products” as being like a refrigerator which contains a single different random food item every time you open the door. The key is that the variety of possible products in the fridge always creates a surprise when the door is opened, which is a lot more engaging than if the product were always the same.

This applies to our selection of daily content in the same way – it varies randomly every day to make the experience more interesting. It helps users to appreciate each individual daily content piece much more since there’s no guarantee what tomorrow’s content will be, further heightening the perception of value in the services offered to them.

Increased Regularity of Use Leads to Increased Revenue

Of course, this process isn’t all about distributing prizes. The product stakeholders are ultimately looking to generate revenue from this. This technique gets users to open our app or website (and to interact in some specific way if desired).

The technique is designed to prompt the user to use the product every day and begin a usage journey. It’s then up to us as to how we choose to direct the user to the subsequent steps in that journey.

Once on the app, we can prompt users to participate in other features, such as to read articles, check scores, see the date of the next fixture and consider buying a ticket, or browse the online shop.

Regularity helps keep the product relevant in the minds of users by creating prompts to interact with it, leading to a greater likelihood that they will choose to use the app in situations where they might have time to use their mobile device or computer. In other words, we help the user to become more accustomed to our product in general by building trust through repeat usage with the intention of this leading to preferential consideration of our app/site over competing options.

With all this increased usage and relevancy, we can turn a digital product into a key driver of sales and revenue.

Consider how much more desirable an advertising spot on your website would be if users were coming back daily, or how much more likely a fan might be to purchase a subscription to your platform.

Streaks are a great way to keep fans coming back to a digital service, whether it be over a short period (such as a week or two, or even during a match day) or as a longer term proposition (to engage fans throughout the season).

Next Week…

In the next blog, we’ll explore how a variety of digital platforms successfully engage entire communities of fans. Ranging from viral videos to digital community projects and video games, we’ll uncover how to unite users together around your digital product to share a common goal and help drive the levels of usage that you desire.

Previous Blogs…

Blog #1 – Delivering Great Digital Experiences with Gamification

Blog #2 – Driving Retention to Meet Business Objectives

BLOG: Gamification Series #2 – Driving Retention to Meet Business Objectives

In the previous blog we reviewed how gamification techniques could be applied to our digital products. From now on, we’re going to look at specific example case studies of techniques used across a variety of industries in the digital space and delve into the reasonings and outcomes of using them. We’ll also look at applying these techniques to users of apps and websites in a sports contexts to create great digital experiences for fans. In this blog, #2 in the series, we will be taking a closer look at a gamification technique which will enhance fans’ digital experiences whilst delivering on targeted business objectives.

Gamification technique #1: setting personal goals and challenges

The first gamification principle we will cover in this series is the setting of personal goals or objectives. Our aim in this topic of gamification is to bring users back to a product more frequently than they would otherwise do and reward them for coming back, consequently extending the average usage lifespan and frequency of engagement.

The technique of setting “personal goals and challenges” is highly versatile and revolves around the idea of presenting users with a series of small tasks.

The user is given a reward for completing certain tasks and is able to track how many they have completed. Tasks can directly relate to business objectives; for example, in the case of a football club, selling more merchandise. An example task in this case might be “Purchase an item of merchandise from the club shop”, from which we can then reward the user with a discount on their next purchase.

The tasks get progressively harder and require more time and effort to complete. They usually relate to the use of main features of the product across different scenarios. Once a user completes a task, the next one appears and there’s often a choice of several different tasks to complete at any one time.

With this technique, rights holders can turn a series of relatively standard points of contact with the fans into a fun, interactive game in which participants can win prizes and earn social recognition.

The benefits

The implementation of this technique offers a number of benefits. To start with, the user is shown how they can earn rewards by using the digital product; this is a clear, obvious value exchange between the user and the app supplier (namely: “Do this, earn that”), providing more incentive to use a digital service.

Rewards don’t have to be physical prizes, they can be digital ones like discount codes or a digital badge to certify that the user completed the task. The latter provides official and social recognition and taps into the innate human desire to collect things (programmes, ticket stubs, club shirts etc) and boast about it over social media and other channels.

Secondly, this technique directly targets our aim to increase retention on the digital platform, as we are asking the user to participate in tasks which explicitly require progressively more time and effort to complete. We have the power to tailor the requirements for fulfilling each personal goal to help return usage and retention, like setting a task to be be completed over a number of days (weeks, months etc), or by requiring a certain action to be performed a certain number of times.

By slowly increasing the effort involved in tasks, the user is eased into having more contact with the product instead of throwing them straight in at the deep end.

Essentially this aims to help a new first-time user become a highly engaged user much quicker and with greater likelihood. The non-linear scale of progression further means that the user is rewarded, albeit in a smaller way, more frequently during the most critical period of use (during their first few days/weeks using the product), but can still be rewarded (perhaps with bigger rewards) later on.Small victories are very important for the user in building positive association with a product.

Thirdly, this technique helps the product to become more sticky; harder for the user to forget about and uninstall.

This is because they will have built up perceived value in the platform; a knowledge that they have put time and effort into progressing through the tasks to reach a certain point. If they uninstall now they won’t stand a chance of earning the next reward. There can also be considerable personal and social prestige in having put so much effort in. It’s something to be proud of or brag about and show off to friends. It becomes a challenge or game to try and complete the hardest tasks. Repetitive tasks which require regular interaction (e.g. every day) are then brought to the forefront of users’ minds, and can even lead to the app being dropped into casual conversation among friends or colleagues. One can imagine a conversation between friends who all use the same app saying “Oh I managed to complete that task over the weekend”, “No way, really?? That must have taken you forever!”. Take the daily HQ Trivia quiz app that was popular in 2018; we frequently played and discussed our progress in the InCrowd office!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in regards to ROI, we can write tasks which are derived directly from business objectives. We offer fans a value exchange in a similar way to a loyalty scheme (which, incidentally, I would argue is also a form of gamification).

As a side note, this process can also be used to help new users of a product by providing tasks which help to guide the user through basic functionality. In essence adapting this feature to act as a tutorial or guide, further reinforces positive outcomes early on in the user’s experience.

Case study: Call of Duty

Let’s take a look at this technique in action.

For our first case study in this series we will turn to the video games industry and to the current iteration of one of the most popular games of all time; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (MW). MW makes use of setting personal goals in a couple of key ways…

Members of the InCrowd Call of Duty squad preparing for the start of a match! Screenshot: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare “Warzone” on PC, captured using NVIDIA GeForce Experience.

The multiplayer portion of MW has a number of weapons for the user to use in battle. Each weapon has a collection of attachment upgrades used to fine-tune the performance of the weapon for different scenarios and to the user’s preferences. However, these attachments are earned slowly over time as the user uses each weapon more and more. Some of the best and most frequently used attachments are earned last, requiring the most amount of time and effort to acquire. Furthermore, not all weapons are available to use when the user first plays the game; they are required to complete very specific challenges to ‘unlock’ them. The net result is that if you want the freedom to access and use any weapon and attachment configuration of your choice, you must first prove your worth by taking the time to complete the associated challenges.

Moreover, MW offers users the ability to apply a camouflage to their weapons – with designs ranging from mundane and bland to exciting and colourful. Each camo is associated with a certain type of challenge requiring that the weapon be used in all manner of different specific situations. Some challenges are very straight forward to complete, yet require progressively more time to unlock. Other challenges are much more challenging to complete! The best, most visually engaging camos are the hardest to unlock and require a considerable amount of dedication to acquire. It’s very easy to spot a seasoned player in a game of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare!

The developers of MW have even gone so far as to add a special Golden camo which is earned for unlocking all of the others; this is a true accolade to earn. But it doesn’t stop there; at the time of writing there are three additional camos earned for going above and beyond that, including one for unlocking the gold camo for ALL weapons – a massive feat!

Yes, that is my golden crossbow which I’m showing off to you. One of the hardest weapons to use in the game, this exemplifies every aspect of this gamification technique from increased retention to perceived value. Screenshot: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC, captured using NVIDIA GeForce Experience

Furthermore, every day, users are given a fresh set of “Daily Challenges” to complete, often with some form of digital in-game reward. This keeps the game interesting and gets players checking back every day to see what’s up for grabs. There is always something new to entice players, reinforcing a habit of checking the challenges regularly.

These examples show how such a gamification technique can be constantly evolved as users complete more challenges.

The possibilities are pretty endless, especially if they are focussed on achievements; humans innately want to be bigger and better than their counterparts!

Rewarding time and effort

So to recap: the game presents a challenge in earning weapons, attachments and camos. The user must spend time slowly acquiring these as they play. Camos allow players to show off their skill with their favourite weapons and represent the effort which has been put in to earn them.

This simple process carries out two main jobs:

(1) it directly drives the levels of usage which the owner desires by demanding time and effort from the user. (2) It builds perceived value in what the user is earning through dedication and skill.

Neither of these statements would be true if everything was available to use (“unlocked”) from the beginning. The effort required, and the ‘glory’ of earning a golden camo results in users coming back to play more frequently, perhaps using free time which they would not otherwise have occupied with playing the game (something I know I am guilty of!).

Infinity Ward and Activision (the principle developers and publishers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare respectively) use this method to drive the engagement statistics which they require to make the game a success. If they did not use this approach, users would only play when they are naturally inclined to do so through stimuli external to the game itself, such as a friend suggesting to play or finding some free time on a weekend.

However, MW ensures that the glory of earning a highly prized camo is always on the minds of its users, relying less on natural prompts to play and instead generating its own. The lure of a shiny golden weapon is too hard to resist to fans of the game… this results in more frequent prompts to play whenever a free moment arises, tapping into the human instinct to want to reap the rewards of their hard earned efforts.

The concept works particularly well because it presents a clear value proposition to users: “Put in the effort, and we will reward you”. Looking at this from the business point of view, this translates to “Use our product as frequently as we would like, and we’ll add more value to your experience”.

It’s fascinating that the reward doesn’t even need to be physical. In this instance, the user receives a digital reward, something to allow them to show-off to their friends and rivals in-game, and give them a more ‘complete’ experience… and being digital, it doesn’t cost much (if anything) to reward them. Digital rewards can be duplicated to match the requirement (almost) completely free.

A selection of camo options available to customise weapons in Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Screenshot: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC, captured using NVIDIA GeForce Experience

Application in digital products for sports

We can take the fundamental elements of this technique and apply them to almost any digital product. Consider a football club. They want to sell more tickets, increase purchases at their club shop, encourage fans to eat and drink at the concession stands and get fans more engaged with the club.

Through their digital platforms, the club can release a series of challenges and rewards to celebrate fans who go the extra mile. This could be surfaced on their app or website for users to keep track of their progress.

“Challenges” could include:

  • Visit the home ground once this season
  • Buy a ticket for you and one other person
  • Check the full time scores via the app for every match during the season
  • Make a purchase at the club shop this season
  • Purchase a drink at the bar on 3 separate occasions this season
  • Read the club history page on the club website
    …and more.

You’ll notice that these example challenges involve different areas; ticket sales to food and drink to digital platform usage, and each clearly address a business objective. Challenges are a great way to join the dots between different business areas and assets which the fans consider integral to their experience as a supporter. This can further help fans of all manner of backgrounds and circumstances be part of (and feel closer to) the club by carefully designing challenges which all fans can participate in and benefit from.

As part of the value exchange, via the chosen digital platform the club can give fans a fun personalised graphic which they can share to their social media or chat messages to show how far they’ve progressed. In combination with the rewarding of digital “achievement” badges, this gives fans social recognition for their achievement and feels a sense of appreciation from the club for their commitment.

The club could also give away rewards such as discounts on merchandise, a free drink at the bar or recognition via club social channels, all helping to communicate the value exchange and drive the targeted engagement. Rewards would need to be proportional to the effort required and budget available.

Additionally, a form of loyalty scheme can be used to reward users according to the number of challenges they’ve completed. The more challenges completed, the better the benefits from the scheme, with distinct tiers differentiating users according to the effort they have put in.

As you can see, this is a fun, rewarding way for fans to engage more with the club, while the club benefits from increased engagement in the particular areas targeted as per their business objectives.

It’s up to the club how to reward fans, be that digitally or physically. Provided that the user is given something to show for their effort, the value exchange remains intact.

The majority of us are naturally drawn to completing tasks – we never want to leave things half completed and we want to tick boxes – driven by the satisfaction of completing a task. The reward (no matter how small) exploits that piece of human nature and gives us an extra incentive;

“If I just play a bit more, I’ll unlock this item”.

“If I spend an hour extra cycling today, I’ll get to the top of the leaderboard”. “Only two more holidays and we’ll be gold members”.

All of this gives the user additional reason to consider doing something. In their mind it builds a case for (rather than a case against) using the digital product. In this way it becomes a prompt – something which the user takes into account when making decisions, such as whether to bother picking up their phone to open an app, or which holiday package provider to go with.

Increased revenue and new inventory to sell

Application of this technique aims to ultimately lead to increased revenue. By incentivising fans to use the club app and website more often and with greater engagement, the increased usage traffic allows you to serve sponsor adverts to fans more frequently, leading to greater sponsorship revenue and a higher demand for your premium digital advertising spots.

The concept as a whole generates new inventory to sell and opens up great new opportunities for brands to build a closer, more meaningful relationship with fans.

Brands can ‘own’ the rights to sponsor everything from the name + branding of the challenges, to providing the prizes and featuring on the shareable personalised graphics.

We often put our hopes and ambitions at the forefront of our thinking on a daily basis, never quite able to escape thinking about them every now and then. Helping users to complete personal achievements through digital products keeps the product in-mind and relevant, helping to ensure users regularly spend time interacting with it, rather than forgetting about it.

Additional case studies

This same concept is used in a plethora of different products. Avios reward passengers for frequent flying, giving them access to progressively better and better rewards with a clear progression system and visual prestige of being a gold member. Strava encourages greater use of their app by setting exercise challenges which users can opt-in to in order to earn badges. The Trainline also rewards fans with badges for choosing to book their tickets through them rather than competitors

All are examples of the gamification of physical “real life” processes applied to a digital world, intended to drive more frequent, longer term engagement from their customers.

Next week:

This week we’ve covered how to achieve audience retention; next week we’ll be diving into how we can drive regular daily engagement. We’ll take a look at DuoLingo, a leading language learning app which encourages its users to complete lessons everyday, following its gamified approach to education. We’ll see how similar principles can be used to increase engagement levels among fans on match days.

BLOG: Blog Series, Part 1 – Delivering Great Digital Experiences with Gamification

Gamification allows us to drive greater usage and retain a larger audience by targeting specific interactions. This blog series explores the fundamentals of gamification techniques at use in some of the most successful digital products.

Introduction

Gamification is something of a buzzword at the moment; Occasionally I hear the phrase being dropped into a conversation but rarely is the meaning behind it fully understood or appreciated. It’s one of those things that most people operating in the digital space can’t quite put their finger on, and as such, it can be perceived as a “nice-to-have”.

However, as we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks, it is very rare to see a highly successful digital product or service which does not, in some way, rely on the principles and benefits delivered by well-founded gamification strategy. In fact, by the time you have reached the end of this blog series, I challenge you to take a look at some of the digital products you use most frequently and consider “does this product make use of gamification elements?” – I think that for the majority of cases the answer will be “Yes”.

What is gamification?

In essence, gamification is about making products or services more ‘sticky’ through a variety of techniques which encourage increased frequency and duration of engagement, as traditionally used in the video games industry. In practice, this translates to designing features which consist of fun, challenging, sometimes competitive elements which add game-like qualities to portions of the product, often with some form of reward for the user.

In recent years, gamification has been a fundamental element in the most successful digital products on the market by using the same techniques used to maintain engagement in video games.

Let’s look at an example:

A non-gamified app or digital service will typically rely on external stimuli to trigger usage. A great example would be a train timetable app. If you’re planning a journey, you may consider using the app, but you’re almost certainly not going to check the timetable app when you have no interest in catching a train.

In contrast, an app or digital service which takes advantage of gamification techniques does not need to rely so heavily on such external stimuli alone for people to open the app and use it. Instead the gamification itself serves to build a positive habit of repeated usage among its users; they will be more inclined to habitually open and use the app in any given scenario, whether or not they are prompted to do so. In addition gamification further serves to make the experience of using the product more enjoyable.

The result is that the app receives considerably more frequent engagement, for a greater duration per engagement. This in turn helps to build up greater value in the app as perceived by the user, and as such makes the app harder to uninstall. This concept is explained very well by Nir Eyal in “Hooked – How to build habit-building products”, a book which I would highly recommend on the subject.

Gamification allows us to transform an app or digital product from something which is only used when there is a need, like sourcing useful information, into a product that becomes part of the users everyday activity. It enables a positive exchange of value between the user and the app publisher, driving more usage. The desire for information might be one of the main reasons to initially engage with the app (an ‘entry point’), but thereafter we can give the product more than just the ability to deliver information and nothing else.

Let’s go back to our example; in the case of the train timetable app, once the user has found out the information they need they are typically likely to shut the app down and not open it again until they are next hopping on public transport. Naturally, this would be our standard user journey and usage pattern – perhaps once per week or a couple of times per month.

Gamification seeks to expand on the functionality of the app and the perceived benefit(s) to the user, to give them greater reason to open the app up outside of their typical usage pattern, and elevated satisfaction in doing so.

So how does this principle translate to other industries? The good news is that this concept can be applied to almost any product or service. Take Google Maps for example. ‘On paper’ it seems like a relatively ordinary informational product, but did you know that Google utilises a slew of gamification techniques to ensure that their maps are kept up to date and accurate? We’ll cover this in more detail later in the series…

How about Audible, one of the leading platforms for digital audiobooks. Did you know that they keep listeners engaged by rewarding them with digital badges for finishing books, listening for multiple days straight or listening when you probably should be asleep?

Or perhaps you have used Strava, the digital fitness app which keeps track of your personal exercise statistics and allows you to share and compare them with friends and professional athletes?

Ensuring Ethical Implementation

The topic of gamification is broad, supported by a plethora of techniques for use in specific applications. When used correctly, it has proven to be a highly effective tool. However, we should also keep in mind the ethics of using such a powerful means of driving usage and avoid targeting them towards driving unethical outcomes such as unhealthy usage of products.

An example of this can be seen in the use of gamification and similar strategies in “loot crates” – a recent phenomenon which has been likened to gambling seen in some video games. This practice has been quite rightly restricted recently. Remember, ethical gamification is a value exchange – it gives our users something of value every time they engage. Again, I suggest you check out Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked” as he goes into some detail about the ethics of similar techniques. When implementing gamification, we have to ensure that the balance of the value exchange remains positive for both parties and does not tip into obsessive usage and negative responses and experiences.

Gamification should always help to make digital products more enjoyable and more rewarding to use, reinforcing a positive sentiment towards products and the brand, giving the user a greater digital experience.

Applying Gamification To Your Digital Sports Product

Gamification can take many different forms and is determined heavily by the outcomes you want to achieve. It ultimately informs the features which one might look to include in a digital product.

Gamification in a sports context builds upon the passion and emotion of fans – give them something to be proud of or a goal to work towards. Perhaps a reward to be proud of and a way to share their achievement and enjoyment. It can also take the form of a unique experience that will trigger a “wow” moment.

Of course, whether you’re a sports team, league, federation, broadcaster or another entity, your business objectives will likely be at the top of your list of considerations when looking at digital product features. Introducing gamification allows us to take a simple business objective such as “Collect XX customer email addresses per month”, and turn it into a great feature which achieves it’s data capture objective more effectively than traditional means by making the process more engaging, and more enjoyable for the fan. Don’t just collect their details through a basic registration – make more of it, and reward the fan.

Gamification outside the digital space

Gamification is a way of thinking which can be adapted and applied to pretty much any context inside AND outside the digital space. Maybe you are a club looking to drive more ticket sales, or perhaps you’re a rights holder or broadcaster aiming to increase market share by targeting viewership of your articles and video content.

You will often see many secondary benefits of using gamification techniques too, such as increased traffic and engagement with other sections of your product through increasing usage generally. A user might be there to engage with the gamification features you’ve introduced, but whilst there might just engage with a video, news article or head through to the online ticket booth or merchandise store.

In turn, increased digital usage leads to the increased value of your digital assets, creating more attractive sponsorship opportunity and increased ROI whilst helping fans feel closer to the club with more regular, more rewarding engagements.

The Blog Series

So there’s your introduction to gamification! Throughout this series, I aim to show you the benefits that a good gamification strategy can have on meeting your business objectives, whilst giving fans a better experience.

We will be posting a new blog article every week; we’ll be looking in detail at some of the gamification techniques used across different industries with case studies across a range of different genres. We’ll also be taking a closer look at how the principles discussed can be applied to other digital products, particularly in the context of a digital sports product.

We’ll look at some specific case studies of apps and digital products which you may have interacted with, ranging from fitness and self-improvement apps such as Strava and Duolingo to eSports and video games like Call of Duty and Rocket League. You’ll see how gamification has been applied to these products and the behaviours they drive in their users.

By the end of this series, we hope that you’ll have much more of an understanding about what gamification is in practice, and realise that gamification is not just a buzzword, but an integral component in delivering great the fan experiences through successful digital products.

Next Week…

Next week we’ll be kicking off the series with an exploration into one of the biggest video game series around – Call of Duty. I’ll be explaining how the game retains users on the platform and encourages them to engage with specific features by setting personal objectives for the user to achieve.

Stay tuned!

NEWS: Success Story – The RFL, InCrowd & Rewards4 blend engagement and loyalty

The RFL and InCrowd have worked together with Rewards4 to expand the highly successful Rewards4Rugby League loyalty programme, utilising fan data-driven push notifications to increase engagement.

Overview

Over the last 3 years, InCrowd has worked closely with The RFL and their partners to produce Our League, a world-class membership platform that boasts over 145,000 active members to date. During planning for the 2020 season a priority was placed on an enhanced integration with loyalty scheme provider Rewards4. For the launch of the platform back in 2017, Rewards4Rugby League, InCrowd and The RFL built a scheme that rewarded predictor performance. The predictor is a season-long engagement feature in which fans votes for match outcomes and try to climb the leaderboard to win money can’t buy prizes. Points won during the season counted towards discounts off a variety of rugby league tickets including The Coral Challenge Cup Final, and the Betfred Super League Grand Final. Since the start of the 2018 Betfred Super League season, nearly 27,000 predictor players have won a combined total of £70,000 worth of Rewards4Rugby League points, from this single touchpoint.

Given the unprecedented level of engagement with Our League’s predictor along with polls and player of the match voting, all parties were keen to build on these the strong foundations and further enhance the Rewards4Rugby League experience for Our League members.

The Solution

In time for the 2020 season, InCrowd, The RFL and Rewards4 collaborated to introduce an advanced push notification integration that would drive further engagement with the Rewards4Rugby League platform, through tailored and automated notifications in relations to points accrued by the fan. With this new development in place, predictor, polls and player of the match participants receive an automatic push notification informing them that they have earned points. This push notification’s call to action is relevant to the individual user’s Rewards4Rugby League account status. If they are already registered, the push prompts them to directly access their account. If new to the Rewards4 programme, the push encourages them to create an account at that moment. 

Integrating this smart push notification system increases the benefits of the loyalty scheme beyond those who perform well on the predictor, to Rugby League fans who take part in any of the fan activations within Our League. The programme now delivers four ways in which Our League members can accrue points:

  • Achieving streaks of correct predictions
  • Participating in the predictor, polls or player of the match voting

How it works

Results

The launch of the Rewards4Rugby League push notification integration has surpassed all expectations, with Our League members responding positively to seeing tangible benefits from their enhanced engagement with the Our League platform. 

Over the course of the 2019 season (February to October), Rewards4Rugby League members participated in 14.4% of the polls, player of the match and predictor questions available.

During the period of February to mid-March 2020 (pre Covid-19), participation from the same users rose to 32.9%, a 128% increase.

Nichola Spencer, Membership Manager, RFL: “For The Rugby Football League the further integration with Rewards4 and InCrowd has been a real win for our Members. We are able to offer members an extra financial incentive which encourages further engagement fans can spend on Rugby League ticketing and retail with no additional costs for The RFL. The integration is now a seamless experience for users and we look forward to adding more engagement touchpoints for them in the future.”

The numbers:

  • 85,000+ interactions with Our Leagues polls, predictor and player of the match vote.
  • 15,177 users have linked their Our League and Rewards4Rugby League accounts since the launch of the programme in 2018, an average of 419 accounts a month.
  • 2,305 accounts were linked in February 2020 as a result of the push notification integration.
  • 9,500 unique members have collected points as a result of Our League engagements.
  • 6,900 of these were existing Rewards4Rugby League members
  • 2,600 were new members
  • 1.7 million cumulative points have been collected.
  • 9, the average Rewards4Rugby League related engagements per member, where points have been collected

Tom Cowgill,  Director Rewards4: “It’s clear from these early results that if you make it simple and seamless for a fan to collect points for engaging with your app and those points actually have a value to the fan then, a) you have happy fans and b) they engage more with the content in your app.  Our integration with InCrowd enables OurLeague members to collect points within the app for voting on man of the match, entering a predictor or a poll.  This has clearly resonated with fans and the feedback has been wholly positive (as is evidenced by the Trustpilot review from Lee).  We are looking forward to working with the RFL and InCrowd to introduce more points collection touchpoints within the app and seeing even higher levels of engagement once the season recommences in August 2020.”

Benefits

  • Fans receive clear, monetary benefits for engaging with the sport that they love. These can be redeemed against ticket purchases such as the Coral Challenge Cup Final.
  • The RFL benefits from both greater engagement and satisfaction from rugby league fans, and increased revenue from discounted purchases by the fans using the programme.

Lee left a five star review on Trust Pilot: “An excellent concept. I earn points for picking man of match for instance by effectively a few clicks. Those points turn into pence which add up to pounds and recently turned the pounds to a voucher which was spent easily. A very good and easy way to earn money for that jersey you want or tickets to see your team.”

Darren Parsons, InCrowd: “We were confident this addition would be well received by the rugby league fanbase that are already highly engaged with the Our League platform, but the numbers seen straight from launch were even more positive than expected. As a result of a few strategies consulted on by InCrowd and actioned by the RFL, there has been a marked increase in engagement across a wide variety of Our League features which is great to see. We’ll continue to monitor this closely and explore how we can develop the offering to fans further.”

NEWS: InCrowd introduces Front Row, a live fan video activation for LED perimeter and big screen stadium displays

For the foreseeable future, sport will be played without fans in stands; but that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the game. InCrowd Cast Front Row allows the user to moderate live video feeds of fans from their homes and display the footage around the venue on any available LED perimeters and big screen equipment.

What is Front Row?

The use of LED perimeters is the key. Whilst numerous closed-door crowd noise and virtual attendance solutions have presented themselves in reaction to the Covid-19 crisis, Front Row is one of the only solutions on the market that allows the user to transmit video to the LED perimeters. Fans will be pitchside, their live video feeds displayed in close view of the players they are supporting. Importantly, Front Row offers real-time fan engagement which avoids difficult situations in which fan reaction doesn’t match on-pitch action, a problem often encountered in pre-recorded fan video feeds.

Front Row is a fan engagement solution with longevity; it does not start and finish with closed-door sport. Front Row allows fans unable to attend matches to be part of the action and to contribute to the stadium atmosphere. Create deeper connections with your international audience and massively improve accessibility for every fan, by putting them in the front row. There are also numerous new sponsorship opportunities for partners’ brands across the perimeter and big-screen displays whilst also driving direct revenue through ticket and merchandise promotions.

Front Row gives rights holders the opportunity to create a brand new digital fan experience and bring stadiums back to life.

How does Front Row work?

Front Row can transmit live fan video to in-stadia display in just a few simple steps:

  1. The Operator dials selected fans -+into a Zoom video call via a PC running InCrowd Cast Instadia Display Software. Zoom grid view will then allocate each fan a square segment.
  2. InCrowd Cast will then capture the zoom screen output of up to 16 fans and apply those individual camera feeds to the Cast software, ready to be transmitted to chosen stadium displays (fan grid format for big screen, single fan segments for perimeters).
  3. With InCrowd Cast connected to the big screen and/or the LED perimeters, these fan videos will be displayed in real-time.

What do I need?

A laptop/PC
Front Row works with 3×3 or a 4×4 grids of fan segments on a single Zoom call, giving 9 or 16 fans the opportunity to be shown live across the stadium displays. (If you would like to show more than 16 fans on the in-stadia displays, that is possible! Get in touch and we can explain the logistics).  

An InCrowd Cast licence
This is the control software that will be plugged in and operating the boards.

An Operator
An individual that can manage the Zoom call, so they can closely watch the call and preempt any misbehaviour or dismiss/add fans from the call.

Full Control

Front Row operators have the ability to fully moderate and control what is displayed in the stadium:

Adapt the grid size and number of grids to ensure a full display on the big screen.

Control the number of segments in perimeters to fit with advertising commitments.

Full moderation; operators can swiftly remove and replace video feeds as necessary.

Set fail-safe imagery; immediate activation if a fan drops off feed or is removed.

Dropped video detection; the system can detect a missing fan, auto-fills with fail-safe.

Sponsorship; the system can dynamically switch between fan & sponsor content

 

For more information on Front Row contact ollie.clements@incrowdsports.com

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: 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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RFL’s Our League named as a finalist at the Sports Business Awards

Our League, the Rugby Football League’s membership scheme for fans, players, coaches, volunteers and viewers, has earned the game further national recognition with a nomination in a second major sports awards ceremony this spring.

Our League is in the running for a Sports Business Award on May 31 in the Best Fan Engagement Programme category. This is the second award nomination of the awards season, having already been included on the shortlist for Best Fan / Community Engagement for the BT Sports Industry Awards on April 25. This second nomination comes after Our League recently celebrated breaking through the 100,000 members milestone, showing just how much Rugby League means to the fans.

Mark Foster, the RFL’s Chief Commercial Officer, said: “It’s great to have this recognition for the sport, and also for the people who have worked so hard to establish and develop Our League since it was launched in late 2017.“It was the first Rugby League OTT platform, allowing more matches and features to be broadcast and watched than ever before – and a pivotal part of our strategy for ensuring that Rugby League is well-placed to capitalise on the opportunities provided by the digital revolution.”

Launched in Autumn 2017 in partnership with InCrowd, the membership scheme has improved fan experience and engagement for lovers of Rugby League at all levels of the game, offering exclusive content, predictor games, ticket offers, money can’t buy benefits and prizes via the digital platforms – app (iOS & Android) and website that members can access. This season Rugby League personalities such as Andrew Henderson and Jamie Jones-Buchanan have led extensive coverage of the Betfred Championship and League One competitions, focusing on the best tries and matches through the week – as well as providing live and exclusive coverage every weekend.

This weekend (30th March) focus turns to the Coral Challenge Cup, with the Our League cameras focusing on the famous St Helens amateur club Thatto Heath, and their attempt to spring an upset against North Wales Crusaders. That will be followed by a blockbuster opening fixture from the fast-growing Women’s Super League on April 7, as Wigan Warriors launch their defence of the title against fierce local rivals St Helens.

Darren Parsons, Marketing Account Manager at InCrowd said, “Recently smashing the 100K member mark, Our League continues to be a great project to work on in close collaboration with the Rugby Football League. It’s been amazing to see fans from all corners of the Rugby League community come together and find something to engage with on the platform; it’s fast becoming an absolute must-have, for every fan.”

Download the Our League app on Apple iOS and Android or visit rugby-league.com to sign up for FREE!

The RFL & InCrowd welcome over 100,000 members to Our League

Our League, the RFL’s website & mobile app for rugby league spectators, viewers & participants has officially surpassed the 100,000 members mark.

Launched in Autumn 2017 in partnership with InCrowd, the membership platform offers exclusive content, participation, ticketing integration, member benefits and prizes, enhancing the fan experience for lovers of Rugby League at all levels of the game.

Surpassing the 100k mark is the latest achievement for the Our League platform, having celebrated a number of landmarks since it’s fruition. Over 76,000 members interact with Our League through the official app with single day usage peaking at over 47,000.

The stats

53 rugby league matches have been streamed live, including Betfred Championship and League 1, Coral Challenge Cup (Men’s & Women’s) and Women’s Super League. 51,000 unique members have watched the live streamed matches, amounting to over 160,000 cumulative live streams views to date, with the current record at 25,000 viewers during England vs France in October 2018.

The popular round-by-round predictor game, which has engaged nearly 40,000 regular players, has awarded supporters with numerous prizes including hospitality tickets at all major Rugby League events, signed shirts/match balls and the opportunity to win the grand prize of £20,000.

Supporters have also been able to have their say by voting for the Man of the Match for every televised Betfred Super League and Betfred Championship fixture. Participation in the poll has generated an average of 3,000 votes per game. The app’s match centre, which covers community leagues right up to the Betfred Super League, was viewed over 1 million times in February alone.

Our League 100K members
Nichola Spencer, Membership Manager at the RFL said, “It’s fantastic that we’ve achieved the 100k members mark and the success of Our League continues to surpass our expectations. Our active membership numbers are constantly increasing and we are smashing record after record in terms of users and participation.”
“We’d like to thank InCrowd for the exceptional service they have provided since the launch of the platforms and we look forward to continuing our relationship with them to further improve the app and website. We are excited about what we will achieve together over the course of 2019, delivering an even better experience for our unique and passionate fans.”

Darren Parsons, Marketing Account Manager at InCrowd said “Our League continues to be a great project to work on, with the platform evolving and usage increasing regularly. It has been great to see members from all corners of the rugby league community come together and find something to engage with on the platform and in collaboration with The Rugby Football League, we will continue to develop Our League into an absolute must-have, for every fan.”

Download the Our League app on Apple iOS and Android or visit rugby-league.com to sign up for FREE!