The 2017 Fan Engagement/Experience 100-1 Recap

The 2017 Fan Engagement/Experience 100-1 Recap

Hello and welcome to the 2017 fan engagement/experience year in review countdown-recap-innovation-spectacular where I’ll again be showcasing 100-1 ideas from this space across the sports business landscape. Of course this is all in my honest opinion so if you have seen something else that should of made it into the list please join the discussion on Twitter @MrBlairHughes or comment below with your thoughts as this is all about sharing and showcasing ideas with the sports business community. 

Firstly, well done to the whole industry and in particular the hard working fan engagement/customer experience reps across the globe for once again going above and beyond for sports fans to not only listen to them but provide them with memorable experiences.

This year I’ll also be providing a quirky, random and fun take on some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve seen in this area from across my travels throughout Australia, USA, UK, Japan and India over the course of the year. You’ll be able to follow that on Twitter under the hashtag #25DaysOfFE.

The previous 100-1 countdowns can also be found below:

2016: Fan Engagement 2016 Year In Review: 100 Global Fan Engagement/Experience Activations

2015: Fan Engagement 2015 Year In Review: 100 Global Fan Engagement Activations

In 2017 I also added over 2000 ideas to my 6000+ fan engagement/experience Pinterest board which has again proven to be a valuable educational resource to leagues, clubs, stadiums and sponsors from across the globe as well as small businesses and university sports business courses. It’s great to know that a simple fun resource I started over four years ago has become so useful to so many colleagues all over the world from Russia and India to right here in Australia. 

On a personal level, 2017 has been an outstanding year of career development for myself. I took the risk to leave a hectic full time role and backed myself to jump straight into consulting picking up clients including the Portuguese Football League, Denver Broncos, Chelsea FC, Gage Roads Brewing Company, Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, TechFront, Sydney Swans and Kojo amongst a host of consulting for sports tech start-up’s, small businesses, craft breweries and clients within the music business. I also visited a bunch of new venues and attended close to 80 matches across India, Japan, USA, England and Australia with some of the experiences in Asia proving to be valuable in observing fan sociology and fan engagement in these parts of the world.

So what’s next in this space for sports fans then? How will fan engagement/experience continue to evolve?

My predictions for 2018 are that we’ll see more developments in the following areas:

  • Chat-bots
  • Continued rise of women’s sport from broadcasting to attendances resulting in more female fans and higher female sport participation numbers
  • More fan created content being harnessed by teams
  • Augmented reality viewing opportunities 
  • Athlete led content and more athlete voiced media
  • NFC/RFID tag/chips coming into more sports applications 
  • Holograms, drones, robots although in small doses
  • More inclusive venues
  • Facial recognition and biometrics technology 
  • Use of smart home devices in venues
  • iBeacons and geo-fences
  • More teams signing on ESports players, tapping into leagues and setting up training centres
  • Incredible out of this world stadium visual and audio shows
  • Fan led control over camera angles/viewing
  • More fan-first pricing options at venues
  • Ticketing companies to improve their technology to stop bots/scalpers

What else would you add?

Let’s get started on the count down.

Stay tuned for the next part of this recap next week when I count down 24-1 of 2017 best in fan engagement/experience. 

100. The Seattle Mariners installed the Amazon Alexa smart home device in each of their 59 suites to enable fans to use their voices to order food, change TV channels and play music all adding to the fan experience at Safeco Field. 

99. MLS team Philadelphia Union signed on a CTO. That’s right a Chief Tattoo Officer. A creative way to galvanise the local community and provide a new outlet for the team to acquire new fans. While the idea was originally designed just for players to get inked they’ve been able to host days like a ‘mini-tattoo-and-team fest’ that’s brought fans and players closer.

98. The Judge’s Chambers. Yankee Stadium and the NY Yankees added this special seating section to honour player Aaron Judge with faux wood paneling to resemble a courtroom’s jury box situated in three rows in section 104 of the stadium. Will we see future stadiums creating more of these type of areas within venue areas that can be reconfigured into new and creative spaces?

97. In my recent travels back and forth to London I’ve seen a few teams such as West Ham at the Olympic Stadium offer early bird incentive offers on food and beverage items in an attempt to get fans into the ground earlier which means more eyeballs on sponsors branding, more overall spend on merchandise and F&B and more chances for collecting data from fans as they interact with all of the fan engagement initiatives on display. I was lucky enough to hang out at Stamford Bridge a couple of times this season for Chelsea FC games and to take in their very good fan engagement activations but I also noted how they offer fans this early bird beer incentive for the first 30 minutes after gates open and then for a further 30 minutes if they use the club app to express order. Chelsea really have stepped up their offerings for fans and is one of the best fan zones I’ve checked out in recent UK football ground visits so if you get the chance stop by and check it out.

Chelsea FC Stamford Bridge

96. Of all the team, stadium and sports start up tech apps I played around with this year, the NRL Brisbane Broncos FanTribe gamification app was easily the most engaging, enjoyable and addictive. From earning points by participating in polls, quizzes and activities fans were able to use those and be rewarded with money can’t buy prizes and experiences. The exclusive insider content as well as the UX of the app were also key highlights here too.

Brisbane Broncos FanTribe

95. Chatbots. While there were an abundance of chat bots this year from across the sports business spectrum some of the key ones for me that stood out were right here in Australia with the Australian Kangaroos, Adelaide Crows and Perth Wildcats all delivering exceptional added opportunities for fans to engage with the teams via this AI tech. I tried hard to trip these chat bots up with mundane and hard questions but they were really well prepared and thought out. I also found it really cool and easy to be able to buy tickets to a game through Facebook Messenger as well. I expect to see more teams and venues jumping straight into this space in 2018 as it clearly represents an opportunity to continue to globally engage with fans 24/7 while offering potential new revenue streams for ticketing and merchandise.

94. While at NRG Stadium for Super Bowl 51 in Houston, Texas this year I participated in this ‘Fan Mail’ activation whereby fans could send a personalised postcard of their day at the Super Bowl to anyone in the world. I filled out one for my girlfriend back in Melbourne, my folks in Brisbane and a die-hard NFL mate in London. I didn’t hold out much hope that these would actually be sent internationally as I was thinking that they would only have stamps to cover internal US domestic postage but to my surprise and delight about a week after I got back from the US it arrived in my letterbox here in Melbourne.

93. While walking around the fan zone precinct for game 2 of the State of Origin at ANZ Stadium this year I had a quick go of the ‘Quick Shaves’ Schick Hydro sponsor activation where I got a little bit of a beard trim before the game. A nice little touch and a clever sponsor tie in to get ‘game ready’ for the big match.

Quick Shaves at SOO

92. Toy Toss. Hopefully a growing trend but there were a few good ones this year like the Hershey Bears toy toss on to the ice and the Charleroi one on to the pitch in Belgium. An idea that looks great on video and does a lot of good but probably makes all the OWHS, security and venue managers out there a little bit anxious. 

 

 

91. One trend I’ve seen this year is something that is far from a new thing but something which I don’t think clubs have effectively showcased to the public in the past. It’s not flashy, it’s not enabled by tech and it doesn’t take much effort. It’s the simple act of players giving their time after a performance to say thank you to fans, to sign autographs and even to give hugs to young fans who are desperate to meet their idols. Look at some of these kids faces. They are now hardcore loyal members for life of these teams and players because of these simple acts. Anyone whose worked in club land knows that these athletes do more community work and give up more of their time than most of us and along with these simple efforts after the game I think it goes a long way to adding to fan satisfaction both for the young fan and for the families who cough up the cash to attend. More of this in 2018 and more of teams showcasing the good they are doing for fans. Promoting the good stories and the positive experiences with fans, especially on social drives the ability to acquire new fans and galvanise existing supporters.

90. AFL Rookie Passport. I’ve seen some high quality educational team passports like from the Socceroos and Chelsea in the past but while attending the 2017 AFL Grand Final Footy Festival outside the MCG I picked up a copy of the AFL Rookie Passport and was very impressed with the content for junior fans. With an extensive spread of activities and engaging content this was one of the best I’ve seen for these formats. Kids were able to plan their day, do colouring in, complete quizzes and games all while learning healthy eating tips and other educational insights into both the life of an athlete and Aussie Rules.

 

89. A trend I’m seeing within stadium design is venues bringing in local artists or design studios to contribute artworks and design installations to liven up the often bland concrete walls and spaces inside venues. One team and venue that did this in 2017 was Southampton with the work they did at their stadium, St Mary’s. On my trek to Hard Rock Stadium for the Miami Dolphins last year I also noticed how they’ve linked up with local street artists to bring some colour and vibrancy to fans on match day.

 

88. While in Bangalore, India for the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL match I thought that these ‘Ask Me Anything’ event staffed seats were a bright and beneficial addition to the match day to help fans understand what was happening on game day, where to enter the M Chinnaswamy Stadium and how to access transport. Being set high up at various points around the stadium certainly helped fans be able to see and access this supporter liaison officer.

87. Scarf The City. Orlando Pride scattered 1000 free scarves across Florida for fans to pick up and keep as part of a thank you to fans campaign.

Orlando City MLS

86. Atlanta Braves Glove Experience. At SunTrust Park fans are able to hire out a baseball glove for the day through sponsor Mizuno. Fans can take a glove for a $1 deposit and can use it to try to catch foul balls and home runs.

85. North Queensland Cowboys mascots. In March I ventured up to the tropics in Townsville, North Queensland to take in my first North Queensland Cowboys NRL game day experience. While the crowd went wild when the Cowboys won in golden point, the other thing that sent the kids in the crowd nuts was the addition of no less than 10 different mascots. It may have actually been even more than 10. They had a mascot for every sponsor as well as the team mascots and the kids were running round the touchline like mad trying to get autographs, photos and high 5’s from these costumed characters. Some were downright hilarious though like the coffee sponsor giraffe that took 20 minutes to get down the stairs even with a minder to the kind of scary looking steak house mascot. All in all it was an interesting observation to watch how the kids interacted with these mascots as well as another creative and fun idea to get the sponsors involved.

 

84. Northern Premier League Division One team Prescott Cables FC gave their fans the chance to ‘Own and Loan’ a team jersey whereby fans could purchase a kit, loan it to the player to wear for the season and then at the end of the season the fan would get the jersey back fully signed by the team.

Prescott Cables 'Own and Loan' jersey

83. MLS team San Jose Earthquakes held a Lego Build day event for young fans to make replica stadiums and forge stronger connections with the team.

82. The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and the Fresno Tacos held the ‘Ultimate Food Fight’ and ‘Bacon Vs Tacos’ match which saws fans vote on various topics with the losing team having to wear their opponents hat in a game. The fan engagement and social media work on the microsite here is worth a look to see what they did for this campaign and I’m sure you’ll agree its as random, quirky, fun and brilliant as the merchandise range.

81. Cricket Australia and KFC Buckethead Army. Thousands of these KFC bucket caps are handed out to fans at the BBL (few pics below from back in January at the MCG) and as part of the current summer of cricket campaign with myself grabbing one at the first Ashes test match at the Gabba in Brisbane last week. A clever way to keep fans cool and stay sun smart while also giving the sponsor maximum branding in the crowd.


80. The Winnipeg Jets announced their new security team member signing. Meet Lenny, a high performance sniffer dog whose joined the NHL team’s venue security detail and was named by supporters in memory of a long time fan.

Winnipeg Jets Security Dog Lenny

79. The Baltimore Ravens debuted Faceware Interactive and Image Metric’s AR Face Kit technology which sees fans have access to a photo real, virtual, face painting experience that seamlessly integrates into the Raven’s mobile app. With around a dozen augmented reality face paints to try on this has proven popular with fans with other teams such as the Chicago Bears also jumping in here too.

Baltimore Ravens AR Face Kit

78. Cricket Australia recently debut their ‘Matchday App‘ which is accessed by their brilliant Live Pass app (if you want an example of an outstanding sports app that does everything from streaming live games to quality content then you have to check theirs out). The Matchday App only works when you’re in close proximity to the game and pops up to show you important event information such as what fan engagement activities are on as well as venue maps, match replays and how to get to the ground. A really impressive little addition to help fans out on the day of a match to show them how to get the most out of their day at the cricket.

77. While many game day giveaways end up scattered outside the stadium such is the poor quality or irrelevance to fans, this growth chart idea from Super Rugby’s Wellington Hurricanes is a prime example of a sponsor branded giveaway that could quite possibly stay hanging up inside a young fans room for years.

Wellington Hurricanes Growth Chart

76. For the 2017/18 NBA season, Nike has released special edition connected jerseys featuring NFC tag technology where fans can tap their jersey to access exclusive player content like stats and player playlists. Soon enough you’ll probably be able to tap your jersey and pay for food and beverage items inside the venue. 

NBA connected jerseys

75. Five of the Western Sydney Wanderers played a match against 50 kids as part of a new partnership. The commentary is as good as the footage here. 


74. Football League two side Notts County in England announced a creative jersey sponsorship deal whereby there would be 10 unique sponsors for each month of the season. A clever way to attract new fans especially with the month of November which featured music star and mega fan Jake Bugg sponsoring the team kit.

73. Fan First Pricing. A common theme at the moment for many mega stadiums is to reduce the cost of F&B items for fans. Some venues to put fans first with cheaper options to ease the cost of a day out included Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Arena which had $2 soft drinks, $5 beers, $2 hot dogs and $5 burgers.

72. The AFL team Geelong Cats debuted their ‘Fan Portal‘ which sees fans enter a private room with a select group of fellow fans, don special socks and gather round to reveal the floor retract to reveal the players below them. Fans are able to watch the team warm up, hear the noise and build up in the sheds before and after the game all from this special money can’t buy vantage point. 

 

71. Dutch football team RKC Waalwijk decided to switch up the traditional player’s entrance by substituting kids for elderly fans as a clever way to draw awareness to the loneliness often felt among older fans and members of society. Sydney FC also had older fans as mascots in an A-League game this year too. 

70. Not to be outdone, Chilean football team Colo-Colo took the field in their game this year with rescue dogs as their mascots to raise dog adoption awareness.

69. Way-Finding. How many times have you been to a venue this year and just wanted to easily be able to get to the loo, see the fan engagement activations or grab some food and drinks but have had to either wait in long lines or dodge around fellow fans just to try to find what you’re looking for? Well this year I’ve been able to see two way-finding set ups that attempt to solve this issue. The first one was at the Sydney Swans huge fan zone outside the Sydney Cricket Ground where there simple sign directs fans to all of the fan activities while the second example is Wait-Time’s way-finding screens which were recently installed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground but which have been a feature in US venues for a while now. I’ve only been able to utilise WaitTime at a match with a relatively smaller crowd than usual however found it to be an impressive addition to navigating the MCG. More venues across Australia and the globe will start to see this tech being rolled out for fans soon.

 

68. Cricket Australia’s ‘Cricket Hosts’. A fine addition this summer from CA has been the introduction of the Cricket Hosts who are very much like SLO’s (Supporter Liaison Officer’s) or game day helpers in the US who are on hand to provide game day advice and information to fans as well as answer their questions and get them pumped up for the day’s play. I had a chat to a few of these hosts at The Gabba for the first test and found them very helpful when it came to asking about the fan zone, seating and what else to expect from the day. A really effective solution to have positive smiling people on the ground representing and promoting the brand so that fans have everything they need for the match before they enter the venue.

67. The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings signed a ‘Generation Z’ consultant to help the organization better connect with young people. 18-year-old author and public speaker Jonah Stillman was drafted in with the aim of connecting to the team’s younger audiences through social and other digital means. A clever idea from the Vikings which I know a few other clubs and venues here in Australia are looking at replicating in some capacity.

66. Photo printing backpacks. The NY Mets and marketing technology firm M-ND introduced these ‘interactive, social-media curating- and photo-printing backpacks’ at Citi Field this year that saw fans able to upload a photo to social media and then track down one of the backpack wearing staff to be able to have their photo printed out as a keepsake. 

65. Bayern Munich hosted a press conference of a different kind with their one for the Audi Cup featuring the coaches coming in via hologram for the presser. With musicians like Roy Orbison already touring again in hologram form and the potential for hologram sports matches to be played as part of new broadcasting opportunities in places outside where the real match is taking place, this is sure to be a space to watch in the coming years for fans.


64. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings and Golden One Centre’s augmented reality app in partnership with Zappar and Nike enabled fans this year to give fans a 360-degree look at its new jersey when it was unveiled. The app lets fans personalize Sacramento Kings uniforms and virtually photograph themselves with star players.


63. Quiet sensory room spaces. This year both Liverpool FC and Cleveland Cavaliers debuted quiet spaces and sensory rooms at their venues. The basis for these rooms was to improve accessibility and inclusion for fans with sensory sensitivities such as autism and PTSD. The Cavs Quicken Loans room features calming paint tones, a textured wall, special seating and privacy away from loud noises and crowds. Over at Liverpool’s Anfield, the space includes a sensory portable bubble tube and light unit, fibre optic carpet, a projector and an LED bean bag. A clever idea here from both venues and teams to ensure that all fans, regardless of their diverse needs, are made to feel included and comfortable on match day.

62. Craft Beer. A common feature for teams and venues in recent times has been to jump on the craft beer wagon and provide a better beer experience for their fans who wish to sample local and independent brews. 2017 has been no different with many clubs and stadiums collaborating with craft breweries to establish partnerships with the local community and provide craft beer on match days or for other events in specialised craft beer bars. While below touches on some of these developments from my part of the world in Australia and New Zealand there have also been many others across the globe who have listened to their supporters to supply craft beer. Some of the developments include:

  • Essendon Bombers AFL: Partnership with CBCO
  • Westpac Stadium, NZ: Garage Project and NZ All Whites collab beer plus Wellington Phoenix sideline bar
  • The Precinct: Suncorp Stadium’s new bar featuring Little Creatures/Rogers (Yes not technically craft beer anymore)
  • Lords Cricket Ground: Craft beers on tap in general bar areas. Got to try a few of these back in April thanks to some very positive but bored public bar staff during a rain break between Essex and Middlesex.
  • Harrowgate Town FC: Collab craft beer
  • Melbourne Aces ABL: American craft beers on tap at the Victorian Baseball and Softball Centre
  • Melbourne City A-League: Partnership with Stomping Ground Brewing
  • West Ham United: The Olympic Stadium features a variety of craft beers on tap including Boleyn Bitter and West Ham Iron Ale
  • Central Coast Mariners A-League: Coastie Lager collab with 6 String Brewing
  • Canberra Raiders: Bentspoke Brewing on tap at Canberra Stadium
  • North Sydney Oval: Craft beers on tap in main stand bar
  • South Sydney NRL: Craft beers on tap
  • Adelaide Oval: Little Creatures/Rogers on tap- again purists will argue this is not craft

 

61. Pitch-side beds. Two of the stand outs this year for pitch-side experiences were the partnership that Allianz Arena and AirBNB did for the Audi Cup and also Old Trafford‘s partnership with Hilton Hotel.

Allianz Arena enabled some lucky fans to stay overnight in the stadium for two days and one night during the Audi Cup 2017. The modern and spacious accommodation was built directly on the sideline of the field, so fans could watch four games of world-class football from the most comfortable couch during the tournament.

Meanwhile at the Emirates Old Trafford a Hilton Hotel opened up that included 80 odd pitch-side rooms that provided cricket fans with a unique vantage point to take in the days play. Taking it one step further they rolled out some beds for another creative pitch-side viewing experience.

60. DROPIT developed an interactive app which connects teams and sponsors with their fans via in-game, 60-second drop auctions aiming to generate heightened excitement inside the venue. The app aims to deliver on both fan and brand engagement with immersive, digitally connected social experiences that combine the pace of a video game and the excitement of a live auction. I wrote a bit about this start up earlier in the year having been impressed with what I saw. They have since gone on to sign with an NBA team and other venues are also interested in adding this to the game day. Tech start ups come and go so it will be interesting to see how this goes in 2018 and beyond. What do you think though?


59. All the times teams listened to their fans in 2017. Below is obviously a small snapshot of some of the stories that went viral this year but certainly show the value of both players and teams listening to their fans. Whether it be a kid who writes to a player as part of his school work and then has the player visit to a player who offered to have a kick around with young fans in the park to going door to door with pizza to rally fans to get out to support the team nothing shows you value your fans more than listening to them and interacting in creative and positive ways for them. What else did you see this year?

58. Was this 2017’s best game day giveaway? 5000 cricket bats with player Rachael Heyhoe Flint’s signature on them were given out to every child attending the ICC Women’s World Cup final at Lord’s in July. What good game day giveaways did you see this year?

57. A-League team the Wellington Phoenix established a new diversity program in partnership with the Human Rights Commission, Red Cross, ChangeMakers Refugee Forum and Multicultural New Zealand. As part of the inclusion program, former refugees in the region were offered a season ticket for the 2017/18 season in recognition of the important role sport plays in building bridges between individuals and across communities. An inclusive way from the Phoenix and stakeholders here to acquire new life long members and bring the community closer together.

56. Wells Fargo Center and the Philadelphia 76ers announced a new addition to their concession stands by adding the Australian meat pie to honour Australian player Ben Simmons in what was the first international commercial arrangement for the team. The 76ers ‘Australia Heritage Night’ plans also sound like a creative way to highlight Australia, Simmons and the Four and Twenty partnership. A clever idea to provide something unique here to fans on match days in the venue which they certainly can’t get anywhere else in Philadelphia or the US.

55. Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium. After all the hype over the past couple of years the stadium finally opened this year and fans were not left disappointed by the fan experience features of the new venue. From the impressive halo screen and the fan first pricing on a range of F&B items to the state of the art retractable roof and the mega LED screen column this was the stadium that made the most noise in the industry this year. Looking forward to attending a game there soon. Optus Perth Stadium to step it up in 2018!


54. These ‘XXXX Gold Bay’ seat covers at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (Gabba) for the first ASHES cricket test match were a nice idea for fans to store their phones, sunnies and any other items. The fan section seat covers also came with small personalised fans which when plugged into your phone’s power socket provided some much needed fresh air.  In the back of the seats was also a bandana which when taken to the XXXX Gold staff could be exchanged for an ice cold one from an esky which was no doubt keeping fans cool.

53. Hiroshima Carp’s wearables cheer wristband. Fans of the Japanese baseball team Hiroshima Toyo Carp were able to add to their fan experience with this new wristband from Sharp this year. The device displays the current scores of games of the team with a built-in motion sensor sensing the movements of the arms of the carp fans wearing the band which is then interpreted as a “cheering action” that causes the smart-band to vibrate and the LEDs to illuminate to support the cheering. Fans are able to accumulate the “cheering action” as “cheering points” and use it to vote for player’s of the match as well as to interact with other fans.

52. AS Roma’s farewell to Totti and fan controlled videos. While AS Roma partnered with SmartReplay in 2017 to become the first football club to roll out a video experience which enables fans to control what they wanted to watch they also executed a social first content and media strategy to use Facebook Live to stream Totti’s farewell to a global audience and share the emotion in the stadium with fans all over the world. This resulted in over 12M views for the farewell speech and 73M views overall.


51. Sunderland AFC’s kit launch. The Sunderland kit launch featured a Facebook Live stream with two amateur football teams (Dawdon Welfare Park FC and Hall Farm Glasshus FC) taking to the field at Ashbrooke Cricket Club, one of Sunderland’s former homes, to play in a match to both promote the new jersey and get fans passionate about the club’s heritage. The campaign was so successful it even won a Football Business award.


50. These inflatable foam team and sponsor logos here from Atlanta based company Atlanta Special FX. Used on match day at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium these Cloudvertise eco friendly ‘Helium Soap’ 3D Logo Bubloon Clouds are certainly something new and exciting for fans on match day this year.


49. Never one to do things by the book, the Newtown Jet’s have continued to put on some very good events  for fans at Henson Park in Sydney over the past few years with their Hipster’s Day again proving to be a roaring success this year in attracting new fans and families. Featuring kids activities, food vans and craft beer, a day on the hill here is a must here especially to see the rise in attendances especially amongst families and females fans.

48. Brighton Hove and Albion FC’s personalised emails to fans. This year BHAFC sent out these personalised emails to every member at the end of the season showing them how many miles they had covered in the season as well as games attended and the special moments of the past season which saw the team promoted to the Premier League. An impressive albeit time consuming CRM effort that resulted in plenty of fan admiration for the Brighton digital, membership and fan engagement team.

47. Cricket Australia announced plans to enable fans the ability to live stream all of the 2017-18 summer of cricket action on Qantas planes in Australia which are fitted with Wi-Fi.  Most people like to be able to switch off from Wi-Fi while 10-30,000 feet up in the air however this announcement and partnership will no doubt delight many cricket mad fans who can now ensure they don’t miss any of the action.

46. The NBA Augmented Reality app. The ability to set up a team personalised set of hoops anywhere in the world and then tap your phone as if you’re taking a shot to play basketball was another impressive jump into AR for the NBA this year. The successful launch of the NBA AR app in October with this game that sees fans shoot three pointers in their own unique court set up is just another way the NBA and other major sports leagues are getting deeper into engaging fans with new technologies like augmented reality. 

45. Blatchy’s Blues SMARTWiG’s. The story of the State of Origin Blatchy’s Blues fan group is a success story in itself having been started and grown by a fan into a massive fan group that was then sold on to the NSWRL. The sheer fact that this group could get 10-15K fans to wear a blue wig at matches is credit to the team behind Blatchy’s but this year they stepped it up another level with STAR’s involvement to allow fans to have these SMARTWiG’s to include an LED antenna which lit up bright blue at ANZ Stadium back in June which created an incredible atmosphere. The SMARTWiG’s also enabled fans at the game to be able to listen in to 6 hours of Blatchy’s Blues Radio as well as receive exclusive radio access to the Blues’ dressing sheds with coach Laurie Daley and players talking directly to the Blues’ most loyal fans.

44. NFL Experience at Houston Super Bowl 51. If there was ever the ultimate fan engagement theme park, the NFL Experience in Houston earlier this year would be close to epitomising what it could be. This was an incredible spectacle of activations, sponsor activities, tech wonders and giveaways worthy of the greatest showbag you’ve ever picked up. I spent about 7 hours here wandering around and checking out all of the activities such as making an NFL helmet, viewing the latest in female fan gear, playing video games and sampling loads of American foods and drinks from sponsors. Thousands of fans ventured through the Houston Convention Centre for a week leading up to the Super Bowl and for abour $35USD they were able to visit the 100+ stalls here and participate in all of these fun activities. This has easily been the greatest fan engagement fan zone spectacle I have seen in all my time venturing across the globe to check and it is a must visit if you want to learn about best practice fan engagement. Sure the Super Bowl was fantastic to go to but in my opinion this was better!

 

43. Sometimes (and it’s actually more often than not) its just the simple and small things that can go a long way to improving fan satisfaction, increase loyalty and provide some quality fan engagement along the way. This was the case this year as can be seen below where FC Schalke played one of Ajax fans’ favourite tunes over the tannoy’s after their loss to Schalke. A nice and simple thing to do for travelling fans after a heavy loss.

42. Perth Glory have consistently been one of the most well performing teams in the A-League when it comes to fan engagement. From their petting zoo, free fruit flavoured water station and member’s fan wall the Glory have gone above and beyond for fans in recent times to show that they are listening to them. One activation that stood out this year was this smoothie station which allowed fans to pedal a stationary bicycle which in turn created a smoothie for themselves while they watched the game at NIB Stadium. 

41. In what was one of the most uplifting fan engagement stories from 2017, the work of the Iowa Hawkeyes whose fans, players and game officials all turn and wave to sick children in the hospital adjacent to their 70k capacity Kinnick stadium made many people smile at what is such a simple but moving gesture. The Hawkeyes said of the tradition: “What started as a fan suggestion on an Iowa Facebook fan page has turned into a full-blown movement: Iowa fans collectively waving to the top floor of the hospital, where the children and their families gather to watch Iowa, at the end of the first quarter during Hawkeye home games.”


40. The Australian Baseball League’s Melbourne Aces gave fans the chance to have a dinner date with one of their star players at a game this season and judging by the image it looks like a pretty fun and simple concept following the completion of the match. 

39. The NHL’s New York Rangers rode the subway in full gear earlier in December to a fan day and outdoor practice in Central Park. The players snapped selfies with fans on the journey into the city and found time to chat with young fans as part of this simple bit of fun by the team. 

38. eSports/Esports/ESports/esports. The proliferation of teams jumping into the esports space in 2017 showed no slowing down with global teams continuing to invest in either pro gamers and individual teams as well as set up high performance centres in venues. In 2017 esports was questioned as to whether or not it was actually a sport, was considered for the Olympics, had players buying into it and leaving traditional sports to become gamers and filled out 80,000 seat stadiums in China with events. The ability for sports stakeholders to tap into esports represents a new opportunity to win new fans and audiences to increase attendances, presents new revenue opportunities and is a broadcasting delight for media. Oh and by the way according to AP the correct spelling is ‘esports’. 

Some of the big esports developments from the sports business world this year included:

  • Sacramento Kings unveiling a new esports facility inside their venue.
  • The SCG established a high performance centre. 
  • Essendon FC bought the Abyss team.
  • Adelaide Crows acquired the Legacy esports team. 
  • Melbourne City signed an esports player. 
  • Seattle Sounders set up an esports gaming fan zone at their stadium. 
  • West Ham United ran a training session with their player to help other FIFA gamers up their skills.
  • The rise of esports fan groups continued, namely Hashtag United. 
  • QPRFC launched their own esports team. 
  • Adelaide United FC ran tutorials for fans.
  • In the MLS, NYCFC signed the first esports player. 
  • The FA Cup Gamers Tournament continued it’s successful run. 
  • Dutch side Eredivisie were the first to launch a league-wide esports competition.
  • Puskas winner Wendall quit football to become a pro-gamer. 

Another of the more intriguing spaces to watch in the coming years to see how teams and leagues fill stadiums for combined matches of esports and traditional sports where teams will battle each other in both worlds. 

37. . Rafa Nadal surprising fans in virtual reality (kind of) was a fun idea from this sponsor.

36. Cricket had a big year when it came to introducing interesting new content but so too did Twitter who in partnership with the ICC and IPL debuted a host of interesting content. The Indian Premier League debuted player emoji’s which were a hit with fans across the tournament. At the ICC Champions Trophy there was a host of new features such as the #AskCaptain series where fans could tweet in a question to the captains while fans could also opt in to receive personalised direct messages featuring score updates and video content. There was also a live commentary box stream on Twitter and the debut of the first female cricket emoji’s too.

35. freeD Technology VisionWith fans crying out for more diverse and unique camera angles to play back and view game plays and live action this new freeD virtual reality technology offers a pretty cool new viewing perspective for fans. With more than thirty 5K cameras surrounding each venue, the Intel® freeD™ technology delivers the clearest high-def images possible. This technology uses voxels (pixels with volume) to render replays in spectacular 3D, creating a multi-perspective view of key moments. The NFL used this tech this season to deliver new viewing experiences to fans with the use of VR and their 360 degree replay technology. 

34. Hackathons. There’s been a trend in the past year for sports business stakeholders to engage their fans and in particular those with data skills to help them do a deeper dive into the team data to improve their processes. Teams like Bayern Munich are “collaborating in teams to work on technical, business and design problems and develop innovative and creative software to build prototypes and come up with new ideas and approaches” to improve the fan experience. The NRL cracked open its stats to data experts and held a DataJam to “identify new trends and ways to visualise game play, participation levels, entertainment value and more” while MCFC collaborated with Google to hold their second hackathon event called #HackManCity which was designed to unlock new fan engagement ideas and ways of doing more innovative business.

33. The Brisbane Cricket Ground (Gabba) Pool Deck. Jacksonville’s Everbank Field has a pool and now the Gabba has one too. When I did the 2016 100-1 compilation last year I touched on this briefly however the final product was not yet ready. However last month I was able to visit the pool deck area at the Gabba for the first ASHES cricket test match and was blown away at what a unique, fun and slightly random fan experience this was for fans. The pool deck sits in an open area of the ground directly facing the pitch so fans are able to either sit at nice tables or on deckchairs or if they fancy they can take a dip in the pool and sit with fellow fans to take in all the action. Fans are allowed to take drinks into the area and are given a free towel to dry off with after a swim. The area provides free sunscreen and is patrolled by experienced lifeguards as well as being cleaned after every two hour session making it one of the cleanest pools in Australia. If you didn’t have any togs on you then they were also selling pairs to fans to change into before a swim. To think back to being a kid and watching cricket at the Gabba that one day I would be able to watch Steve Smith score his 21st century from a stadium pool is a crazy thought but it again shows how venues are pulling out all the stops to create unique seating and viewing experiences for patrons. To see more of the pool deck in action be sure to follow the BBL Brisbane Heat this summer as the pool will be in action again at the Gabba during those games.

32. NFC and RFID Chips. Finding their way into more and more of the sports world over the past year, these two different but related types of chips, NFC (Near Field Communication) and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) are adding more insights for fans from broadcasters in terms of statistics and player data.

Some better explanations of the two chips too:

NFC: A short-range wireless connectivity standard that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices.

RFID: A method of wireless communication that utilizes radio waves to identify and track objects.

Some of the developments with these chips and tags over the past year have included:

  • NFL installing RFID chips in every match ball to provide statistics for broadcasters and in turn fans.
  • NBA’s connected jerseys. Mentioned previously in this list. 
  • MLB enabling faster seamless access to venues by tapping their phone on ticket scanners. 
  • PROVA preventing the fraudulent sale of sports merch through NFC authentic tracking tags. 
  • Levis Stadium speeding up sales via NFC payments.
  • The unveiling of the new FIFA World Cup 2018 ball that features an NFC chip that fans can engage with to access exclusive content and information. 
  • These smart connected winter gloves for payments at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics which allow fans to use their gloves and keep warm to make payments at the venues next year.
  • Catapult Sports provided these new RFID player tracking devices for the 2017 NRL State Of Origin series.  
31. Trophy Tour. Welsh Premier League team Prestatyn Town FC took their trophy on a tour of the town and of the local businesses that supported them in the past season as a thank you. While there’s trophy tours for fans this was a novel approach to reward sponsors and fans of the team in the town who had helped out over the course of the season. 
30. Altrincham FC‏ asked local children to design a jersey that celebrated the diversity in the community an were overwhelmed with the response. There were also some other impressive work for fans here such as how they set up a WhatsApp broadcast list to keep fans connected straight to their mobiles as well as launching their own 5-a-side fantasy sports platform. A team well worth checking out as they’re putting fans at the forefront of all their activations here. 
29. Premier League side Southampton FC created this 80’s style animation with Under Armour to launch their 2017/18 kit design. The #MadeForHeroes cartoon was both a clever way to showcase Southampton’s digital prowess as well as launch the new kit and target young fans at the same time. 


28. Meet and Greet. Fans often complain that they’re never listened to or that their views are not taken seriously because clubs and leagues simply just don’t want to engage with them. The truth is that this couldn’t be further from reality in the majority of cases as many sports teams often host fan forums where fans can express their views in a constructive manner but also have systems in place to allow dialogue between fans and the club. One such team that did this well this year was the NBA’s Denver Nuggets who held a fan meet and greet with their President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly at a Denver beer pub. While some fans were also lucky enough to grab some tickets it also represented an opportunity for them to ask questions of the business. 

27. The Los Angeles Angels hosted an introductory press conference for fans by the home plate gate entrance of Angel Stadium to showcase their new player Shohei Ohtani. #ShoheiDay came complete with a red carpet entrance and merch for sale right there and then for fans. 

26. The Baltimore Ravens offered fans the chance to have their cars stencilled in bright purple colours as a way for them to rep the team in the lead up to the new NFL season. 

 

25. The fan engagement at AZ Alkmaar. One of the most impressive fan engagement experts around is Bas Schnater who with his team runs the fan engagement and CRM ship at Dutch professional football club AZ Alkmaar and who deeply understands the importance of listening and engaging with fans. Bas and his team’s work for fans here is up there with some of the best practice fan engagement seen this year. From baby photo day’s, junior press conferences and a golden seat to the first fan who renews their membership to listening to fan feedback to change the stadium speaker system and even allowing a section of hardcore fans to light flares in a designated zone this is fan engagement done superbly well and which continues to reap rewards for the team with increased attendances. Everyone should keep this team on your radar as they continue to push the boundaries of creativity and put fans first in every aspect of the club’s business both on and off the field. 

About Blair Hughes

I'm a passionate advocate for fans and an authority in the fan engagement/experience space. I consult for global sporting leagues and teams around analysis, ideation and implementation to help deliver creative and innovative fan engagement solutions that grow fan bases and increase revenue opportunities. I'm an award winning marketer and accomplished writer who brings a diverse and creative approach to my consulting work as a result of a career and valuable life experiences gained from the education, sport, music and digital sectors.

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