Hello and welcome to my annual 100-1 fan engagement/experience year in review where I take a look back on the creative, innovative, exciting and tailored strategies from teams, venues, sports marketing agencies and sponsors which in my opinion greatly captivated fans across the globe this year (with a heavy focus on Australia and in particular Melbourne owing to the fact we do it so well here and also it’s where I reside).

I attended over 50 different sporting game day’s in 2018 across Australia, England, New Zealand and the USA to continue studying fans and the fan experience and while you can find these full recaps in my FANS HQ resource it was in my honest opinion another outstanding year in this space.

Some of the key areas of focus included:

  • Technology innovations from augmented reality to robots continued to be used in creative ways by teams and venues and shows no signs of slowing down
  • F&B incentives were again a trending area with more venues offering early bird offers, kids combo meal deals, catering for dietary needs and craft beer
  • Innovative social seating experiences in venues to offer fans unique fan experiences that can’t be had at home
  • Inclusive approaches which offer better access and representation to fans with diverse needs to enjoy the same fan experiences as every other fan.
  • Harnessing the power of fan generated content. Find out what skills your fans have by listening to them and then utilise these skills. Fellow fans love this while the fan feels a genuine sense of appreciation that they’re being rewarded for their contribution.
  • Sustainable environmental approaches as fans care about their local communities
  • Encouraging authentic and useful items when it comes to promotional giveaways (also relevant to the point above so that items aren’t just thrown away in local neighbourhoods as fans leave the precincts)

When it comes to fan engagement strategies and improving the fan experience there are few thoughts that I’ll leave you with before starting the 100-1 recap:

Thinking like kids: We must never forget to think like fans, families and in particular junior fans. The ability to continually put ourselves in the shoes of kids and get on their level as well as remember the importance and feeling of those first moments of fandom that we had as kids when we were enthralled and excited by our favourite team or player.

Listening and responding with authenticity: Constantly listening to fans is vital but it is not enough. Responding with empathy and authenticity goes such a long way in driving lifetime fan loyalty. 

Keeping it simple: The greatest fan engagement is often the simplest stuff. While I’m constantly road testing the latest tech on my game day travels because I’m a huge fan of the way technology is enhancing our game days I do believe that stripping it all back to the purest and most honest form of fan engagement ends up having the most significant impact on fans. There are a number of outstanding examples of this below. 

I trust that this educational summary provides you with some basis for thinking about how you can both improve your fan experience and better engage your fans on both a grassroots or global level while at the same time marvelling at the creativity on show here.

Finally, a huge round of applause to all of the hard working, creative and talented front office team and venue crews, sports agencies, sponsors and other stakeholders out there who continually create these outstanding experiences for fans across the globe each year. Fans should be immensely proud of the work that is done to entertain us on game days especially given the hurdles these stakeholders often face when it comes to staffing resources, budget restrictions and time.

If you would like to peruse the previous 100-1 annual summaries then you can find them here:

2017

2016

2015

100. Craft beer and sports team and venue partnerships seemed to be endless this year both in Australia and overseas with the establishment of new partnerships with local breweries and venues in an effort to bring fans, local businesses and the community closer together by offering local and better quality beer options on game days. I’ve written a bit about this in 2018 and encourage you to read my article in Froth Mag (Australia’s premier craft beer magazine to further your understanding of the Australian craft beer scene).

Some of the craft beer and some of the other interesting beer developments from Australia and overseas included:

  • Melbourne City launched their City Pale Ale with Stomping Ground Brewing Co
  • Young Henry’s and South Sydney Rabbitohs partnering up
  • Perth’s Optus Stadium now has Gage Roads Brewing Co running through it’s taps for fans
  • Two Birds Brewing and the Western Bulldogs women’s AFLW team joined forces
  • Newstead Brewing Co in Brisbane added to their QLD Reds partnership by joining forces with the NBL Brisbane Bullets
  • Wellington’s Westpac Stadium added the delicious Panhead Brewery for the All Blacks clash in September
  • Wigan launched their LATICS Golden Ale
  • The New York Yankees and BluePoint Brewery printed players’ faces on beer this season at Yankee Stadium (also on coffee and some food). Supposedly though this got pulled soon after by the MLB
  • The Hartford Yard Goats became the first team to sell beer baseball bats
  • Essex Cricket gave away free beers to fans
  • 4 Pines is now on tap at the SCG in Sydney

99. San Francisco Giants and Rugby World Cup 7’s partnership for ‘Rugby Night’ and ‘Rugby in the Cove’ which saw  giveaways, meet and greets with some of Rugby’s biggest names and rugby played on this barge as well as in AT&T Park.

98. The NSW Cricket team took to the SCG in helmets designed by cricket fans from around NSW. It’s always good to see teams tap into fan generated content whether online or elsewhere. Your fans have skills. Harness their passions, creativity and skills. 

97. Global venues are seeing all types of creative and unique fan friendly additions to draw people in on game day and while barber shops have been done before by teams and venues in the past, the impressive Killer Mike barber shop set up at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena was on another level this year and provided a truly unique fan experience for Atlanta Hawks fans. 

96. The teacher ambassador programs from Sydney teams including SydneyFC and the SydneyKings were a smart way to motivate schools and teachers to learn more about football and basketball skills through these two Sydney teams.

95. When nine-year-old Willow went viral after receiving a Sam Kerr Matilda’s jersey for her birthday and then got to meet her hero later on.

94. The incredible atmosphere created by the fans at the Tonga versus Australia international rugby league game at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand in October. Just get a load of this fully engaged crowd of passionate fans in all their colour and glory. A sight to behold.

93. The A-League’s Central Coast Mariner’s away game theatre set up for fans where they can watch games on the big screen, pick up merch and grab a feed. A great way to draw in the fans on non home games.

92. Inter Milan launched their “Inter Social Night” to bring in-stadium activities to fans around the world and even included the players having their social handles on the back of their kits.

91. AS Roma’s cheeky social media content that entertains many football fans across the globe.

90. An entertaining and interactive activation from the Montreal GrandPrix here.

89. Accrington Stanley’s long term strategy and commitment to acquiring the next generation of fans with their giveaway of 1,200 free football kits to year three children.

88. Doncaster Rovers are consistently one of the best in the business when it comes to fan engagement and not least because they actually effectively communicate their initiatives so well to their members and the wider sports business. In 2018 they had a fan announce one of their latest player signings which was a simple and clever idea.

87. The entries for Doncaster Rovers 3rd kit design competition which were designed by children and young people, all of whom engaged with a mental health campaign as part of the entry process. The colourful winning design is featured below.

86. These ‘Guess the Attendance’ and ‘Guess the Score’ boards for junior fans that I saw in the kids and family stand at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate Stadium in October. A fairly simple and engaging idea for kids with correct answers winning some prizes. 

85. Premiership Rugby side Harlequin’s ‘Quins Cup’ reusable cup program. For £1 you can keep the souvenir cup too. Great to see an environmental approach to reducing stadium plastic waste at the Twickenham Stoop. 

84. Oldham Athletic became the first club in the EFL to offer sensory packs for autistic fans. The packs included headphones, a fidget spinner, a map of the ground and more. Along with this, the inclusive set up at Watford FC’s Vicarage Road which sees their sensory room set up for autistic children to ensure that every fan/member is included on game day.

83. The Young Visitor Wristbands at Wembley Stadium.

82. The quality sponsor giveaway item of these free seat cushions that every fan received at both the NRL and AFL Grand Final’s in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. These also included free sunscreen for fans and other game day supplies and were a smart and useful sponsor giveaway that will be used by fans for many games to come. 

81. The AFL Grand Final Footy Festival which was an outstanding fan experience at the MCG and in my opinion is right up there with Super Bowl NFL Experience, Australian Open, Australian Grand Prix and Denver Broncos as one of the best global fan zones due largely in part to it’s quality inclusive family and fan fun focus.

The fan engagement fun and sponsor activations around the MCG Footy Festival included:

  • The Dunkinator
  • Ultimate Handball Challenge
  • Tower of Torp 
  • Fitness challenges
  • AFL Kids activities
  • Inflatables
  • Scream A Meter
  • Family zone
  • Ball pit
  • Kicking challenges

80. The Buggy Transfer Service from the MCG which has been a clever inclusive addition to the fan experience here at the G for less mobile fans and those needing assistance around the ground on game days.

79. The NRL Cronulla Sharks invited members and fans onto the field after a win to join the players in singing the team song.

78. The NRL Penrith Panthers ‘Stand Up! Flags Up!’ campaign. The club’s call to arms where fans were encouraged to make their own Panthers flag, bring one from home or buy one from the Panther Shop. The main objective was to get involved and it worked incredibly well when I visited in round one which was a sell out. 

77. The NFL Seattle Seahawks game day selfie #12sTakeFlight‘ photo opportunity.

76. The NRL Sydney RoostersRocky Run at Allianz Stadium which was an innovative motion capture experience that allowed fans to score length-of-the-field tries while fending off defenders in the process. 

75. The Detroit Lions NBA team offer one free shot on the court for all kids post game.

74. Durham FC’s updated Match Day Calculator. They’ve updated this since a year or two back but this is just superb stuff for families from Durham WFC. A simple checklist/calculator in visual form for the match day is a creative, simple and authentic idea for fans. 

73. The creative fan engagement from Toronto WolfPack this year that featured:

  • Stadium wide wrestling match
  • Bubble Footy
  • Medieval Times jousting
  • Beer Olympics
  • Tag Rugby
  • Hundred person line dancing competition

72. The inclusive approach of how the FIFA World Cup helped the deaf and hard of hearing community watch Russia 2018 World Cup.

71. The way in which the AFL Collingwood Magpies helped out a young fan who was too sick to be our junior mascot at a game so they strapped a GoPro on his brother who did it for him.

70. The Cleveland Browns smart BudLight beer fridges that were eventually unlocked for Browns fans to enjoy a free beer. In recognition of the poor Browns form,  these “Victory Fridges” full of free Bud Light beer were installed in bars around Cleveland and opened when the Browns won their first game this season.

69. The NRL Brisbane Broncos featured a new social seating section for fans to ‘Take in the Gold’ thanks to long time sponsor XXXX.

 

68. The Baltimore Orioles became the first pro team to wear uniforms with Braille lettering while they also ran a yoga night called ‘Yoga at the Yard’ where fans were able to nab a free yoga mat. Inclusion and fitness- staples of both the American game day fan experience and promotional runs.

67. Manchester City welcomed two very special mascots who have held season tickets for 85 years to the pitch before their clash with Fulham. Hands down adding oldies will make their day and bring a tear and smile to all fans at the same time.

66. Barnsley FC collaboration that saw the UK’s first gamification event.

65. The new Fantatics venue technology which enables fans to order merchandise online for pickup at these merchandise lockers placed in venue concourses like seen at the Wells Fargo Centre this year.

64. ‘The Lawn’ social entertainment experience from Cricket Australia and TLA at the MCG this year with it’s superb presentation, attentive staff and all the little touches (sunscreen/straws/shade all well thought out).

63. The Melbourne Renegades BBL team unveiled a new augmented reality app which saw fans bring the team to life through a cricket game played by wearing a special glove.

62. The hilarious Georgetown Hoops Actual Reality (AR) Seating Section that featured:

  • No cell phones allowed
  • Letter writing station
  • Actually talk face-to-face

61. The AFLX competition that featured a brilliant kids zone with activities galore. Mascots, neon LED posts, free fruit, cheer squads all together added a lively atmosphere. There were bean bags with a view, activities, food trucks and kids could catch the ball as it went through the posts. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it was a huge fan experience win for kids and families and that was the essential point that was missed by many as the AFL seeks to acquire and turn the next generation of young fans into lifelong members.

60. Adelaide FC’s social media contribution with both their mascot Claude and their responsive, authentic and often times hilarious content.

59. The promotional freebies that every fan received at the Super Bowl which included a touchdown light cup Budlight cup, hand warmers and ‘finger lights’ for the half time show.

58. ‘F1 Fan Voice’.  F1 launched the Fan Voice community with forums, blogs and surveys to ‘better listen to fans’. Seems F1 has really picked up the fan engagement since the acquisition to bring in new fans and better engage the hardcore ones. 

57. The brilliant free fruit and hot chocolate giveaways for young fans at Etihad Stadium (now Marvel Stadium) in Melbourne during AFL games this season. 

56. The Scottish FA’s ticket treasure hunt. Find the player card and win…

55. AFL Richmond Tigers ‘Raise the virtual AFL premiership flag’ augmented reality feature that let fans raise the AFL trophy.

54. The Irish RFU’s free jersey for all passengers on this flight into London for the Six Nations match against England.

53. Wigan’s female fans forum which saw female Latics fans have a chance to express their views on all areas of the club.

52. Everton FC’s clever work with this virtual mascot experience for an ill young fan. Fantastic inclusive and innovative work all round.

51. The Jacksonville Jaguars unveiling their doggy daycare to the South Fan Deck at TIAA Bank Field.

50. The San Jose Sharks game day for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with choc pucks, special team ice cream and these projections.

49. The AFL Brisbane LionsTweet of the Week’ 

48. The NRL Canberra Raiders unveiled their new female mascot, Velda the Valkyrie. Bravo to every team out there who have stepped up for mascot equality in 2018.

47. Commonwealth Games ‘Giant Sing Along’ as well as this sunscreen/mirror combo (at kids height too) which was a clever set up at CBUS Stadium for #GC2018.

46. The NRL NSW Blues introduction of BLUiE, the world’s first bionic Blatchys Blue that was equipped with a 360-degree camera and VR technology. BLUiE gave fans unprecedented access to the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues in 2018. Along with this, the Blues took a page out of the Ole Miss ‘Walk Of Champions’ book by walking through the crowd on their way to the MCG for game one.

45. The MasterCard and ANZ bank sponsor activations at the Australian Open in Melbourne that included this pool set up and fan hub which offered phone charging, cash point services and other fan experience incentives for ANZ customers.

44. ‘The Garden’ at ATT Park which is a first-of-its-kind mini-farm and outdoor classroom that provides a platform for community engagement, education, 50+ kinds of fresh produce and hosts field trips for school children. I loved this focus on innovation and sustainability here when I visited in June.

43. Monthly subscription passes have flourished this year in US sports with both the Spurs and Stockton being two of the monthly mobile ticketing passes that caught fans attention and enabled a seamless entry as part of the fan experience. The NZ Warriors also had a unique offer for fans whereby they could choose their own ticket price for the final game of the season.

42. The way in which the A-League’s Brisbane Roar and sponsor Actron Air actively listened and responded to fan‘s voices and requests to have the sponsor logo better compliment the kit.

41. The Citizen Bank Park new beer delivery via text message feature.

40. Watford FC’s brilliant idea to reward fans loyalty by sending our free jerseys.

39. AFL team Greater Western Sydney’s films on the field at Spotless Stadium prior to matches.

38. The AFL’s ‘Neverbeens’ membership program at both GWS and Sydney Swans with their booths for first time fans which saw them get a lanyard, scarf, info book, copy of the match day program.

37. The All Blacks fun and educational programming for young ones with their Ruggerbees kids TV show.

36. Alport FC looked after fans by offering them the ability to borrow these hot water bottles for free during the games where it was freezing. What a novel idea. AZ Alkmaar also ran a campaign we’re they offered their fans free hot drinks throughout an evenings match where the temperature dropped to -15C.

35. Brentford FC having a young away fan read out the team sheet on game day alongside a junior fan reading the home team squad.

34. The exciting smart jersey developments with a selected batch of GWS AFL fans trialling Australian company Solos‘ wearable smart tech guernsey.

33. In 2018 there has been continued progress in global venues and teams implementing and offering fan first pricing incentives such as early bird offers, combo deals, kids meal deals and cheaper options on food and beverage in an effort to draw fans into grounds earlier and ease the pain on the hip pocket.

Some developments have included the following but are not limited to:

  • The prices at the US Open
  • Atlanta Hawks fan friendly prices
  • Marvel/Etihad Stadium’s 10% off offer on F&B
  • Detroit Lions fan first prices
  • Oklahoma City Thunder’s kids $1 menu
  • Collingwood Magpies AFL kids combo deal which includes a pack of trading cards
  • Sydney’s ANZ Stadium fan first pricing options on game day grub
  • Manly Sea Eagles NRL $10 combos at LottoLand Oval

32. The MLS Vancouver Whitecaps ‘Caps Cruiser fan engagement truck that brought 200+ events to the neighbourhood with a fold-out stage, two large TVs and an epic surround sound system which saw the Cruiser built to party and entertain fans.

31. The Google Home Mini Pie Shop activation at the MCG in Melbourne. 

30. Over 2000 fans enjoyed a summer BBQ at Levis Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers Picnic On The Field.

29. The LA Dodgers distributing crypto tokens that unlocked one of three digital player bobbleheads that can be stored in a fan’s Ethereum wallet. It was believed to be the first crypto-based giveaway in pro sports.

28. The Frisco Roughriders hosted their “Pitch Day” with fans to share ideas for theme nights and promotions for the 2019 season.

27. Telford United welcomed a Syrian family to their first match in an effort to welcome and show solidarity with refugees. Inclusion at its finest. Well done.

26. BBL Melbourne Stars ‘Date Night’ at the MCG complete with roses for fans.

25. The rise of smart home devices like the Google Home and Amazon Alexa this year has enabled teams such as the Washington Wizards and New England Patriots among others to provide fans with timely briefings and news updates, fun facts, trivia and more.

24. Minnesota Vikings collaborated with 3M to give every fan a purple film which when placed in front of a cell flash light turned the stadium completely purple.

23. Fantastic campaign by FC Utrecht to personalise every season member’s seats at the first home game of the season.

22. What a moment it was when 94-year-old Roy, who’s living with dementia, fulfilled a lifelong dream by scoring a penalty for Notss County FC. How good is sport!

21. The oversized treadmill going 21km/hour that had many fans trying to keep up with Eliud Kipchoge’s world record marathon pace at the 2018 Chicago Marathon expo.

20. FC Bayern Munich became the first sports organisation in the world to launch an optimised website service explicitly for poor internet connections to engage fans in certain areas such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia. 

19. Manchester City launched an artificial intelligence-powered wearable smartband with a plethora of special features, including live match reporting, 24/7 inside information, updates, real-time match stats, breaking news, fan polls and quizzes.

18. The Augmented Reality Sports Analysis technology used by Danish broadcaster TV2 Nord with their analysis of Le Tour de France showcased the immersive nature of AR tech. 

17. Human Pac-Man court projection game at the Fertitta Center in Houston, Texas.

16. The NRL CEO and Chair of the ARLC entertained fans with a fan forum before a game in Sydney which was welcomed by rugby league fans for the authentic nature of the communications and engagement from the higher ups at NRL HQ.

15. FC Rostov launched a limited edition fourth shirt with a carpet design.  This all came about after one fan was renovating his house and had no room for his carpet so brought it to a match. Rostov won 4-0, so it was declared a lucky charm and the fans were rewarded with the ability to purchase the kit. So far over 500 orders have been filled.

14. Barnsley FC and Celtic FC both offered female fans free sanitary products at their stadiums this season in an inclusive move that was welcomed by supporters.

13. Player of the match wall from Super Rugby’s Tokyo Sunwolves. Fans fill out the player wall with their selection after every game making for a unique visual display in the fan precinct. 

12. This letter that Norwich City Football Club wrote to a young fan sums up the importance of always going the extra mile for fans. 

11. Here’s a clever addition from the Esports world whereby AZ Alkmaar gave away free player posters with autograph sections in them at an esports and sport collaboration event. 

10. Sheffield football fans were able to take a journey into Sheffield’s prolific football heritage, with a new walking app called “The Home of Football” that introduced them to the people and places who made the city.

9. Arsenal Women’s football team give young fans the opportunity to shadow the photographer, kit manager, program designer, media rep and other club roles as part of this ‘Junior Member Takeover’ initiative. 

8. Fans of the Victoria HarbourCats in the West Coast League are now able to watch live baseball action from the deck of an open-top double decker bus which overlooks the field offering a truly unique experience at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park.

7. At a Danish Superliga match between Hobro IK and FC Copenhagen the Hobro club sponsor raffled the chance to watch the game pitch-side in a jacuzzi with beers. Not a bad spot to take it all in at -4C!

6. Teams and venues like the Detroit Lions and Ford Field in the NFL are tapping into new fan engagement and revenue opportunities by having fans arrive at the ground earlier for early bird offers as well as staying longer post game for the ‘fifth quarter’ by offering cheap F&B incentives, live music and games from around the grounds. 
 
5. Can’t go wrong as a fan being tattooed by a player of your favourite team. That’s just what one player from Brentford FC did to a fan earlier this year. 
4. The 49ers FIT gym. Which team will be next to bring this concept to the $81B global fitness market to engage sports fans? 
3. The Virginia Tech Hokies pre-game show and player entrance at Lane Stadium to Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ may not be a new tradition for college football but this video offers a new perspective with this behind the scenes reel that illustrates the supreme loyalty and devotion these fans have for Hokies.

2. Colchester United received an email from a local youth side to see if they could wish the team well this season so they said decided to do something a little extra and found out about every player and their attributes and then their Colchester United first team equivalent wrote back to pass on a good luck message. Fantastic simple idea.
1. Rochdale held a make your own Emirates FA Cup trophy for kids to design and decorate. You can’t go wrong with kids arts and crafts to round out the 100 either!
So there you have it.
A pretty impressive list of fan engagement strategies and fan experience insights from across the globe highlighting the outstanding work being done to entertain and delight fans in various parts of the world.
100 (actually there’s well over that as I’ve combined a few here and there) truly exceptional strategies but what have I missed? What was happening for you as a fan in your neck of the woods?
Let me know at @MrBlairHughes on Twitter or on LinkedIn. 
Thanks and have a great holiday break. 

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