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 in 2019.
There is a customary heavy focus on Australia and New Zealand as I am based here and please do keep in mind that this is a very subjective list based on my own personal experiences at games, what I saw from colleagues around the globe and what fans have suggested. There will, of course, be ideas and activations that I have missed so please feel free to tag them and add to the discussion here or on social.
Some of the key areas of focus included:
- Technology innovations from augmented reality to smart jerseys.
- F&B incentives were again a trending area with more venues offering early bird offers, family-friendly deals, kids combo meal deals as well as catering for dietary needs and craft beer.
- Innovative social seating experiences such as pools, couches, and beaches in venues to offer fans unique fan experiences that can’t be had at home.
- Inclusive approaches that offer better access and representation to fans with diverse needs to enjoy the same fan experiences as every other fan both in the community and on game day.
- Harnessing the power of fan-generated content. Find out what skills your fans have by listening to them and then utilize these skills. Fellow fans love this while the fan feels a genuine sense of appreciation that they’re being rewarded for their contribution. I’m a big fan of this area.
- Sustainable environmental approaches as fans care about their local communities and the environment around the team and society.
- More political and social justice concerns from fans and teams that put inclusion and communities first.
- Seamless, tech-driven, fan-friendly venues.
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.
Inclusion: More than ever thinking about fans as people and not customers and looking at what we can do to better listen and engage them for the benefit of all.
Personalisation: Never underestimate what it means to a fan to know that you have put them first by directly targeting them.
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.
If you would like to peruse the previous 100-1 annual summaries then you can find them here:
100. Craft beer and sports team and venue partnerships continued to pour in this year 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 fair bit about this area with my articles well worth a read to understand what teams, venues, and craft breweries are getting out of these partnerships. More info here.
Some of the craft beer and some of the other interesting beer developments from Australia and overseas included:
- Melbourne Storm and Brick Lane Brewing
- South Sydney Rabbitohs and Young Henry’s
- Brisbane Bullets and Newstead Brewing Co
- Melbourne Demons and Brewanity
- Port Adelaide and Pirate Life Brewing Co
- Newcastle Jets and Murray’s Brewing Co
99. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) post-game kick to kick.
98. NBL Brisbane Bullets post-game on-court autograph session.
97. @MijnVitesse launched a pay per month ticketing model.
96. Wimbledon offering vegan strawberries and cream for the first time. A theme emerging of inclusive F&B offerings around the global grounds.
95. The hilarious New Zealand Warriors (NRL) ‘Bush Shirt’ that took social by storm and will be debuted in the 2020 season. A clever idea to tap into the random side of fans and a nation’s culture.
94. Weetbix and BBL/WBBL personalized backyard cricket bats.
93. Coventry City music themed ‘Specials’ kit for Kick It Out campaign round. Also special mention to West Ham United and their collab with Iron Maiden. Will there be more of these music/team kit collabs?
92. The Boundary Social at The Gabba, Brisbane.
91. F&B prices at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
90. Chicago Blackhawks NHL chopping board giveaway to fans.
89. NY Mets Seinfeld Night and bobblehead giveaway.
88. Australian Women’s Cricket team trading cards. It’s been so good to see the rise of more women’s sport athletes being featured on cricket trading cards for fans of all ages to collect. Also Super Netball, WBBL and AFLW as well.
86. Win an Adelaide Giants (ABL) contract for a day.
85. Chief Beer Officer at the LA Rams.
84. Queens Park Rangers crest collection for new members.
83. AFLX at Marvel Stadium. Light up goal posts, free trading cards and loads of kids activities. Another impressive event for 2019 at the venue. A lot of AFLX got blasted by the media and fans who weren’t the target market.
82. Kensington Oval beach cricket party atmosphere complete with jet ski chairs.
81. Melbourne Storm (NRL) Street Crew.
80. Commemorative yesteryear tickets from Collingwood AFLW.
79. Adelaide Crows (AFL) and Borussia Dortmund replying to fans with personalised kit wallpapers.
78. AGF Children’s Day drawings.
77. AIK Fotboll selling pre-signed jerseys for fans.
74. At Pollock FC in Scotland a big football fan – a dog called ‘Yardley’ – is allowed to watch games from the stands at Newlandsfield Park. Now that’s inclusion. Also, #74 just a bit of a laugh in the list. Also, lets put the Dallas Cowboys cat here too. That was very responsive from the AT&T Stadium and team to add the cat to the lineup.
— Allie Dicken (@Allie721) November 11, 2019
73. Reuseable cups from Rylands FC and free hot drinks to those who bring their own reusable cup along on match days.
72. @OU_Football launched a website with content and profiles of each signee. They made each of them their own logo and announced the athletes on the site.
71. This lovely story from the UT Vols.
70. Cousin Eddie hat giveaway from M State. One of the best random giveaways of the year.
68. New Jersey Devils (NHL) had kids draw pictures of their favourite players and then put them up on the screen.
67. Seattle Sounders (MLS) calling out racism and fascism and in the process showing how inclusive they are to their community.
66. Coventry City FC’s family zone but in particular their ‘lucky dip’ idea which I thought was simple and effective.
65. The Lawn at the MCG and in particular the caricature part of this. A simple and effective idea for hospitality guests and for kids in a fan zone. Here’s also a review I review of The Lawn fan experience that I wrote for Digital Sports Labs.
64. Brisbane Roar (A-League) CEO shouting fans drinks at away games.
63. Montrose FC got fans together to road test the pies for the venue. Possibly the best fan engagement all year for food lovers.
62. Reading Fightin Phils had a gender reveal fireworks night.
60. Family-Friendly Sunday’s at the SCG. Discounted F&B prices for fans. What other venues are doing similar things?
59. Gender-Neutral toilets at Whitten Oval for the Western Bulldogs AFLW match. A very inclusive way for all fans to be made to feel welcome on game days.
58. Freebies for kids at Marvel Stadium over summer 2019/20 BBL/WBBL matches.
57. This classy note from Manchester City to fans.
55. DB Cooper CSI themed night at the Portland Pickles.
54. Pink Beer for the Pink Test at the SCG.
53. The Pool and Boundary Beach Club at Optus Stadium, Perth, Western Australia.
52. New Zealand All Blacks ‘Black Laundry’. “Running until the start of November, and open ahead of every All Blacks match, Steinlager wants to inspire Kiwis to show their true colours by sacrificing an item of clothing and dying it black – with one Auckland woman already having dyed her wedding dress.”
51. Fans First free shipping. Savannah Bananas removed merch shipping fees.
50. San Francisco 49er’s ‘All You Can Eat’ tickets.
49. State of Origin Light Show at Optus Stadium, Perth.
48. The Queensland Maroons visited the Brisbane Police Watch House.
47. Parramatta Eels (NRL) moving statue at Bankwest Stadium. Check out Bankwest Stadium too. I wrote a fan experience review for Aus Leisure Mag which can be found here.
46. This stubby cooler sweater from Cricket Australia as a hospitality piece of merch. Had to include something merchandise related and this was one of the best pieces I picked up this year. More on Brisbane’s The Gabba and Cricket Australia fan experience can be found here.
45. Sydney Roosters (NRL) members names on the LED ribbon at the SCG. Nice way to made to be feel welcome.
44. Brisbane Broncos (NRL) hackathon. What other teams did these well in 2019?
43. Peterborough PUFC young fans guard of honor.
Great to see so many first time fans at the game today – the looks on their faces when they see the players is priceless! Big ‘fans for the future’ initiative as alluded to by @JasonDavidNeale earlier is coming soon to get these back and ultimately season ticket holders.#pufc pic.twitter.com/KyuVypQRew
— Jake Baxter (@Jake__Baxter) February 2, 2019
42. These incredible kit reveal videos from Arsenal (Adidas) and Chelsea (Nike).
41. Free iconic Tayla Harris kick AFLW badges handed out at AFLW games.
40. Eredivisie Toy Toss.
39. Manchester City became the first sports club to launch with YouTube Kids.
38. Royal Antwerp FC launched a special section for their vision impaired fans.
— FANexperience👏 (@FanexperienceNL) December 20, 2019
37. The @ThunderbirdsAHL‘s celebrated the 30th anniversary of the animated comedy series “The Simpsons.” with these Ice-O-Topes jerseys.
36. Kombucha coming into F&B offerings more and more like at Seattle Seahawks for foodies as healthier stadium concession products gain deeper traction with fans.
35. Iranian women were allowed to attend a national team game for the first time in 40 years.
Iranian women were allowed to attend a national team game for the first time in 40 years.
What a moment 👏 pic.twitter.com/362PHNqdAV
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 10, 2019
34. Baltimore Ravens Pop Up Shop idea.
33. LinkedIn sponsors Grimsby Town FC to help community score jobs. They launched the ‘LinkedIn Lounge’ – a permanent matchday fixture throughout the season, where match goers will be able to see current vacancies in the area, along with details of how to apply.
32. Huggity’s scrum machine challenge.
31. For the Raptors 25th-anniversary, @PizzaPizzaLtd created an interactive GameBox to offer a tabletop gaming experience.
30. Tottenham Hotspur’s fast pour beers at the new venue in London. Tech has been around for a while but it seemed to take off this year with the launch of the new stadium.
29. Baltimore Ravens debut mixed reality Raven in venue.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) December 13, 2019
28. NBA smart jerseys.
27. PSV helps a young fan enjoy a matchday experience like no other.
26. Chelsea FC unveiled a new ‘shirt holders’ Nike kit designed by fans.
25. Penn State Football’s creative poster that transforms into a helmet.
24. Hertha BSC ticket bot.
23. Premier League smart shirt.
22. FC Midtjylland hired a bagpipes player to greet Rangers fans.
— FC Midtjylland (@fcmidtjylland) August 8, 2019
21. FC Union Berlin made these posters up for their recently deceased fans.
19. Everton FC. Treats on seats for first time under 11 Season Ticket members to welcome them to Goodison Park for 2019/20.
18. Paris Saint-Germain partnered with Deliveroo for in-seat ordering at Parc des Princes.
17. Swindon Town FC Junior Takeover Day. Also another good example of this below from Brentford FC.
Junior Takeover Day | 2⃣0⃣1⃣9⃣
♦️ Media Man
We had a great day 👊
— Swindon Town FC (@Official_STFC) November 3, 2019
16. Brilliant work from Watford FC for those fans wanting to know costs, first time attendance and every detail for the match. This makes it so easy for fans to better understand the game day.
15. Andres Iniesta’s Farewell Jersey idea from beIN Sports.
14. VR work from Bayern Munich.
— FANexperience👏 (@FanexperienceNL) December 18, 2019
13. These ushers at Fiserv Forum for the Bucks game.
I can’t say enough about the incredible ushers at the @FiservForum. From one who fist-bumped us on the way to our seats at the #Bucks game to these guys to another who pulled aside my son to tell him he’s a great fan …
— Amy Bailey (@Amy__Bailey) February 24, 2019
12. GWS (AFL) ahead of the 2019 AFL Grand Final.
11. Dallas Cowboys/AT&T Stadium AR ‘Pose With The Pro’s’ activation. Also another fine example from Wolverhampton Wanderers too below.
— Brad Friedman (@BradFriedman713) September 10, 2019
— FANexperience👏 (@FanexperienceNL) October 21, 2019
10. Bat flips at the BBL/WBBL.
9. Swindon Town FC taking fans to their seats on their first game days.
8. DC United getting the local music community involved in game days.
7. FC Utrecht galvanising fans to donate their warm clothes to their supporters who live below the poverty line.
🧥 Voor supporters, door supporters!
Heb jij warme kleding over? Neem die zondag mee als je naar #utrfey komt en lever het in bij de DHL-busjes bij het Fanplein of de Bunnikside. De kleding komt ten goede aan supporters en inwoners van de regio die onder de armoedegrens leven. pic.twitter.com/55TliT2uKV
— FC Utrecht (@fcutrecht) December 19, 2019
6. Charlotte Checkers having personalised notes on fans seats.
Handwritten thank you notes to all of our season ticket holders waiting for them upon arrival tonight. pic.twitter.com/MVLZenY66f
— Shawn Lynch (@checkerslynch) October 25, 2019
5. The Washington Capitals announcing their official team dog of the team.
🐶INTRODUCING THE GOODEST BOY!🐶
Meet Captain, the official team dog of the Washington Capitals!
In partnership with @AmericasVetDogs, Captain will be with us for over a year as he gets ready to assist a Veteran or First Responder.
— Washington ☃️ Capitals (@Capitals) October 5, 2019
4. The warm welcoming work from Brentford FC’s team to create personalised welcome emails to fans coming to Griffin Park for the first time. A delightful way to ensure fans feel welcome and have all the information they need to be able to get the most out of their first experience.
3. The work of teams like Melbourne Rebels (Super Rugby), Penrith Panthers (NRL) and Newcastle Knights (NRL) listening to their fans to lower the prices on their jerseys to $99 from the original costs of upwards of $170.
2. The amazing work the Gold Coast Titans (NRL) and other organisations did to create a rugby league physical disability competition so that these young players could play the game they love. Watch Leagueability on ABC here. “A heart-warming, inspirational story about a bunch of young blokes who live for the game but have never been allowed to play and start a physical disability rugby league competition in regional Australia.”
1. AS Roma’s new recruits and missing persons campaign. There are just no words for how brilliant this was.
So there you have it for 2019.
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?
Thanks also to my colleagues and the people I look up to in the industry and this space such as but not limited to:
- the @FanExperienceCo team
Be sure to also scroll back through the 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 countdowns too to see what’s been happening over the past few years (found at the top of this post).
Let me know at @MrBlairHughes on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
Thanks and have a great holiday break.