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Microsoft shares sport fan engagement learnings

Microsoft shares sport fan engagement learnings
December 27, 2017

Multinational technology company Microsoft has used examples of its work with leading sporting properties to explain how “putting customers at the heart of your brand (will) create passionate fans.”

In a sponsored content feature in the latest Harvard Business Review, Microsoft explain how, in the “age before the digital revolution, marketers used to tell customers about a product and then work through a traditional step-by-step purchase funnel.

“But today, there’s nothing linear or traditional about the way businesses and their brands can explode in scale overnight - sometimes before the product even makes it into the hands of customers. Since the pace of marketing is now determined by everyone with access to the internet or a mobile device who can gleefully tweet, post, or blog their feelings and experience, customers can instantaneously become an extension of your company’s story - for good or bad.

“It starts by inspiring your customer to tell your story in an authentic way, by building empathy and creating an emotional connection that turns customers into fans.

“At Microsoft, we continuously collaborate with businesses in an industry whose customers already self-identify as fans: sports. For billions of people around the world, sports are a matter of passion, touching lives by offering a depth of human engagement unparalleled in other activities.”

Microsoft then provide three case studies.

Real Madrid: winning the hearts and minds of 500 million dedicated fans
Real Madrid is one of the world’s most recognised football clubs. With over 500 million dedicated fans, it also happens to be one of the most innovative when it comes to fan engagement.

In 2015, Real Madrid set out to offer its supporters a series of new experiences. Working with Microsoft, Real Madrid focused on creating the absolute best possible experience for every kind of fan in several key areas: free content, premium content, licensing games and content, events for the day of a match or live happening, and e-commerce. 

For this to happen, dozens of sources of data needed to be brought together into a ‘data estate’ that aligned to Real Madrid’s goals. These data sources spanned numerous systems - like the membership program, ticketing system, online store, and mobile apps that enable fans to gain loyalty points - and wrangling the data into one platform was a key creative and technical challenge.

Over the course of several months, a digital platform was developed that could capture every fan interaction (whether a mobile check-in at the stadium, a profile update on the website, or a merchandise purchase online), deliver targeted promotional campaigns, and collect club mentions and other data from social media.

Rafael de los Santos, Real Madrid’s New Media Director explains “advances in technology have helped us reimagine fan engagement and create new business models that we never thought possible. And that enables us to establish a relationship that is more personal and direct with our 500 million fans around the globe.”

Real Madrid can now use data to predictably track and analyze fan behaviours across many physical and digital touchpoints. It can deliver both new and historical video content, including past club matches, and the team allows fans to search for specific games using various criteria. With live matches, fans can choose specific cameras to review key plays and player moves. Fans can also access content anywhere in the world, and can gain virtual access to the stadium before, during, or after each game; they can search data on all the club’s players, past and present; and they can explore club statistics.

Begoña Sanz, Real Madrid’s Commercial General Manager added “we used to pull data from just five sources before, but can now pull from more than 70 sources using our digital platform. 

“This has enabled us to grow our number of fan profiles by about 400% in the past two years - it’s now in the millions.”

FOX Sports: real-time fan engagement around the world
FOX Sports worked with Microsoft to develop an end-to-end solution to support the creation of a five-star app that lets sports fans fully personalise their user experience and immediately parse millions of data points to access instant sporting event updates.

To meet these fans on those devices and make sure they’re always up to date with their favourite teams, players, and leagues, FOX Sports needed an app with a personalised and reliable user experience that worked seamlessly across any platform. 

Tom Zentmeyer, Vice President, Technology and Games at FOX Sports’ US headquarters advised “FOX Sports has always been about fans first.

“People care about the teams they follow - and people are increasingly mobile. With the FOX Sports app, we wanted to put everything a sports fan cares about in their pocket and give them the bold, immersed, and immediate experience they have when they watch an event on FOX Sports.”

Today, the FOX Sports app offers real-time scoreboards across all its sports broadcasting. From there, a user can dig into the specifics of a game - the top performers, a play-by-play recap, and game highlights. The app also features highlights from top shows. The result has been a seamless customer experience that has received thousands of five-star reviews.

NASCAR: organising logistical data to create massive events
A Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racetrack is a Super Bowl-sized event packed with tens of thousands of fans who’ve come for the weekend to cheer on their favourite drivers. NASCAR fans are the heart of the sport, flocking to these arenas of speed, where dozens of cars drive inches apart at 200 miles an hour, banking through hundreds of 30-degree left-hand turns, for two days of adrenaline-fuelled excitement - 36 weeks in a row. 

NASCAR also sanctions more than 1,500 events in 11 series at 110 racetracks in 37 US states, and in Mexico and Canada. 

For NASCAR, bringing these events to a wide audience is key to increasing the sport’s fan base.

Creating the ultimate NASCAR fan event experience requires incredible logistical coordination to manage processes that turn the empty space inside a racetrack into a buzzing compound that houses mobile offices, broadcasters’ trailers, catering units, golf carts, power generators, and miles of infrastructure cables. Using digital technologies, NASCAR built intranet sites to store critical files such as an operations workbook and personnel grid that the logistics team uses as the basis for everything it does, and crafted custom mobile apps in a matter of days rather than weeks that help track and assess things such as catering operations, hotels, and locations of officials.

Ignite your fan engagement and apply those learnings across your business
The lessons from the fans of Real Madrid, FOX Sports, and NASCAR are relevant across many industries. 

When a company knows exactly who its audience is, it is better able to negotiate its business to business contracts. Sponsors want to do business with brands that are more digital; broadcasters want to associate with brands that have huge social media audiences. The brand can also be licensed (B-2-B-2-C) to third parties for entertainment, apparel, or any number of other products; in addition, it can merchandise its own products and sell new services to its customers or fans (B2C).

de los Santos adds “now we can target a communication strategy, tailor-made for every single fan, no matter who or where they are.

“The capabilities of our digital platform are impacting every single function and activity, including our digital revenues, which are growing 30% a year.”

Learn from customer behaviour by taking advantage of the wealth of insights available through social media and other digital channels, or learn through better integration and analysis of your existing customer data. Fandom begins when customers find others who share the same interests and engagement with the product or brand. Dream up and deliver breakthrough products that delight customers and ignite their passions; live a customer-first mentality; give customers a voice; and actively listen, respond, and react.

Determine your customers’ experience by doing the right thing. This isn’t always easy, but the road to fandom starts when customers engage with the product and the brand, and that means putting the customer experience at the centre of what you do. To do this, take advantage of experiences grounded in inclusive design principles and recognise exclusion in order to create new ideas and inclusive designs. Learn from diversity by putting people at the centre, and to solve for one and extend to many in order to create experiences and solutions that benefit people universally.

Serve your customers in smarter ways by using technology to personalize unforgettable experiences and create deep emotional interactions. Collective fandom means forming a tribe with shared cultural norms, language, and hierarchy.

Transform the relationship by creating a shared value system that reflects your customers’ values and beliefs and aligns with the values and beliefs of your brand. Celebrate and showcase their fans, connect with their customers, create a sense of community, and invest in growing advocacy. Create connection by building relationships that go beyond a transaction and create space for communities to form. When you focus on high-value activities, you can create breakthroughs in the lifestyles of your customers.

Help your customers share their experience with others using apps, events, social media, digital stores, gamification, and other compelling content, so your customers can evangelize their own experience to others around the world.

When you put your customers authentically at the heart of your brand, show up where they are, and make a difference in their lives by deeply understanding and synthesising their desires into providing unforgettable experiences, you turn your customers into fans. And that culture of raving fans is what inspires sustainable growth and real profitability.

Images: Real Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium (top) and NASCAR (below). 

11th October 2017 - STUDY TO INVESTIGATE FANS’ REAL STADIUM EXPERIENCES

3rd August 2017 - STUDY SHOWS GAMIFICATION INCREASES PARTICIPANT EXERCISE LEVELS BY 40%

13th January 2017 - AUSTRALIAN OPEN TO FEATURE NEW FAN ENGAGEMENT INITIATIVES 

8th September 2016 - MCG CALLS ON AFL FANS TO HELP MAKE WI-FI HISTORY 

31st May 2016 - FUTURE OF GOLF PARTICIPATION BASED ON FAN ENGAGEMENT

30th October 2015 - FFA ANNOUNCES MAJOR CHANGES IN DIGITAL AND FAN ENGAGEMENT 

23rd July 2015 - REAL MADRID SCORES EDUCATION DEAL WITH FLEDGLING TORRENS UNIVERSITY 

18th February 2015 - VICTORIA UNIVERSITY TEAMS UP WITH REAL MADRID TO DELIVER MASTERS PROGRAM IN SPORT MANAGEMENT 

13th July 2010 - SPORTS MARKETING AND FAN INTERACTION MOVES ONLINE

17th November 2008 - CHANNEL TEN TO LAUNCH 24-HOUR SPORTS CHANNEL 

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