Beyond the field: Sports fans’ shifting experience in a post-pandemic world

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The pandemic has altered our sports experience. The rhythmic chanting of a favorite team’s name in the stadiums is missing. Most players and sports journalists say that sports without fans are soulless.

The ability for teams and fans to interact and the way fans consume sports in its widest sense has transformed. Sports fans have been coping in different ways. And, now we see trends emerging that could completely overhaul the sporting landscape.

Replicating the experience during the lockdown

Although the pandemic managed to keep the fans out of the stadiums, avid sports fans adapted to the new normal in innovative ways. In Argentina, fans found a way to keep playing soccer with a game of human foosball. Fans of Zwift, a popular cycling platform, found a way to keep the social element of the sport alive by not only using the platform to fulfill their desire to exercise but also engaging with each other socially as they would in a physical environment.  Others have turned to esports to fulfill their sporting needs, just as sports themselves have moved to virtual events to keep their brands alive.

It is interesting to see that fans are using the platforms to talk to each other and the players as much as they are using the platforms to watch or play a sport. Virtual platforms are helping fans keep physically active while giving them a way to work on their mental well-being. It’s also allowing the teams to stay connected to their fans, and those that have invested in these platforms will see the benefits of a more engaged fan base coming out of lockdown.

Technology is aiding the shift in fan experience

With fans craving live sporting action during the lockdown, new viewing trends are forming. Fans don’t want to watch televised recordings of matches if they have the option to watch live sports. One trend that is picking up in a big way is sports streaming. Amazon started streaming sports in the UK, and their subscriptions took off overnight. This space has a lot of potential because fans are desperate to consume live sports. It has created opportunities for new players to enter the market.

According to a 2020 Capgemini Research Institute report, 69% of fans say that the use of emerging technologies has enhanced their viewing experience both inside and outside the stadium. Technology is continuously enhancing the way fans consume sports and is starting to fill the gap between the experiences that people once had and the experiences they are having now. For example, ChampTrax is filling the gap of the missing fan noise in the stadium. The company’s platform lets fans record their audio in the background while they watch the game from home. They collect the sounds of fans from hundreds of different households and create one audio stream in real time that plays at the matches. So there is a pivot between what sports experience was before the pandemic and what it will be in the future.

But streaming sports is not the only trend that is on the rise. Virtual, or esports, have come up in a big way. The audience has skyrocketed on platforms such as Twitch, and there is an incremental rise in gaming traffic across YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, Verizon, and more. VR is another trend that has picked up, but the price point and quality are strong deterrents when it comes to the mainstream adoption of the technology.

Sports organizations are also taking steps to engage with their fans and connect them with sports content and players. The NBA has taken an aggressive approach to keep the fan engagement momentum going. They accelerated the launch of their esports NBA 2K League and brought forward the release date of their 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan, The Last Dance. They also regularly host social media Q&A with players to keep fans engaged.

Adding the personal touch

We can see an acceleration of connectivity between fans, sports content, and the players through virtual sports and social media. Organizations have continued the fan experience and provided connectivity between fans and sports. But how organizations personalize the fans’ experience will make all the difference.

Having a superior experience with personalization will ensure fans come back for more. Providing personalized and specific real-time insights will uplift the experience and can help drown unnecessary noise. By giving fans more of the team and less of everything else, sporting organizations can create stronger loyalty. There is a positive knock-on effect of technology on fan engagement, but organizations need to be careful when implementing new tech. It is important to remember that fans demand good tech experiences today and are not shy about calling out organizations for poor experience.

Reshaping the sporting landscape

Fans may be willing to engage more with their favorite teams and sports. But once fans are allowed back in the stadiums in limited numbers, will they be willing to pay for an experience that feels incomplete in comparison to pre-COVID times? How stadiums provide fans with a premium experience will be a crucial differentiator. Stadiums will need to create a personalized fan experience, right from the door to their seat, which is not only top value for money but is also safe and convenient.

Sports fans have adopted new ways of keeping themselves entertained during the pandemic – from engaging with sports content to taking up esports; from interacting with players virtually to ensuring they find ways to keep the social element of sports alive. But even as we start to get used to the new normal, one thing is for sure – we will emerge from this pandemic with a reshaped sports landscape.

To find out more about how technology can help shape the fan experience download the Emerging Technologies in Sports report.

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