The sports industry has been undergoing a digital transformation for a while, but a year ago when the pandemic brought sports to a screeching halt, their only option was to embrace the digital world. Over the past year, we have seen sports teams, venues, and broadcasters embracing technology that brings fans together while they are stuck at home watching games or waiting for their favorite teams to start playing again. While attending a digital event doesn’t sound nearly as fun as watching a game in person, this transition actually allowed franchises to engage more fans than just those who were able to make it to the stadium. We saw a rise in social media engagement, digital events in the off-season, and a rise in the popularity of eSports.
Prior to the pandemic, most sports teams could rely on fan attendance to make up most of their profits. However, by only engaging fans in attendance, teams were missing out on interacting with 99 percent of their fans. Now, teams and broadcasters are taking up a larger social media presence by posting questions, polls, and contests throughout the games to talk to fans and keep all fans engaged. Teams can also start to earn back some of their revenue by posting exclusive content on social media that fans have to pay to access. This also offers a way for teams to collect data about who is engaging digitally and learn more about their fans so they can continue to personalize their experiences as they would do in person.
Social media has also become an increasingly large platform for streaming. Large social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube have both the technology and reach to offer live sports streaming to their members. This allows these social platforms to build their membership networks while also providing fans with a mobile streaming experience that matches their on-demand lifestyles.
Off-Season Digital Events
In the past, a typical off-season probably had a few fan expos where people can come and meet players or get exclusive merchandise, but not many people can actually attend these events. They require a lot of planning, high costs, and transportation issues. Now with the help of technology, teams can host more digital events where fans can meet players, spend more time with them, and more people can attend. This transition has resulted in more fans getting to engage with their favorite teams and players, and more excitement created in the off-season.
The Rise of eSports
Outside the changes that have occurred in live sports, the sports industry has also seen a rise in eSports over the past year. With traditional sports ratings declining, many broadcasting networks are now putting traditional and eSports on the same level. Both eSports viewership and participation have been growing over the years (in 2020 almost 500 million people were watching eSports). eSports are especially attractive to younger audiences who are spending more time online and are able to stream games through mobile apps like Twitch and YouTube. As the sports industry continues to become more digital, the popularity of eSports will likely continue to rise and become on par with live sporting events.
The world of sports is quickly changing as technology begins to take over, and teams and broadcasters are finding digital alternatives for the in-person experiences the industry used to thrive on. Even post-pandemic it is unlikely that sports will go back to what they once were, and instead, continue to embrace technology and digital experiences.