WRITTEN BY MediaMonks
While an exciting game and sports-stars-turned-celebrities alone were once enough to raise an audience for broadcast sports, today’s leading brands strive to provide premier, engaging digital experiences that reach users through personalization and emerging tech. And we know, because MediaMonks recently went for the gold and made it onto the Hashtag Sports Engage 150 list, which features the top partners engaging consumers through sports and fan culture today.
Through our sports-related work—encompassing platforms, creative content and technical innovation—we’ve formulated a game plan for brands to better engage and deliver upon the needs of fans through sports. This includes more effective utilization of user data and investing in emerging tech solutions, allowing brands to bring their A-game to enhance spectatorship for fans both near and far away from the game.
We all know the joke of those who buy the biggest TV screen available before an important game, only to return it after hosting a viewing party. But today’s digital media allows brands to do more than just provide a larger-than-life picture; through emerging tech, they can provide entirely new experiences that significantly improve spectatorship through heightened immersion.
A premier platform achieving this is the 2018 Webby Award-winning Red Bull Air Race for Google Daydream, which takes users on a thrilling ride aboard a virtual airplane that follows actual flight paths from real races. Giving users full control to look wherever they please, the experience makes them feel as if they’re really there.
But VR lets you do more than let users feel present in the moment. “The benefit something like AR has over 360-degree video is that it’s a platform,” says Robert-Jan Blonk, Senior Interactive Producer at MediaMonks, noting the amount of on-screen data present to the user. “In this case, we built a platform with pilot info, race standings and different locations where races are held, which users can go back and replay.”
This added level of autonomy is powerful for fans who want to be part of the action. “Sports fans want to feel like they have a role in the game and aren’t just bystanders,” says Emily Veraart, Senior Digital Strategist at MediaMonks. While Red Bull Air Race users don’t influence the race directly, interactive toggling of the camera lets them experience the event in their preferred way—whether it be the middle of the fray or at a safe, omniscient distance.
For MediaMonks Operations Manager Donny Hofman, this level of interactivity is integral to the experience. “The most interesting thing about an experience like this is the freedom you can give to users,” he says. “You can potentially get anywhere in the action that you want—and where you can’t place a camera in real life, you can in VR.” That latter point describes how emerging tech can enhance sports spectatorship through entirely new perspectives: “It’s a rediscovery of something you’re familiar with,” says Hofman.
"You can potentially get anywhere in the action that you want—and where you can’t place a camera in real life, you can in VR."
The sports industry encompasses several different parties, each of whom has their own fans and content: teams, federations, individual players and industry-adjacent influencers. This makes the industry ripe for producing always-on content.
During the Rio Olympics, we produced with Google Zoo a platform to deliver content to sports fans throughout the Games. Designed for both online fans and those visiting Rio de Janeiro to attend in-person, the platform integrated various forms of content (like timely updates and summaries from some of the region’s most influential YouTube content creators, the Castro brothers) onto a map of the city. In addition to providing relevant spatial information in this way, the platform surfaces up personalized content responsive to how they interact with the platform, like recommending content based off behavioral habits and viewing preferences.
The benefits to better understand fans are measurable. According to MightyHive’s Data Confident Marketer report, data-confident marketers’ success “is attributed to becoming more customer-centric: they’re able to apply first-party data in ways that help them understand who their customers are, what motivates them, and how digital advertising plays a role in their purchasing decisions.” Such confidence in their data allows brands to identify which information fans seek, where and when—and which partners make the best sense for engaging with fans through supplementary content.
Smart data helps brands "understand who their customers are, what motivates them, and how digital advertising plays a role in their purchasing decisions.”
This level of personalization, paired with forging partnerships with content creators and influencers, is ideal for delivering upon changing user expectations for how to consume sports. “With sports, there’s a bigger generational divide in user behavior,” says Veraart. “Baby boomers and millennials are used to watching sports with their family, but Gen Z doesn’t have that relationship with how they watch sports.” According to Veraart, much of this shift is informed by the constant discussion happening on social media, as well as an abundance of statistics and data available for the most avid fans to track. Brands can meet this need with a content strategy that offers a sliding scale of data and content tailored to fans’ individual preferences.
When developing a digital platform for sports consumption, carefully consider the context in which users will interact. Consider micro-moments that prompt users to engage in the first place: the sports tourist attending a big gaming event in town, the stats-obsessed fan, the user who simply wants to see what games are playing at the height of the season. “How you guide the user through a schedule is a key example of the types of challenges a sporting federation may face,” says Joeri Lambert, Business Monk at MediaMonks. “Another is how you apply the data that you have to alert the user of games or information that they want to see.”
One crucial consideration in how to best support user context is whether the platform is accessed via mobile or desktop. With the All of Brazil Plays platform, for example, the mobile experience was tailored more toward location-based information for those attending the Games who needed to know where to go, and when. On desktop, meanwhile, users were treated to their personalized newsfeed of recap content, perfect for those catching up on a day’s many events.
Marrying data with digital creative—whether it be a digital content platform or emerging tech—is a smart strategy for brands to reach sports-obsessed and average fans alike. From helping users keep up with their favorite team to placing them right into the action with immersive tech, digital content transforms spectatorship from a passive experience to an active one, letting everyone revel in a good sporting victory.