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The Ultimate Guide to Sports Fan Loyalty | Future Platforms

Discover our complete guide to fostering and scaling fan loyalty in sports in this article.

The Ultimate Guide to Fan Loyalty & Fan Engagement

  • Powered by fan loyalty towards star athletes and clubs, the global sports entertainment market is expected to grow to over $623 billion by 2027.
  • Yet, exactly who will benefit from this fan loyalty is still up for grabs. 
  • Our research shows that sports fan media consumption is evolving, meaning clubs and other industry players must, too.
  • That’s why, in this ultimate guide, we’re sharing a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities of fostering fan loyalty in sports. 
  • Read on to learn more and discover scalable fan engagement activities that build long-term relationships.

The current state of fan loyalty in sports

  • We conducted a UK-wide survey of 1,000 sports fans to understand the ‘why’ behind their favourite digital fan experiences, along with expert interviews with club leaders, athletes and other industry figures. 
  • Here’s a snapshot of some of the trends we uncovered:

Fracturing media landscape

  • TV and radio still dominate as the main consumption channels, with 82% of sports fans watching live broadcasts. 
  • However, this is changing, as OTT services, online streaming sites and social media platforms are offering fans new and exciting ways to stay up to date on game highlights.
  • What’s more, the average fan has up to three different sports-related apps on their smartphones, with 46% and 41% of fans interacting before and during the events, respectively.
  • This mirrors wider trends in the entertainment industry, with UK households set to spend more on Netflix and similar streaming services than traditional TV packages by 2025.
  • As a whole, it’s clear that fans’ preferred media channels are widening as they look for new avenues for news updates, community and entertainment. 
  • Given this, clubs and their extended partnership network (venues, merchandise suppliers, fan engagement agency, etc.), must leverage these channels to maintain fan loyalty.

Evolving fan expectations

  • Our research also showed that fans want ways to engage with their favourite clubs, athletes and peers – not just consume live broadcasts or match highlights.
  • As a result, there’s a huge appetite for fans to evidence their club loyalty, opinions and knowledge through fan engagement activities like voting contests and quizzes as well as dedicated channels for fan-athlete interaction.
  • At present, our survey showed many fans found existing apps cluttered with redundant information and apps. Instead, they want ways to focus on their favourite team or players and receive tailored content based on their interests. As a result, there’s massive potential for personalised engagement strategies that build long-term fan loyalty more effectively.
  • However, club leaders should be wary about overstretching themselves. Our survey showed that, at a minimum, fans simply want to be able to watch live sports in-app or signpost to viable alternatives. 

What does fan engagement look like…

Within individual sports?

  • Adele Nicoll is a British Olympic and Commonwealth Athlete and World Cup Medalist in discus throwing, shot putting and bobsledding. We sat down with her to understand what fan engagement looks like from her perspective:
    • “Individual athletes rely heavily on fan engagement to bring traction to their pages and entice brands or sponsors to work with us. So, fan engagement for us is crucial; it’s not just about the likes and the popularity. It’s about building your credibility as a professional.” 
    • “I like to give people an honest insight into real life as a person and my training as an athlete, but recently I posted a fun challenge and it blew up to over 150k views from my 13.6k followers.”
    • “I see spikes in my fan engagement immediately when platforms like Sky News or the BBC share a news story. Interestingly, it doesn’t even have to be successful news, as long as it’s something that’s impactful.”

From the club perspective…

  • We also spoke to Alistair Hamilton, General Manager at Watsonians Rugby, an Edinburgh-based rugby union club. Alistair has also worked in a business development role in strengthening corporate partnerships, giving him keen insight into the pressures at the club level:
    • “Our club is 150 years old, so we have an established audience pool, but that doesn’t make things easy. On one hand, we want to lean into our history and heritage but we also have to look forward and ensure we’re inclusive towards new would-be fans.”
    • “Performance really helps with fan engagement, but we’re exploring new ways to tailor fan engagement to maintain that fan loyalty. At present, our women’s club have their own platforms for fan engagement, which are then supported by the main channel, so the branding is consistent. We’ve also expanded our use of LinkedIn to attract corporate interest by talking about our work with a local children’s hospital.”

How to foster fan loyalty in sports

  • So, how can sports club leaders tackle these problems, foster fan loyalty, and enable business growth?
  • Below, we examine two key tactics to consider.

Expanding coverage

  • Our survey revealed that 75% of sports fans use multiple channels to get more fan engagement. Namely, connecting with peers and finding information.
  • Given this, club leaders should expand both the volume of content on offer to fans and the breadth of topics covered.
  • The former ensures your club and brand are visible within the new media frontiers that fans use. As a result, you can build fan engagement with highly interested supporters exploring new apps and platforms. 
  • Equally, the latter can help you capture niche fans interested in underrepresented areas of sport, like youth leagues, women’s teams, and so on.
  • Most recently, the British Lionesses made massive gains in fan engagement, with publishers identifying the campaign as “a new era of women’s sport in the UK.” 
  • Unfortunately, viewing numbers and availability (i.e., the amount of venues showing women’s football games) significantly lags compared to men’s sports, suggesting a need for a wider industry shift.
  • As identified by Adele Nicoll, “I think if female sport was viewed and appreciated for what it is – as elite women competing in their own categories – then it could be different, so clubs need to tap into that and highlight that inherent merit.”

Loyalty and membership:

  • Our research also found that (56%) over half of fans consumed sports content daily during the in-season, with 80% of fans checking in weekly during the off-season. As such, there’s latent interest that could be capitalised on via year-long fan loyalty schemes and membership benefits. 
  • Clubs that introduce fan engagement activities should move towards rewarding their most committed and long-standing supporters, as well as offering regular and easily achievable rewards to build initial fan loyalty.
  • From here, clubs can identify and scale revenue strategies through innovative fan engagement activities and revenue strategies.
  • Similar research we’ve conducted on other consumer segments found that many find loyalty offerings too complicated, impersonal and low-value. As a result, club leaders need to focus on what truly delights their existing fan base as well as future newcomers.

Case study spotlight: Paris Saint-Germain

  • Challenge: 
      • Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is a French professional football club. Founded in 1970, the team is now the country’s most successful club, with over 40 official honours, eleven league titles and a major European trophy.
  • Solution:
    • PSG approached Future Platforms to help them rebuild and relaunch its mobile football app. Over a nine-month period, we worked with PSG to transform its app, including flagship new features like: 
  • Native video playback, blog and stats
  • Stadium notifications
  • E-commerce integrations and member benefits.
  • A PSG TV service to support app users viewing games through live broadcasts.

  • Result:
    • 1m+ app downloads
    • 4.6 rating on Android
    • 4.8 rating on iOS

Learn more about the future of fan loyalty in sports in our latest Whitepaper

Discover the digital playing field like you’ve never seen it before. We’ve collated industry insights from 1,000 British football fans as well as club leaders and experts in our latest Whitepaper.

In it, we examine modern consumer expectations for fan engagement in sports and explore what club leaders can do in response. We go more in-depth into the fragmenting landscape of sports media consumption and offer strategic recommendations on the next steps.

Get your free copy now