With in-venue attendances dwindling and TV/online coverage of sports becoming exceedingly competitive, event promoters, teams, and sports marketers have been looking at avenues to enhance the enjoyment of attending fans as well as to retain the attention of second-screen viewers at home. Data and digital innovation are being used to improve operations and augment fan experiences at stadiums and live sporting venues like never before. Across the U.S. and Europe, popular sports teams are spending millions to bring connectivity and convenience to stadiums for fans who want to share, interact, and stay social during games. With the focus now on putting sports fans at the centre of the action and creating experiences that keep them coming back, mobile applications have emerged as a viable medium to drive fan engagement in real-time. But how can apps contribute to enhance fan engagement during live sports events?
Understanding this would need an examination of how the sports fan behaviour has evolved over time, and where it is at currently. Sporting events, from the times of the Romans and their gladiatorial fights, have been a place for individuals sharing the same passions to connect and mutually revel in an exhilarating, adrenalin-pumping contest. With the advent of technology, this interaction shifted onto the online medium; sports fans connected with each other over social media platforms to discuss their favourite sports in detail and to share their opinions and analyses of different matches, players, tactics, and so on.
But this approach lacked the thrill and the excitement of a real-time sports interaction, especially for sports fans who no longer wanted to be at the receiving end of a one-dimensional viewing experience. Instead, they wanted to constantly interact with the game on second-screen platforms. They wanted to immerse in rich, engrossing, riveting entertainment experiences by engaging with the game on-the-go with their smartphones. Streaming matches, checking and predicting scores, reading sports-related news and articles, or building a fantasy team – they wanted all of this possible with a few taps on their mobile screens. The need was felt for truly unique, live sports experiences that went beyond the usual routine of social media exercises on Facebook and Twitter.
This is where gamified mobile apps have created a disruption. With novel features that facilitate real-time engagement, these apps have been changing the way fans experience their favourite sporting events. Imagine the kind of thrill a sports fan would get in seeing a prediction they made come true in-game or the inclusiveness which comes with interacting with others sharing the same passion. Casual viewers are engaged and actively converted into passionate sports fans through features like pre-match quizzes and in-app rankings, while ardent supporters are able to build a special, dedicated community of sports fans like any other social media platforms. This has led to a break down in geographical and genre-based barriers for sports. Football, hockey, kabaddi, and wrestling are becoming popular in a traditionally cricket-crazy country like India, while people from all over the world are following indigenous tournaments such as the Indian Super League (ISL), all thanks to sports engagement-based mobile apps.
With latest developments in technology, sports consumption today has become even more interactive and captivating. Live sports gaming, as a result, has emerged as the next big thing in the sports fan engagement domain. By allowing users to get into the game from the very beginning, get minute-by-minute updates, and remain engaged with the match till the very end, mobile apps have become the perfect enabler for this new form of sporting interaction. This gives fans the chance to connect with one another and share their passion for sports across the both virtual and real worlds. As sports interaction experiences become far more engrossing and riveting than any other medium, the future of sports consumption will be shaped by digital fan engagement through mobile apps.