Sports Technology

Creating a Fan Experience Beyond the Game

Overview In a year where stadiums and arenas were fan-free, viewers at home craved more connection to the sports they love. Leaders from the NHL, WNBA and WWE joined us at the all-digital CES 2021 to explain how their respective leagues are leveraging technology to connect with fans outside of games and events.

In a year of interrupted personal connections, the sports world adapted content and engagement strategies to break through screens and reach fans.

Esports and gaming offered a platform that allowed sports enthusiasts into the action. But for live sports, that was not the end. Technology advancements allowed teams and sports organizations to not just keep fans entertained and involved; they also encouraged new sports fans to participate and enjoy the world of sports.

 

Expanding to the Second Screen

Playing in the summer meant that, in 2020, the WNBA was at risk of losing an entire season. Instead, the league adopted a bubble system through which the season was successfully played out and viewership increased 68% year over year. Moreover, Twitter and Facebook also streamed select games, providing a new channel for fans beyond TV.

But this season, engaging fans had to go beyond just getting the game to them. For the WNBA, this meant securing the viewer's second screen. The WNBA app encourages the user to engage with game by tapping to cheer. This season, there were 140 million recorded taps and an 85% year-over-year increase in average weekly downloads. The app has real time data integration and creates awareness around the game, as well as a competitive atmosphere.

Cathy Engelbert, WNBA Commissioner, sees this engagement method expanding, saying, “second screen experience is going to be something we all are going to have to live with going forward, and innovate around.”

To connect with our fans, we made sure that when we weren’t playing, we were putting out tons of content on every digital platform imaginable, creating new content and engaging fans.

Gary Bettman
Commissioner, NHL

Data, Data and More Data

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman knows that new and younger fans of the sport are interested in connecting with players on and off the ice.

Bettman explained, “They also want to know about the players; they want to know more about what life is like. They want to know more about what leads you to the point of putting on your game or event, so we strive very hard to give them new touchpoints.”

Striving to stay authentic, the league had to find a way to address the technology without changing the sport to fit the tech. Among the ways the NHL is quenching this thirst for information is investing in new puck-and-player tracking technology and increasing the number of viewpoints that the viewer can access.

When the NHL adopted a two-bubble system in 2020, it had to turn the stands into televisions, and bring in the viewers at home. This was accomplished by bringing in more camera angles then ever before, and tracking player and puck movements throughout the game.

These new data touchpoints and game footage were broken down in real time, making the game more accessible to casual and new fans. While attending games live provides an emotional connection like no other, this ability to take in additional data for fans has allowed the NHL to bring them more tightly into the fold at a time when they had to stay physically away.  

 

Access Content Anytime, Anywhere

Unlike most sports leagues, the WWE doesn’t have a season or set schedule. It's a 365-day-a-year source of entertainment. Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer, WWE, credits a multi-platform approach for the WWE’s success at staying connected with fans.

“For WWE, our content strategy is critical,” she said.

Going beyond the linear paid-television content, which is still a major strategic pillar, the WWE has a huge presence on streaming and social platforms. The league is the fifth most viewed channel on YouTube, and the second most followed sports channel on TikTok. Throughout the pandemic, the WWE continued to create content and used its wide range of platforms to deliver it to fans.

“I think it’s really important from our perspective to reach fans whenever, wherever, however they want to consumer content,” McMahon said.

This included investing in more documentary content for their streaming platforms, sharing historical and long-form clips via social media, and increasing the types of content provided to partners. The multi-platform approach allows fans to consume content using their preferred platform while supporting constant connectivity.

 

Even as live sports come back, these technology tools may still be in play to keep fans connected, bringing new life to their sports experience.

 

On-demand programming from the all-digital CES 2021, including Trends Shaping the Future of The Fan Experience, is now available for all to view. The industry-changing insights and announcements shared by tech visionaries at CES 2021 are key to the continued growth and advancement of your business and our tech ecosystem. With that in mind, we’ve opened the CES sessions to everyone.

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