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Sports Teams, Leagues Take Engagement into Overtime image

Sports Teams, Leagues Take Engagement into Overtime

By Mark Seavy

Professional sports teams and leagues are seeking to deepen their ties with fans, stretching engagement beyond a given game or playing field.

To do so, that means offering experiences inside a stadium or arena that create a lasting impression through digital content and social media, said sports industry executives during the recent Front Office Sports webinar Future of Sports: Fan Engagement.

That can be accomplished by tying into a team’s local market and “fully wrap[ping] a given stadium in a team’s branding,” said Danny Passovoy, VP of Ticketing and Experiences for the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL).

“There is a need to build an affinity in each one of the markets and build momentum,” Possovoy said. “And that is something we haven’t been able to do before.”

Up until now, PLL hosted “generic” game weekends featuring the league’s players and teams. Now, however, the league is working with local markets and vendors for food and merchandise so that it feels like the home city is behind the team, Possovoy said. “For us, that is a new phase with a lot of green grass and allows us to get into the ethos of each team.”

Authentically building fan affinity means catering to local music, culture, foods, and merchandise so that attending a game means more than the final result, said Matt Sebek, Chief Experience Officer for the St. Louis City SC of the United States Soccer League. That in turn creates “flexibility” in how teams can be promoted across social media and other online content so that “while we can’t control the results on the field, we can highlight the experience,” Sebek said.

Inside the stadium or arena, it’s not unusual for fans to leave their seats during the event and at times they may take a “food and beverage tour” of the venue or browse the retail store, said Katie Haas, EVP of Ballpark Operations and Experiences for MLB’s New York Mets. In order to take advantage of these moments, the Mets doubled the size of the in-stadium retail store at Citi Field this season to 10,000-square-feet, enabling it to merchandise 52 different t-shirts (compared to 12 in the previous location) and leave room for displaying 3,000 baseballs. Citi Field also features a “fan fest” area behind center field built near a food court with a separate screen to allows fans to continue to watch the game while grabbing food.

“As we think of the master plan for Citi Field, we are going to add more experiential pieces to the ballpark so that fans keep coming back and have a different experience every time, no matter who the opponent is or what the outcome of the game is,” Haas said.

The key is to create long-term fan engagement that carries beyond a single event so that the journey is consistent with the team and not just a sales pitch, said Carolyn Buckland, Head of Fan Engagement for Formula One’s Red Bull Racing.

“Digital impressions and engagement need to work together because you need eyeballs to convert and engage fans,” Sebek said. “This is a changing part of the industry—whether it is with sponsors or fans—in how you place a value on engagement versus impressions. We are all working through that.”

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