By Tech.mt in collaboration with Socios.com and the Malta Football Association
In recent years, the sports sector started tapping into emerging technologies, such as Blockchain and AI in order to further engage with their fans and to get people interested in different sports, which might not always enjoy the same popularity all over the world. The commercialisation of sports brought about increased revenues through advertising, sponsorships, broadcasting and hospitality streams.
data is translated into player rating, player value when it comes to the transfer market and in preparation for future games
Just as much as Covid-19 presented several challenges to the sports sector, it also brought about rapid digital transformations. The blockchain technology itself is about recording information. This comes in useful when recording player and game analytics, which are published during and after every game on several platforms. The data in itself is an asset, since it is recording every action taken during every game, by whom and finally, the outcome of the action. Just like every other data collected, this is then translated accordingly. In this case being a sport, data is translated into player rating, player value when it comes to the transfer market and in preparation for future games, such as player line up in football.
The switch from having fans watching a game in a stadium to players on their own without spectators brought about a difficult transition for both the fans and the athletes/team. AI architects immediately started working on finding ways to create an augmented experience, not only for the fans but also for the sports persons themselves.
Juventus fan videos were played across the pitch side LED screens.
Different sport leagues experimented with different methods of bringing their games to life, but the system that seems to have been further explored is the same system used in online/digital games, whereby chanting and cheering by fans are adapted according to the AI gathered from previous games. One company innovating in this space is Malta-based company Chiliz, who through their blockchain-based mobile app Socios.com, have helped some of the biggest football clubs in the world such as FC Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray amongst others, make the switch from physical to digital, in light of the pandemic. Galatasaray fans sent in photos of themselves, which were then printed and placed in the seats at the Türk Telecom Arena in Istanbul, while Juventus fan videos were played across the pitch side LED screens. At Paris Saint-Germain, physical meet & greets were replaced with video messages from players.
Alexandre Dreyfus, CEO of Socios.com, argues that even before the pandemic, 99.9% of a team’s fan base, at elite levels, never visited the stadium to watch a match. Whether it’s TV, social media, or OTT content, fans get their sports fix through other means. Now, with few exceptions, 100% of fans are outside of the stadium, which has forced the sports teams to rethink their fan engagement strategies.
“Rights holders need to rethink how they can connect with their audiences for the benefit of both the fans and the sponsors; to start interacting and delivering digital experiences for fans that can, in part, replace the physical experience,” he said.
Blockchain is part of the biggest digital transformation to date where sport organizations are giving the opportunity to their fans to influence their operations through tokenisation. Club supporters are no longer solely spectators but also influencers and decision-makers being consulted on a number of decisions.
Socios.com has seen much success in the fan engagement arena, giving football fans the opportunity to influence club decisions and making history in the process. Juventus asked their fans to choose a new goal celebration song; to redesign the famous ‘J’ logo on a shirt to be sold at retail; and to choose the design of the 2021 bus. FC Barcelona asked fans to choose dressing room artwork and pick match day music, while Cypriot club Apollon Limassol went as far as asking their fans to choose the starting 11 for a friendly match.
Mr Dreyfus explains that Socios.com’s vision has always been to connect fans from all over the world to their team, and to not only give them a voice, but to reward their loyalty. “We are aware that in the future, due to tech advancements and global distribution, sports and entertainment brands will have more and more global fans, and will compete to offer the very best fan experience — fan engagement will be critical.”
Mr Bjorn Vassallo, President of the Malta Football Association, welcomes this new era where fans have become active actors in raising funds and involving themselves in the decision-making of sports. “The world is changing and fast. Innovative ideas bring new opportunities. At the core of fan engagement is the ability to create positive emotional experiences that help the fans connect with the sport and its heroes. Fan engagement is essentially an emotional experience and connects fans with the game even if at a long distance from the game venue itself. The self-expression of the fans through online and offline technologies creates social value for the followers and allows for important benefits in favour of clubs primarily by monetizing due to crowd sourcing,” claims Mr Vassallo.
Digital transformation is bringing about a change in customer experience and unlocking unprecedented opportunities for growth in the sports industry. To continue to capitalise on this opportunity, the sports industry needs to continue to find ways of attracting fans by creating innovative and customized experiences that will both broaden and strengthen the customer base.