Jeremy Bauer takes a look at how digital is changing how fans interact with sports
Contemporary sports fandom is rapidly changing and has shifted towards the digital space. Fans can now engage with their teams on the move using mobile devices and many even prefer to. In fact, a Nielson report highlights that almost 41% of global sports fans choose to stream live sports events. Sports teams and brands have picked up on this trend and are now finding new ways to reach consumers using digital technologies.
As a long-term supplier of sports shirt embellishments, Avery Dennison is providing a real-world illustration of these evolving digital consumer interactions within the world of football. Every Premier League shirt is now digitally-connected thanks to the work of our Embelex division. Innovative heat-applied digital triggers mean fans can scan names, numbers, and badges using their smartphones to access exclusive content on the Premier League app. From a hidden quiz that tests fans’ Premier League knowledge, to competitions to win tickets, a wealth of rich content can be enjoyed through this digital portal.
Personalised experiences through these new IoT (Internet of Things) touchpoints, are allowing sports teams to get the most out of fan interactions and boost customer engagement. Research by Epsilon indicates that four out of five consumers are more inclined to purchase something if brands offer personalised experiences. Sports teams have already begun to capitalise on this, and I predict that this trend will grow.
How are digital triggers connecting fans with teams?
Mobile phones have evolved to be more than just a way to speak with others. They are now a portal into the digital world, and the integration of digital triggers like QR codes into products and services means people can access this realm at the tap of a screen. Combined with personalisation of sports merchandise, powerful technology can enhance fan experiences and bring people one step closer to the field, and the sports icons they admire.
Connected sports shirts are doing this by allowing fans to simply scan player numbers on the backs of shirts using a Smart Reader app while a QR code on the neck label can also be scanned using a smart device camera. Using multiple technologies maximises the scope for potential interactions in addition to ways to store information online.
Insider Intelligence predict that smartphone users scanning QR codes in the US alone will reach 99.5 million in 2025. These digital experiences open up a space where fans and brands can engage with one another. Messages can even be tailored to invoke specific emotional responses.
One example is online publication SoccerBible working with sports charity Common Goal to design and produce jerseys featuring a digitally-scannable heat-applied QR code in the inside neck. This directs consumers to a “Thank you” message from Common Goal co-founder and ex-Manchester United player, Juan Mata.
Emotional marketing can be a powerful tool, especially in the context of passion-fuelled sports. To put this into perspective, the IPA databank revealed that emotionally charged campaigns can be twice as effective as those with rational content.
Using widely available technology and targeted messaging, digital fan engagement has the potential to unite people with common interests such as team sports. This connected space can provide a range of creative opportunities for brands and sports teams to interact with fans on a deeper level. With every sporting event, a new stage is laid out and a worldwide audience lined up.
Opportunities to monetise interactions
Rewards and special offers are a well-established tactic used by brands to incentivise consumers, sports fans included. A report by KPMG revealed that 60% of surveyed shoppers would go out of their way or even spend more at a store to earn loyalty program awards.
Reward schemes are a way to make customers feel special and to give something back to people who remain loyal to a brand. Loyalty also happens to be one of the core foundations in the world of team sports, as it shapes the relationships that people have with the clubs that they love and as a result, the merchandise that suppliers produce.
Using digital triggers, it’s possible to combine fan loyalty with customisation, in a space where experiences can be made more exclusive and entertaining. GWI data suggests a third of sports fans want brands to offer customised or personalised products. Whether it’s a custom shirt for a long-lasting legend or an exciting new transfer, the customer base for these products is huge. Essentially, the more exciting the world of football gets, the more potential smart sportswear has.
The demand is growing, the possibilities are vast, and the technology that makes it all possible exists. Further innovation using printed graphics on apparel and other external embellishments is imminent and this too will help brands boost consumer engagement. I am excited to see what the future holds.
While digital triggers on merchandise are an effective way to promote products and target sports fans, there are other applications for this technology. For example, digital verification means brands are better equipped to tackle fakes. Worryingly, the accuracy of counterfeit shirts has increased to fool even the most faithful fans. Fortunately, QR codes and RFID technology can help reassure fans that the shirt they’ve purchased is genuine and authentic. These technologies can be used to direct customers to legitimate URLs set up by suppliers, authenticating products and stopping fake-fashion in its tracks.
Another useful application is the digitisation of garment care labelling information. Transferring lengthy text previously found on the tags sewn into garments to an online website means brands can provide users with more detailed information, including greater transparency about materials, product features, and how to care for the product. This application also plays a role in the circular economy as instructions on how to responsibly dispose of unwanted clothes and key information about a garment’s journey throughout the supply chain can be provided. The apparel industry has a significant impact on the environment and this is something suppliers should be aware of, especially in the current climate.
These are just some of the broader uses of digital triggers that add to the capabilities of connected sports shirts. This technology provides benefits throughout the entire life cycle of products, and I think it’s important we emphasise these are not just tools for profit.
New digital technologies are providing innovative ways for brands to interact with consumers and market their products. Sports brands are no exception and customised merchandise is a unique platform that has huge potential as it appeals to team sports fans around the globe. Digital embellishments are also an effective way for clubs to create positive experiences for fans and connect them with their teams and one another.
Reimagining sports apparel as an ‘interactive creative canvas’ unlocks a host of new opportunities and uses. We know that brands need to keep fans happy and interested. To keep up in the fast-paced world of apparel and sports fandom, brands need to explore creative digital marketing techniques, and find ways to stand out from competitors. There is a real opportunity for organisations to grow as the digital playing field expands beyond the stadium.
Being a sports fan now means more than simply turning up to a game. Thanks to digital innovations, brands can build on existing connections and forge new relationships with consumers that are continuously nourished. As discussions of the metaverse really start to take hold, now is the time to embrace life in the digital realm and investigate how to get the most out of every interaction.
Jeremy Baueris global commercial director, Embelex at Avery Dennison RBIS