Rethinking The Future Of Fan Engagement With Blockchain

By Aqilliz  

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Fan engagement with blockchain

Last year, most sporting events were cancelled worldwide due to the pandemic, prompting many clubs to diversify their core offerings and rethink the ways they could interact with and keep their global fanbases engaged. This move was necessary and very much in line with a new generation of digitally-native fans that are naturally drawn to industries that see higher levels of fan engagement like esports and gaming.

Now, the sports industry is picking up where it left off pre-COVID. From the recent UEFA championships to Wimbledon, social distancing or even compulsory mask-wearing has all but vanished as many sports leagues are once again interacting and engaging with fans at close range. The challenges posed by COVID-19 and rapidly changing audience preferences have provided the much-needed impetus to evolve beyond the status quo. In a largely digital age, sporting leagues and clubs should continue to expand their business models beyond stadium-related sources of revenue.

Valued at US$471 billion before the pandemic, the sports industry is heavily dependent on its fans to keep the flame alive. From social media to esports, the recent pandemic has offered sport leagues with novel approaches to vary and expand their fan engagement tactics. No longer able to capitalise on the ‘in-stadium experience’, digital avenues have enabled leagues to stay relevant, allowing fan communities to experience that same sense of team spirit from the comfort of their own homes with a single swipe or tap.

A new game plan

In recent months, this team spirit has manifested in the form of digital assets such as fan tokens or virtual collectibles. Imbued with real-world value, these items are all underpinned by the same thing: Blockchain. Surprised?

In a time where we’re navigating such a data-rich ecosystem spread across multiple platforms and channels, blockchain can help to efficiently reconcile data points while also attesting to their authenticity and provenance. Transparent and immutable, blockchain offers a distributed ledger of transactions that allows relevant stakeholders to have full access to the entire historical record of fan data — from the purchases they made as well as points redemptions or withdrawals within a given ecosystem. This assured provenance is not only critical for auditing and compliance purposes, but provides leagues with a valuable repository of fan data, allowing them to identify prevailing patterns in their behaviour to better tailor future perks and giveaways. When we zoom out, this data provenance is especially critical for loyalty programmes which need to keep track of different transactions among multiple users and multiple brands.

Furthermore, as a decentralised system, blockchain technology is less vulnerable to system failures when one area of the network has been compromised. With the proliferation of data breaches and leaks, blockchain technology has been proven to have a competitive edge given its distributed and secure nature.

Stepping up to the plate

With blockchain able to consolidate data safely and securely for insights activation and personalisation, sports leagues have begun to leverage the technology to their advantage when it comes to fan engagement.

This can take the form of fan tokens, virtual currencies that can be purchased with fiat to allow users to purchase ecosystem-specific collectibles, merchandise, or even exclusive ‘meet-and-greet’ sessions. By creating their own currency, sport leagues are building a virtual ecosystem that tightens the bond between fans and athletes while unlocking novel monetisation opportunities. Recently, Manchester City F.C. partnered with a fan engagement platform to create its own token, enabling fans to access rewards, club promotions, games, AR features, and voting rights in club polls. The English football club isn’t alone, joining the ranks of its peers such as Juventus, Paris Saint-German, and AS Roma in doing the same.

Meanwhile, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have proved to become the latest trend in digital collectibles. Radically disrupting the US$370 billion global collectibles market, NFTs have exploded onto the scene — transcending the world of sport, but extending to fine arts as well as luxury goods. In the sports ecosystem, NFTs take on a digital twist on collectible cards but with a verifiable guarantee of authenticity. From NBA Top Shot, a platform that allows fans to buy, sell and trade officially-licensed video footage valued at the tens of thousands to our sister company Zilliqa’s recent NFT collection with global football giants paired with real-world goodies, these collectibles can go a long way in generating hype, building up the fan experience within a community. Without much effort from the athletes or the sports leagues themselves, fans are able to interact with one another, trading and selling these collectibles on a secondary market for even more value.

Blockchain-powered loyalty programmes, on the other hand, can tap into fans’ passion and support for their teams. This can take the form of rewarding fans with points for every like or repost on social media, and these points can then be later used for real-world purchases such as game tickets or memorabilia. At Aqilliz, we’ve tapped into the potential of such programmes within the sports industry and how they can bring tangible returns. Access to behavioural fan data can also provide sports leagues with a better understanding of their audience segments — from casual observers to super fans — to best personalise offers and engagement tactics accordingly.

Last year, we embarked on a pilot loyalty campaign with a leading Indian Premier League sports franchise. Throughout the pilot, we witnessed a 17x engagement uplift, supported by increased automation of the crediting of loyalty points, transactions, and fan actions. Both enabling cost savings and measurable returns, such loyalty programmes built on blockchain are poised to be a win-win.

The ball’s in your court

Throughout the past year, marketers have been forced to confront an increasingly digital reality. While this wasn’t the first pandemic, it certainly isn’t the last and the ever-growing changes in fan preferences are here to stay. Innovation is a choice, and brands, marketers, and leagues alike need to remember that the ball’s in their court when it comes to making the first move.

No longer limited to the in-stadium experience, a fan engagement campaign that goes beyond the stands and straight to the devices we interact with, cascaded across multiple platforms and channels, is poised to do best. Informed by real-time insights and behavioural preferences, such a strategy when backed by the right technologies, can make all the difference in staying ahead of the game.

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