Disruption is everywhere, so it only makes sense that professional sports is next. Innovative technologies, applications and media platforms are emerging as literal game-changers in the sports world, impacting it from almost every angle and stealing market share from industry mainstays.
The rapid evolution of sports and media is opening up new opportunities for brands and small businesses to provide fans with a deeper connection to their favorite teams though live social content.
Here are three trends that are changing the future of fan engagement and how your business can benefit:
1. The Rise of On-Demand Media and Social Live Streaming
More and more fans are streaming the game rather than watching it on television. TV isn't dying, it's just being reinvented through social media. Live content creation tools such as Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are fueling new opportunities for sports teams and brands to integrate social media not just on the native channels, but across broadcast, web and mobile properties, as well as in stadium.
The growing demand and consumption of live content by fans provides excellent opportunities for smaller businesses and brands to advertise. Previously, advertising in professional sports was reserved for big business, but as more users tune in online, the ability for small businesses to reach them increases.
"In the last two or three years, we've seen a massive backlash against all things big," said Business & Legal Analyst John Snyder. "As technology gives sports leagues the ability to go outside the traditional TV system, it will give smaller players the opportunity to be heard."
Twitter is now streaming free MLB games on its platform, through its deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, while Amazon spent $50 million to purchase rights with the NFL to stream Thursday Night Football games to Amazon Prime members. Amazon's move is already paying off with an ambitious advertising plan.
Small businesses can leverage platforms like Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, and Instagram Ads to target these sports fans and reach a much broader audience of fans, even if working with a smaller budget. The playing field, pun intended, is changing.
2. Live Social Displays and In Game Experiences
Kiss cams and bobble-heads are quickly becoming a thing of the past as fans are connected to the teams they love via live social media content in packed stadiums around the world.
Tagboard, a social search and display company has partnered with sports teams across the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS and others to create a 360-degree approach to fan engagement.
"The giant video displays in the stadiums are no longer just highlight machines," said Nathan Peterson, SVP of Marketing & Business Development at Tagboard. "We're partnering with teams across professional sports to take fan engagement to a whole new level during the game - with unique live content on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter shared in stadium and around the world. This not only connects the team and players closer to the fans, but it also provides tremendous value to any sponsoring brand."
3. Reality-Enhancing Experiences from VR to AR
Sports teams and brands will also continue to bring fans closer to the game and the players they root for through new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Last season the Golden State Warriors created the first live streamed VR sporting event ever with their home opener, ring ceremony and raising of the banner. Before long, we're going to see VR take off in a big way where fans can put on their VR headset to be transported on to the field to watch warm ups, with a celebrity and brand tie-ins. This is the next level of advertising.
"Teams who are not innovating and 'self-disrupting' when it comes to their game-day experience are going to struggle to attract the next generation of fans," said Stephan Schürer, CEO of Fanpictor, a company that uses sound waves to leverage existing stadium audio systems and fans' personal devices to deliver unique, branded experiences. "Teams no longer just have to compete with their local rival or other sports for new fans. They compete with 80" screen TV's, augmented and virtual reality, fantasy sports and e-gaming."
Why This All Matters
From new distribution channels to engagement with players on the field, a sports revolution is upon us, and the new generation of tech-infused fans are welcoming the changes with open arms. As the sports and media landscape continues to evolve, social businesses will have unprecedented opportunities to reach the masses with exclusive content from live streaming to virtual and augmented reality - bringing fans closer to the game than ever.
**Nathan Feifel contributed to this article.