Inside Track

Post-Pandemic Rise in Fan Engagement

One of the biggest questions in sports over the last year was this: Will fans be allowed back at games in 2021?

We always believed that fans would return to stadiums, and in the past few articles of Inside Track, we’ve shown you just how many have returned in huge numbers to stadiums and race tracks all around the globe. It was just a matter of time.

One thing we’ve learned working with our startups in our accelerator program is that the viewing experience is changing before our eyes. Seeing sports in a stadium is awesome but tech is changing the ways we watch at home, too. I mean, you can’t go wrong with store-bought beer and home grilled brats, right?

But, dare we say, the at-home experience is going to catch up with the experience you see live, and we have personal insight from a few companies working on that challenge as we speak.

Two startups that just graduated from our first SportsTech accelerator program are working on exactly that—how to make watching sports—inside and outside the stadium—a fantastic and memorable experience.

Expanding Engagement to All

One of the biggest challenges for everyone involved with sports is connecting with fans and keeping them engaged.

Technology has created unprecedented ways for fans to connect with their favorite players and get closer to the action. When we watch live sports, we have a mobile device in our hand that can keep us glued to the stats, fantasy sports updates, and betting odds.

Younger fans are embracing social media channels and emerging platforms like Twitch and streaming to connect with their favorite sports stars—increasingly in the world of esports.

Pro sports teams and athletes are now realizing the true value of having fans relate and connect to them creates massive brand recognition that translates to merchandise and ticket revenue.

Kelly Pracht, CEO and Co-founder of nVenue is using predictive analytics as a way to bridge the gap between fans of all types. “My biggest passion when it comes to sports—everyone should enjoy it, not just the stathead or the guy that plays fantasy sports,” Pracht said during one of our recent webinars.

Sports betting, daily fantasy, and league-based fantasy sports get a ton of attention, but that’s not where the market opportunity is. “There is a huge underserved market with kids watching sports and moms watching sports with their kids and we’re really excited about that,” Kelly explained.

Kelly is spot-on. Try and find a professional sports league that isn’t concerned about getting younger fans more involved in their game. From baseball to NASCAR, sports leagues and broadcasters are getting creative and innovative with how they get younger fans more excited.

For Kelly, she uses a personal family experience as a way to explain the power of engaging with younger fans. “When you start to make experiences for everyone, I think about my daughter. She picked a Bregman fly-out (during a Houston Astros game) and she talked about it for two days.”

By using nVenue with her own daughter, she was able to personally experience how someone could be drawn into the game by using the power of predictive analytics.

“Bringing people on who have never had an experience is game-changing for the world of sports. We have to get smarter and get ahead,” Kelly said.

Breaking Barriers

Reducing the barriers between the athletes and fans will open up commercial opportunities that will bolster engagement with fans.

Fans don’t want to download more stuff on their phone—they want a simple experience so they can get back to rooting for their favorite team and players.

That was one of the big lessons SportsTech alum Emma Gaona, Executive Manager of The Sonar Company learned.

“There are already so many apps out there! People don’t want more apps on their phone. We don’t want to be another app on your phone. We want to be technology integrated into your phone or with an app you’re already using,” Emma said.

Coming out of the accelerator program, this level of focus was crucial for Emma’s work on product testing and development. They were able to work with the Philadelphia Flyers and test their products inside the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sonar Company tech is an example of how people can get closer to the game in new ways. They use ultrasonic sound waves to connect devices. Instead of focusing your phone on a QR code, they are more like Shazaam, where it instantly syncs to the live game in your living room and opens up new lines of communication between the game and the fan.

Suddenly, it’s not so hard to imagine a world where the stadium experience is replicated right in your house, right down to seeing live stats or even being able to participate in the games that are displayed on stadium video boards.

SportsTech Alums In Action: Where Engagement is Headed

The work that Kelly and Emma are actively doing is changing fan engagement in real-time.

During the accelerator, Emma’s team tossed around interesting ideas where their tech could work including syncing video on drones to make it easier for the US Cycling Team to broadcast more views of races or creating interactive games at theme parks to make waiting for attractions a more enjoyable experience.

All of these ideas started with the concept of keeping fans engaged in a stadium and are showing how versatile tech can be anywhere. “We’re really passionate and focused on giving fans at home more engagement. We always think about fans at the stadium, but fans at home—especially after last year, we can bring them the same experience,” Emma said.

For Kelly at nVenue, the next step for the evolution of fan engagement starts with bringing their technology into the world with APIs that can easily plug and play right now.

“We are happy to provide the tech into the ecosystem. Building an ecosystem is how you help an industry thrive and survive,” said Kelly.

We sure have come a LONG way from when the only way to experience a live sporting event was buying a ticket or watching on live TV. Technology has allowed us to follow sports no matter where we are, and it’s about time the same live experiences translate whether we’re on the road, or on our couch.


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