Marketers Are Taking Advantage Of The Demand For Mobile Sports Applications

ESPN mobile app

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Whether watching the game at home or in-stadium, checking scores on their mobile devices, or planning their next fantasy move, sports fans are always connected to their favourite teams and players.  Mobile technology is consistently finding ways to keep fans engaged.  Meanwhile, marketers are trying to find innovative ways to reach out to this emerging mobile demographic.Here’s a look at the large and diverse demand for mobile sports applications and insight into the motivation behind mobile sports fans’ desire to interact with their teams, their players, their games.

Demand for Mobile: All Bases are Loaded

Demand from sports fans for mobile applications and social media comes in all shapes and sizes, here’s a look at the breadth of the market, and current marketing trends:

Social MediaIn 2011, according to Harris Interactive (sponsored by IMRE Sports), nearly one in four online American adults (23%) said that they would be using some form of social media to follow the men’s NCAA Tournament in March.  Of these adults, 27% planned to use a mobile application to do so. 

Social Commerce – Keep them Captive. Visited one of the traditional online team communities recently? Hear the wind blowing?  They’re virtual ghost towns now; everyone has packed up and “moved” to team pages on Facebook.  Whether it’s to find the most current team data and statistics, to stir up some nostalgia among fellow fans, or to post their season predictions, fans are on Facebook.  In the middle of this captive audience of devoted fans is where merchandising and sales garner the most attention; therefore, the most effective sales tactic is to bridge team stores to their Facebook page using social commerce tools.  The result? Fans continue to interact on the team’s page while browsing, purchasing, and talking about everything from tickets, to jerseys, to last night’s leading scorer. 

Facebook Promotions Facebook’s promotional power is the ultimate tool when it comes to leveraging social media into revenue.  For instance, an average purchase of $50 by one per cent of 200,000 fans whipped into frenzy by a viral Facebook promotion would yield $100,000 in minutes. Team corporate sponsors should create interactive and engaging Facebook promotions —the types of sponsorship activities sports fans prefer—that capture the attention of fans while continuing to maintain the authentic, relatively “pitch-free” environment associated with the Facebook experience.

Mobile customisation Location-based customisation keeps mobile sports fans engaged regardless of where they’re viewing the game. Location-based content is fully customisable by the sponsors to provide “gateway access” to targeted fan segments.  Examples include: giving access to a special mobile website for fans only within the stadium; giving stadium fans concourse discounts, offering customised packages on next week’s tickets for fans at home, for fans participating with certain sponsors, or for fans currently watching the game from the 50—the options are endless.

Ticket Sales StubHub offers a mobile app for on-the-go fans to purchase tickets for their favourite sports teams.  The application allows the user to tag their favourite teams, showcases venues and events based on the user’s location, and provides detailed ticketing information such as venue seating locations.  According to StubHub’s senior director of marketing, Ray Elias, “mobile innovation is a big growth area for StubHub because our customers are asking for it.” 

StubHub is just one facet of ticket sales, as teams and leagues around the globe are capitalising on the ability to purchase tickets via mobile applications.  According to Juniper Research, ticket purchases for sports and other events from mobile devices are expected to rise to 15 billion by 2014.

Fan Clubs – The NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins launched a fan club based on a mobile communications model.  Dubbed the Pens Mobile Club, the team has accumulated a fan database of over 90,000.  On April 4, 2011, the team “blasted” a message to the mobile fan club database asking for a reply (the word FAN) for a chance to win two tickets to the Penguin’s final regular season game and an autographed helmet.  The result: 55,196 unique entries.  Such fan clubs demonstrate the CRM ability of the mobile platform in sports.

Accumulating mobile CRM database information can also be useful for inside sales. Such a database gives teams, venues, and owners leverage for future branding and merchandising opportunities, as mobile users can be instantly “queried” to showcase relevant demand for products and services.

Text Alerts Sometimes overlooked because of its “1.0” status, this old dog can still be taught new tricks.  90-nine per cent of text messages are viewed within a day. The fact that 90-seven per cent of Americans have cell phones means that almost all text alerts will be read within 24 hours.  And forget about scores and breaking news: fans want to see ticket promotions, play-to-win offers, and discounts.

Area/Stadium Interactive Features – Text adds an immediate interactive element to the time out video board.  Texting to answer a trivia question or vote for a favourite player promotes more participation, while giving the sponsor a chance to communicate directly with the consumers

Clearly, the demand for mobile interaction is there, across a wide range of opportunities, but what is it that drives sports fans in droves to the mobile marketing channel? 

The answer lies in the experience of “being there.”

Popcorn, Peanuts, and Integrated Mobile Applications

Stadium Fans want to see every minute of the game and mobile now gives them that chance.  Vendor platforms that support mobile apps will drastically change the way fans order popcorn, peanuts and cracker jacks.  Keep them in the seat: fans can order game goodies from Section C, Row 12, continue watching, and enjoy.

But sports marketers are also bringing the game experience to fans not able to watch in person.  Successful sports marketing is about immersion—creating the sensation of “being there,” then continuing that feeling long after the game has ended.  What started years ago as broadcasting game scores to cell phones, has evolved into mobile applications that provide real-time play-by-play, statistics, commentary, and interaction: all essential elements of immersion.  And nothing increases the fan’s appetite for merchandise and affiliated products more than “being there.”  Immersion has been the basis of in-stadium sales from the beginning. 

From apparel at a sporting event, to album sales at a concert, the concept remains the same: fans want to continue the feeling of “being there” long after the event is over.  Mobile devices provide the only platform to offer an interactive feeling, anywhere, at any time.  Mobile apps provide marketers with the closest thing to fans walking the concourse while perusing merchandise before, during, and after the game—only the smell of hot dogs and fresh-roasted peanuts is missing (give it time).  Apps provide ready-access to all of the “being there” items; it’s as close to actually attending the event and buying in-stadium gear and merchandise as there has ever been.

The technology has arrived and demand is there.  Sports fans are motivated to engage in mobile apps and social media that provide immersion and continue the excitement of the game long after the teams have left the field.  For marketers, the game is just beginning, and there are many more (mobile) opportunities to score.

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