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Jason LeggMay 13, 2024 11:09:23 AM4 min read

How can a sports team balance a sense of community and belonging with the bottom line? Fan reward schemes are the answer

How can a sports team balance a sense of community and belonging with the bottom line?  Fan reward schemes are the answer.

Sports teams would not exist without the fans, whether that is them packing out the stands and leading the chorus of a club anthem or fans buying the replica shirt in the club shop.  Sports teams cannot take fans for granted and a reward scheme can be pivotal to the future of a club and intrinsically have benefits, both for the fans and the team itself.  Loyalty is used to reward fans with unique benefits and experiences, and for the team to increase the fans’ perceived value, both financially and in social currency.  

The 7 reasons why clubs need a reward scheme:

  1. Loyalty: Fans are the lifeblood of any sports team. Rewarding them fosters a sense of loyalty and strengthens the bond between the team and its supporters. According to Sport Bible, 46% of 16-24 year olds in the UK support more than one soccer team, so how do you win that fan over to your club?  Recognizing and appreciating fan loyalty encourages them to continue supporting the team through thick and thin, from relegation and promotion.
  2. Fan Engagement: Reward schemes encourage fans to engage more deeply with the team, whether by attending games, purchasing merchandise, or participating in online activities. This increased engagement can lead to a stronger emotional connection between fans and their team on and off the field. 
  3. Retention: By offering rewards to loyal fans, teams can increase fan retention rates. Fans are more likely to continue supporting their team if they feel appreciated and valued.  72% of fans would prefer to receive personalized marketing content for their teams (Tappit Sports Report).  Teams can strengthen these relationships and can further influence and reward behaviour based not only on community but also on what business outcomes the club is striving to achieve - whether that be spend, attendance, frequency of visit or team-related products and services.  Fostering a culture of support and further investment in the team.  
  4. Revenue Generation: Reward schemes can drive revenue through increased ticket sales, concession, food & beverage, merchandise purchases, and sponsorships. Fans are more inclined to invest time, effort and spend money on the team if they know they can earn rewards in return.  Sports organizations believe 21.3% of revenue is driven by digital fan engagement and loyalty (FAN.AI) even though only 20% of season ticket holders currently are members of a team's loyalty programme.
  5. Data Collection: Reward schemes provide teams with valuable data about their fanbase, including demographics, preferences, and behavior. Clubs can identify their fans and gather data on their behaviour on match days and even when outside the stadium environment outside of match days. If a club can get a 360 view on each fan then this data can be used to tailor marketing efforts and improve the overall fan experience.
  6. Brand Building: By treating fans well and offering rewards, sports teams can build a positive brand image. Content and appreciated fans are more likely to speak positively about the team, share their experiences with others, and act as ambassadors to attract new fans. This positive word-of-mouth can contribute to the team's overall brand reputation and growth.
  7. Community Connection: Sports teams often serve as a cultural focal point for communities, bringing people together and fostering a sense of belonging. Rewarding fans strengthens this community connection by showing two-way appreciation for their support and creating opportunities for fans to connect with each other and with the team.

Over 60% of sports businesses, according to Fanprime, don’t have a loyalty or reward program.  The MLS, in North America, however is stepping up its presence and embracing the fan reward scheme world.  A forward looking and less legacy focused approach has driven the clubs to adopt loyalty as a key pillar. 

5 key learns from MLS case studies:

  1. Points-Based Systems and Badges: Fans earn points for various actions such as attending games, purchasing food & beverages and merchandise, or engaging with the team on social media. For example Philadelphia Union rewards fans with 50 points for arriving early at a game. These points can then be redeemed for rewards such as seat upgrades or exclusive merchandise.  Points can be tracked in a leader-board and badges can be awarded at certain milestones. 
  2. Loaded Value: Clubs can use loaded value added with tickets, stored value, gift cards and discounts.  St Louis City SC for specific ticket holders, loads a ticket with funds to use at any concessionaire when the fan orders and pays through the City app.  
  3. Membership Programs: Teams offer tiered membership programs with increasing levels of benefits and rewards. These programs often include perks such as access to exclusive events, VIP experiences, and even personalized merchandise.
  4. Contests and Sweepstakes: Teams host contests and sweepstakes where fans can win prizes such as tickets to games, autographed memorabilia, product giveaways, community initiatives or meet-and-greet opportunities with players. Minnesota United and their local partners offer fans all sorts of promotions throughout the season from staycations to nominations of service members from their community. 
  5. Digital Platforms: Teams develop mobile apps or online platforms and leverage technology where fans can track their loyalty points, participate in exclusive challenges (anything from team score to watching videos), and receive personalized offers and content.

Overall, rewarding fans is not only a gesture of gratitude for loyalty but also a strategic move that can benefit sports teams in various dynamics, from building loyalty and engagement, enhancing the overall fan experience, to increasing revenue and fostering those all important community connections and get those fans singing in the stands.