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How technology has reinvented the sports fan experience

By Dave Claxton, BusinessOfSport.Net

Last year UK sports fans were estimated to have bought a near record 74.5 million tickets to sporting events, according to Deloitte, a consultancy firm. What makes this extremely strong performance all the more surprising is the wider issues facing everyday consumers.

Dan Jones, from Deloitte, commented: “2018 has proven to be a stellar year for live professional sport in the UK. Despite rising inflation, limited real wage growth and squeezed household incomes, the fact that the UK public is continuing to show a strong appetite for watching live sport is reassuring to see.”

It would seem that British fans, regardless of their wider circumstances, have a deep love of attending live sporting events. What has also helped boost attendance is the plethora of newer sports that have taken off or sports which are suddenly back in fashion.

New sports like eSports and drone racing have become wildly popular. For example, the brand new Drone Racing League (DLR) held its season finale in Alexandra Palace, with a capacity of over 10,000 seats. Meanwhile, sports like boxing, after many years in the doldrums, are once more attracting back huge numbers of fans to live events, with 90,000 attending Anthony Joshua’s championship bout with against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in 2017.

Not only this, some well-loved sports are seeing huge growth for other reasons too. While football has long been a staple of fans’ affections, the women’s game is finally reaching very welcomed levels of unprecedented popularity, with a record crowd of 45,000+ fans going to see this year’s women’s FA Cup final.

Added to this mix is the fact that fans are also getting to enjoy sports in some of the most technologically advanced venues globally, in levels of comfort that would have seemed unthinkable less than 20 years ago. And more of this is to come too. For example, Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground will not only have USB ports for fans to recharge their smartphones but also, in some sections of the ground, heated seats which fans can control.

While attendances are reaching record levels in the UK, technology has played a key role in this too. That’s because it has helped to redefine and also improve the fan experience at sporting venues. While the sporting competition will always attract fans, the game, or the fight, isn’t the only thing in town now. Fans are becoming more engaged thanks to a variety of experiences and services that are offered by technology. These include:

  • Digital sports memorabilia: Sports fans simply love sports merchandise and memorabilia. The market is worth a staggering $370 billion according to Forbes. Who knew buying match-worn jerseys and sports equipment, to panini stickers to bobblehead figurines was so lucrative. As life has increasingly become a digital experience, so is sports memorabilia. For example, Major League Baseball (MLB) is already offering digital “player tokens” which can be traded amongst enthusiasts.
  • ‘Near live’ highlights: While the instant replay has long been accepted as a critical part of the sports experience, both in-stadium and on TV, rightsholders are now offering fans ‘near live’ highlights from games. Minutes after a goal is scored, fans can catch it on social media, at no cost, and can also share it amongst their fellow supports, or friends in an instant, thus prolonging the engagement and interest in the live action.
  • In-play betting: Thanks to the proliferation of gambling apps, fans have never had more choice when it comes to placing a bet on a game. What has really changed the face of sports betting, however, has been the addition of in-play options. It gives fans the ability to bet on a much wider variety of in-game action and it is now estimated that over a quarter (26%) of sports bettors use in-play betting options, according to trade body The Gambling Commission. Newer innovations such as ‘cash out’ have also become wildly popular amongst sports fans.

Out of all these experiences, what’s the key takeaway? While the sporting event is still the most important aspect of the experience, it isn’t the only aspect anymore.

Sports fans now demand convenience, mixed with a great experience and aren’t willing to settle for less. Thankfully for clubs and sporting associations looking to make the next leap in their matchday experience, technology is the great equaliser and will only become more and more important in the coming years to enhance this experience.

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