Protective measures against COVID-19 are currently in full force around the world, causing all types of events and public areas to shut down. Among the businesses affected by closures, sports media companies now find themselves in an unfamiliar space — trying to earn revenue and engage audiences without in-person competitions to fuel fan excitement.
Although many sports broadcasters are now relying on reruns and archived video to fill the gap, their ability to excite sports fans seems somewhat limited. But many companies are beginning to learn that there’s more to sports than in-person events.
“We spend half our time watching sports, we then move onto digesting them, discussing them with friends and then preparing for the next game,” sportswriter Mike Wood states in a Forbes article.
In other words, conversation and human interaction have the power to delight audiences. So in the absence of in-person competitions, here are a few simple ways for sports broadcasters to engage audiences, boost morale and build long-term loyalty virtually.
By now, you might have heard of the Netflix Party tool, which allows friends to chat together and watch content on the platform in unison. Not only does this tool allow consumers to socialize safely, but it also boosts their excitement towards the platform.
Sports broadcasters can use Netflix’s audience engagement solution as inspiration to get their own sports fans chatting over videos. And with so much careful planning being put into which old games and events should run in place of canceled ones, fans will certainly be tuning in.
Just look at ESPN, which is airing old WrestleMania events.
According to Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive VP of programming, “WrestleMania is one of the most popular global events in sports and entertainment and the spectacular content it provides will be a treat for fans.”
If fans had a live chat to discuss programs like WrestleMania as they air, viewers would be able to do more than just watch: they would work each other up for matches and reignite the spirit of sports culture.
Q&As and AMAs
Another reliable way to engage fans is by hosting live Q&As and AMAs that feature sports leaders and athletes.
For instance, a U.K. sports club known as Barrow AFC is currently keeping fans connected to team members through Q&As.
Since Q&As and AMAs can be conducted remotely and in real time, they’re effective ways for sports broadcasters to maintain healthy connections with consumers. Just imagine how excited sports fans would be to engage directly with famous players like LeBron James, Serena Williams or Lionel Messi.
While esports isn’t anything new for gamers, there’s been a surge in players due to the worldwide lockdowns caused by COVID19. With such a large consumer base already existing in the esport world, it’s the perfect place for athletes to compete and attract fans.
Some sports companies have already started their journey into esports.
In fact, Spanish soccer league La Liga ran a virtual FIFA tournament with nineteen professional soccer players on March 22 of this year, bringing in over one million viewers.
NASCAR drivers also turned to a connected gaming platform to race virtually last week and engage audiences, and plan to do so every week until the pandemic ends.
Will Hershey, the CEO of an esport investment company, explains that he “[expects] traditional athletes, many of whom are gamers, to look to [esport] streaming as a way to engage with fans and build their personal brand while leagues remain suspended.”
Many networks already rely on podcasts to connect with their audiences. However, sports broadcasters hoping to keep listeners interested must adjust their strategies in light of recent sports cancellations.
“Ninety-five percent [of sports content] now is about being creative and testing the waters of what the audience wants right now, taking liberties with your creativity,” states the host of TalkSPORT’s show Going Global.
Instead of focusing on sports closures and postponements, some media companies are getting creative by discussing the past sports world, athlete interviews and upcoming virtual events.
As long as sports broadcasters find new ways to engage consumers remotely, fans will continue to rely on them for information and entertainment.