2015 was quite the year for sports, tech, social media, and more. The way sports were consumed and enjoyed continued to change and diversify. The behavior of the fan continued to be altered due to updated technologies and new social networks coming to the forefront.
Because of this, teams and networks need to adjust. Where will the fan be? What does the fan want? What will sponsors want to get behind? Here are some of the hot trends from 2015 that will continue to evolve in 2016.
SPORTS BUSINESS TRENDS FOR 2016
1. Countering The Cable-Cutters
In 2015, we saw more and more people leaving their traditional cable packages and going exclusively digital. Some premium channels, like HBO, have made their own channel package where you invest money for online only. Netflix and Hulu are still as popular as ever.
With sports leagues and channels, they are coming around to it, but still have you tied to a TV provider. Watch ESPN, FOX Sports GO, and NBC Sports Live Extra allow fans to watch their broadcasts online but you do need a cable or satellite provider to watch. In 2016, depending on the demands, this could be the year that they start to advertise an online-exclusive package.
What they provide online and on mobile apps is already impressive. NBC Sports Live Extra gives soccer fans an inside look to all Premier League matches and on big days (Boxing Day), links to all games like an NFL Red Zone. FOX Sports Go is starting to add their own exclusive shows such as “Outkick The Show”. Watch ESPN has integrated with the ESPN App and the College Football Playoff semifinals this year were their 2nd most viewed events on it. The demand is there. Now let’s see if they become a package by themselves.
2. The Continued Growth Of Daily Fantasy Sports
2015 was the year of Fanduel and DraftKings. It was nearly impossible to escape hearing about them on TV or online and when you could, you were seeing a creative piece of advertising on your social feeds. I, along with millions of others, invested in it during games and it truly made the impact of even the meaningless matchup that much greater.
Each of the major leagues even hopped on board with them as well. They have lots riding on these websites as well. It means that people will be tuning into all of their games, ratings and web broadcasts will go up, and it means more exposure for their league. It’s a great way to get fans tuned in week after week regardless of the matchup.
However, these daily fantasy sites ran into some issues with certain state governments like New York, where it was made illegal to participate on these sites in the state. Could this be the start of a slippery slope and other states could take action if they don’t get a cut of the earnings?
We shall see how this grows in 2016. Will these sites sustain their positive growth thanks to their “annoying” advertising? Or will the legal issues be too much? All in all, the consumer wants fantasy sports and their evolution is almost certainly going to continue.
3. Further Development Of Virtual Reality
Fans want to be a part of the action. They crave being in the shoes of the players and coaches they are such fans of. Stories and videos can only do so much. Imagine if they were actually seeing what the players go through, both in and out of the game.
This is where virtual reality comes in. In 2015, we saw the growth of 360 video on YouTube and Facebook which gives the viewer a completely immersive experience. VR goggles for phones allow fans to view these 360 videos completely while blocking out everything else. Imagine that power with teams and sponsors who can get that kind of a connection with the fan.
Also, live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat were some of the top new apps of 2015, partnering with Twitter to provide live look-ins at events. Not many teams have used the technology quite yet but channels and brands are jumping in on it. As of right now, teams have restrictions about what they can do but now that these apps have become so popular, league officials will surely take the offseason to figure out what to do.
These immersive experiences take fan engagement to the next level. Even if the fan is not in the arena, they can still be a part of the action. In 2016, expect leagues to relay to teams what to do properly with these tools so teams can take full advantage of the idea.
4. Enhanced Stadium Experiences
With said advancements in virtual reality and the growth of fantasy sports, fans are less inclined to leave the comfort of their own home and go to a stadium which for some may be far from home. Teams need to figure out a way to keep ticket sales up regardless of performance on the field.
As a result, teams need to go to the next level to keep fans in the seats. Teams like the Washington Redskins have a FanDuel fantasy football area with TVs galore so fans can keep up-to-date on all of their fantasy football needs. The New York Rangers take that virtual reality aspect and put it in Madison Square Garden. More and more stadiums are implementing accessible WiFi across arenas. They make the stadium a place to be and they make sure to make the fan feel right at home.
These are the first steps. As technology evolves and demand for these features go up, more and more teams will begin to implement these changes. I’m excited to see what happens in 2016 and how arenas adapt to fit the ideal fan experience.
5. Advancements In Social Media Practices
Social media took a massive leap in 2015 in terms of growth. Instagram’s value shot up like a cannon. Facebook and Twitter developed their advertising tools even more than before so that brands almost have to invest in them to reach new audiences. GIFs were able to be used and images were found to be a very effective way of telling a story.
Teams learned a lot of strategies in 2015 that proved to be effective. They learned to use certain athletes and their fame and brand to create a digital story, even crossing between leagues. Infographics were a great way to share statistics and tell the numerical tale of a matchup. Lastly, mobile-only networks like Instagram and Snapchat grew massively in importance as Gen Z gets older and grows more important in the buying process.
In 2016, who knows what new network will make a drastic impact. Paid advertising on Facebook and Twitter could become a truly essential part of team’s social media strategies. Instagram and it’s uncluttered mobile-only feed could continue its ascent. It will be exciting to see.
6. Increased Use Of Mobile and Mobile Apps
The shift to mobile became even more dramatic in 2015. As a business in today’s day and age, you NEED to have a mobile-friendly site combined with a good product to succeed in the digital world. Combine that with an effective social strategy and the addition of a mobile app and you have a way to reach consumers on all levels.
Look for teams to get more out of mobile apps in 2016. Mobile apps can be effectively used to enhance beacon technology, push out news and article content, and keep fans in the loop at all times. Apps are good opportunities for sponsorship. A sponsor behind app content or pages keeps that brand in the hands of the fan at all times.
Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors use their app very effectively already for more than just content. I expect a large number of teams across all leagues to enable this in their arenas come 2016 and look for more sponsorship in content as well.