Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Engagement Overload

New thoughts for the new year. Is our passion for sports fading?

Before you jump down my throat with a staunch "NO!", hear me out.
Just a bit of tech stuff. Photo: Gigaom

In our technology-crazed era, it seems to be less and less about the actual thrill of competition, the unknown outcome (unless you are the Cincinnati Bengals, in which case, the outcome is very known. Brown family: It's about time, geesh!). Okay, onward with the blog.

We hear the buzz words "fan engagement" regularly. Everyone is looking for the next best way to drive consumption of sport (attendance, merchandise purchases and viewing, among others). And our lives are overloaded with choices using brain capacity. What socks am I going to wear this morning? Should I scroll one more time on Instagram to see that riveting post I've been awaiting? We are constantly consuming and digesting an overload of information.

Organizations must slash through the noise like Edward Scissorhands (A Johnny Depp classic, remember?) turned loose in the woods to grasp a fragment of our fragmented attention.
This movie freaked me out when I was a kid. Photo: Variety
Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a pool in the outfield (sponsored by RAM trucks, no less). More stadiums than not feature breweries and sky-top lounges, playgrounds, and a host of other amenities for fan engagement. Or fan entertainment.

The actual competition is often ancillary to the social engagement aspect of the event. I'm not saying this is true in all cases, but if you're a fan of either team that plays in the Meadowlands this know what I mean!
Maybe I'm all wrong, as there are 2 people in the pool! :). Photo: AZ Diamondbacks
Remember when the game itself used to be entertainment?

And it's not just sports.

I attended church a few weeks ago and in the lobby the church had family photo booths, a tricked-out hot chocolate and cookie bar, and a donut wall! Talk about heaven here on earth! You guys, a WALL of DONUTS! Oh yeah, Jesus was there too, but can you guess what my kids talked about after church that day? I'll give you a hint, it wasn't Mary and Joseph's trek to Bethlehem.

Deloitte published a Top 5 list for successful fan engagement in this article with some great tips such as know your target, reward loyalty and engage year-round. Applicable to sports, and apparently churches, among other organizations.

We fans may be loyal to our teams or sport, but we're also always looking for the next best thing to accompany them.
US Bank Stadium has tons of fan engagement. And a little video board to help! Photo: Global Sports Jobs
Ultimately, it is thought that fan engagement leads to the holy grail for sports organizations - including our sport events and tourism entities: Increased purchases (via viewership, attendance, merchandise, consumption, etc.) and telling their friends (word of mouth referrals) (Yoshida et al., 2014).

So what does all this mean? It means that we have to be in-tune. We need to know what our target population is for each product/offering (i.e., event), and make sure we are keenly aware of what that population desires to keep it's attention...even if it is a roller coaster in the outfield of a little league game (okay, I made that up, but you get the point).

The thing is, we don't have the budget, nor the time, to do everything (i.e., roller coasters in outfields). No one does. We have to gauge 1) who is the most important audience, and 2) what is the most likely approach to yield a positive return for that audience, thus improving our organization's business?

However, we can't stop there. We also must have evaluation metrics in place, ways to see if our efforts are moving the needle. And a propensity for responsiveness and nimbleness, if the needle is not moving, or moving the wrong direction, CHANGE SOMETHING!
For the love of all things cavity related!
Times are changing. Today it's pools in the outfield and donut walls at church. The old-soul in me is sad to see the tried-and-true traditions of competition being the essence of sport disappear, but my rational mind knows we must adapt to remain relevant.

As the late Stephan Hawking said, "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change." In sport, as in with other areas of our current culture, engagement is non-negotiable. Pack your scissors, hatchets, and axes, and best of luck as you venture into the thicket of 2019. Let's knock it out of the park! This is Stoll on Sports.