The Sports Technology Awards Debate: “Are Apps Sports’ Best Friend or Worst Folly?”
Posted: Mon, 20 Nov 2017 10:09
The Sports Technology Awards are the Oscars of sports technology, with the global awards gearing up for its fifth year in 2018. London Sport and Pioneers in Sport co-hosted the above titled debate at a networking event in London last week. The subject was the role and future of apps for fan-engagement in sport. The attendees were largely people from the tech industry, there to hear from an experienced panel who had some interesting facts and points of view to be considered.
In 2008 there were apparently around 500 apps available to the public. Now there are 2.2 million apps available for download yet, among all the millions upon millions of downloads, 70% of the time the app is used once and then never again, according to panellist Teresa Aguilar from Pivot Sport.
This is an indication of the current state of affairs in the app world—much like the worldwide web was twenty years ago—apps are still an emerging technology. According to the panel, apps and app-strategy are still in their infancy: while there is plenty of enthusiasm from the industry, with many eyeing a profit and keen to jump on the bandwagon, few apps are really making money and those that are, are typically highly costly loss-leaders for large American organisations.
In the realm of fan engagement through apps, information is the currency. Success however, requires more than the collection of 'static' data like age, gender and contact details. While these are useful bits of information that build up a picture of an audience or fan-base, it is data that can can tailor an app experience: generating a stream of fresh and individualised content that keeps consumers coming back repeatedly to engage with a sport or team. This is the crucial formula for monetising an app and making it viable for a business.
As fears grow for the future of football attendances in the UK, with young people increasingly staying away from match-days, put off by the prohibitive travel and ticket costs, Rob Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University asked how football clubs can utilise new technology and communications to engage the next generation of fans:
"…the way young fans consume information is changing - clubs need to engage fans much more effectively when it comes to social media."
We only need to look towards the US to see what the future will look like where the NFL has perfected the 'connected stadium'. American sports stadia house superior infrastructures for communicating with fans digitally and keeping them engaged on match days. Evidence suggests that greater advancements in this field are undoubtedly driven by higher attendances and a greater commercial culture surrounding US sport and their franchises.
With the rise of e-sports and social media a permanent fixture in the lives of the next generation of fans, football will be forced to integrate digital fan-engagement into their communications with supporters and use it to attract fans 'out of the house' on match-days. Rob Wilson posed the important questions football clubs must ask:
"How do you convert e-sport players into terrace-goers? Can you link the e-game to the actual one? How can mobile technologies support this at half-time, for example?"
While community sport and physical activity levels are continually impacted by changing lifestyles and the 21st Century proliferation of computer technology and social media, the panel highlighted, so is the business of sport. Like grassroots organisations and policy-makers looking to grow sport participation and encourage physical activity, football and other professional sports clubs must deliberate on how to best deploy new technology to increase match-day attendance. The role of app technology in achieving either of these goals has not yet been established.
Luke Regan is Researcher for The Sports Think Tank