Dotdigital blog

Getting closer to the action: how to keep sports fans engaged

In the modern J.P. Morgan Media Centre at the historic Lords Cricket Ground, we brought together marketers from across the sport industry to tackle the big questions: how do you keep fans engaged? And how do you turn these engaged fans into opportunities for sponsors?

You may think that fans, in their nature, are more engaged with the team or sport they support than your average customer. And, in some ways, that’s true. Your fans are already engaged. They actively want to connect with your brand. They’re emotionally invested in you.

But that’s what makes marketing in the sports sectors so difficult. Sports conjure up a range of emotions you simply don’t feel when you buy a pair of trainers or book a haircut.

One day you’re elated.


The next, it feels like the world has ended.


Their connection to your brand is entirely emotional. So, when things are going well, especially on the field, engaging is going to be easy. Well, easier. But, when things are going badly, reactions can be erratic, to say the least.

As a sports marketer, you’ve got to stay highly tuned into your audiences’ mood. This will keep you relevant, and relevance makes engagement a hell of a lot easier!

This brings us nicely onto our first key takeaway from the day:

1) Treat fans like part of the team

Fans want to be part of the action. Regardless of whether they’re regularly attending your events or matches, you should think about every user in your database as a part of your brand.

Exclusive insights are gold

These can come in a variety of forms, from breaking the latest news to interviews with your players and ambassadors, and competitions to win memorabilia. Depending on the type of fan they are, some content may resonate better. This is where personalization and segmenting your database come into play.

If you’re upfront and open in your welcome program, you can ask fans what they’d like to receive in their newsletter. If they’re a distant follower, they might not want to be so concerned with player status updates, but they do want to know what channel and time the next game is on. Get this information as quickly as possible to ensure you’re delivering the insight that will engage the individual the most.

Building your community is essential

Make it as easy as possible for fans to connect – with you, and with each other. Fan forums can be added to campaigns by including RSS feeds when building your emails. This not only helps raise the profile of your forums, but it’s also an invaluable source of user-generated content.

Another way you can foster a strong sense of community amongst your fans is by connecting with your influencers. Whether its social media stars who love playing badminton, or a musician who grew up near your ground, it helps fans feel closer to you, and them.

Never miss a chance to surprise and delight

Take someone from a newsletter subscriber to a member of your fan club, by offering them the chance to win.

What they win doesn’t have to be big. It could be behind the scenes access to the locker room or a shirt signed by the team. What is important, is that you’re rewarding your fans for their loyalty. Never miss a chance to say thank you – for their support and for staying engaged.

And, don’t forget to get your sponsors involved at this stage. If you’re offering fans the chance to win a tour around your stadium, team-up with your sponsors to help get them there in style. They won’t only be delighted with your brand, but theirs too.

Sport marketing

2) Never miss a chance to do something different

Head of Digital at Swansea AFC, Rebecca Edwards-Symmons, showed us that being brave and taking a risk, can have amazing results.

Swansea marketing

Swansea AFC’s new American owners empowered them to try something new –to launch an app unlike any its competitors had. It’s motivation to do this was simple. It wanted to deliver an experience that had fans at its core.

With the new app, the Digital team at Swansea wanted fans to be able to download tickets, access exclusive content and live streams, as well as offer new opportunities for its sponsors through the creation of bespoke games.

Its goal was not about revenue, it was about the experience. By implementing single sign-on functionality across all its Swans Club accounts, the team empowered users to engage more, before, during and after games.

3) Champion collaboration

Following on from her amazing talk at the dotdigital Summit, Fiona Watson from Science in Sport showed the amazing power of teamwork and collaboration.

To increase its brand awareness, Science in Sport partner with brands that have similar customers but are more obvious competitors. These include the likes of Strava, Muc-off, and Garmin.

To capture new data, Science in Sport set up competitions with the chance to win free merchandise for its partners to promote across their channels. This ranged from a free signed jersey to a year’s supply of SiS sports nutrition.

4) Take inspiration from other industries

Chelsea Warrington, Partner Manager at Movable Ink, outlined three ways sports marketers can learn from other sectors to boost their customer experience.


Working for a sports brand, you more than likely have merchandise you sell to fans and members. Basically, you’re a retail brand yourself, so you should be using their tactics to boost your customer engagement.

Top retail brands are particularly efficient at using behavioral data to influence customer actions. Using order confirmation pages to push similar items in AI-driven product recommendation blocks, are an amazing way to boost conversions and increase engagement.


Travel brands such as Best Western, personalize customers’ emails based on the location of their upcoming stay. It pulls in excursions and activities in the local area and suggests these to its visitors.

A sports brand can apply this when fans are traveling to an event or competition. Pull in suggestions for local bars, or car park information, to deliver relevant, engaging and helpful content to your supporters.


Media brand PaddyPower uses APIs to pull in content from other websites to give subscribers the latest information about sporting events.

Sports brands can drive anticipation for upcoming events or matches by pulling in the latest information such as traffic reports, live scores, or team updates. We’re already seeing this tactic being adopted by NHL teams in North America, such as the Montreal Canadiens.

Movable ink marketing

5) Take personalization to new levels

Co-founder of Snaptivity, Volha Paulovich, spoke about how new technologies are delivering perfectly personalized experiences.

At Snaptivity, there is a simple formula it believes creates perfect experiences: content + context + timing = customer engagement.

Today’s experience economy means that people are constantly switching between information sources. While attending a football match, fans can be absorbing information from any number of sources, including the pitch, their phones, and the big screens. Keeping them engaged can be an uphill battle, and that is why context and timing are as important, if not more, than the content your delivering.

Keeping things contextual, such as bearing in mind whether a team has won or lost, is essential. It demonstrates that your there with them, through the highs and the lows.

The Ashes
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