Elevating fan engagement to the next level in sports

In a panel discussion hosted by La Liga, industry experts from the sports and tech landscape discussed the various ways of user engagement from technological innovations to ‘off the court’ content

Niveditha Kalyanaraman
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Delhi: A recent BrandZ Kantar ranking revealed that La Liga, the professional football division of the Spanish football league system, has increased its brand value by 15% compared to last year.

According to the consultancy firm's data, La Liga has reached its highest brand value in four years, when it was first included in the ranking of Spain's most valuable brands. Kantar estimates the company's brand value to be $1.653 billion.

Since its inception 95 years ago, the league has sustained multifaceted waves of change in the diversity of sports, their growing fandom and also in the various approaches to fan engagement. 

While football in itself could be a unifying factor, in a cricket-worshipping country like India, the league sure has its work cut out for them. 

As Roger Brosel, Head, Content and Programming, La Liga, remarked, the answer to involve consumers with little to no knowledge of the sport is to bring the viewer to the centre of where the action is, to offer an immersive experience.

Technology and user engagement

In a panel discussion hosted by La Liga, Brosel highlighted the congruence between technology and user engagement and said, “We've always thought about technology as a means to an end. Our final goal is to offer a great individual product that people can engage with because they're interested in the sport, they're passionate about one of the teams or one of the players.”

He added that technology aids in the process of storytelling and creating content that transports the consumers to the stadium. 

User engagement via TV viewing

Talking from the perspective of television, Brosel admitted that alongside technology, there are many innovations that allow the viewer to be at the centre of the product, at the centre of the broadcast. 

He cited examples of video content like various camera positions and dressing room interviews of athletes and audio content like VAR audios of referees and coaches. 

When asked about the multipurpose of technology to tap into existing audiences and garner potential audiences, Rajah Chaudhry, Head, Strategy APAC and Country Head, India at NBA, spotlighted the ‘personalisation’ aspect of engagement via technology. 

Personalised engagement using AI

Creating personalised experiences for fans can both engage and retain users, according to Chaudhry, and is an avenue that AI can definitely pitch in with. 

Shedding more light on using AI for personalisation, Chaudhry remarked, “We now use AI tools to ensure that we know as much about the fan or the user as possible to personalise that experience for them within the app. Our commissioner Adam Silva previewed NBA AI with one of our star players, Victor Wemmingham. It allows people to personalise the game experience and potentially put their own avatar into the game.”

Immersive experience 

Chaudhry also shed light on providing fans with an ‘immersive’ experience and cited their recent collaborations with Meta to launch MetaQuest and Vision Pro Goggles with Apple. 

Audience understanding

Ryo Takahashi, Senior Manager India, MLB emphasised understanding the audiences and adapting to changing times while trying to enhance the experience. 

“Whether it's the ballpark experience or whether it's me sitting at home watching on my phone,” he said, “understanding your audiences is key to targeting their engagement.”

‘Off the court’ content

Aneesh S Madani, Former Head of Global Digital Partnerships and Innovation, IOC and Former Twitter Head of Sports Partnerships, Asia Pacific, specified the importance of ‘off the court’ content for user engagement. 

He said, “One of the key things that we've seen evolve over the last few years is the power of the voice of the athlete and the ability for content, especially all the immersive content that is being created, to be distributed to fans all around the world through technology tools like advocacy software.”

He shed light on the popularity of such ‘window beyond the court’ content that garners enormous interest from fans, not only providing context of what's happening off the court but also about events that can potentially happen on the court. 

“Athlete advocacy and the distribution of such content through the hands of the athletes is one of the key things to think about for the future,” he added, emphasising that such content can also popularise the non-popular teams or players and rally more fan bases. 

Gamification of broadcasts

Brosel addressed the unbeatable trend of using phones while watching television as an opportunity for further user engagement by gamification of the broadcasts on their apps and sites. 

“For example, we have people participating in chats, in polls during games, in quizzes during games, in our app, inside La Liga. Users can earn points that then can be redeemed for tickets, for shirts, etc and we also let fans vote for the MVP of the match,” he added. 

Addressing the in-stadium user engagement, he opined that users who attend in-stadium games are present for the actual experience and not to be distracted by the engagement online. 

Tapping into generational fanbases

Takahashi spoke about tapping into generational fanbases and addressing newer fan bases using immersive experiences. He cited MLB’s All-Star Game in Seattle where fans could access the virtual ballpark or the celebrity softball game. 

He further explained, “It's the day before the game, where former players and a bunch of celebrities come and play softball, which is a modified version of baseball, and a lot easier and safer for adults to play. On this platform, you can create an avatar, walk through ballparks, interact with the people that are there, join events like trivia, raffles, opportunities to win tickets, and then access exclusive content, interviews, or opportunities to interact with these celebrities that are participating in this event.”

He weighed these experiences of importance owed to the growing age of the fan bases and to beat the traditional ways of engagement by adapting to evolving times. 

Future paradigm shifts

Peeking into the looking glass, the panellists expressed different things that could cause a paradigm shift in user engagement and interests ranging from AI, 4K-8K televisions, content consumption at different touchpoints, thematic visualisations and personalised experiences for users. 

Sponsorship insights

Navigating the call further, Brosel addressed sponsorship queries and cleared the air that La Liga has its own sponsors in the league, which are the sponsors that appear integrated in the match graphics. He explained that they are obtained by the contracts in India with Viacom 18. 

“Our broadcasting partners are responsible for their own commercial assets. It's their role to commercialise the advertising and the sponsorship around the games,” he said.