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Engaging with sports fans in the age of spectator-less games

Just over three months ago, more than 32,000 fans crowded into Leicester City’s King Power Stadium and stood cheering in the stands under the glare of the floodlights for what would be the last Premier League match before lockdown.

When it comes to forging a deep bond between brands and fans, the in-stadium experience is like no other.

But COVID-19 has changed all that.

Sporting fixtures have either been cancelled or postponed. Even those that are due to resume, such as Premier League matches this week, will be spectator-less to stem the spread of the pandemic.

And yet the appetite of fans to feel connected with their teams and athletes is undiminished, giving brands the perfect opportunity to forge even deeper, more meaningful links with them and their families.

Some brands are already ahead of the game. Here’s what we can learn from them.

A peek at athletes’ lives

Since the pandemic, sports stars have done wonders for their brands when they’ve spoken passionately to fans from their own living rooms.

If there’s one thing sports fans love almost as much as live play, it’s a window into the lives of their favourite athletes off the field. This is particularly true now, when they have been starved of the sport itself.

Take the England Women, whose regular updates from their homes to football fans during lockdown have attracted more than 500,000 views on Twitter and Instagram.

Positive engagement on the Lionesses’ channels have soared as a result, from 33.7 per cent to 55.3 per cent in a year.

Offer schools and parents free resources

Online learning is here to stay, no matter whether children are at school or at home. Parents and schools are crying out for high-quality, free educational resources that help children to keep fit and make learning fun. Sports brands that offer support through educational resources – like Premier League Primary Stars, which has created a home-learning hub – will build strong links with young people and demonstrate their support for local communities.

Provide new ways to watch sport

While athletes aren’t able to compete at venues in the usual way, some sports have used innovative formats to take the competition to their fans. Take the European Tour’s BMW Trackman Invitational, for example, which set up a tournament in which more than 50 elite golfers competed against each other from their homes, with the virtual backdrop of some of the world’s most famous golf courses. This has delighted fans, who have viewed the tournament more than 356,000 times in the past week alone.

Show fans how to live healthier lives

Lockdown has led many of us to try to adopt healthier lifestyles. Sports brands can capitalise on this with behaviour-change campaigns. An example of this is Team GB and Paralympics GB’s recent campaign to increase fitness levels in families across the country.
COVID-19 poses one of the biggest challenges sports brands have ever faced, but with innovation, brands can build an even larger fan-base – and one more loyal to them than before.

Nick Fuller is president of EVERFI and former head of education for London 2012.

This article appeared in PR Week 16/06/2020