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7 ways to maintain audience engagement during lockdown

Who won the FA Cup in 1915?

A casual sports quiz fan might presume the question master is bluffing and reach for the obvious answer: “no-one…World War I was underway.” The clever quizzer would be wrong. “Sheffield United” is the correct answer. The 1914-1915 league season and the FA Cup were held as normal; the final of the latter held at Old Trafford in front of almost 50,000 fans.

For many, sports is comfortingly ever-present, sometimes not even immediately halted in its tracks by the outbreak of war. Yet over 100 years later, a different kind of outbreak has caused the mass suspension of sporting activity.

The Financial Times itself has written about the various challenges the sports industry is now facing. Here at FT Strategies, we’ve been thinking about how sports businesses can continue to engage fans and monetise content that usually plays the shoulder role to the main event. There are the seven areas sports organisations should focus on during the lockdown to keep audiences’ attention during the current Covid-19 climate.

7 ways to keep your audience’s attention during lockdown

    This is no time for organisations to socially distance themselves in an online sense. Social media is a vital source of news and human interaction in this tough period. Perhaps it’s finally time to sort out your content distribution relationships with the big players.
    When fans and customers do visit your digital properties, the current lack of topical content may make it difficult to retain visitors within your ecosystem. With the usual traffic magnets on site having lost their power (ticketing, match news…), now is the time to understand typical online journeys and optimise the user experience and interface by removing friction along these paths.
    Depth or archive content is not typically a problem for a sports business, but how do you know you are using your back catalogue most efficiently? Surfacing the right piece of content can be the difference between another clutch of page views and a visitor wandering off elsewhere online. Do you have the data skills and tech stack to deliver recommendations?
    Subscribers are more likely to stay with a media business as long as they are still getting value for money. Now more than ever, fans may be questioning their spending decisions, so rather than waiting for visitors to come to you, go after them. Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch and to deliver real or perceived user value. It’s time to put the expertise gained from sending all those corporate partner emails to and take a leaf out of the publishing playbook.
    Against a backdrop of self-isolation and more free time, take advantage of the break in play to do some fan research. Visitor feedback is vital in terms of creating a compelling digital proposition that insight from usage data alone cannot deliver. Surveys, polls, and online focus groups are all valuable tools.
    It is an oft-cited truism that sports competes in the wider entertainment market with the likes of Netflix, YouTube and a host of other modern content giants. Now, shorn of its headline content, sports is facing this stark reality. It’s time to borrow some of the engagement tactics that other content distributors use to avoid fans shifting their share of wallet and time in the current absence of top-tier action. Or worse - fail to regain them after lockdown if new media habits become ingrained.
    Sports fans value content such as archive footage and behind-the-scenes exclusives, but are they willing to pay for it? The sports industry has become better at launching pay models in recent years, but there is still a way to go. We know how hard this can be; the public generally expects the news to be ‘free’, yet the Financial Times now has over 1 million paid subscribers. There is no reason why, with a little help, sport can’t take the same journey.

We want to hear from you

We’ve been thinking about how industries can adapt in these times - we want to hear from you, and the challenges you are facing. If you are interested in joining an invite-only online discussion exploring the best courses of action in the current situation, please email me ([email protected]).

In the short term, if you want to find out more about how FT Strategies can help you build a better direct relationship with your fans and customers, please also get in touch. It would be great to talk.

About the author

Tim Part is a Manager at FT Strategies. He has over fifteen years’ experience in corporate strategy, marketing and regulatory roles, including as Senior Sports Consultant at MTM London, Strategy Manager for Ofcom and Brand Manager at ITV. He also has a BA in Russian and Czech from the University of Oxford, and is an avid cricket fan.

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