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Revamping Loyalty Programs: The Key to Fan Engagement in Sports Entertainment

By Greg Tavarez April 14, 2023

Sports entertainment companies are faced with the ever-changing needs and expectations of fans in our rapidly evolving digital age.

First, let’s backtrack to 2020. On this topic, the COVID-19 pandemic came in and presented challenges for sports entertainment companies in engaging with their fan bases. Many live events were canceled or postponed, and fans were unable to attend events in person.

Just like companies in other industries, sports entertainment companies had to adapt and find new ways to engage with their fans through digital channels, such as live-streaming events, virtual fan experiences and social media campaigns.

To this day, those companies are innovating new ways to engage with fans and deliver that 360-degree fan experience. Loyalty programs, then, enter the conversation; they offer benefits to loyal fans, after all. The thing is, they are often overlooked within the industry due to complicated and unsuccessful track records.

Still, that shouldn’t stop companies from implementing what could be a gold mine for them and their fans. A recent study by global IT research and advisory firm Info-Tech Research Group sheds light on how sports organizations can design and implement a successful digital loyalty program.

Elizabeth Silva, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, believes that the business of sports is not just about selling tickets, but it is an experience-led business, particularly the fans’ experiences. So, the main  thing to consider when designing a digital loyalty program is to figure out what is essential to fan loyalty.

Luckily, this study provides that step. Organizations need to prioritize service culture and delivery. What this means is that it is crucial for sports entertainment organizations to understand the business and the fans in order to design an effective loyalty program. Instead of only focusing on the fans during the game, organizations need to learn about their pre-game experiences, post-game experiences and experiences beyond the game and venue. The goal is to make loyal fans feel connected to the team, similar to that sense of community that they are part of the organization.

Organizations that fail to do this (and have no current database of useful information to determine who their fans are or no ability to generate accurate reports and analytics) may find service culture and service delivery to be challenging.

Once the data is in place to design and implement the program geared toward fans, the next step homes in on how to determine the impact of the program. Info-Tech’s study suggests a strategic and holistic approach based on business reference architecture and value chain analysis; this should be heeded, as it adds value to the business. Additionally, comparative analysis between existing sports and adjacent hospitality loyalty programs also provides insights into industry best practices and the latest trends.

So, the design and impact? Check.

Now, on to the actual success of the program.

Info-Tech’s study highlights that digital loyalty programs depend on business alignment. To enable the digital economy, IT must have business alignment. By leveraging the digital business strategy to enable new digital capabilities (such as a digital loyalty program), the organization gains an opportunity to demonstrate the value of IT and the satisfaction that can be provided. 

By creating an interactive and engaging digital loyalty program that recognizes data as the program's currency, businesses then are empowered to transform how they compete in the entertainment industry and enhance their relationship with their most loyal fans.

Edited by Alex Passett
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CustomerZone360 Editor

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