Sports Fan Engagement: What It Is, Examples, Ideas and Tips

Everyone knows a team is only as strong as its fans. Fan engagement means everything for sponsor revenue, ticket and merch sales. Leagues and teams are challenged with boosting digital fan engagement across social media platforms as digital connections through partners increases reach, engagement, fan loyalty and revenue.

Boy cheering his favorite team demonstrating Gen Z sports fan engagement

Most sports teams and clubs know the immense value that fans bring to the overall success of the sport in which they play. Every sports property tries to engage fans on a regular basis. If it weren’t for the fans who consistently attend games and events, purchase merchandise, and show their support, many teams (and leagues) would simply not exist. Fan engagement drives every sport in the world.

However, sports fan engagement has changed dramatically in the past two years. Fans now engage with their favorite teams, leagues on digital channels — especially social media. But most of all, fans are now engaging directly (and some exclusively) with their favorite athletes. It’s time for sports marketers to flip their script.

With the advancement of mobile phones, fan engagement — especially digital fan engagement — has become even more important to sports marketers since there are more and more ways for fans to follow and connect with their favorite sport, team and players. Whether through social media, digital NFTs, fan tokens or closed digital groups, discussions and forums, sports teams and clubs have the opportunity to engage with loyal and new fans in more meaningful ways.

Learning more about how to increase sports fan engagement requires the knowledge of what this looks like for sports teams. After taking a look below at the best ways to boost fan engagement, check out Greenfly Digital Media Software for Sports Teams & Leagues for help in building your digital fan engagement.

Sports fan engagement: fans enjoying an event on the big screen

What Is Fan Engagement in Sports?

Fan engagement is more than just a way to get fans to attend various sporting events and games. Today, it’s an intentional process of getting fans to actively participate in all things that are related to the specific team or league, whether directly or indirectly, on a continuous daily cycle.

The more the team or league is part of their every day, the higher the value of the team’s brand in the fan’s mind. Whether you’re engaging fans for football or soccer, basketball, baseball, cricket, rugby, hockey, gymnastics, motorsports, ultra marathon running, martial arts, golf or even disc golf, those fans want to be immersed in the lives of their favorite teams and athletes.

Many experts emphasize that fan engagement in sports is about the emotional connection that is created between the team and the fans. It’s through these connections that fans have a way of influencing sports league strategies as they move forward. 

Direct fan engagement refers to the things that a fan does directly to interact with the sports organization, such as purchasing tickets to various sporting events or buying merchandise that directly impacts the team. This type of behavior affects the sports league and team by supporting them monetarily.

Indirect fan engagement is when fans interact with the team or sports organization through social media platforms and other means. This typically involves being active in the various platforms that the organization is involved in, mentioning the team on their own social media accounts, and possibly even participating in various events or rituals that bring attention to the team.

Full stands in team colors at a sporting event.

How Do Fan Engagement Programs Benefit Sports Organizations?

Fan engagement programs provide many beneficial features to sports organizations mostly because of the interaction and connections that are created between them and the fans. This means that when sports organizations take the time to create opportunities for fans to get involved, they’re able to discover what is needed or wanted by both parties.

It is important to note that at the heart of sports fan entertainment is the fanbase that keeps the teams and organizations going. If it were not for devoted fans that show up for their favorite teams week after week, the organizations would not exist.

Because of this, it makes sense that the sports leagues and teams should do everything in their power to find ways to initiate digital fan engagement. It is also important to keep in mind that these engagement opportunities are not just a means to sell more tickets and merchandise but a way to connect with fans.

As a result of the various sports fan engagement opportunities, sports organizations benefit through not only ticket and merchandise sales but also from the positive community engagement that happens. The more an organization does to engage fans, the better the image they develop for themselves.

Like other businesses, an image can make or break an organization. And when something occurs that disrupts that image, fans and non-fans alike will be talking about it. However, when there are active fan engagement programs, it’s more likely that sports organizations will bounce back from those incidents.

When it comes to reimaging the sports experience for fans, it’s important that sports organizations focus on what they’re hearing from their fanbase. These are the people who can make or break the league or team. 

Sports are entertainment: fans in stands at a football / soccer game

5 Fan Engagement Examples and Ideas

Knowing that fan engagement is important and understanding how to develop a program that works can be a daunting task. Many in the sports world have grown used to doing things in a certain way and are not sure how they should go about making appropriate changes.

Keep reading to learn more about fan engagement ideas that can help your sports organization launch into a future that is more connected to the fanbase. While you’re at it, check out this guide that outlines 120 different ways to engage fans.

Put Your Players at the Forefront of Content

To be honest, fans are most likely due to a player or two on a team that seems to meet their expectations on a higher level than others. Therefore, these players should be at the forefront of much of the content sports organizations put out either on social media or in other press.

This is often evident on social media when the sports league has a rather large following, but individual players have an even larger following. Fans enjoy interacting with or staying connected to their favorite players instead of the league itself.

Some fan engagement examples of this technique would be videos of fan-favorite players doing something either personal or charitable for their family or community. People like to know that sports players are human and do things much as they do themselves.

Here are a few ideas sports organizations can use to create a better sports fan engagement program:

  • Videos or interviews with sports players and their at-home workout routine
  • Interviews with sports players asking various personal questions
  • Sessions with sports players on components of what they do best
  • Challenges that connect fans to players

To create experiences that all fans will enjoy and relate to, it’s important that sports organizations give them what they want. This means putting the athletes at the forefront of the program by creating media opportunities where they can connect with fans in different ways.

Use Engaging Videos

No matter the age of the sports organization’s fanbase, everyone enjoys watching highlight videos — especially when they have the feel of authenticity. When fans are focused on what they like, it’s seeing the sport as if they were in the stadium. It’s no surprise that fans LOVE watching videos taken by other fans!

With Greenfly +Engage, teams and clubs can ask fans to submit their short-form videos and photos and easily collect them. They can edit the videos together for a compelling fan-generated video.

It is important to note that not all fans follow the same social media platforms as everyone. This is especially true when you consider that you may have fans ranging from teens to those at retirement ages.  In other words, sports marketers and other digital media experts recommend that teams create a variety of different content that will appeal to the different audiences they’re targeting.

When you cater to those who are 25 or younger, you might be posting on social media platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram, whereas for an older audience, you may want to include Facebook in your posts as well. 

It’s also suggested that when these videos are created, they vary in length and content to ensure that various audiences are covered. This is because depending on when various fans view the content, they may only have a certain amount of time.

Here are some fan engagement ideas to produce and post engaging content:

  • Interviews with athletes (some short some longer)
  • Fan-generated content
  • Greatest/Worst moments
  • Behind-the-scenes and locker room backstories
  • Athlete-created videos
  • Broadcast highlights of the best parts of a game

While these are only a few ideas, they’re the most commonly used types of content that can keep fans at various ages engaged. Digital media managers are a great way to drive fan engagement by using assets on hand to increase exposure.

Focus on Social Media Fan Interaction

Not only is it important to put out content that your fans will enjoy, but it’s also essential to interact with them through the various social media platforms. This is because when fans feel like they are a part of the organization, they are more likely to show their loyalty in other ways.

What this means is that part of the fan engagement programs that sports organizations create should include some opportunities for the fans to weigh in about certain topics or engage in other activities with fellow fans. 

There are many ways that this interaction can get the fans involved in what is currently happening in the league. It’s also important to keep in mind that different sports organizations often have different seasonal times that they’re playing. Because of this, it’s essential to keep the fans’ interest even in off-season times.

Here are some ideas that can be used for sports fan engagement using social media platforms:

  • Create polls for fans to weigh in on
  • Ask fans to post photos showing their team spirit
  • Encourage fans to share their favorite moment from the previous season
  • Create a forum or post that allows fans to leave comments to certain athletes
  • Encourage players to interact with fans
  • Create a post where players can post pictures of themselves doing everyday activities, and encourage fans to respond with pictures of the same
  • Share educational tips based on the sport by experts

There are so many more ways that sports leagues can encourage interaction between fans, players and others involved in the organization. A strong fan engagement program has to find ways to bring all people involved in the sport together for a common goal.

Allow Fans To Give Input

If you really want to encourage and build an effective fan engagement program, you could recruit fans to have a voice in making major decisions for the organization. This does not mean that they get to make the ultimate decision in such things, but their voices are also heard.

In most cases, when fans feel like they are being listened to, they tend to be more loyal and will strive to give back to the organization in various ways. People tend to respect companies and other organizations that allow fans and customers to have a voice in decisions that affect their purchasing or participation.

Here are some ways that sports leagues can use fan engagement programs by allowing fans to weigh in or even help with the creation of videos and photos used on social media channels.

  • Create social media polls about player drafts
  • Let fans vote on what charitable organizations to donate to that year or season
  • Ask for fan opinions on who should perform (national anthems, half-time shows, etc…)
  • Run social media polls on MVPs
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Give Fan Club Membership Benefits

While many sports organizations already have various fan clubs and such that give back to their fanbase in some form or other, there are others who allow fans to be a member, but that’s about it. Creating a way for fans to earn something for being loyal fans will attract more to join.

Loyalty programs that are created by various businesses work for a reason. They provide a way for the business to give back to customers who give them their loyalty. Often, this is in the form of a discount or a special gift, but, however it’s done, fans appreciate the recognition.

Here are some examples of fan engagement ideas for loyalty programs:

  • Discounts in-stadium shops for season ticket holders
  • Free merchandise for those with x amount of loyalty points earned
  • Tier levels on club memberships that earn them various rewards

Sports organizations only have to look to other businesses that have been in the loyalty program business for a while to learn what works. While businesses vary from sports leagues, the idea of the program can be similar. 

Digital fan engagement, showcasing digital media a sports app for the New York Yankees baseball team.

3 Sports Fan Engagement Tips

There are many ideas and examples that exist for sports leagues and teams to develop a better fan engagement program that creates a richer experience for all. These organizations should keep in mind that while they are building their engagement programs, quite a few factors should be considered. There’s nothing worse than a business or organization saying they’re going to do something and then not following through on it.

Building a fan engagement program that’s effective means creating a way for various fans to stay engaged throughout the season and, especially, during the off-season. Sports fan engagement is more than just creating hype for the season or a particular event. It’s about building a loyal fan base that feels like they’re a part of the team.

Here are some tips for sports organizations to keep in mind when building a fan engagement program:

Deliver What You Promise

To build a strong sports fan engagement program, it’s important to ensure that what is promised is delivered. This could mean anything from fan club features to loyalty discounts and even allowing fans to have a voice in decisions.

Since technology and social media have become more and more prevalent in today’s culture around the world, many sports leagues use them to engage fans during sporting events. This means that they may ask for fans to interact with promoters or team social media platforms before, during and after certain events or games.

If this is the expectation, then the bandwidth of the stadium or sporting venue needs to be able to support this type of uptick of technology being used. If you expect interaction during these events, be sure to check with the technology gurus to ensure that it’s possible.

Treat All Content the Same

Many organizations or companies that use social media management tools and other technology to boost fan interaction need to have rules about when to post and what types of content are appropriate from a quality perspective.

Does everything have to look like it’s a broadcast TV clip or a product of a professional graphic designer? Or can authentic, original and “human” generated media attract different fans? When content is sometimes polished and sometimes homemade (it’s actually harder and harder to tell the difference), then fans get to decide what primo content looks like. And that’s a better experience for them — which is really the point here.

When a sports league is building a fan engagement platform, it’s essential that content creators take pride in what they do. This means that they must ensure that they’re showing fans the best of the best at all times.

If you want fans to interact with your content, you need to ensure that you’re encouraging them to do so. If you’re inconsistent with what you post or how you post, fans may end up not trusting the platform and, in turn, not trusting you.

Play Up Big Moments

When something significant happens with your team or in the league, play it up in a way that has fans talking about it as much as possible. Buzz around your team or league is generally great for attracting more fans (but not always, of course – use discretion here!) It’s also essential to allow for fan feedback on those particular moments.

For example, if a player who has been on the team for a long period of time retires, create a huge deal out of it. Start talking about it early. Use Greenfly +Engage to involve fans in wishing the player well in their retirement by allowing them to post video messages. At the same time, encourage the retiring player to interact with the fans’ video messages.

If your team or league wins a big tournament or championship, blow up social media platforms with various posts to keep fans engaged. Posts could include game recaps, great moments during the season or game, interviews with the MVPs, and more. 

Playing up the big moments helps to build the fan engagement program by allowing those fans who are not at live events to feel like they’re right there. By finding various ways to reach out to fans that are at home, fan engagement programs can reach much farther than the stadium.

Check out more fan engagement use cases with real sports teams and leagues.

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