Innovation in sport marketing – understanding the fan experience

Many businesses would give their proverbial right arm to have the intensity of fan engagement and rich sources of content of sporting organisations. So why is it that many are struggling financially? It’s all about the fan experience, writes Mark Cameron.


Sporting organisations, ranging from clubs to high profile teams and venues, are currently undergoing a period of rapid evolution and pressure to change the way they do things. This has become most pronounced for organisations who govern sports at a national level. As the media landscape has become increasingly competitive and fragmented many of the traditional sponsorship opportunities available to sport have become more difficult. And sponsors are now demanding much more for their sponsorship dollars than ever before. Brand exposure alone is no longer enough to warrant long term sponsorship.

To take full advantage of their significant brand assets and to stay relevant and exciting, sporting businesses need to think and act differently. The more visionary sporting bodies-and there is a number of them – now recognise that digital innovation is both their biggest challenge, and their greatest opportunity.

But how does an organisation go about ‘digital innovation’? Most sporting organisations are filled with very talented people who have a passion for the sport they represent. But this can create it’s own set of challenges. When an organisation has spent much of its time focusing on high performance athletes and major sporting events, and has never really had to battle to capture the attention of the public, then seeing the world through the customers’ eyes (in this case that of the fan base) can be difficult to do.

When we work with sporting organisations, we usually have three key objectives in mind at the outset: to help find new opportunities for revenue; to provide better value for sponsors; and, last but not least, to provide better experiences for customers.

So if you are involved in a sporting organisation what can you do? Begin with customer insights. What do you already know about your customers? What pockets of data do you have that would allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the people in your fan base? It’s often surprising how much data your company has available. Use that as a basis for building a map of the customer experience. Even at this early stage opportunities for doing things differently become clear.This should be mapped against key business objectives to provide focus for your effort.

Next, find out what your fans really want. Fans are often willing to pay for more value. The trick is finding what that value proposition really is. It might be access to content and other assets that have already been created, but don’t assume that. There are other models and many opportunities for generating revenue so don’t let current thinking hold you back. Remember, you are designing a service so allow yourself the freedom to make that service as good as it can possibly be.

Validated opportunities can then be used to design an optimal fan experience and innovation roadmap. Delivering this this may require organisational change and that typically is not easy. In fact stakeholder management issues can be one of the main factors that inhibits sporting organisations from rapidly evolving. So get your people involved. Take them on the journey and spend time listening to their ideas. And ask your advisor to help you build a stakeholder management plan that helps you anticipate and navigate the challenges you are likely to face.

My experience tells me that the most successful organisations are those avoid the temptation to rush the innovation process. Spend time allowing everyone to come up to speed. Develop a program that will allow your organisation to get the most out of fan engagement and smooth out the issues that can arise from focusing too heavily on a single major event. Fan experience innovation is about finding out what your ‘customer’ needs, and is willing to pay for every day – not just the day of the event.

From music to movies and television, the entertainment world has been irreversibly altered by the rapid evolution of digital technologies. Sports is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and it too is part of this changing landscape. But unlike many other industries, sport has a culture and passion associated with it that makes it uniquely positioned to benefit from these changes. The key to unlocking this gain is seeing the world through the eyes of the most important participant – the fan.


Mark Cameron
BY Mark Cameron ON 27 June 2014
Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles.

Specialties: Digital innovation, Digital customer experience strategy, Social media strategy, Digital strategy, Online Marketing strategy.
He blogs at and tweets from @MarkRCameron.