3 Strategies to digitally engage international fans in 2024

02 April 2024

Sports teams are global products with global star athletes that have global fan bases. Fans around the globe follow teams thousands of kilometers away, sometimes without ever seeing them in person.

Originally, those that went for a team lived in that city. Since then, the game has been catering for fans everywhere, creating new strategies to engage them across continents. There are plenty of strategies and ideas on how to become a global powerhouse in sport.  

Fans are all different but have one common interest; the team they follow with irrational passion and deep emotion. 

And the formula for engaging them is by building a campfire, pulling up some seats and telling some stories.  

Sport is a tribal phenomenon; fans pour their hearts out in support of their team. Tribes have always been important part of human history. They are a place of belonging, where the action is happening and somewhere for the community to feel safe. Sport enables this feeling through its city, stadium, fan club or bar.  

Campfires are a place to feel at home, they mark the center of a community and a gathering place. It enables communities to connect, relax and be entertained.  

So how do we replicate that in a digital world? Digital campfires allow people to connect globally with the same effect as a real one. A place online where likeminded fans can connect and talk as if they were at the local pub. 

However international fans don’t have access to those in-person spaces. They don’t have that filling of sitting in a stadium with the rest of their people, so teams need to work incredibly hard to help them feel the warmth of those campfires. 

Digital communities have been around since the invention of the internet and in 2024, sport is in a unique position to utilize some of the communities that have been exploding in the last few years amongst the younger generation.  

Discord, as an online community hub which fans can talk, interact, and watch games together is a good example. These online communities allow for online events, Q&A’s with players or staff, as well as watch parties that engage digital fans.  

Discord has fans all on a single server, with text forums, personal chats, as well as audio calls and events. Manchester United are a global powerhouse in sport, and they have been leading the way as an early adopter of these partnerships. United have utilized this partnership for fan forums, collectible contests, giveaways and goodies for the dedicated online fan. Other utilizations have been online events like player Q&A’s and matchday watch parties. 

Reddit, who have been so successful that they are set to IPO with a targeted valuation of $5 Billion, is the ‘OG’ of online forums. For any and all topics, ‘subreddits’ can be made specifically for any sports team. Another location for likeminded fans abroad to talk about anything at any time.to talk about anything at any time. 

I expect to see teams have their own partnerships or dedicated apps for global fans to have a home that can be utilized in conjunction with these external channels. As well as support for online fan communities such as creator-led fan channels or news outlets that are part of fostering an online community. Building a home for your fans and a campfire for stories is key to growing global fans. 

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There’s no technology that can truly recreate sitting in a packed-out stadium, hearing fans singing while watching the action with your own eyes. However, most fans don’t watch sports in the stadium.  

Even the Super Bowl only had an attendance of 61,629 compared to their viewership of 123.4 million, a difference of 200,130%. Most of the audience watches on their TV, laptop or phone, sometimes not even live but as a playback. Hardcore international fans especially dedicate their time no matter morning or night, to catch a glimpse of their favorite team. 

Now international fans might soon be sitting in a virtual seat in the stadium with the Apple Vision Pro, but not every fan can afford that experience. While there isn’t any true equivalent to recreating that feeling for overseas fans, creating the best experience possible is an important investment.  

Often fans use these online communities to host a watch party. The average online experience has fans watching multiple screens at the same time to catch the big game. Merging these three screens into one seamless experience is key to engaging a fan and recreating the feeling of walking into a stadium.  

The NBA App leads the way with fan focused environments, from digital matchday experiences to behind-the-scenes all access with their own original content. The app allows users to interact with the live game, as well as press conferences and news. There are also broadcasts in other languages including Spanish, Korean, and Thai, along with extra camera angle views like sideline cam, backboard cam, and player cam. 

Pulling up the most comfortable seat for your international fans is a key aspect of keeping them engaged and entertained, as you take them on a journey to becoming a die-hard fan. 

Is there a better live-action drama than sports? So many intertwining stories played out simultaneously amongst the personalities, action, rivalries and history that it makes it hard to peel your eyes away. Fans love a narrative to follow, whether that is a simple underdog story, a player overcoming adversity or a lifelong fairy-tale that all built up to that one final trophy.  

Local fans see news every night or stories told around the stadium before the start of the game that help create those narratives, building a connection to the team and its players. 

Developing ways for fans to access these player stories and historical significance means fans can be more invested than ever. Building relationships between fans, players, staff, and the brand of the club is important in fostering global growth.  

For fanatical fans, the game itself is not enough. They want to know what goes on behind closed doors and get to know the characters on a personal level. Series such as All or Nothing or Drive to Survive have shown what fly-on-the-wall content can create for a team or sport.  

Drive to Survive isn’t possible for everyone, nor does it work every time if the real stories aren’t shared. More mini stories on your players, where they grew up, how they get ready for games and their interactions with their teammates in the locker room. The raw stuff. 

Leveling the playing field between local and international fans drives the success globally of your team as well as the impact you can have on all your fans.  

With the rise of sports globalization, transcending borders and captivating fans worldwide requires more than just victories and virality. It requires the art of connecting communities, enhancing their experience, and weaving compelling narratives that resonate across continents.  

The ability to connect with a fan through a screen, on the other side of the planet, has now become a crucial part of every team’s engagement strategy. It’s an opportunity that the biggest teams in the world are grasping, leading to a truly global fan-base. 

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