Marshall McLuhan’s axiom - the medium is the message - has defined how Americans have experienced sports for the past century. Baseball was the sport of the transistor radio; its deliberate pacing made room for conversational story telling of America’s pastime. The NFL was made for television – built around Sunday afternoon appointment viewing and breaks in the action for instant replay of big hits of gladiators on the battlefield.
In the 21st century, digital is the new medium. This is creating opportunities for the major sports, as well as new upstart leagues, to engage in deeper and more contextual ways with fans. The digital experience engages fans in omni-channel fashion – checking fantasy league results on a tablet while sitting in front of their television. Or tweeting with friends and fellow fans, or even directly with the team, while sitting in the stands at a game.
Digital now shapes the scale and form of how we associate with sports action, just as McLuhan predicted it would. It has grown beyond a collection of individual team websites that list each team’s schedule, provides directions to the stadium, as well as parking and seat maps.
The overall experience is built on a collection of related, and increasingly connected efforts spread across websites, social media, mobile applications and onsite kiosks.
As the playing field of experience touchpoints for fans has expanded, so has the complexity for fans, teams and the sports leagues themselves. A growing movement toward creating a more integrated journey for the sports fan is taking shape. Various names are being assigned to this approach. Forrester calls it “customer experience management,” or CXM, while others call it “web experience management,” or “integrated digital experiences.” In coming months, we’ll be looking at some sports leagues and franchises that are doing it well. In this post, I thought I’d start out by reviewing the constituent parts that go into creating “the digital experience.”
Integrated digital experiences are all about coordination, continuity and teamwork. The content, community and commerce of a sports experience must be crafted to help the sports fan find what they need, connect with other fans, and deliver an experience was built specifically for them and their sport. To achieve success on the digital playing field, the playbook for optimal digital experiences is built around three keys plays: create, connect and convert.
The Integrated Digital Experience
Today the digital sports experience has expanded to include league websites, team websites, broadcast network sites, fan microsites, blogs, e-commerce, forums, media galleries, social media, fantasy leagues, mobile applications, email campaigns, video portals, and real time audience analytics. Not surprisingly, this proliferation has resulted in duplication of content, disconnected reporting, great experiences that are unconnected, and higher costs of management for all involved.
“The integrated digital experience” addresses these issues through an vision of the fan’s online journey, providing a cohesive system for moving the sports fan through all content, not matter which platform is active. And content, community and commerce are equally available on all platforms.
Content must be compelling and real time. Having the right tools for your content creators to build value without the need for involvement by developers is critical. Content has to be updated constantly, and the content creators need real time analytics about what’s popular right now to drive the editorial process. To support the full range of critical content types, rich media management is essential. Lots of video, photos, audio and interactive content are expected, especially for a sports experience. All of this content works together to create context.
To bring the experience to life for fans, sports digital properties need to be able to interpret behaviors of fans to deliver contextually relevant information – to where ever the fan in engaged. Dynamically pushing content to Foursquare or Twitter, based on interactions. Personalizing promotional email content to fans from Boston who live in Pittsburgh about single-game tickets for the next time Boston visits. With contextual content-driven experiences, fans will believe that you’ve built the experience specifically for them. Making sure that all the expected content is available on all platforms helps the fan experience a journey across the platforms that feels as though it’s the same experience, not a set of disconnected experiences.
Sports is a business. A big business. Converting visitors is the final step in the web experience management process. Watching the stats is important for measuring and guiding success. To create the conversions you need, you have to understand your audience and what drives them. And continual refinement is key. Tools such as real time web analytics, A/B multivariate testing are crucial in defining the most effective, relevant digital experience for a fan. Are they looking for the latest news, or are they shopping for their favorite player’s jersey? Continual testing and refinement are important since the digital playing field is constantly undergoing growth and change.
As the art and science of the digital experience develops to meet the fast evolving medium, the world of sports will be one of the key digital arenas for proving out this new approach. Sports fans are used to having the best technology available. “The integrated digital experience” in sports marketing will be the set of plays that establishes the measure of performance for other industries to follow.