The sports world was pretty slow when it came to incorporating technology into its operations. Or at least, it was compared with other industries. Part of the reason for the resistance to change is that sport is more closely tied to tradition than other sectors of society. Even now, there’s some resistance; there’s never complete support for a technological integration that affects the action on the pitch, for instance. In soccer, the use of technology to make on-field refereeing decisions has created problems that received widespread condemnation from coaches, players, and fans. Everyone but the referees, essentially.
Still, by and large, technology has made sports better, much in the same way that it’s made everything better. This is especially evident when it comes to the fan experience.
In this blog, we’re going to run through just some ways that technology has made for a better fan experience.
Connection with Clubs
Sports fans are passionate about the clubs they support. It’s more than just a passing interest: it’s a love that sometimes runs as deep as family love. So anything that can help foster that connection will be a good thing.
In the past, the connection between club and fan was — on non-game days at least — in the control of the media institutions that covered the clubs. Today, fans and clubs have more direct access to one another through their social media channels. Of course, hardcore fans have always found ways to get close to their clubs, be it through special memberships, newsletters, and subscriptions to premium TV channels and websites. Now, that access comes free through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. With a simple click of a button, even casual fans can get access to behind-the-scenes footage, player updates, and other goings-on at the club.
This is mutually beneficial for both the clubs and fans. Clubs can control their narrative; supporters can get the information they want without turning to traditional media.
The ubiquity of technology allows fans to experience new sports in an easily accessible, risk-free way, too. With a few taps of the keyboard and clicks of the mouse, a person can dive into a new sport without exerting time, energy, or money. Thus, tech essentially allows fans to dip their toes in the waters of other sports. If it’s a sport they like, then great. If they don’t, then no big deal — nothing has been lost.
This is especially beneficial when it comes to sports where a higher level of engagement is required to enjoy the action to the fullest, such as horse racing. A newcomer to the sport would find a horse racing event like Cheltenham difficult to enjoy unless they were attending in person. But with technology, distance from the event is removed from the equation. Via their smartphone, they can find tips and predictions and enjoy the action from an involved perspective, rather than just as a spectator. In this sense, technology allows newcomers to enjoy a deeper connection with a sport more quickly than in the past.
Part of the Conversation
Sports fans have always discussed their clubs with fellow fans. But technology has allowed them to discuss the game’s action with a much bigger selection of supporters. Pre-technology, fans had to make do with talking with whoever was in their immediate surroundings, which, more often than not, was in a bar after the game. Now? They can simply log in to Twitter and see what everyone is saying about the action.
This is desirable at all times but is extra exciting during big events, and especially so when there’s a controversial decision. Both technology and sports fandom are all about connection. In this instance, technology is helping to facilitate a greater connection between supporters. Though, of course, the easy communication that Twitter et al. allow also means that it’s easier for supporters of opposing teams to get into slanging matches, too.
A Global Pastime
For most of the history of professional sports, supporters came from the local area. There was no other choice since news did not travel across the globe in the same way as today. It would have been difficult to form any meaningful connection with a club that was based on the other side of the globe.
Television allowed people of other states/countries to support a team of their choosing, but even those options were limited, since only the biggest teams, such as Liverpool, were shown on foreign television. Today, a sports fan interested in a team can learn everything they need to know about that club. The difference in experience between a local fan and a distant supporter used to be vast; now, there’s technology to bridge that gap.
A Bigger Part Of Their Lives
Finally, technology has allowed sports to become a bigger part of a supporters’ life. Fans are able to dive deep into their sport and club as much as they like; it has become a 24/7 show. And this has produced some interesting shifts. Indeed, according to data from Statista, technology has led to an increase in people attending matches in person, even for sports they don’t usually follow, as well as encouraging friends and family to do the same. It’s also led to a general increase in matches they watch, in large part because there is rarely any sporting event that isn’t available online, either live or on-demand.
As we said at the beginning of the article, the sports world was pretty slow to integrate technology. But it is slowly but surely getting there. With technology proving to enhance the fan and club experience and generally making the action on the pitch more fluid and fair, there’s little chance of sporting institutions turning their back on tech anytime soon. In the future, we can expect to see elements of 3D and augmented reality technology become staple aspects of the sporting experience. And who knows what’ll happen beyond that? With technology getting better all the time, we shouldn’t be surprised if tech transforms sports in ways that we can not yet imagine.