Trading Data for Rewards: Unlocking the Potential of Fan Loyalty in 2023

Originally published on LinkedIn 12/14/22

2023 is going to be all about loyalty and data in the world of sports.

Loyalty programs, offering unparalleled access, will be launched in return for data and insights. When used correctly, that data will power the roadmaps of leagues, teams, media companies, and brands in sport.

Looking back at the last four years, the emphasis has been on fan participation and engagement. Two examples of headline grabbing initiatives are sports betting and NFT’s. Sports betting, and the narrative around it, elevated interest levels in individual games by enabling fans to participate in the action. NFT’s or tokenized memberships, playing off of the crypto and Web3 boom, instilled a feeling of ownership by providing a new way to invest and trade collectibles around the sports fans follow.

These two initiatives have added even more fuel to the social media machine, creating new levels of fandom. This has led to a few glaring challenges when it comes to fan engagement and fan access:

  • The rise of third-party platforms has caused passionate communities to be even more fragmented, making it difficult to engage fans and stay connected over time.
  • Direct, first party data is even more difficult to collect than ever before.
  • The narratives of news stories and headlines are no longer controlled by the leagues, teams, and media companies; these narratives are now in the hands of the most influential voices on social media who, for the most part, are incentivized to promote whatever it is that benefits them as individuals.

I believe that sports organizations need to acquire fan information directly in order to overcome these challenges and own relationships with fans. They need to listen to the fan, and reward them for engaging with the sport.

Rewards will vary from loyalty points, to merchandise, to NFT’s and everything in between, but the output needs to be a clear trade – data and insights in exchange for relevant, tangible benefits.

This year will bring all sorts of new companies into the fold. You’ll see siloed “chat” apps that promote community, loyalty systems for teams (many of which were built for retail), and tiered membership levels with access based on how much data you give or money you spend. Some of these platforms will be beneficial and will enhance the fan experience. Some will be shortsighted and leave a lot to be desired.

The winners will be the groups that listen to the fans, the ones that ask questions and use that information to make the fan experience better. The opportunity is to look at the relationship between fans and the sports they love as an emotional connection that can transcend across generations. As we move forward, the way that a sports organization interacts with its fanbase will define how connected it becomes to that fan, their kids and future generations.

Fan loyalty is going to be completely redefined in 2023. Data will be openly traded for value, and the value an organization offers needs to resonate with every fan.

Whether sport is your business, your passion, or both, this should be one of the most exciting years in sport we’ve ever known.