Authored By: Sam Ross
A little about Sam Ross - Our Sports Partner Specialist


A Fan Engagement Checklist for 2021

Rewind with us to a month ago. Place yourself on the rooftops and balconies of your city seconds before the annual countdown to the New Year. Then listen. You’d hear the visceral shouts of the city screaming back at you “Happy New Year,” almost inhuman in nature with the level of hope tied to those words. A month in and some things are clear - it’s a new year, but similar challenges persist for the live entertainment industry. And while we continue to tackle these same challenges, there is one differentiating factor for 2021 - we are changed.

People have settled (if somewhat begrudgingly) into a more digital lifestyle, and those of us working in the live entertainment industries have adopted a level of grit and forward-thinking that has just grown over the last year. Within Tradable Bits, there is no better witness to the changes needed for 2021 than our Sr. Partner Specialist, Sam Ross. Sam has put together a Fan-Engagement Checklist for 2021 so that as an industry, we can continue to push forward. Let’s dive in.

1. Tackle the Digital Divide

Tackle the Digital Divide

The world continues to be in a grey area at the moment - some places are opening up, others are closing up shop, and many remain in limbo as COVID-19 continues to spread. The good news is that the vaccine is on the way, and each day more people are inoculated. However, for sports and entertainment, this means that many of us will continue to consume content digitally for the foreseeable future. Even when in-person gatherings resume and events return to full capacity, the habits and expectations of a digital-first fanbase will persist. This is why in 2021, the first thing to check off on your fan engagement checklist will be tackling the digital divide.

I am sure you have continually asked yourself in 2020, “how do we continue to engage fans digitally, in new and exciting ways?” but you should add an additional caveat. Ask yourself, “how do we use those digital engagements to leverage data and provide value for fans and partners alike?” and “how can we connect with our fans when a portion of our fanbase is engaging in-person, and a majority remain digital-only?”. Answering these questions will help you set the stage for 2021 by helping you craft plans for when more fans are vaccinated, and attendance thresholds are increased.

I recommend considering engagement campaigns that have a physical element in place, so you can address fans whether they are in-venue or online. Look for evergreen content that can persist throughout the season, regardless of the fans’ locations, and remember to stay flexible. We are not out of the woods yet, but the branches are definitely thinning.


2. Integrate Partners Seamlessly

Integrate Partners

In 2020 we learned that things can change quickly, and our partnership plans can be significantly impacted in a heartbeat. Many teams and events scrambled to find makegoods and prove they could provide continued value to their sponsors, yet others were able to smoothly transition their partners into digital activations with little headache. What set these teams apart?

  • The first step is always to understand your partner's goals - what do they hope to achieve from the partnership?

  • The second step is to match the asset as closely as you can with the partner based on their goals. This may sound easy, but it can be difficult when you are juggling numerous partners with varying goals and have limited assets (and resources) available.

It’s important to remember that this alignment serves both you and the partner. It will also provide a better fan experience because oftentimes an endemic partner placement will improve the fan reaction. Tradable Bits often encourages teams to add the endemic partner to their campaigns that best fits the activation. In fact, 70% of our highest entered campaigns in 2020 included a partner.


3. Get Smart About Data Capture

Data Capture

Many teams and organizations were faced with a unique and difficult challenge as fans moved from in-person to online. How do we engage with our fans if we do not know anything about them? We often forget that while our fans may know everything about the team, we, as sports and music professionals, know very little about our fans. This is where data comes in.

Organizations with a strong data strategy had a leg up on the competition when it came to engaging with their fanbase digitally, allowing them to connect in ways they already knew the fans would respond to. Rather than playing catchup, or running repeated A/B testing, these groups were able to launch programs with confidence, knowing it was the right fit. How did they do it? Answer: By using a long-term first-party data collection strategy!

Over time, these teams were able to create a clear picture of their fan base including additional quantitative AND qualitative data points. In 2021 it is just as valuable to know a fan’s email address as it is to know their favourite player, their marital status, or even their favourite hobbies.

As part of your 2021 fan engagement checklist, be sure to consider how you intend on collecting more first-party data on your fans. This will provide a better all-around picture of your fan base, and in turn, allow you to provide direct value to them through engagements, promotions, and new partnerships.


4. Break Away from the Pack

Break Away from the Pack

Some of the biggest winners in 2020 were those groups that had already tried and tested new methods of engagement or communication with their fans long before they were needed. This is another area we can focus on in 2021, as more teams will look for differentiators in their marketing and sales efforts. Test out new technologies as they become available, stay ahead of the curve by being an early-adopter.

In the first quarter of 2020, TikTok was downloaded over 315 million times, and today ranks as one of the most popular social media platforms, rising to 7th in April 2020 from 15th in September 2019. Teams that had already established a following on TikTok before COVID-19 were able to engage younger fans on this platform while others were scrambling to kickstart their accounts.

New technologies to be on the lookout for in 2021 include:

  • Enhanced AR/VR experiences through apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok
  • Increased availability of VR headsets like Oculus Quest 2 and Playstation VR
  • 5G providing new opportunities for digital engagement and lighter experiences through web-based applications
  • Rising popularity of electric vehicles and semi-autonomous vehicles (important for venue management to consider)


5. Stay Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve

Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, we know that one thing is certain. Things are changing. 2020 was a year overloaded with changes, some negative and some positive. Let’s hope for smoother sailing moving forward, but we should always be prepared to weather the storm. Many of the items on this checklist will serve you well during this time. Merging the digital divide, building endemic partnerships, and a robust data strategy are all key elements of our tool belt to better engage with fans, no matter the situation.

While we can never fully plan for the future, or predict what will happen, we can do our best to build out our knowledge base to help during any time. Some low hanging fruit to work towards this year to keep your tool belt well-stocked include:

  • Gathering SMS subscriptions from your fanbase to communicate via SMS as needed for marketing, fan engagements, or partnership purposes.
  • Increasing app downloads to push digital fan engagement options.
  • Building marketing automation flows for seamless ad delivery or email communication
  • Creating and saving evergreen content that can be used later - especially for a case where fresh content cannot be created (i.e. pandemic).

As we continue to test new methods and strategies for 2021, use this checklist to guide your fan engagement strategy. With the echoes of anticipation still ringing in your ears, it’s a great time to drill down & prep your tool kit, so that you can effectively manage the continual changes to your relationship with fans.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for more inspiration, or to set solid plans in motion, have a chat with our team to brainstorm new ideas.

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