The world of sports has witnessed a revolution in the last decade which was fuelled by the exponential growth of the internet and the introduction of digital media through it.
Until the early 2000s, watching a match at a stadium or on your television screens were the only ways for sports fans to engage with their favourite team or player. Fast forward 15+ years and fans can even know where the players are travelling to or what they have eaten for breakfast with just a few taps on their mobile phones.
Digital media has not just brought fans closer to the action, but also helped build communities of these loyal fans, who, in turn, change the way sports are consumed.
There are discussions, there is banter and, most importantly, there is fan engagement.
There are other ways too in which the behaviour of a sports fan has evolved in this age of digital media.
Second Screen Syndrome
No matter how engaging the sport or match is, there is a palpable 'second screen syndrome' (using another screen to have banter with friends or follow what team accounts are sharing) among fans, that's entirely created and powered by social media. After the COVID-19 pandemic, fans across ages and sports have realised how this makes live sports many times more enjoyable. With time, this syndrome has only spiked and become an integral part of the sports fan experience. IPL teams such as Mumbai Indians have watchalongs too, where this is taken a level higher.
Access to Players/teams Creating Bonds
Digital media gives unparalleled access to sports icons, and it's addictive for fans. To see one's heroes as humans is a beautiful new layer of consuming sport, and it has made fans empathetic, more informed and sometimes angrier too!
More than leagues or teams, bonds between players and fans have strengthened over time. In a way, digital media has made traditional news media - print and TV - almost redundant for the fan. After Delhi Capitals began airing coach Ricky Ponting's team talks and huddle conversations on their YouTube channel, an entire older generation of fans that used to 'dislike' him - changed their perspective!
Efforts by Teams to Appease Fans on Social
There are teams on social media that only communicate one-way, and then there are those who not only keep the chatter two ways but also go the extra mile in appeasing entertaining and surprising fans. Recently, Sports18, the broadcaster of the FIFA World Cup, surprised a random tweeter with a custom-made video clip where Wayne Rooney greeted him. And it was the greatest day of the fan's life. The better brands and teams on social media are the ones that understand that their handles aren't just about numbers and traction, but places where fans make life memories too.
Pandemic, a Watershed Moment for Digital Consumption in Sports
Digital consumption has grown dramatically in India over the last few years due to prolonged stay-at-home periods. During the pandemic, there has been an increase in both users and usage. The pandemic pushed sports organisations to find new ways to connect with fans, and digital became the key channel. This brought a behavioural change in how sports fans consume content which is here to stay.
Today, teams and athletes can post a piece of content digitally and get immediate interaction from the fans. That level of engagement really builds an emotional connection between them and their fans. This is one of the reasons why a new IPL team like Gujarat Titans built a fan base of 2.8 million in just one season.
Rise and Rise of Video Content
Like other content on social media, sports content is geared heavily toward video. Content like highlights and behind-the-scenes access to teams, coaches, and players forms a major part of the video strategy of teams and leagues. The IPL is a prime example of the same. Teams like Delhi Capitals, Gujarat Titans, Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals have a fully equipped video production crew that specialises in behind-the-scenes, documentary-style and fun videos.
IPL 2022 garnered more than 6.5 billion video views which is an almost 50 per cent increase over the previous year. Furthermore, Indians are hooked on short-form video content, with Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts gaining massive popularity in India. Other short-form video apps in regional languages are gaining popularity in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities; platforms like ShareChat, Moj, and Josh have differentiated themselves from other global social media platforms through regional positioning. Pro Kabaddi has used these platforms effectively to reach out to a wider fan base and build loyalty.
The Sports fan is no Longer a Mere Spectator
The rise of digital and changing consumption patterns have put sports fans into the driver's seat. Broadcasters like Star Sports and Sports18 through their CRM teams are always looking to see how fans respond to their videos, and by using those insights they create content as per the fan demand.
Back in the day, sports fans needed to drop everything to consume the game at the time of broadcast. This is no longer the case, with the rise of digital sports fans who are watching the game at their own convenience. They can consume highlights anytime giving them more flexibility.
With digital media, fans can control the timing and in a way have a say on the kind of content the teams and leagues will create for them.
There are many more ways in which digital media has transformed the behaviour of a sports fan. And going by the trends, we are assured that this is only the beginning of the change that’s about to take place.