Future Fan Engagement

Towards the end of 2020, Shane O’Sullivan, Managing Partner at Prism, sat down with Wunderman Thompson Intelligence to explore some of the emerging and future trends in global sports in the wake of the pandemic.

Future Fan Engagement

“Storytelling is the most powerful thing in all of this,” Shane O’Sullivan explains to WT Intelligence.

He points to the success of documentaries such as Amazon Prime Videos, All or Nothing franchise or Netflix’s The Last Dance, the ten-part docuseries that told the story of Michael Jordan’s 1997-98 season with the Chicago Bulls, and averaged more than 5.5m views per episode.

Harnessing this power of storytelling might mean amping up the tension and drama to tell sporting stories documentary-style, or just getting playful with content.

“People enjoy engaging with anything that touches them on a deep emotional level,” says O’Sullivan, “Rights holders have to start looking at that and think about how they can fill in the moments between gameplay. That means really looking at how people tell stories.”

Sharing the Experience

Much of the pleasure of being a sports fan comes from sharing the highs and lows. O’Sullivan points to a favourite quote from Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) team the Dallas Mavericks: “We in the sports business don’t sell the game, we sell unique, emotional experiences. We are not in the business of selling basketball. We are in the business of giving you a chance to create shared experiences.”

New digital second screening and social viewing experiences are tapping into this. Facebook recently announced it would launch Venue, a social app designed to challenge Twitter as the second screen of choice for live sports events that allows fans to interact with commentators and each other. Twitter meanwhile, is boosting its fan experience with Multicasts, which it launched at golf’s PGA Tour in June. Featuring nine different content streams across 20 Twitter accounts, it included audio and video commentary from athletes and celebrities on pre-game, practice sessions and the first two holes of competition.

Tapping into the shared experience of sports, watch parties are a growing trend among fans. A recent poll for Genesco Sports Enterprises found that 76% of US fans want more watch party-style viewing options. Some teams, like the Indian Premier League’s Delhi Capitals have launched watch parties on Facebook, YouTube and their own websites. In the US, the NBA, working with Turner Sports and Wunderman Thompson, added watch parties to its app in the summer, along with tap to cheer capabilities.

Broadcasters are also injecting a social element to their shows. BT Sport and Sky Sports in the UK and Disney+ Hotstar in India are just some of those offering social watching features. Amazon began broadcasting English Premier League soccer games on Twitch, opening up the platforms enhanced interactivity and chat features to fans.


“Everything 100% starts with the fans,” says O’Sullivan, explaining why brands must put fans at the heart of what they do. “Fan-centered strategies should encourage, enable fans to engage and make the sport more accessible, interactive and responsive.”

That might mean giving fans more of a voice. In Formula E racing, fans are able to influence the outcome of a race by voting for their favourite driver via a concept called FANBOOST. The top five drivers in a poll receive a power boost that they can deploy during a 5-second window during the race.

Or it could mean hosting fan content, not just franchise-generated posts. A study by Imagen found that 60% of GenZ and millennial sports fans are already posting their own sports content on social media.

It could also mean celebrating the fans. German soccer club Borussia Dortmund regularly hosts fan parties in different cities to show their appreciation to fans, but this year they delivered the fun virtually. After the scheduled game between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 was postponed in March, the league held a special digital only event in Nanjing, China which featured user-generated content, fan vlogs, gaming contests, a jersey auction and reached almost 3 million viewers via livestream.

The fences, benches and partitions between fans and athletes are dissolving. The next era of sports spectatorship will bring fans off the sidelines into the heart of the action.

The 360 Athlete

“A lot of athletes are getting involved in other things, because they’ve got the ability to now and it’s fun,” says O’Sullivan. “They’re getting involved in music, esports, fashion. The way I look at this, everyone can become a creator, everyone can be a lot more creative these days.”

NBA shooter Stephen Curry is channelling his creative energy beyond basketball, cofounding Unanimous Media, a multimedia company that produces content centered on family, faith and sports storytelling. He’s also an executive producer for the ABC show Holey Moley and in August this year, he started his own book club on Literati called Underrated, sharing his favourite books, which focus on the stories of people who have broken barriers in their lives.

Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton is also something of an everyman. Not just a vocal campaigner for the environment, equality and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, he’s a fashion ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger, trainer enthusiast and even something of a musical talent who supplied vocals for the 2018 Christina Aguilera track Pipe and reportedly plans to release his own collection of songs.

Tottenham Hotspur and England center back Eric Dier is a budding tech entrepreneur and has launched a new app called Spotlas that delivers local recommendations for lifestyle spots like bars, restaurants, hotels and museums from friends, family and influencers. Foodie Dier recently told the Daily Mail that he was tired of being ‘pigeon holed’ as a soccer player and wanted to do something creative with his downtime.

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence report featuring an interview with Shane O’Sullivan, Managing Partner, Prism Sport + Entertainment

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