You can change a number, things in your life; your favourite music artist, the place you live, even your partner if you’re so inclined. Your sports team however is not one of these things.
Come rain or shine, silverware or relegations, you’re stuck with them. Your connection to your favourite club becomes so ingrained, it becomes part of your identity, and in general, you tend to build friendships and engage with communities that hold those similar beliefs and interests to you.
Yes, that was just a long-winded way to say fandom.
Although fandom isn’t exclusive to just sports, the level of loyalty sports fans exhibit is fairly unique. This loyalty allows our industry to operate in the way it does (from ticketing to media rights) and is why fans are the lifeblood of sports.
With these people being so integral to the industry, should we not be prioritising and rewarding this fandom and loyalty?
Membership programs / reward schemes are nothing new, they have been around for decades, however they have become a somewhat neglected part of the mix, with very little innovation happening to them over the last few decades. If reprioritised and used in the right ways (using perhaps new technologies), could they capture and generate a lot of value for both sides of the relationship?
So, what do most membership programs look like at the moment?
I’m sure there are some slight differences from sport to sport and club to club, but being fairly generic, most membership programs will get you:
A membership card
A goodie box (I recall receiving a scarf, magazine and a poster)
Priority access to some match day tickets (not guaranteed)
Perhaps access to some exclusive content
Perhaps access to some exclusive experiences
So, how could you spice it up and ‘reward’ not just those with memberships, but all fans? Why would that even be beneficial and how can it be done?
(Pre-Warning: This is the part where I start talking about where NFTs can potentially be used. Now’s the time to click off if this isn’t your cup of tea).
Looking at a new launch; esports team Fnatic took the plunge with their membership scheme earlier in the year, and I still think it's one of the stronger membership launches I’ve seen in the market over the past 12/18 months; why?
Three main reasons:
1) POSITIONING TO AUDIENCE
In esports and gaming spheres, you’re under the magnifying glass at all times. That’s true within most sports, traditional ones too, but with the professional sport being built out of amateur tournaments, I think esports convincingly wins on the scrutiny-o-meter.
With that in mind, and the general PR on NFTs not exactly being positive in the wider public, Fnatic steered clear of focusing on NFTs as the core part of the launch, and instead focused on making a proposition that actually delivered value and utility to their audience, with a roadmap of added perks that will come with being a member and engaged with the team. The technology was just the vehicle.
Pointer: Don’t focus on the technology; focus on what it can bring to your audience. Mass adoption will come when end consumers don’t even realise the difference in the backend and their experience.
2) TIERED SYSTEM TO REWARD ALL
Memberships have often been targeted towards your ‘superfan’, however, a large percentage of your fans see their club/team as a part of their identity, so how can you attract everyone?
Going back to Fnatic’s launch, they launched a three-tier membership, each with varying levels of reward, with a free tier to make it accessible to everyone.
This meant they could still monetise their superfans, but now manage to have another touchpoint that rewards their casual fans, whilst also collecting valuable first party data of those fans (through the registration process to Fnatic ID) that were outside of their ecosystem that they can now market to.
A side note to this process is it’s not strictly Web3 as you have to give over information to register, and for that you may lose some of those that are of a staunch decentralised nature, but I certainly think that having a membership process that incorporates the best of both worlds (let’s go with the overused term that is Web2.5 to describe it) can help to onboard people into the space and surely that is beneficial in pursuit of the bigger goal of mass adoption.
Pointer: Web3 is built on community, and sports organisations have some of the largest and most loyal audiences in the world. In terms of a membership proposition, I believe focusing on a value exchange to attract those from outside your core community to the free tier should universally be step 1; once inside your ecosystem, there is greater opportunity to move them further up to the paid tiers to where your already loyal superfans are.
3) INVOLVING PARTNERS
Being able to deliver authentic activation opportunities for your partners is what keeps many a sponsorship executive up at night. So going back to Fnatic’s launch, what better way for the likes of their partner crypto.com to be involved than by providing (one of) the payment solutions, and then also being an option for any newbies to the space to open a crypto.com wallet to hold the NFT in.
Whilst NFTs are right in the wheelhouse of crypto.com, the use of a digital membership program offers the opportunity for sponsors from other categories to also get involved, whether that be through exclusive discounts, exclusive digital experiences etc. This isn’t just a play for your blockchain/crypto marketplace partners!
Looking at what’s next, I imagine that the holders of these memberships can connect via their wallet to Fnatic + their partners websites and receive these perks. Token gated experiences / rewards is a really fascinating concept, but that’s one for another day!
Pointer: Whether your partners are endemic to Web3 or not, many are looking to dip their toe into the space. A membership program that offers the opportunity for your partners to test and learn with an audience they want to be engaging with can only be beneficial in my eyes.
I’ll conclude with a question that is often asked which is ‘why move something to Web3 if it’s already possible in Web2?’
Hopefully the above shows that there’s often a middle ground between the two, and it’s worth pushing the boundaries and testing with new technology as a way to innovate old processes. Standing still will only see you surpassed.
To quote Mike Thomas of Animoca Brands from our Web3 Summit, “Dive in with both feet, but into the shallow end to begin with.”