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Soccer Experiments With Fan Engagement Strategies Amid Pandemic

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Soccer quickly became a beacon of hope for the sports industry when European leagues resumed competition. Major League Soccer quickly followed suit in America with the MLS Is Back Tournament in the Orlando bubble. The USL Championship, America’s second tier league, was not far behind with an esports tournament and subsequent resumption of their regular season. 

Without fans present in either competition to cheer their favorite teams to victory, teams in both leagues have turned to technology and creative thinking to keep fans engaged. Using a mobile app created in collaboration with FanThreeSixty, a customer data and digital engagement platform built for sports, several teams have been able to check both boxes. 

“FanThreeSixty has been a huge help for us to be able to be in the pocket of every single one of our fans,” Michael Beaubien, the San Jose Earthquakes’ director of digital marketing told Front Office Sports. “Our stadium is already a paperless stadium, so having fewer contact points will be great once fans are able to come back to the stadium.”

The Earthquakes also have found creative ways to integrate their sponsors and partners into activations within the app, notably with quizzes, fan games, and on-demand replays of classic games. 

SEE MORE: Fandom in the Age of COVID-19

“We pride ourselves on really being San Jose’s team and having a lot of local businesses that are partners. So for us, to be able to help them out and help amplify some of their messaging in a new way has been a great help to us,” Beaubien added. 

A personal favorite activation of Beaubien has been the club’s Digital Devotion Days. Throughout the summer, season ticket holders have been able to participate in virtual workouts and other virtual social activities with members of the team. 

“The fact that our players are really sharing and opening up to this is awesome. This has been a really unique and fun experience for us despite everything that has been going on,” Beaubien concluded. 

Meanwhile in the USL Championship, FC Tulsa have also taken advantage of their mobile app created in conjunction with FanThreeSixty. Throughout the summer, Austin Gwin, head of digital & communications at FC Tulsa, engaged the club’s fans in a trivia contest made possible through the poll function within the app. 

“We’ve seen a ton of great engagement through our mobile app. As somebody who likes playing Sporcle on a regular basis, I thought we should do an FC Tulsa version of that. And now it has become a big campaign for us,” Gwin told Front Office Sports. 

The dead time also opened the door for FC Tulsa to create new digital activations including a printable deck of playing cards and crossword puzzles. The USL Championship as a whole also ventured into uncharted territory with a league wide esports competition through the soccer-esque video game Rocket League.

“We’re all very competitive and even something as silly as Rocket League provides us that competition and provides fans that opportunity to support us. So we jumped head first into it,” Gwin said.

The club created a USL E-Cup hub on their website where fans could find the standings and posted previews, recaps and highlights for every game every game to fans as well as their media distribution list. The communications team even included a tab within the mobile app that said USL Esports.

“Through the app, fans could follow along and see our schedule,” Gwin added. “Before matches, we even sent a push notification out to let fans know where they could watch the games. Full credit to the league for making that competition happen. It gave us two weeks worth of really good content.”

As both MLS and the USL Championship resume play in their own stadiums primarily without fans, clubs like the Earthquakes and FC Tulsa will continue to rely on technology partners like FanThreeSixty, and their own creativity, to continue to engage fans in unique ways. Even when fans return, these digital experiences will be important to maximize the value of a fan base. 

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