Predictions on the future of fan experiences from a former NFL quarterback, now VP of a SportsTech company

I just want to say it now to get it out of the way: We are living through unprecedented times.

Every sector and every industry has had to rethink traditional, and timeless, annual events. They’ve had to relaunch practices that have been in play for years and years. Sports, entertainment, hospitality, and more, have all overcome the new normal of social distancing in industries that survive and thrive on packed stadiums and sold-out concerts and events.

Let me back it up a little. Hi! I’m Quinton Porter. VP of North America for Pico – Get Personal and a former quarterback in the NFL and CFL. It’s safe to say that like all of you, I’m an avid sports fan. And as a former player, I feel lucky that I’m able to work in the SportsTech space and tie my experience of the fan-to-player dynamic to my work on the business side helping teams know what their fans want, what they engage with, what they look for on game day, and what they expect out of their fan experience.

What I’ve seen – both pre- and post-COVID-19 – is that sports fans are naturally engaged. They’re hungry for team content, news, and updates in ways that other industries just can’t compete with. So when you look into what makes a positive fan experience positive, it’s important to go beyond the classic antics often seen in sports media and sports in general and begin the process of learning who your fans really are. Especially in these times when fans aren’t able to physically attend games like they always have, it’s been interesting to see how teams are mimicking fan interactions and game-day experiences for those of us at home. 

Here are my predictions for the future of the fan experience in sports:

At Home Digital Activations

Digital activations are a great way of keeping fans engaged with digital content that’s shared across any and all digital channels and it’s something we’re seeing more and more in the industry, across all leagues. They bring value to teams, sponsors, and they help in fostering those personal experiences and connections often felt within fans. 

Let me paint more of the picture for you. At Pico, our digital activations are paired and created from the content that our clients are already sharing. We’re adding a layer to the trivia, voting polls, and shared memories to ensure the fun part stays while being able to natively capture data that benefits both fans and teams, without driving them to external web logins, app downloads, or different pages. We’ll never ask a fan to leave the channel they’re currently engaging on. While engagement is important – it’s not everything. 

The engagement seen on social media makes for great bragging rights, but it doesn’t really tell more of the story on who is behind the likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. Through Pico’s digital activations, teams are able to learn more about their fans and collect valuable data points in a non-intrusive, organic way. And in these challenging times, when game attendance by fans is fairly uncertain, the industry as a whole needs to understand who their fans are, separate from the ones that buy tickets. Engaging and identifying digital fans opens new revenue streams by creating a strategy that allows organizations to serve more personalized and relevant content and offerings. 

Let’s take the below example from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals that went live earlier this summer. They wanted to connect with their fans and offer a comforting distraction. In this case, it was raffling off free merchandise from their pro shop. The quiz, with just 4 questions, called on their fans to choose what type of merch they would prefer, which Bengals player they relate to the most, their favorite touchdown dances, and the best way to contact them should they win. Fun, unique, and engaging.

The value here is the team learning which type of merch that fan prefers and the best way to contact them – in this case, personal email. Now the Bengals have two additional data points on that fan which will help in making data-based decisions when pushing content, offers, push messages, emails and more.

At-home digital activations are something we’ll definitely be seeing more of in this space. 

Second Screen Marketing

There’s nothing abnormal about second screen usage within the sports industry. In fact, it’s estimated that in 2020, over 91% of internet users are expected to use a second screen while watching TV.

When it comes to sports fans and their second screen, however, they tend to still be focused and engaged with what they’re watching and use the second screen as a way to share predictions, check stats, live-tweet/converse with other fans, post memes and more. There’s a creative and interesting opportunity to utilize second-screen usage as part of a digital fan-marketing strategy. 

If sports teams and broadcasters embrace second screen usage they can find a way to retain the fans’ attention and keep them engaged with their content in a way that’s very complimentary and can be part of both viewing experiences in an organic way.

Today especially, fans are tuning into broadcast programming even more than they have before. With more eyes on screens and less (or no) fans in stadiums, implementing a second screen strategy presents an opportunity to not only engage fans but to also capture data on live viewers. Who is viewing what, and when? What content are they engaged with outside of the game? What app are they using? Where are they tuning in from? Are they engaging on social, checking for tweets or memes? Are they subscribed to a newsletter?

Through embracing various second-screen strategies, sports organizations and broadcasters can start connecting the dots on who is watching or listening and who is engaging on social and can use that information to learn more about their fans’ viewing habits and preferences when watching a game.

It’s all about the views!

This time, I don’t mean social views. I mean actual views, in the Drake kind of way. The view of the game from home. Aka, advanced stadium technologies that allow for player-fan tracking, high-tech replays, new camera angles, and more. The NBA already started this journey back in 2018 and it’s crucial that other leagues begin to follow suit for a more optimal viewing experience in fanless games/stadiums.

One (of many) great parts about being a fan, is finally going to a game. Seeing all of the action on the court or field, listening to the stadium get louder from excitement – or quieter from tension. Hearing the sneakers squeaking, the balls bouncing, and whistles blown by the referees. That’s why it’s important that these sights and sounds that generate feelings from fans need to be reached now at home to keep building on and enhancing that part of the fan experience. 

More and more stadiums, leagues, and teams are implementing new camera and microphone technologies to enhance the viewing experience. It’s even more important for all of us at home watching the game.  

The future of the fan experience within the sports industry is that of an exciting one. With new technologies, practices, and more entering the space, it’s cool (to say the least) to watch and see how each league, team, and/or player adapts to them. How they use innovation for us, their fans, for the game, and for their own business objectives.

Why The Patriots’ Next QB is Primed for Success

From a Patriots fan’s perspective, the mutual decision to move on from Tom Brady felt like a bad breakup with your high school crush. The GOAT played his entire twenty-year career with the New England Patriots, where he was symbiotically paired with the greatest coach of all time.

The relationship visibly soured, as arguments between Brady and the coaching staff and teammates became a typical Sunday. Even with tensions running abnormally high in the Patriots locker room, it still seems inconceivable that Brady would set out to search for greener pastures elsewhere.

The climate brought upon the 2020 season by COVID-19 could perpetuate this notion that there truly was a disconnect between Brady and his young receivers last season. This also may ring a bit more true than the fanbase’s favorite narrative of “oh Tommy’s too old” or “Tommy can’t throw the longball anymore” as the reason why he was not re-signed.

The Patriots, as a team, could be better off with transitioning to Jarrett Stidham this season than they would in another year with the GOAT.

One doesn’t need to speculate on the benefits of having crowds attend games. Having home crowd noise is an undoubtedly big part of a game; so much that the Falcons were fined for pumping in artificial crowd noise during games in 2015.

The likelihood of playing the 2020 NFL season without fans is becoming more realistic by the day, but the lack of noise can help some players establish a rapport with their teammates. Young players in particular will be able to settle with a given team’s offensive schemes and packages quicker.

Establishing communication with a new offense in a sterile environment can only work in Jarrett Stidham’s favor. Having the sport in its purest form as a young player can open up avenues for communication, and can allow for a clean exchange after the snap.

While he isn’t Tom Brady, Stidham can be a sufficient pocket passer. Having a good defense can cover up some offensive blemishes, but having strong communication needs to be a tenant of an effective offensive plan. Some young blood at the QB position can open up the offense. Although Brady seemed to struggle with communication with his young receivers in 2019, a fresh start with a young QB can make a huge difference for the 2020 season.

Jameis Winston Does Not Belong in the NFL

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback shouldn’t have much to complain about nowadays. He was ousted by the only team he had ever known but was supplanted by the GOAT in what turned out to be the biggest headline of this NFL offseason.

He recently signed a 1-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in a quarterback market with little options. In an offseason where Brady, Rivers, Prescott, Newton, Tannehill, Mariota, and Bridgewater sought suitors, it is a surprise that Winston settled with a team with a comfortable QB room over a higher paycheck.

As we all know from Blue Mountain State, being the backup quarterback is the best position in all of sports, but Jameis should seriously consider all of his options before hitting the market again.

ESPN’s Field Yates reported that he can earn up to $3.4 million in incentives, but he is owed a base salary of $1.1 million. While it is applaudable that he showed humility in passing on higher offers to sign a grossly undervalued contract with the Saints, it seems that he is punting on the 2020 season in search of another opportunity when the market is less competitive in 2021.

The Saints have notably re-signed future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, to a 2-year deal prior to signing Winston. In addition to Brees, the Saints also re-signed Taysom Hill to a 2-year deal, worth a whopping $21 million with $16 million guaranteed. Hill is a Swiss Army knife and shouldn’t be listed as simply a quarterback, but regardless, the position is crowded heading into the season. While Winston can see some time if Brees can’t stay healthy, Brees is expected to be the outright starter with Hill staying in the gameplan.

Where does this leave Jameis?

In 2019, he broke the kinds of records no one wants to have. He finished the season with the most passing yards in the entire league with 5,109 yards, and he threw for 33 touchdowns. But with Dr. Jekyll, comes Mr. Hyde.

Winston’s 2019 campaign saw him throwing 30 interceptions, landing him at 7th on the all-time list for most interceptions in a single-season. He became the charter member of the 30 TD/30 INT Club.

Jameis clearly has the talent to be an elite quarterback and he might find some success under the tutelage of Drew Brees, but his issues lie in his tendency to force throws into closing windows. He tries to overcompensate, and he can’t find consistency in his game. Perhaps his recent Lasik surgery can help him see farther downfield, but he should look for a new frontier to dominate in instead.

Many forget that Jameis was a two-sport athlete at Florida State. He played his freshman and sophomore years on the varsity baseball team as a two-way player. He played every position in the outfield and was the Seminole’s primary setup man from the bullpen.

Throwing a much heavier football for half of a decade has undoubtedly kept his baseball arm in good shape. Pitchers in the Cape Cod Baseball League have been known to throw a football around mid-game to stay loose, and his rigorous football training should help him in a less physically demanding sport. His talents can still translate to the diamond; he isn’t too far removed from that environment.

In his freshman year, he appeared in 50 games and saw 119 ABs. His offensive splits are nothing to write home about, as he hit .235 with a .345 SLG percentage. As a switch hitter, his objectively bad offensive stats could be attributed to a lack of training from one side of the plate.

As a pitcher though, he found a modicum of success in his freshman year. He appeared in 17 games and posted a record of 1-2, but had an ERA of 3.00. He struck out 21 batters and only let up 12 walks.

His sophomore year perpetuated both his strengths and weaknesses— his offensive stats don’t need to be mentioned beside his dismal .128 batting average through 39 ABs…

Where he did shine though, was on the mound. He appeared as a closer 24 times, and logged 33.1 innings. He had a stellar pitching season; he posted an ERA of 1.08 while striking out batters 31 times. He was a lights-out closer in a very strong ACC conference.

Stars at the collegiate level don’t always translate into stars at the professional level. In fact, the turnaround for players who are drafted out of NCAA that even see a professional baseball field is laughably low: 10.5 percent of NCAA senior male baseball players will get drafted, with even less breaking past the minors.

Jameis is different though… He has the physique to make an impact on a Major League team if he were to work upon his game. During his time in college, he was an imposing figure on the mound. His 6’4” frame yielded an arsenal of pitches— a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s with downward projection, a hard slider, and 12-6 curveball with bite.

While the likelihood of Jameis being the next Michael Lorenzen or Shohei Ohtani type player is slim to none, he has the physical ability to be an effective relief pitcher for an MLB team. Aside from success, it should be an attractive proposition from his perspective because he could command more money as a reliever than a backup quarterback. The market for relief pitchers is very depleted, and he would be in demand once again.

Jameis does not belong in the NFL due to a lack of talent… He certainly possesses the requisite ability to be an elite quarterback, but he isn’t quite at that echelon yet. Whether he will reach that level is yet to be seen.

He does not belong in the NFL because he would be a great pitcher in the MLB, and would command more money as a reliever.

Baseball money is nuts.

Regions That are Craving an Expansion Team, Part 1: Las Vegas

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred. We’ve seen the NHL, NBA, MLB, and March Madness affected by this crisis. Even the NFL draft was conducted via Zoom for the first time in history.

It’s a different world we’re living in, which has lead several personalities of the sports zeitgeist to talk nonstop about what could’ve been, what will be, and what may not be.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Despite the traditions and long histories of teams that we have grown to worship, the talk of adding more teams or relocating a team to a different area of the country is always on the table.

Currently, there are only ten regions/cities in the country that have four teams inhabiting them and are continuously supported: Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Central Florida (Tampa/Orlando), Denver, Dallas, and Minneapolis. Furthermore, there are three cities/regions that have more than four teams: New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

There really is no reason for one city to have more than one team per sport, no matter the population. New York and L.A. have more than one team in almost every sport, with the latter gaining even more teams recently. The Rams were once an L.A. football team before moving to St. Louis, but eventually returned. Why do the Chargers need to share the territory?

I still retain the opinion that every region and every sports fan should be fairly represented in this country. Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

The first stop on our virtual tour is the City of Sin, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas has become an interesting magnet for sports teams in the past few years and with overwhelming wealth and a tremendous amount of passionate fans, there is certainly room for growth. Not only is there a desire for sports teams, but the people of Las Vegas have welcomed new teams with open arms.

When the Golden Knights entered the NHL scene, they swept the entire nation by becoming Conference Champions in their inaugural year.

It will be interesting to see how the new Las Vegas Raiders perform in their new multi-billion-dollar stadium, Allegiant Stadium which almost perfectly resembles the Death Star. Due to the city’s proximity to Los Angeles, the Raiders will have an established fan base when they play their first game.

While the Vegas crowd is largely comprised of tourists, a niche is already founded in the city. There will be fans that travel with the team by default, and the new stadium could be an asset for the city as a whole.

Much like other highly populated areas in the country, Las Vegas does have an MLB affiliate team. The Oakland Athletics’ AAA team, the Las Vegas Aviators, play at Las Vegas Ballpark which is about 15 miles away from where Allegiant Stadium will be.

Money certainly isn’t an issue in minor league baseball, but the weather might be. A heatwave on the Las Vegas strip in the middle of the summer is known to reach upwards of 110 degrees in the valley.

Las Vegas is also home to the Aces of the WNBA, who finished fourth in the Western Conference in 2019 but fell in the West Championship to the eventual champions, the Washington Mystics. The Aces have the ninth-highest average attendance in the WNBA with a 2019 game-high of 8,470.