Bringing fans together through better digital engagement

The British & Irish Lions are using digital social to get closer than ever to their fans. What can organizations learn from this?


There is a special bond between a sports team and its fans. A loyalty and passion that can thrive in adversity, that can create a sense of community and shared belonging that transcends nationalities and cultures.
The rise of social media has strengthened this connection, enabling supporters, teams and players to engage more directly with one another. It has created a continuous conversation, where fans across the world, using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to debate everything from team selection to the latest kit.

For professional teams, these interactions are invaluable, helping them understand their fan base better and build stronger relationships with them. This kind of connection and brand loyalty is something organizations are constantly striving to emulate as the pace of digital disruption continues to increase with the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the IoT.

Getting to know your fans: lessons from the British & Irish Lions

In order to provide a more rewarding experience for its customers, a business needs to understand them better. It needs to be focused on actively listening, engaging and responding to its customers. A strong digital social presence can provide organizations with invaluable data, and, by effectively analyzing that data, they can offer products and services that better meet their customers’ needs.

Using digital tools such as social media can help businesses engage better with their customers – but it brings opportunity and threat in equal measure. As with any successful sports team, it is about having a well thought-out strategy and delivering on it.

When helping develop the official app for the British & Irish Lions’ 2017 Tour of New Zealand, EY sought to make better use of the data in the Lions’ existing fan base to offer a more engaging product that would help supporters feel closer to the team. 

As Lawrence Buchanan, a Partner at Ernst & Young LLP, explained: “We helped the Lions to collect much richer information on their database subscribers. We did this by allowing social logins (through Facebook and Google) as well as creating data from the use of the My Lions fantasy game. This has been a real success story: it’s being used by two-thirds of app users, providing data on the teams and players they are picking – as well as how often they are engaging with the Lions app.” 

“We also worked with two companies, Glassbox, which collects data on fan experience using the app, and Thunderhead, which collects data on how fans move across the various Lions sites,” he says.

This constant stream of information on how supporters interacted with the Lions brand could then be used to develop a far more detailed series of audience personas. In doing this, the EY teams could focus their attention on the key groups and, importantly, demonstrate who the most valuable fans were.

Understanding these core groups of Lions supporters enabled the EY teams to deliver features in the app that help to give fans a far more rewarding experience. These included:

  • Providing a rich delivery of live game data that uses EY analytics to offer the fans a greater understanding of real-time player and team performance and momentum through the game
  • Giving fans the opportunity to test their skills in picking squads and teams and compare their knowledge against other fans, coaches and experts
  • Encouraging fans to participate in unique sponsor and Lions competitions

Extracting the value from data insight

“The Lions had never before looked at who their fan base was in a formal way,” says Buchanan. “In the digital space, they had only focused their attention on their very broad fan base and traveling fans but had some additional areas they wanted to connect with.” 

Part of the challenge of only convening the Lions once every four years is that four years is a long time on the internet. Technology moves fast, and missed opportunities are amplified with such a long break between digital outings.

But the principles remain the same whether running a digital project after a four-year break or running a continual assessment of ongoing streams of information: by digging into the data and questioning assumptions in a strategic way, fresh insights can be revealed that can change the way you think about your customers – and your business.

Whether it is a team and its fans or a business and its customers, a strong user-focused digital social strategy can not only create a lasting bond, it can create a community and ultimately lead to real-world connections.

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