The Future of Football – Social, fan engagement and smart stadiums

The overall sports media landscape is rapidly evolving and diversifying. Just as the music industry has had to evolve to meet changing consumption habits, the sports industry will likely see profound further change in the coming years. Here we look at what football might look like in the coming years and the implications for brands/sponsors – based on our Kantar Media expertise in measuring, tracking and reporting on all aspects of sports engagement and behaviour.

Media consumption habits

Consumption of sport is changing. The Drum reported that the National Football League (NFL) saw viewing figures decline as much as 14% prior to Trump’s election victory and are down by 8% in total compared to last season. Meanwhile, across the pond, Sky Sports in the UK suffered a 19% ratings drop for live Premier League games (as of October 2016).

So why these declines in viewing? One potential reason is a poor quality of game schedules or, in the US’s case, down to the election campaigns grabbing a share of TV viewing. Another possibility to be considered is the convenience of social media and mobile phones providing instant updates remotely, thus partly negating the need to watch live. Kantar Media’s Sportscope study shows that 25% of football fans in the UK consume content via social media.

Online platforms are increasingly savvy to this change of consumption habits, proactively pursuing deals with various rights holders to offer new ways of consuming sports. For example, recently La Liga announced a deal with Facebook to live stream Friday night fixtures on the social platform for free. And in July, Twitter announced they would be showing ten Thursday-night NFL games.

Fan engagement and experience

Sports fans today are often no longer satisfied with just watching games - they want to be fully immersed and involved in the content. For sports marketing, this translates into a need to always take fans that extra mile, be it through behind-the-scenes experiences or helping fans get to know the players on a more personal level.

Sites such as Dugout are dedicated to behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive content. Football teams such as Arsenal, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich, amongst others, have got involved in the project. Content includes player/team challenges and allows users access to the content before it appears anywhere else.

For marketers, this shift in fan engagement instantly allows much more creativity when it comes to programme activation. Brands have taken clever initiatives to activate fan engagement as an added experience. An example of this is Carlsberg, who took a creative approach to their Euro 2016 marketing by sending out celebrities to reward acts of kindness in public, such as giving tournament tickets to someone seen to give up their seat on the train.

Tottenham’s new stadium will also be offering new experiences to fans. Introducing a premium experience called ‘The Tunnel Club’, which provides fans seats next to the dugout and an area inside the stadium which offers a view inside the player tunnel via a one way viewing wall, giving the fan a view of the players previously unseen. Which leads us on to…

Smart stadiums and other technology evolvements

Getting fans into the stadiums is one challenge, especially with growing accessibility of live sports on TV, whilst monetizing fans once inside is another. Stadiums are starting to improve the fan experience once inside. One example is the Levi’s stadium in California. It is often cited as the most high tech stadium in the world. It offers free high speed Wi-Fi, a guide to take the fan to their seat and to the toilets with the shortest queue. Fans can even order food and drink from the app and have it delivered to their seat.

Revolutionary moves like these are bound to be copied by most new sporting stadiums as the bar keeps getting set higher and higher. Even the game itself is embracing technology. The Premier League have introduced goal line technology, and the safety and optimisation of player performance is an ever-higher priority, with smart vests being worn by a growing proportion players, which communicate statistics such as heart rate straight to the medical team on the side-lines. Undoubtedly, we will see more football teams implementing facilities and technology similar to those available at the Levi’s stadium. 

What does the future hold?

Increasingly, younger generations are watching TV content in different ways and using other platforms to engage with broadcast content. As a result of this, we can anticipate a continued rise in social and over-the-top (OTT) offers in sports, and in turn this will give rise to a shift in sports marketing business models, as marketers look for ways to monetise social consumption as they have TV. 

Athletes are becoming more and more like celebrities and thus more emphasis is being placed on fan engagement with them. Over the coming years, it’s likely this trend will continue as sponsors get access to more individual rights with specific athletes.

Sports fans today are not only there to watch a game, but to take part in a fully immersive experience. It’s important to offer more to fans to prompt them to come into the stadiums, due to the ease of access to live sport through a screen. Providing fans with something more than just the live event itself is going to be a key direction of travel for the sports marketing industry in 2017 and beyond.  We could be seeing extra ways of enjoying football, such as replaying key clips available via an app, like a few NFL teams already do in their stadiums.

The content of this article is taken from a presentation which Nathalie Nénon, Managing Director, Sports Intelligence, Kantar Media gave at News Tank Think Football conference. For further information, please contact

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