Championing Fandom: Unraveling the Best Sports Loyalty Programs

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A seasoned marketing executive at a top football club once said to me: “Our activities revolve around gameday. Our goal is to entice our fans, keep their attention, and direct them toward that kickoff. We essentially work in 1-week sprints and rinse and repeat.”

It stuck with me. I realized that sports brands have the benefit (and curse) of guaranteed repeat business weekly. It’s like an innate loyalty program where fans continue coming back to buy the product every week.

But things are beginning to change. Especially with younger fans who are watching live sports less and less.

“Morning Consult’s recent survey of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers, defined as being between 13 and 25, found 33% of them don’t watch live sporting events. Only 24% of U.S. adults and 22% of millennials said the same thing.” via TheScore.

They catch highlights on social media, watch-along streams, or just simply aren’t interested.

How can rights holders counteract this trend? If the current focus is on gameday, but younger fans aren’t showing up when it arrives, how can sports brands maintain a competitive edge on their fans’ attention?

Loyalty Programs work pretty well for gaming, travel, and gastronomy. Why not for sports?

When done right, they can induce a mutually beneficial relationship, rewarding fans for their unwavering support with experiences that deepen their connection to the game while ensuring the brand remains competitive in the attention economy.

The Significance of Sports Loyalty Programs

At the heart of every cheer, every jersey worn, and every ticket purchased lies the potential for a deeper relationship between fans and sports franchises. Sports loyalty programs tap into this potential by creating structured avenues for fans to express their support and, in return, be recognized for their loyalty. 

These programs leverage the emotional investment fans have in their teams, turning this into a powerful tool for enhancing fan experiences and driving economic benefits for teams and sponsors.

Why Loyalty Programs Matter

Sports loyalty programs offer a lot of benefits to sports brands. Some of these benefits are tangible via increased spending and others are more intangible like more loyal fans.

The following statistics are quite illuminating are display some of the monetary benefits:

  1. 12-18% increased average spending (ARPU) shown by loyalty program members over non-members (Accenture)
  2. 43% of consumers are more likely to buy weekly after joining a loyalty program (McKinsey)
  3. $1 trillion of value potential across US industries alone by improving personalization with first-party data (McKinsey)

Summed up, here are the benefits of sports loyalty programs:

  • Fans will act like ambassadors and will refer more fans.
  • Increased revenue  thanks to selling more merchandise or digital products, resulting in a higher average lifetime value of fans.
  • Higher customer retention rates as fans feel more inclined to stick around
  • New opportunities to create value for your partners
  • Deeper insights into fan preferences, behavior, and interests thanks to personalized data

With that last-mentioned data, brands can launch personalized marketing efforts and fan experiences. In an age where digital transformation is reshaping marketing, the data-driven insights derived from loyalty programs are invaluable for teams aiming to stay ahead of the curve.

Unveiling the Playbook

As we delve deeper into the intricacies of sports loyalty programs, it becomes evident that the true champions are those who understand their fans’ desires and how to fulfill them. These programs are more than just a series of transactions; they are a bridge between teams and fans, built on the foundation of mutual respect and appreciation.

In the following sections, we will explore the strategies behind the most successful sports loyalty programs, the challenges they face, and the future of fan engagement. Stay tuned as we continue to unravel the threads of loyalty that bind the world of sports, transforming fans from mere supporters into the very heart of the game.

The Key Elements of a Good Loyalty Program

There are countless ways to implement creative and effective loyalty programs. For sports brands, the most important factor is ensuring your loyalty programs include a few particular elements for success.

However, it is important to remember the vehicles or mechanisms are also equally important. For example, the way to track loyalty is by introducing loyalty points, badges, achievements, a leaderboard, etc. And as users earn those, they are rewarded in some way. 

For example, one of our clients Axel Springer launched a digital collectibles platform for the German Men’s National Football Team and wanted to introduce a loyalty program whose goal was to increase retention and daily use. 

Using our “login streaks” feature, they created a 100 day login streak challenge for users. As a reward, they could win more points to get more collectibles.

Looking beyond mechanisms, there are other elements about the loyalty program that can spell success.

We will sum up a few of them here and plan on creating a dedicated post later.

  1. Understanding the Audience: Know who your fans are, including their demographics, preferences, and behaviors. 
  2. Value Proposition: Provide clear, valuable benefits that resonate with your audience. 
  3. Engagement and Interaction: Design the program to encourage ongoing interaction. 
  4. Personalization: Use data to offer personalized experiences or rewards. 
  5. Ease of Use: Ensure the loyalty program is easy to understand and use. 

These are the core 5 components of a good sports loyalty program but to really succeed, there are more to focus on. We plan on creating a full write up on that at a later time. Make sure to subcribe so as not to miss it.

Navigating Challenges

While the potential benefits are vast, sports loyalty programs also face their share of challenges:

Ensuring Value for All Stakeholders

Balancing the expectations of fans with the financial and operational realities of running a sports franchise is a delicate act. Programs must offer rewards that excite fans without compromising the team’s bottom line.

Data Privacy and Security

With the increased focus on personalization comes the responsibility of handling fan data with care. Programs must navigate the complexities of data privacy regulations and ensure the security of their digital platforms to maintain trust with their fan base.

Keeping Fans Engaged Long-Term

Fan engagement is not a one-time achievement but a continuous effort. Loyalty programs must constantly innovate and refresh their offerings to keep fans engaged season after season, even during off-seasons or in the face of team performance fluctuations.

3 Loyalty Programs for Inspiration

To explain the impact and diversity of sports loyalty programs, let’s dive into a few case studies that epitomize best practices in fan engagement.

1. The NFL’s “Fan Cash” Program

The NFL’s Fan Cash program is a prime example of tying a loyalty program with merchandise and purchases. Fans create an account on and purchases made there as well as on partner sites will earn them FanCash rewards that can be used to purchase more merchandise across their partner sites.

2. The Sacramento Kings (NBA)

The Sacramento Kings offer their fans a loyalty program on their app called Royalty Pass. They allow fans to complete tasks and challenges, earn points, and unlock exclusive offers. 

One of the key factors that caught my eye was how you can scan your personal QR code at the merchandise store and Local Eats Stand to earn points while in the stadium. This is a great blending of physical and digital rewards mechanisms.

3. Adidas Creator’s Club

The Adidas Creator’s Club may seem like a standard points program but it packs a punch. Here is an excerpt from the program: “the more active you are in the club, the more points you collect. By collecting points you reach new levels and secure exclusive benefits.” Sounds pretty standard at a glance but it gets interesting.

Adidas does a great job of using their loyalty program to obtain user information, which may return incredible returns for the brand in the long run.

Out of the gate, you get points for:

  • Creating an account
  • Uploading photos of previous purchases
  • Filling in your profile
  • Buying products
  • Writing a review
  • Telling them your birthday
  • Participate in runners events
  • Track your runs in their app (user acquisition)
  • Completing a workout (also on their app)

As you earn points you level up and gain access to new benefits.

Unyfy: A Loyalty Engine for Sports Brands

While you can deploy a custom loyalty solution, a dedicated platform is the ideal path to save time, money, resources, and headaches. Unyfy emerges as a game-changing ally for sports brands looking to elevate their fan engagement strategies. 

As a comprehensive platform builder designed for the modern sports organizations, Unyfy offers a suite of tools that streamline the creation, management, and optimization of loyalty programs. With its intuitive interface, sports brands can easily customize loyalty tiers, rewards, and experiences, ensuring that each loyalty program resonates deeply with the respective fan base. 

Unyfy’s loyalty framework can be summed up in the following graphic.

  • Loyalty Events: digital or analogue.
  • Loyalty Mechanisms: points, achievements, badges earned via login streaks, rankings, challenges, bounties, etc.
  • Rewards: Tickets, merchandise, discounts, experiences, partner advantages.
  • Partner Program: activate partnerships via loyalty programs.
  • Loyalty Inventory: branded events, rewards, badges, points, etc.
  • KPIs: success data points like CLV, average spend, and more.
  • Segmentation Options: personalization and testing based on demographic segments.
  • Monetization and Business Models: lifetime value increases, partner activations, and marketing revenues from inventory.

Our founder, Thomas, hosts a monthly loyalty and gamification masterclass where he breaks this down in detail and provides sports brands actionable insights about launching your own programs.

Register for the next slot before it’s too late.

By leveraging Unyfy, sports brands can not only enhance their loyalty programs but also forge stronger, more meaningful connections with their fans, turning every game into a celebration of shared passion and commitment.

The Future of Fan Engagement

As we look to the future, it’s clear that sports loyalty programs will continue to evolve. Emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offer new avenues for immersive fan experiences, while advancements in AI and machine learning promise even more personalized engagement strategies.

Furthermore, the concept of fan loyalty is expanding beyond the traditional model of rewards for purchases and attendance. The future will likely see an increase in social loyalty programs, where fans earn rewards for content creation, community engagement, and advocacy on behalf of their teams.

The best sports loyalty programs are those that understand and adapt to the changing dynamics of fan engagement. They recognize that at the heart of every program is a fan’s love for their team—a powerful force that, when nurtured, can turn the casual supporter into a lifelong fan. As we continue to champion fandom through innovative loyalty strategies, the bond between teams and their fans will only grow stronger, proving that in the world of sports, loyalty is indeed the ultimate win.

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