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The culture of selfies and fandom creates a lucrative intersection in the sports industry

“I saw thousands of crying adults on the streets after the Champions League victory. I had four magical hours on that day that determined the rest of my life”. This quote is not originated from a single fan but from Mr. Peter Moore, former CEO of Liverpool FC who shared the story for the public last year at the World Football Summit conference. He also recalled the time when he fell in love with the team as a child 60 years ago. Growing up on Bill Shankly’s team, singing the “You will never walk alone” with his best fellows left an indelible mark on his soul forever. Because in Liverpool, the Team is what defines the social and mental well-being of the people. As this example speaks for itself, sports have a magic power, a spiritual effect which can change lives, and fundamentally influence the human identity. People are “crazy” for football in Liverpool, but so are they for their beloved clubs in every corner of the world, regardless of age, gender or religion. 

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We are living in the age of selfie generation. Athletes, fans, brands – all of them want to express themselves and show that they belong somewhere. Photo: Getty Images, time.com

You can change your car, your house, your clothes – but not your team

But how do sports can – in a positive way – infect people and persuade them to such a level of enthusiasm? Fans feel a psychological connection to a team and the team’s performances are viewed as self-relevant. Research shows that although people report many reasons for following a favorite team, social connectedness is among the most frequently cited reasons for the fanaticism. Identifying strongly with a club where other fans are in the environment — that is a benefit of social-psychological well-being. We can also consider this phenomenon as a therapy. Higher identification with a team is associated with significantly lower levels of alienation, loneliness, and higher levels of collective self-esteem and positive emotion.

Seeing another person wearing the team emblem on a shirt allows for an instant connection. This shared identity might facilitate communication among individuals or just increase a feeling among fans that they have shared values.

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Liverpool celebrated his 6th Champions League victory together with more than hundred thousand fans on the street in 2019. Who participated in this festival will remember this moment as one of the most beautiful days of their lives. Mr. Moore, CEO of Liverpool FC at that time celebrated with the players and the fans on the top of the bus. Photo: Getty Images, goal.com

Sports might be a particularly enticing means of fostering belongingness for several reasons. Fans who watched their team win reported significantly higher estimates of the team’s future performance, their own performance, and personal self-esteem than did those who watched their team lose. The boost that the winning-team group received was similar to the boost that participants received when they personally succeeded or failed at a task. However, belonging is more important than winning: if you see yourself as a member of a family, that role does not change. Those types of connections are very long-lasting and extremely strong. 

From local to “global”:  not the fans, but the scale has changed

This type of behavior cannot be stopped by any border. Television and broadcasting created the opportunity for the formation of global fandoms. Digitalization and technology brought the golden age of personalization and self-esteem, by creating the opportunity to connect to millions of people and building a worldwide community. Remaining on the previously cited example, Peter Moore stated that according to their fresh reports, Liverpool FC has 771 million supporters worldwide. This is the base, whose happiness depends in part or in whole on the performance of the team. Therefore it is not surprising that the club invested £16 million into their digital solutions to strengthen the fan relationship and provide engaging content not only on matchdays but 24/7. Although it seems a considerable amount and a future-proof idea, the concept has limitations. Fans can react immediately and interact with each other, but the creator of the content is the club, controlled by its own policy and strategy. What if you give the right tool to the fans, and let them make the creative work for you? 

Fans are eager to express their support to the team, but they want even more to feel connected, accepted and appreciated by other fans. Thanks to Seyu, sport lovers around the world now can take photos, add personal messages to them and post them in real-time on to the LED boards in their favourite teams’ arena. This way remote fans can cheer for their beloved sports men and women in a unique way, even from thousands of miles away. To keep the narrative: in the case of Liverpool we are talking about 771 million fans, who would get the chance to participate in the match in a new, innovative way. Insane amount, right?

Exhibitionism is not a negative thing but an opportunity of monetization

Let’s get back to the psychological background and human nature. Researchers found evidence to suggest that posting selfies encourages positive social media feedback, which improves body image and increases self-esteem. The same pattern was found for the ‘fear of missing out’, aka FoMo type of fans. We can state that Seyu is a solution that provides manifestation for these two very strong human psychological phenomena: getting involved in the matchday thanks to Seyu, fans on a global scale can have the experience of belonging to a community that they love and it is also increasing their self-esteem by the positive feedback they get from fellow fans on social media.

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Okay, now where is the business behind it?

Fans are the most important revenue sources for the clubs. Nowadays, when the Premier League teams are set to lose £700 million in total till March just because of the closed stadia, it is essential to find new, niche solutions, mainly digital, which cover some of the losses. People love to have fun and they also love to spend for it – an average Premier League fan spends £1.888/season, only attending 5 matches a season. LaLiga fans spend in stadia an average €50/game, excluding tickets. It is safe to say that the broadcasters are happy with the revenues from premium content subscriptions, but that does not have any positive effect on the pocket of clubs.

It seems rather obvious to implement new solutions such as Seyu at clubs.  Industry reports also state that tech enhanced fan experience increases the spending willingness among the young generation (Z and Y) target audience. So charging for fan photos being displayed on the giant screen is not something extremely far fetched. Examples for this can be found in Scottish Premiership where Celtic fans can get their photos on the giant screen in half time for £20. And they do it happily with a big smile on their faces! Although this service takes 5 working days for the club to execute, it is sold out. Also looking at the home entertainment of Bolton Wanderers in League 2, fans can get on the video wall for £10. However, they have to submit 24 hours before the match.

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“We want to reach all of our supporters, worldwide” – closed Mr. Peter Moore ambitiously in his speech on the World Football Summit last year. At the time, he and his audience might not have even thought that the market would change so rapidly and the era of remote fan entertainment would come years earlier than the industry expected. Thanks to technological developments, what he perceived as a child on the Anfield sixty years ago, can now be reproduced for hundreds of millions. Because – such as football – belongingness and self-esteem cannot be limited by distance, gender, age or religion.

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