NBA's Top Shot
NBA's Top Shot
A view from Neil Cooper

How brands can be at the forefront of the new fandom

The changing nature of fandom is opening up the opportunities for brands to engage.

Fandoms, of people, of teams, of series, have long been a cherished part of the modern zeitgeist, but have exploded in recent decades – facilitated through technology. Rightfully so, brands are catching on and are fighting an arms race to capitalise on loyalty and unswaying passion to their cause.

Traditional fandom used to be measured by how long individuals waited in lines to attend shows, matches or product drops, or how far geographically you were willing to travel. In modern times, turning up in person is just one step of the journey – step two comes in the form of its digital equivalent, and brands are having to think innovatively about how to allow digital users to take their fandom to the next level.

With digital fandom, almost anyone can be a fan, with platforms such as Twitter allowing fans to connect worldwide with almost anyone. Modern fandom now has to be earned, and brands are using scarcity and exclusivity, for example in the form of NFTs, to elevate super fans away from passive engagement.

Making the effort

For example, fans will go above and beyond to ensure they are online at the right time when a pack is released, to secure an NBA Top Shot Highlight (a blockchain platform trading limited versions of video highlights), just to show their dedication to their NBA team. So effort is the metric for fans, and how much effort you are willing to put into a fandom shows your dedication and then moves you up the hierarchy.

With the shift to more digitally focused rewards, such as NFTs, brands are able to meet global fans where they are (not necessarily physically at a game) and allow them to put the effort in, virtually. This meets the needs of a modern, global audience, not just local to the team/person/series, and allows them to vastly increase their core audience size. We expect a lot of brands to follow suit using this sort of technology.

Following on from the NBA example, it’s obvious that sports teams provide some of the biggest fandoms in the world, particularly football. In terms of this year's European Championships, the digital engagement with fans was pretty standard.

While Covid has made it clear that in-stadium fans are very important for live sport engagement and always will be, brands are having to bridge the gap and make the "at home" experience more engaging for those that cannot attend games in person.

Here, we think the football world can learn a lot from the NBA. For example, AT&T’s new AR experience within the Chicago Bulls app gives fans the ability to see immersive 3D stats during the games.

BT Sport is in the early stages of something similar, with its Match Day Experience technology, and we expect to see a noticeable change in the digital aspects of UK sports on TV in the coming years.

Game on

Looking outside sports, many people’s first thoughts when considering the extreme end of fandom are around events like Comic Con. While previously feeling like it existed on the periphery of normal society, there’s recently been a huge shift in acceptance and coolness of events like this, and it’s been exciting to see how technology has enabled fans to engage with such conventions – including using AR to dress up as their favourite characters virtually.

On a similar note, the gaming world has also entered the fandom space in a big way using extraordinary technology. A fantastic example of this is Travis Scott’s concert with Fortnite, attracting more than 12 million players, and allowing people to feel connected, in their own intimate space, to the star they idolise.

More so than ever, entertainment shows are also creating fandoms in their own right. Take Love Island for example: during the most recent series all you had to do at 9pm every evening was log on to Twitter and see thousands of comments and thoughts on the show being shared live. At Rehab, we are working with Warner Media and The NBA on how technology can bridge the gap between the live experience and fans at home, platforming superfans and offering new perspectives on a match.

This exact format could be replicated with programmes such as Love Island, building a mass curation of public opinion, which is then edited via a unique superfan point of view, spilling the tea on what just happened.

The superfans experience 

The future of fandom is consistently developing, with advances in tech fuelling these changes – most prominently being the ability to engage with fans outside physical spaces and instead going to where the fans live digitally.

Fandoms come hand in hand with brand loyalty, with fans returning to companies over and over again, which increases lifetime value for that brand. This has been demonstrated through Nike’s recent membership drive, where Nike members receive exclusive rewards and free shipping in return for their loyalty, reducing cost per acquisition and increasing order values.

The exclusivity element here is key, with about one-third of Nike’s products available only to rewards members. We should expect brands to be keeping up with these trends, providing their loyal superfans with the opportunity to engage in various ways, by both traditional and non-traditional means.

Neil Cooper is creative director at Rehab