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Footballverse

Technology will change fan experience and behaviour in Asia & everywhere

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29 September 2021

29 September 2021

Smartphones have not been around that long but have already changed the way fans think, act and behave. Some fear that they will lead to fewer fans at stadiums. “I think phones, I think technology has been the decline in attendance” said Northwestern coach Nick Fitzgerald when asked why attendances at College Football had been declining.

 

Smartphones have not been around that long but have already changed the way fans think, act and behave. Some fear that they will lead to fewer fans at stadiums.

"I think phones, I think technology has been the decline in attendance," said Northwestern coach Nick Fitzgerald when asked why attendances in College Football had been declining. “Watching young people live like this (bends down to look at an imaginary phone). Instead of like that (sits up). Younger people and younger fans intake it all through technology. The fans that grew up getting to the games four hours early are getting a little older and I think the next younger generation of fans are more reliant on technology. These are things we need to look at as a brand of college football.”

EPL’s problem at home not technology, but age

The English Premier League does not have that problem just yet -- for clubs in England, the issue is not so much phones and how young people go to games less than older. The average age of season ticket holders at Premier League clubs is around 42. In 1968, the average age of fans in the Stretford End of Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium was 17. By 2015, it was 42. The problem here is not that young fans don’t want to go to games but that they can’t afford to go.

This is a ticking time bomb but the EPL remains the most popular league in the world and every weekend, millions tune in from every corner of the planet. The reasons why have been long discussed but one not much discussed is the fans themselves. 

It is a cliche but true that without fans, the game is a shadow of its former self and this is especially true when it comes to the Premier League. Go to Asia and talk to football lovers and many will enthuse about how close the fans in England are to the action. They are so close that they become part of the action and add to the drama. You can see the expressions on their faces when something good, bad or controversial happens. These days however, look at those fans and you will see something else:fans watching the action through their phones. When a goal is scored, when a famous player comes over to take a corner or a throw-in then out come the phones. If technology is changing how fans inside English stadiums behave then it is logical to predict that technology will change how fans in Asia watch the English Premier League. 

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Phones have already changed the game

The only uncertainty is what consequence this change will have and how teams in England, and other big ones across Europe, will react. There was a time when, in England, when a fan headed to the bar or restaurant after watching the game would be asked how the game was, who had scored and how the team had played? The people in the stadium were the only ones who had this privileged information. Now this is no longer the case. Those who are left behind and are interested may not know too much about the ebb and flow of the game, the tactical ins and outs. Someone watching in Singapore knows more about what is happening than someone inside Old Trafford or Anfield.

Southeast Asia is the region that has the longest connection to English football and it is where the passion burns brightest. In normal times, people in England can watch perhaps four or five live games every round. In most Southeast Asian nations you can watch all ten. There, in the cafes of Kuala Lumpur, the bars of Singapore and the restaurants of Hanoi, people gather to watch on big screen televisions but things can change.

What will happen in the future in Asia?

Moving away from passive fans

Smartphones mean that fans can engage with their teams at all times and can constantly consume content. Smartphones have a big effect. Even in poor countries, the percentage of mobile devices is high.

They can analyse, swap opinions and criticise the coaches in real time. It wasn’t that long ago that the only place to do this was at the stadium itself but now, millions of fans, who are located thousands of miles away can have their say just as clearly and loudly as the vast majority of supporters. 

Studies in the United States show that the use of smartphones and other mobile devices change the way they engage with teams and players on many levels. 

The increased access means that fans can consume content in real time, swap videos and clips. 

For decades, fans have been supposed to just sit in the stadium or at home and watch their team. Cheering and chanting is fine, even calling the local radio station to complain and vent is OK. The situation is changing now. The era of the passive fan is over. 

Clips not games

Then there is a change in how people watch sports. A survey in 2018 found that in England people have a concentration span of just 14 minutes. At the moment, many in Asia still watch english games on terrestrial television with analysis provided by pundits coming from England but more and more, games are consumed on social media.

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Crazy ideas may be adapted

Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli made many laugh recently when he said that subscriptions could be targeted for specific parts of the game as young people don’t have the concentration to watch for 90 minutes. “We could imagine a subscription for the last 15 minutes of a specific game,' Agnelli said.'The attention span of today's kids and tomorrow's spenders is completely different to the one I had when I was their age.

'If you take golf, if it's interesting at all, it's only the last six holes on the final day. You are not going to watch the whole thing on the TV unless you are a hardcore fan.'

Selling the last 15 minutes does seem crazy but there is sure to be more flexibility offered to consumers in the future. Specific packages will be offered for specific teams.

COVID means more games, more flexibility

One development due to COVID that may change things in Asia is scheduling. Instead of having four or five games on at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and forcing fans in Asia to choose one, the current arrangement of having one game at a time could become more permanent. This could actually help English Premier League teams gain support in Asia and it means that there will be more devices needed to watch all the games.

More fan-created content

As yet, there are few Asian fan channels like Arsenal Fan TV, those that have been famous, infamous and very popular. At some point, there are going to be popular and influential fan channels of English Premier League clubs created in Asia. These may be controversial too but clubs are going to have to work out how to deal with them and how to react to more active fan support in Asia.

 

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