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“How to engage fans during World Cup” with Marco Sansoni (FIFA)

Let’s discover how to engage fans during major events such as World Cup with a spectatorship services expert. We will come back in particular on the Brazilian World Cup.

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We received Marco Sansoni, Spectatorship Services Manager at the FIFA. He worked on a lot of major events, especially World Cup, and has now a strong experience. He comes back for us today on these large events and how to engage fans during these ones. With the pandemic going on, he also talks about the new issues and solutions for the clubs or the leagues.

This interview is also available on our podcast channel that you can listen on every podcast platform.

Marco Sansoni, a spectatorship services expert

Within FIFA, I’m a spectator service manager, which is the first of a kind, where I’m working since approximately two years. I got involved in events during the last 15 years. I’ve been traveling around the world and worked in five continents. It was almost always focused on fans, and all aspects of the fan within the operation side as well. It was really a game changer in my career to be the first spectator service manager of the World Cup history, because until then, spectator services was basically an amount of volunteers, quite a big workforce that was allocated either to security or to the volunteers department in previous editions such as Germany 2006, and South Africa 2010.

It was also because of the issues with the crowd on one side, and because in Brazil, the culture in sporting events, especially in some cities, was that the seats were not assigned. Basically, first come first served at the stadium (that would not be acceptable for FIFA standards). So we had the challenge of a cultural change in 2007. It was really challenging. Since then, I’m pretty much stuck in football, except for the Rio 2016 Olympics that I’ve been working on. So I’m very happy to share all of this. Looking back now, I’m 42 and when I was a kid, I wanted to travel for work and I’m happy to have been loyal to that dream.

Rio Olympics - opening ceremonyThe Indian Express

Rio Olympics – opening ceremony

The best experiences encountered during his life

Torino is definitely in my heart. When a global event touches your country, you have some chance. And basically, everyone starts with a local global event. So that would be the first. The second, definitely as mentioned, is the FIFA World Cup. To give you an idea of the achievements, we can say that every World Cup is different, every event is different. It’s also in terms of size, think about the size of a continent or country as Brazil with 12 host cities. We have a distance from Manaus to Porto Alegre, so from Amazonia to almost Argentina with six hours flight.

I had 270 staff members that were managing approximately 4500 volunteers. Those volunteers of that world cup won the year after the FIFA Fair Play award (first time that it didn’t went to a player or an association). So this is something I’m really proud of among the 1000s of things that put this event in the top of my list.

Brazilian volunteers during World CupFIFA

Brazilian volunteers during World Cup

An incredible experience during the Brazilian World Cup

I have plenty of memories of that World Cup, which are not much related to the competition itself. The most iconic is probably the invasion of the Maracana Stadium, that might be interesting from an operational perspective. We had an invasion of spectators without tickets. It gathered approximately 200 people for Chile, who invaded the Media Center, the weakest point of the stadium.

“What is interesting is talking to the spectators, which is something I love doing while the match is going on or especially ahead of the match.”

The critical points are the entry moments. So basically, by talking to the to the spectators, you find stories which are amazing. Imagine the World Cup back in South America after so many years. We even saw an invasion of caravans from Argentina. The city of Rio, and furthermore, the cities in the south were literally invaded. In Rio, they invented, somehow, as very large camping. This tells you a lot about the Brazilian hospitality, towards the Argentinians again.

So the stories of the spectators, out of which are number one related to a father with his two children from Venezuela, who unfortunately bought fake tickets. And this is one of the issues, especially in high demand events. This person was crying out there, outside duty checker. I got closer to understand what was going on. And basically to know the fact that he had sold his own car to bring these kids there just to show them to be part in the stadium during the match of the national team. Well, that broke my heart. See, seriously, there’s nothing I could do, unfortunately. But these kind of stories that tells you about the passion, the real passion, and what football is all about.

What the pandemic changed and how clubs can engage the fans right now

The pandemic changed a lot of things. Basically, everyone is focused on producing new protocols, because in terms of health safety. We need to define new protocols, of course, but the first need was trying to keep in touch with the fans. So as in every other sector, basically boosting the digital transformation, meaning getting on a regular basis in contact, keeping them engaged through the social media, and in all other means.

“So we’ve seen a lot of activations, which were focused on the community engagement, which was a positive side effect of this virus.”

I’ve seen plenty of teams and leagues delivering even basic goods to get fans. There’s a famous action that my team AS Roma made and became famous, even broadcasted on CNN. It was the provision of basic needs to the oldest fans. This was a very good way to keep the fan base engaged in this period.

CNN

AS Roma helping elderly fans in Italy during pandemic

The different changes that will occur when fans will come back in the stadiums

I definitely believe that there is a positive legacy of this pandemic. The clubs and the leagues understood the power of community engagement, which was well known way before this but is stronger now. There’s a lot to consider here. So first of all, I put the fan in the middle also of my thoughts, not only my strategy. Basically, how was the fans’ loyalty challenged by the distance in terms also of time? In general, at least, the relation was challenged. It’s hard to keep that relation after a few weeks, after one month or two, so imagine after one year, would he or she still be loyal to me?

If we think about the experience we had in the stadiums as an average, especially before, it wasn’t always the best one possible. If we put that in parallel to a restaurant experience, while we will never go back to a bad restaurant, we are almost always going back to the stadium where we had that experience, in terms also of results. Even if your team lose that next sunday, even if you couldn’t buy a sandwich or a beer because the line was too long, or you finally got it but the beer was hot, and the sandwich was cold. The following week, the fan will still be there. This will never happen in any other business, except sports. We’re talking about football here, but this is sports in general. So this is what we need to focus on.

“We have to question what happened to the client, which are their habits, and what we need to do.”

What everyone should have been working on, and I really hope they have been working on that, is to plan a new fan experience at 360 degrees. It would help the entire ecosystem to restart again, as fast as possible.

The different touch points between the fans and the club

It’s basically to define the spectator’s experience. First of all, again, you need to know your fans, for these 360 degrees, because it goes from information, availability, clarity. It means providing an app, which is a fundamental tool to enhance the experience. It means providing entertainment of course but also the workforce on the ground. They have to be knowledgeable, smiling, welcoming and warm, and giving you the feeling that you are attending something special. Not only the feeling, but the reality is that you are thinking something special. That human touch on the ground is absolutely needed and that human touch is one of those touch points.

So knowing the client, you define the personas. And then with that in mind, you map the main touch points of experience, which are: the website, the spectator app, a digital site, the airports, the whole city operations meaning public transportation, rather than specific services. Because what is important for the spectator is to find information throughout its journey. The aim is to have the same level of service in the stadiums but also outside. We should provide a lot of information before the spectators leave home. Because that way we do manage the crowds before even having the crowd.

Thanks to Marco Sansoni who gave us some time to come back on his interesting experiences through major events. A lot of work has to be done in order to engage fans on these so special events and new challenges are also coming in order to engage again the fans.

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Passionné de sport avant tout, j’ai découvert la notion de fan experience plus récemment. Les spectateurs jouent un rôle essentiel lors des évènements sportifs, c’est pourquoi je pense que l’expérience qui leur est proposée jour de match est cruciale.

In english

Fan Controlled Football League (FCFL): The most exciting fan experience of 2021

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Fan Controlled Football League FCFL

The Fan Controlled Football gives fans the opportunity to take control of a football league from A to Z. First they decided on the rules of the competition and then they took over their teams. With an engaging fan experience and an ultra immersive broadcast, the FCFL concludes a more than successful first season. Will this type of entertainment league format become a standard in the sports industry?

fcfl-celebrate

Zappers celebrate a touchdown

Fan Controlled Football responds to a growing demand for more fun, more immersive and easy-to-follow competitions

The FCFL embraces the changes in the entertainment industry

Over the past 40 years, technology has had a strong impact on the way new generations entertain themselves. A strong participative culture has emerged from social media. The democratization of gaming has created a need for interactivity in entertainment. Our ability to access thousands of pieces of information at any given moment has led to the development of entertainment products that adapt their pace and duration to the different moments in which they are consumed.

“Fast paced. Hard hitting. No replay. Running clock. All action.”

FCFL website

Thus, alongside traditional big leagues, whose rules were often established more than a century ago, “entertainment leagues” are gaining in popularity. In general, their success is based on the same pattern.

  1. Start with a traditional sport.
  2. Shorten the length of a game to appeal to casual fans.
  3. Change the rules to make the game faster and easier to follow.
  4. Make games more immersive even if it means infringing on the sports aspect of the game.

These are changes that would be difficult for the public to accept if they were made by a traditional league like the Premier League, the NFL or the NBA. New competitions, on the other hand, can put entertainment first without any problem. Rugby X, the XFL, the International Swimming League and even, to some extent, Formula E have been doing this. The Fan Controlled Football League takes this concept to the extreme.

fcfl-action

A football competition where fans decided to speed up the action

The FCFL is composed of 4 teams: the Glacier Boyz, the Wild Aces, the Beasts and the Zappers. The competition is played every Sunday in a high tech studio with rules that were chosen by the fans. Football is a rather slow sport. In the NFL the average game lasts more than three hours. The action often stops. NFL teams have large squads within which 3 squads of 11 players take turns on a 100 yard field. The FCFL is played 7vs7 on a 50-yard field with no special squads and no kicking. These new rules speed up the game. Matches are played in less than an hour (two 20-minute halves) without replay, without stopping the clock. No need to book your whole afternoon to follow a game anymore.

“New rules and a new format maximize excitement, substantially reduce penalties, and BRING BACK THE FUN!”

FCFL website

Like the XFL, the FCFL has reinvented touchdown conversions. The new system is just like the game: fast-paced and impressive. No more kicking. Fans can choose to have their team attempt a 5-yard conversion for 1 point or a 10-yard conversion for 2 points. The conversions have a wide receiver and a defensive back in 1vs1 confrontation while the quarterback has 3 seconds to throw the ball to his teammate.

A competition in tune with Generation Z

At a time when Generation Z is turning more and more to gaming, the FCFL uses many of the codes of this industry. First of all, it is a form of interactive entertainment. The fan experience of a FCFL game is a hybrid between an NFL game, fantasy football and a game of “The Yard” on Madden. Visually, the league is reminiscent of the gaming industry. In addition, the competition is broadcast on Twitch, which is very popular among gaming enthusiasts.

The pace of the game and the short format of the games also correspond to the consumption modes of Gen Z who would prefer to watch the highlights of an NFL game rather than dedicating their Sunday night to watching a full game. The weekly draft system is in line with this younger generation’s tendency to be fans of athletes rather than teams.

Fans build the league and manage their team from the ground up

In 2015, the founders of the FCFL had conducted an experiment by buying a team, the Salt Lake City Screaming Eagles, and delegating all decisions to the fans: the team name, the logo, the jersey design, the coach, recruiting the players. Following the success of this pilot, they decided to take it to the next level by creating a fan controlled league.

The DNA of the Fan Controlled Football League is the involvement of the fans in 100% of the decisions. From the rules of the game to calling plays during games and picking the coaches’ outfit, the fans are in control everything.

“(…) [T]he idea behind Fan Controlled Football lives with every fan who has ever yelled at a TV screen, thrown a remote control across the room or cheered wildly when their favorite team finally did the thing they wanted them to do. ”

FCFL website

Even before the first game, the fans were already involved in the creation of the league

The fans are decision makers in the creation of the league. The game’s rulebook perfectly illustrate this. Under each rule you can find the different options offered to the fans and the option they chose. Among other things, the fans could decide on the rules for overtime, the penalty system or the definition of a catch.

“Unlike traditional leagues, our focus is on optimizing everything on the field and through the entire fan experience. If something sucks, we’ll work with the fans.”

– FCFL website

When they sign up on the FCF app, fans choose a team. Throughout the season they are asked to make choices for their team. Every Wednesday, fans decide which new players will make their team’s roster during the draft.

Halfway between sports and video games, Fan Controlled Football allows fans to guide the action on the field

Every fan registered on FCF makes decisions for their team even on game days. Fans decide on team composition, but more importantly, they decide on plays. Like in the video game Madden, fans see a selection of possible plays for the next down and have the opportunity to vote for the one they think is best. The offensive team has 10 seconds to start the game after their fans have decided which strategy they should adopt.

fcfl-calling-plays

Fans can call plays live during the game

Fans are even part of the competition

As a fan, you’re asked to make these decisions all week, and it’s not without consequences. Every good decision you make earns you FanIQ. Calling the right play in a game or drafting top players will increase your FanIQ. The more FanIQ you have, the more your votes count. Also, by collecting experience badges your votes will have more power in certain situations.

Throughout the week, fans have the opportunity to earn Team Power for their team. These are bonuses that can help players on the field. For example, fans can earn a 5th down for their team.

glacier-boys-celebrating

A Glacier Boy celebrating

What can traditional competitions take away from Fan Controlled Football?

The beauty of traditional competitions is that over the years generations of athletes compete for the same trophy under the same rules. Fans have built their own traditions with family and friends around these competitions. Enforcing rule changes like those in the FCFL in the World Cup, the MLB or the NBA would not make much sense. However, these competitions can learn from what happens off the field in the FCFL.

Less protocol and more show

The FCFL is an entertainment league. The players’ entrance does not follow a protocol it meant to be spectacular. They enter the field like WWE fighters. It is a show in itself. On top of that, the design of the end zone allows for wild touchdown celebrations. The extremities of the field are deep to give the players room to express their joy. They are also equipped with flashing lights, lasers and smoke machines to emphasise on the players’ joy.

Wild-aces-celebrating

Broadcast innovation

The viewing experience of the FCF games is very immersive. A drone is used to follow the action and offer fans a “Madden View” just like in the EA video game. Players are mic’d up. ActionStreamer provides helmets equipped with cameras to follow the action in the first person POV. The arena is also equipped with 180° VR cameras. Fans are up close and personal with the action. This type of set up can be replicated in any type of sport. The NFL and MLB have already experimented with microphones on players as well as the ActionStreamer helmets equipped with cameras. The XFL is taking it a step further by conducting interviews with players on the sidelines during the game.

fcfl-madden-view

Madden View

Push forward celebrities who contribute to the league’s hype

Each team has celebrity owners who have an affinity for football. For example, the rapper Quavo from Migos is a star co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He was a quarterback for his high school team and is a big Georgia Bulldogs fan. Former Seahawks and 49ers cornerback, Superbowl winner and multiple All Pro, Richard Sherman is also a co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. Finally, the third interesting profile is the youtuber and tiktoker Deestroying joined them as co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He is former kicker at UCF, the NCAA excluded him from the competition following his commercial success on Youtube.

These celebrities bring attention to the league and contribute to its success. It is important to involve them in the competition. The variety of profiles among team owners allows to attract a wide audience to the FCFL. Just like Drake plays a big role in the Raptors’ fan base, even without owning a team, celebrities who have a strong affinity with a club can participate in the growth of the community.

“Power to the fans” is the FCF’s motto and the league walks the talk. By handing the fans full control of the competition, the FCFL offers the most engaging experience in the sports industry today. While this league format will likely not become a standard, we can expect to see more and more entertainment leagues emerge alongside the traditional leagues. Traditional leagues can learn from the FCFL’s focus on pre-game shows, immersive broadcasting and communication around industry personalities. 

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Experiencing Rosario Central game days like a local fan

Today we are going to talk about a new way of experiencing sports: the sports travel. Nicolas, a massive Rosario Central supporter, offers Rosario’s international fans the chance to spend a day with him as an Argentinian fan.

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rosario-central

For years, Nicolas has been going to the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito every other weeks to support Rosario Central. Game days are special in Argentina. It’s an must-see experience for a soccer fan. That’s why he joined Homefans to take soccer tourists ou tours of his city and his stadium. He allows them to live a game day like a local Rosario Central fan.

Hi Nicolas, how are you?

Hi everyone. I’m doing very well. I am currently in Rosario, the city where I was born and raised. This is the city whose club I support and I’m excited to share its story with you today.

Rosario Central fans: a public like no other

You offer a game day experience in Rosario, which is 300km from Buenos Aires. For you, what are the must-see places in the city when you are a Rosario fan?

For me the place that can’t be missed is the Arroyito neighborhood. That’s where the fans can see the stadium. The stadium is next to the Rio Parana river. It is one of the biggest rivers in the world. You can come and have a beer by the river before going to the game. It’s very nice. It’s my pre-game ritual!

Before our interview, you sent me an impressive video of the players entering the stadium. What makes the Rosario crowd so special?

The word that sums it all up is “madness”. Here in Rosario everyone is crazy for football. We are very very passionate. Rosario Central is more important than the national team for us.

Argentina: a country with a rich soccer history

Nicolas’ best memories in the stadium

You must have seen tons of games at the stadium. What is your best memory in the stands?

My best memory in the stadium was when Mario Kempes was playing in Rosario. He is a great player. Mario won the World Cup in 1978 with Argentina. He played for Rosario when he was 42 years old. This season, when we played the derby against Newell’s Old Boys, he put the winning goal.

In a perimeter of a few hundred kilometers around Buenos Aires there are many great teams: Rosario Central, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors, Newell’s Old Boy. Do you go to their games from time to time? Can you describe the atmosphere of these matches?

When I was younger, we could attend the games against Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors. Now it’s forbidden. There was a lot of violence between fans. There have even been deaths. So, fans are not allowed to go to other stadiums anymore. It’s a bit sad not to be able to go there anymore.

Going to the Bombonera to see Boca Juniors is one of my best memories. It is a very beautiful stadium. At that time, 10,000 Rosario Central fans came to the Bombonera. We chanted during the whole game. It is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Nicolas’ experience with Argetina’s soccer legends: Maradona and Messi

It is also a country that has seen great soccer legends like Maradona play. Did you see him play?

Yes, I saw him play when he was playing for Newell’s Old Boys. They came to play against Rosario Central. I remember seeing him.

Do you have memories of Messi?

I have not seen Messi play. He played in Rosario when he was very young. He was maybe 5 or 7 years old. But with my friends we played soccer in the stadium where his brother played. It was in the neighborhood where Messi was born. We played against his brother.

A few weeks ago I did an interview with Tomas, an Argentinos Juniors fan. He told me that in Buenos Aires you could see Maradona walking around the city like any of your neighbors. Have you ever had the opportunity to meet Maradona in Buenos Aires or in Rosario?

I met Maradona at a concert. He was right next to us in the concert hall. The whole concert hall started chanting his name. “Diego! Diego!” then “Maradona! Maradona!” All eyes were on him. He stole the show.

Nicolas-rosrario

A typical game day in Rosario

What are your rituals when you go to the stadium? Is there a stand, a snack, a bar around the stadium that you particularly like?

My friends and I go to the stadium every two weeks. Before going to the stadium we meet to drink beers and eat a choripan, a typical Argentine dish. It’s our pre-game ritual. We then walk to the stadium. On the way, we chant to support our team.

Is that the experience you offer to the fans you welcome through Homefans?

Yes, it’s all about the experience. Going to the stadium is not just to see the game. That’s not the Argentinian experience. Here soccer is a whole day experience. We meet, drink beer, eat choripan and go to the stadium together. It’s an experience that you have to live to know what it means to be a soccer fan in Argentina.

rosario-nicolas

Napoli, England and Brazil: Nicolas’ next trips

On Homefans you are a local host for Rosario fans, but is there a sports trip you would like to make with local fans?

Yes, I would love to visit Napoli. I think it’s the dream of many Argentinian fans. In my opinion, it is the city that is most similar to Rosario in Europe.

I would also like to go to British stadiums to see real fans. You see a lot of images of English fans who are very passionate. It has a special charm to it. I would like to experience it first hand. Maybe they are even more passionate than the Argentinians.

We should not forget Brazil either. It’s also a beautiful soccer country. The experience of a match in South America is very different from the European experience. You have to live it at least once in your life. I am waiting for you all in Rosario to live this experience.

If you are interested in experiencing Argentine soccer in Rosario with a guided tour of Rosario, you can book it by clicking here.

Just like Nicolas, you can become a local host and build a sports experience around your city. This is your chance to get your dream job ! If you want to know more and join the community, just click here! 

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