Member Insights: In a world of clicks and views sometimes all fans want is to be recognised
May 25, 2023
In this Member Insights piece, Socios.com CEO Alexandre Dreyfus reflects on how the utility of their Fan Tokens has evolved and how blockchain can reshape membership schemes.
I was listening to a podcast recently and one of the guests was waxing lyrical about how they were part of their football team’s membership scheme, and they felt recognised and rewarded because they had been sent a free branded water bottle to celebrate their 2-year anniversary as members.
I listened to this while I was travelling back to our Madrid office from the Supercoppa Italiana played between Socios.com partners and local rivals AC Milan and Internazionale FC. Sat next to me on the flight were the three match-used balls, each one packaged separately with the data and details of the goal that was scored with them, ready to be loaded with the NFC chip that would be inserted into the ball and then authenticated via blockchain. So that proof of authenticity and the memory of the goal could be viewed anytime, anywhere, even without having the physical item present.
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Those balls from the match are now owned by three Inter Fan Token holders, who earned them at no extra cost, just by redeeming the free loyalty tokens Socios.com users are awarded with each time they engage with their team through the app.
I wonder whether these Fan Token holders display them in their homes next to their branded water bottles.
You don’t need to be a football fan to understand the difference between owning a branded bottle of water, an example of the type of rewards that fans joining club membership programmes could look forward to until now, and owning an actual piece of the history of your Club.
In the same way, you don’t need to be a football fan to realise that sports, and specifically football, as the world’s most popular game, needs to change its approach to membership programmes if it wants to continue growing in the current landscape.
Football has probably never been as popular as it is today. Never before have top clubs and major competitions had such a massive and global audience. But, at the same time, never before have they been more challenged as to how they engage with these fans. Because the mindset of these fans is very different to what it was just a couple of decades back, and so is what they expect from their teams.
Watching games and cheering is no longer enough. To start with, because there is an entire generation of digital-native fans that are used to engaging proactively, and not just as viewers, with the brands they love. They are used to being a part of the story by actively interacting and creating content through social media and other digital platforms. And secondly, because clubs are no longer something fans engage with once or twice a week around a match. They are part of people’s identity.
Fans wear their club, they breathe it. And therefore they want to feel close to it 24/7. This doesn’t just apply to the local communities stemming right from the heart of the club’s grounds, as it was some years back. It applies globally.
But this global torrent of passion and loyalty needs to be reciprocated. In this world of metrics, clicks and views, fans want to feel valued for what they ultimately are: the beating heart of the Club, and they want to feel their passion rewarded for what it truly is: the power that fuels their Club.
Recognizing, involving and rewarding fans were the three main pillars of the vision that brought Chiliz to life a little over five years ago, when we started envisioning Fan Tokens and what today is the Socios.com fan engagement and rewards app, currently used by over 150 sporting organisations worldwide to engage with and reward their fans with a wide range of opportunities and experiences, many of which -from polls to decide kit designs to the chance to own match-scored balls- had never before been made available to fans.
As we get ready to write a new chapter with the launch of a first-of-its-kind co-promotional campaign that will see Sony Pictures tap into our global community to promote their soon-to-be-released Spider-Man movie, translating into more utility for our Fan Tokens and more exciting opportunities for our users, I’d like to reflect on our journey during the past five years and how, slowly, yet relentlessly, we’ve consolidated a product that is changing the game for fans, who are finally being meaningfully rewarded for their passion and loyalty, and clubs, who are consolidating a new digital revenue stream bound to grow exponentially in the coming years, alike.
2019 – THE FIRST FAN POLL
In 2019, to present our vision to involve fans, we designed a Fan Poll together with Juventus, our first partner, which for the first time ever gave fans the opportunity to influence the matchday experience. We gave them the chance to choose the goal celebration song at the Allianz Stadium. Fans chose Blur’s iconic Song 2 in a poll that generated huge engagement amongst Juventus fans and helped plant the seed for what we were aiming to achieve.
The goal celebration song poll was a success, and was soon replicated by several other partners. It proved that fans had a genuine appetite to become involved in their team’s decisions and that this could be easily and transparently achieved through our blockchain. But it was just a first step. Now it was on us to be creative enough to come up with new ideas for more Fan Polls… and persuasive enough to convince our partners that it was worth stepping out of their comfort zone, which is not always easy in a pretty conservative business as football.
The next milestone came just a few months later, when we worked with Apollon FC and Puma on another first-of-its-kind activation which gave fans the chance to choose the design of the home and away kits for the following season. Kits are a fan favourite and no major European football club had ever involved its fans in the design process, which is hard to understand considering that it’s the fans who ultimately decide the success or failure of a kit. This ground-breaking initiative, which was picked up by sports media worldwide, generated huge engagement amongst Apollon fans.
The kits chosen by the fans were launched at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, and soon became one of the most successful ever released by the Club. This proved two things: 1.) That clubs have a lot to gain from a commercial perspective by involving their fans in decision-making processes and 2.) That our platform can be extremely powerful and useful for clubs to activate other existing partners and sponsors. Young Boys FC and Saracen Rugby Football Club are amongst the clubs that have replicated this activation.
Though for the time being the kit still remains a no-go for some top football clubs – clubs embrace our platform in different ways and at different paces, and that’s perfectly fine – many have since given fans the opportunity to choose inspirational messages featured on the jersey’s collard, the design of the captain’s armband for a special match or the design of different capsule collection merch products, most of which had never been done before and were welcomed with huge enthusiasm by fans, increasing the Socios.com user base to over 1m before the end of 2020.
I’m writing this on the day we hit 1,000 binding Fan Polls on the app. Though there is still room to improve, the engagement rate of these polls, which has tripled in the last two years, is the best proof that fans value having their voice heard.
Involving fans in decision-making processes is a huge part of our proposition, but so was rewarding them for their loyalty in a fun, gamified and scalable way. We do this in a number of different ways, but specially through exclusive experiences that users can access by redeeming the free SSU loyalty tokens they earn by engaging with their team on the app.
In this field we’ve also come a long way since the launch of the app in 2018. Each week Fan Token holders throughout the world redeem hundreds of grand stand and VIP tickets for their team’s matches, and dozens of once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as meet and greet sessions with players and legends.
PREMIUM EXPERIENCES FOR EVERYONE AT NO EXTRA COST
These experiences were already available in the past, but were hardly offered to average fans, since traditional corporate partners and sponsors kept them for their very top level clients. Through Socios.com, Fan Token holders can earn them at no extra cost, by just doing what they love the most: engaging with their team.
In our constant commitment to innovation, we’ve also created new and unprecedented experiences such as our signature LiveTheDream match, in which fans get the opportunity to feel like professional players for a day by taking part in a match with other fans and club legends in their team’s stadium wearing their own personalised official kit. Trust me when I tell you I’ve seen grown up men and women across the world cry like children while taking part in this experience.
The Voice of the Fans or Speaker Takeover experience, where we give fans the chance to act as their team’s official speaker and announce the starting lineup during a league match, is another example of unprecedented experience that we have created and that has become hugely popular amongst fans, driving more Fan Token sales and generating direct revenue for clubs.
To dive into all things Web3, attend next month’s SEG3 event at the Emirates Stadium
Socios Collectibles, one of our latest and most exciting developments, is giving Fan Token holders in Italy the chance to own a tangible part of their team’s history by redeeming match-scored balls from their team’s most important Lega Serie A matches. Unsurprisingly, this has triggered hundreds of new Italian Fan Token holders on Socios.com.
Since the Fan Rewards feature was launched in October 2021, the number of Fan Token holders redeeming rewards per month has grown by 1,000 percent.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
We’ve still got a long way to go. There’s no denying that the past few months have been some of the most difficult for blockchain’s advocates and supporters. All industries at the cutting edge of technology are going to develop over time. Change doesn’t happen overnight, or over a year or two. I know this from personal experience.
However, humbly yet proudly, today we can say we have consolidated a new product that despite having only reached around 10 percent of its potential, is already redefining fan engagement in sports for the benefit of fans and brands.
Take Maria for example, a diehard AC Milan fan who is now part of the club’s history as the first ever female to act as a speaker for the Club and announce the team’s lineup at San Siro during a Milan derby against Inter. This unforgettable experience was made available to her through Socios.com.
Or Joe and his friend Adam, who last month and thanks to engaging with Harlequins on Socios.com, were able to watch the match against Barbarians from the first team bench.
Or Chris, one of the 30 Arsenal fans who took part in the inaugural Fan Token Cup, which saw 180 UK Fan Token holders make their child’s dream come true when they slipped into their team’s kit to represent their club in a five-a-side tournament against other teams formed by other Premier League clubs Fan Token holders.
These examples provide evidence that there is a huge appetite for new membership schemes that provide fans with meaningful opportunities and access to new experiences. New programmes that global and digital-native fans are increasingly demanding, as the latest edition of the Fan Relationship Index Report recently highlighted.
The Socios.com story also proves that blockchain can be key facilitators for this new generation of membership schemes for which, according to the FRI report, football fans are willing to pay up to 25 euros per month. Socios.com is delivering this through Fan Tokens for much less.
If we agree that sport is truly global, that its most powerful fuel is the passion of the fans, and that currently fans can be loyal to more than one sport and believe in more than one GOAT, it seems clear that token-gated loyalty and reward schemes provide not only a short-term revenue opportunity. It is absolutely mandatory for any big organisation aiming to expand its global footprint and engage new generations of fans. Or, in other words, to remain relevant in this hyper competitive and increasingly globalised landscape.
As you can see, we’ve come a long way and there is still a long way ahead of us, as the tech evolves, the industry matures and the regulatory landscape become clearer, but the clubs and organisations that understand this now, that are growing their digital presence, reaching new fans, and offering them more, will reap the benefits. Those that don’t might find themselves playing catch up.