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Conversational AI Can Change Sports Teams’ Fan Engagement Strategies

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Conversational AI Can Change Sports Properties’ Fan Engagement Strategies

Teams, leagues, and sporting events use a multitude of social media platforms to try and increase fan engagement. How supporters interact –or engage– with their posts is among the ways effectiveness is measured.

Content posted from the personal accounts of players, coaches, and executives tends to outperform comparable programming coming from their organization.  

That’s because individuals can “humanize products and services effectively leveraging strong personal connections [in ways that a brand cannot],” Amir Zonozi (chief executive officer, Zoomph) said.

Logic suggests that sports properties would benefit from communicating more heavily through their most influential and followed employees. The challenge is that approach requires those individuals to regularly create and post content, and they’re oftentimes the ones within the organization most time constrained (and/or they expect to be incentivized). 

But recent developments in conversational AI could alleviate the labor part of that dilemma and perhaps help to usher in a new social strategy for rights owners across sports.


New AI-tailored content experiences. Sports media rights holders face new challenges as the way fans consume content continues to change. There is an increase in focus on short-form content, multiple viewing platforms, and various viewing formats.

WSC Sports, a trusted partner to the NBA, LaLiga, Big Ten Network, Bleacher Report and 460+ other sports organizations, recently announced the release of three new products that empower sports organizations in meeting the changes desired by fans:

  • AI-powered content management and creation with expanded support of all types of content including both in and around the game content (press conferences, interviews, fan reactions, arrivals, etc.).

  • Vertical content experience in the right holders’ O&O app including stories, vertical swipeable video feeds, polls, and quizzes.

  • Expansion of media rights owners’ reach delivered through fully controlled access to pre-agreed, third-party sports properties generating new traffic, exposure, and revenue streams.

Snapchat My AI, powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT, enables users to ‘talk’ with likenesses of real people in their ‘voice’. The AI can answer questions and provide recommendations, including on topics the ‘real’ person has never discussed. 

Everyday people have begun engaging these AI-enabled ‘likenesses’ in long-form discussions on everything from recipes to trip planning. And there are examples of dating apps leveraging the tech to help users find companionship.

Conversational AI has found a foothold within sports too, albeit largely as a short-form communication or response tool to date. For example, Satisfi Labs’ chatbots enable teams to engage fans and answer questions related to ticketing, F&B, or parking in real-time. 

But these new likenesses may enable sports properties to drive deeper fan engagement than previously thought possible. More specifically, a rights owner can begin to transform social media from a one-to-many channel (think: team posts and fans like, comment, or engage with the same text, video, or image) into one that facilitates a series of custom one-to-one dialogues between players, coaches, and executives and individual fans.

The enhanced fan engagement should help increase the value of club partnerships. The same could be said about the additional reach brand partners would receive, since they would be receiving exposure on both the team and its employees’ social channels. 

Zoomph has found that athletes with a natural connection to a given product or service are oftentimes its most valuable influencers (or equity holders). For perspective, just five WNBA players were responsible for 57% of the 1.15 million engagements Skims’ has generated across its league-wide partnership.

Rookie Cameron Brink, who wore the products for ‘years’ before becoming a brand ambassador via the league tie-up, spawned the most engagement. Two posts from Sparks star about the company generated 2,438,577 impressions and 304,856 engagements within 24 hours of the campaign’s launch last October.

Artificial likenesses have the potential to improve marketing efficacy too as they can provide customers with information about the brand and serve up personalized product recommendations within organic chat conversations. 

And they’re able to do it in times of maximum interest. For example, a WNBA players’ likeness could ‘talk’ about wearing Skims products while a current or potential customer is watching said athlete dominate on the floor in them. 

“This type of active brand exposure will help sponsorship unlock new, lower-funnel KPIs for [companies] looking to improve [their] image or educate [fans] more deeply on their product," Caryn Rosoff (SVP, sports and brand insights, United Talent Agency) said.  

Conversational AI could also be used to make the game watching experience more compelling–at least, for a certain demo. For example, a young fan may want to ‘watch’ a game with a player and ask their ‘likeness’ questions about it as its going on. 

In theory, this could make a property’s media rights more valuable over time. 

“AI assisted co-watching could provide new, incremental viewership from younger, tech-savvy audiences that would improve advertising rates and sell-through, not to mention create opportunities for new in-broadcast entitlements,” William Mao (SVP, media rights consulting, Octagon) said.

But core rightsholders will need to invest in the technology and deliver an experience that is both additive and authentic for a rights owner to realize any sort of increase. 

There are several ethical, economic, and legal challenges that likely need to be addressed before any sports organization implements the tech and revamps its social approach. 

The list includes ensuring all individuals clearly consent to their likenesses being used for marketing and promotional purposes, that they are compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness (see: Scarlett Johansson/OpenAI controversy), and that guardrails exist to ensure the AI-generated likenesses do not create or post any inappropriate content. 

The CAAvault powered by Veritone’s Digital Media Hub technology is among the ways to address those concerns.

“We keep humans at the center of everything we do with [digital identity] solutions that enable sports and entertainment organizations to engage audiences and unlock new revenue streams while safeguarding talent’s name, image and likeness,” said Sean King, (general manager, Veritone Media and Entertainment) said.

WME has a partnership with technology firm Vermillio for similar purposes, and the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) provides recommendations and resources to its members on digital replicas. 

So, the solutions exist. Now its up to sports properties to begin using conversational AI to drive fan engagement and revenues.

About The Author: Adam Grossman founded Block Six Analytics. He is also a professor at Northwestern University Master’s In Sports Administration program and the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry. You can find him at [email protected].

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