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How to Connect with Sports Fans as the Third-Party Cookie Crumbles
Marketing & PR
Manly, Australia
Jake Leong, strategic account executive, Cheetah Digital, reveals how the world’s leading sports clubs leverage digital to drive engagement

The most important ingredient of any sports club is its members. Clubs can’t rely on prospective members to simply show up. They need to employ strategic marketing techniques to attract new members and retain the ones they have, ensuring everyone is receiving the services they expect. 

To create a relationship that goes beyond 'game day', sports clubs must connect with fans on the right channels at the right time. With data shared from fans directly to their clubs and leagues, known as zero-party data, it’s possible to know what makes fans tick as well as the best ways to engage with them.

How do sports clubs encourage fans to share more of their personal information? You know, the “good stuff” that goes beyond names and email addresses, from who they’re attending matches with and how far they travel to watch their team. It’s all about value exchange. 

The value exchange 

When it comes to the value exchange, savvy sports clubs know that it doesn’t always have to be a discount or a red-letter prize that entices fans to share their details. Access to exclusive content and community initiatives can also be the catalyst for zero-party data collection.

According to Cheetah Digital’s report for sports teams and associations, 55% of fans will share psychographic data points like purchase motivations and product feedback with sports brands. Even more, half of all fans surveyed say they desire incentives like coupons, loyalty points or exclusive access in return for their data. 

Give fans what they want, when they want it to turn an “unknown” audience into a “known” audience. “Known” fans offer a lot of potential in the form of direct revenue, partner revenue, and participation – a solid win for sports clubs.

Getting it right

Whether to boost match-day excitement, connect with fans, monetise a global audience or increase content relevancy to reach a specific demographic; the following sports organisations are creating innovative and impactful digital experiences that drive results. From New Zealand to the UK and over to the US, these are the ones to watch.

The All Blacks 

The All Blacks rugby team of New Zealand is a standout in the space for the innovative way it collects valuable audience data and marketing opt-ins. In advance of the Rugby World Cup Final, the All Blacks tested its fans using an image of the All Blacks team, asking members to pick the lineout ball that’s covering the real match ball. 

To reward fans for their continuous support, those who entered with the correct answer went into a draw to win a poster signed by the entire All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad. On submitting their entry, participants were required to enter their name and email address, providing All Blacks with valuable audience data for future marketing promotions and communications.

The Australian Open 

The Australian Open must also be commended for its inspiring method of collecting marketing opt-ins. To capture rich and valuable audience data, Yahoo!7’s channel, Seven Sport, teamed up with ANZ to drive engagement amongst tennis fans with a data-centric sweepstakes.

Published to the Seven Sport website, the sweepstakes gave participants a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ask an Australian Open player any question – the ultimate prize for any tennis fan! To get involved, participants were required to submit their name, email address and phone number, and choose their favourite player who they wanted to have answer their question.

The best question of the day was then announced live on air and was answered by the winner’s chosen player.

Arsenal Football Club

Arsenal Football Club might be located across the pond, but sports clubs around the globe can take note of its tremendous success and leverage similar tactics in their strategies. The club boasts a truly remarkable full-fledged, zero-party data strategy. Arsenal connects with fans via digital channels and collects the preference insights and permissions necessary to drive personalisation. 

Arsenal gains a solid understanding of its fans by taking a combination of transactional data, a demographic segmentation and persona-led approach, and behavioural data and hitting the sweet spot in the middle.

For example, Arsenal has found the score predictor game, which encourages fans to guess the score of upcoming matches, is a real winner for engagement. Prizes for winning range anywhere from signed shirts to training kits — whatever fans might desire. 

Where Arsenal has noticed the most traction and where it's getting some real buy-in from fans, however, is in giving away those special prizes that money can’t buy, such as corner flags from matches. Memorabilia like that is truly meaningful to fans who are very passionate about their teams.

The Football Association (FA)

The FA has a grand ambition to double its contactable CRM database by 2024. Achieving this will drive direct revenue, boosting sales for the FA directly. It will increase partner revenue, expanding their reach and resonance with partners. And it will also drive participation in the sport at a grassroots level, which is basically the cornerstone of what the FA does.

In terms of value exchange, the club is achieving above-average conversion rates, using a diverse set of tools like team sectors, man-of-the-match polls, and score predictors for upcoming FA Cup competitions. According to Paul Brierley, CRM & Membership Lead at the FA, the reason the FA’s strategy has been so effective boils down to its value proposition and relevance.


Following the success from last year’s Fan Choice Awards, the NHL (National Hockey League) – a professional ice hockey league in North America – launched the second year of its voting, which celebrates the best on hockey social media. This awards campaign hosts 20 unique categories where fans can vote for their favourite social content within each poll.

To finalise their vote, participants are directed to an optional form to complete should they wish to receive the latest marketing communications and exclusive offers from NHL. Within the first week of the launch, the results were amazing. NHL received an incredible 16,000 email address opt-ins and 850,000 authenticated votes were captured.


To identify and profile a global fan base, the professional American football league NFL (National Football League) created a captivating category quiz hosted on its Facebook page to help international fans decide which team they should be rooting for in the knockout stages. With four versions of the quiz: UK, Brazil, Germany and Spain together with 11 multiple choice questions, this audience profiling technique provided the NFL with highly useful insights about its fans’ preferences. 

Upon completion, entrants were required to grant app permission, providing the NFL the opportunity to collect Facebook social data. Fans could also follow a link to the NFL website and live match times to stimulate real-time views of the games. This innovative strategy ushered in 271,000 campaign entries and 2,700 campaign shares. 

English Premier League Soccer Club

This English Premier League Soccer Club wanted to capture fans’ motivations, intentions, interests and preferences at scale. Upon regularly working with Cheetah Experiences to collect fan insights through interactive experiences, this was made possible.

The zero-party data collected through a range of campaign experiences has activated fans and achieved a significant boost in revenue. The average spend on club retail, ticketing or membership products from new contacts is $93. And there’s been a 165% increase in contacts acquired through Cheetah Experience-powered campaigns. 

Data for the win

Even though Australians and New Zealanders are some of the most enthusiastic fans in the world and sports like rugby, Australian rules football, tennis and cricket have historically drawn massive crowds; if sports clubs don’t keep their eye on the ball, capturing fans’ motivations, intentions and preferences at scale to provide a truly personalised experience, then they’ll lose. The only way a sports club can remain competitive in this new digital era is by understanding its fan base with data. 

Work from AZK Media
AZK Media
AZK Media
AZK Media