General Manager - Gemba Europe

in Entertainment

April 12, 2024

Lessons from Taylor Swift: Elevating Fan Engagement in Sports

In sport, loyalty is the heartbeat of every fan base. With its inherent drama and emotional rollercoasters, it has the power to forge the deepest of connections. In the euphoric moment of a last-minute score, you’d give a prized body part to the individual or team who gave you that winning feeling.

Yet, whilst passionate supporters invest their time, money and devotion into their beloved teams, the question is: does this loyalty feel reciprocated? Like the dedicated fan who feels like a stranger in their own stadium, many sports organisations struggle to bridge the gap between fan passion and recognition.

Although purists will argue that the non-sport part of the fan experience pales in significance and value, it’s not just the on-field action that matters. To truly unlock loyalty, it’s about understanding the lifetime value of a fan and reflecting this appreciation in every interaction.

Enter Taylor Swift, the master of fan engagement, who I believe holds valuable lessons for the sports industry.
Swift’s success isn’t just measured in record-breaking tours or streaming numbers; it’s in her unrivalled ability to cultivate a community of fiercely loyal fans. Her secret? Reciprocity. Swift understands that being a fan is a two-way street, and she excels at making her supporters feel seen, heard, and valued.

Let’s delve into Swift’s playbook:

  1. Personalized Fan Engagement & Surprise and Delight: Swift goes beyond generic interactions, opting for personalised engagements that make fans feel like VIPs. From secret sessions to handpicked meet-and-greets, every interaction is tailored to foster a sense of exclusivity and connection.
  2. Fan Insight led: Swift doesn’t just guess what her fans want; she knows. The combination of an inherent understanding having grown up with alongside them, and the savvy use of fan research ahead of meet and greets, means she creates experiences that resonate on a personal level, making each fan feel like they’re part of something special.
  3. Community powered: Swift has mastered the art of building a community around her brand. By encouraging fan interactions and fostering a sense of camaraderie, she’s created a tribe of loyal supporters who stand by her side through thick and thin.
  4. Fan Labour & Marketing: Swift leverages fan engagement as a marketing tool, turning decoding her cryptic messages about new releases or gigs, into a participatory game that amplifies her brand’s visibility and hype.
  5. Economic & Social Hierarchies: Swift’s engagement strategies create hierarchies within her fan base, rewarding super fans with exclusive perks and recognition, driving a competitive desire to showcase loyalty.

Sports may argue that they do some or all these points already, but we’re talking here about moving from strategies which are 1:many, to a level of personalisation and targeting which is delivered on a 1:some or even 1:1 level. This requires a holistic understanding of what drives your fan base, what their core behaviours and value systems are, and ultimately what their lifetime value is within your ecosystem. Sport talks a lot about fan engagement, but I believe it is still just getting out of the gates compared to other industries in this space.

Imagine the connection with fans if fan engagement and experiences were taken to a Swifty level:

  1. Personalized Fan Experiences: Utilise data and research to create tailored experiences that resonate with individual fans, whether through digital channels or in-person interactions.
  2. Enhanced Social Media Engagement: Utilise social media and fan apps to create authentic content and moments that connect with a global audience, showcasing the unique identity of the team or club.
  3. Acknowledging & Rewarding Loyalty: Publicly recognise and reward fan engagement, fostering a sense of appreciation and belonging within the community.

In an era where the competition for fan attention is fiercer than ever, sports organisations, like every industry, will need to adapt and innovate to stay relevant. There is no doubt that better fan experiences will provide better outcomes for everyone involved in sport and entertainment. By taking cues from outside of sport and embracing the principles of reciprocity and community-building, sports can elevate the fan experience and ensure that loyalty is a two-way street.

Taylor Swift is a fan of her fans, and this is showcased in her every action. Imagine the depth of connection sports organisations could create if they did the same.

Sourcing footnote: Some of the analysis on Taylor Swift’s strategies has been inspired by Dr Georgie Carrol. See: https://youtu.be/Rf9ZDEEvuog?si=xi3aonlAlMqAyGFq


For other examples of where sport could learn from other industries see:

If Netflix ran sport‘, with ex-Netflix & Disney Erin Ruane

If Tesco ran sport’, most listened Unofficial Partner podcast of 2023, with Finn Bradshaw from the International Cricket Council.