AS Roma, James Pallotta and understanding fans: SAP insights on the value of being second favourite

Greg McStravick, SAP's president of database and data management, reflects on a recent talk from AS Roma owner James Pallotta, and explains how soccer clubs are integrating technology across three key areas to become the second-favourite team of a broader network of fans.

AS Roma, James Pallotta and understanding fans: SAP insights on the value of being second favourite

Every soccer team wants to be top of the league. Every Formula One driver wants to be top of the podium. Sports is about coming first.

Apart from when it isn’t…

For AS Roma owner James Pallotta, while winning on the pitch is still top priority, there’s a time when coming second is simply common sense. He recognises that, when it comes to gaining fans, some are impossible to win over, no matter how good a team may be. We all have our favourite teams, the ones we’re eternally loyal to, and nothing will change that.

But we also have second favourites – the other team that we follow when our favourite isn’t playing. So for James, when it comes to fans, it isn’t always a battle for first, but rather a question of: How do we become the second favourite?

At a recent sports industry event I attended earlier this year in London, which was dedicated to discussing the future of sport, Pallotta said: “there are 3 billion football fans in the world, and if I could even bring only 1 per cent to cheer for Roma as a second team, we would have 30 million fans. Moreover, if they spend even US$5 each, there would be a revenue of US$150 million.”

When it’s put that way, second place doesn’t look too shabby. Everyone has room in their affections for a second favourite team and, right now, the smartest teams are the ones aiming to fill that space. They’re doing it by integrating technology across three key areas: experience, understanding and connection.

Experience: the stadium

Teams and fans share a connection with their stadiums. But today’s stadium needs to be more than a place to just sit and watch the game. It needs to be an ‘experience hub’ – bringing the emotional and physical connection of game day to a new level.

Many stadiums now boast the latest in immersive technology that allows fans to integrate themselves into the team – from interactive stat boards to accessing real-time game insights. In the longer-term, evolving virtual reality tech will bring fans even closer to the game, with pitch-level cameras allowing them to experience the game from a player’s perspective.

For teams looking to secure second-favourite status, a key component of attracting new followers is to create a fun and engaging environment that can be enjoyed by the whole family..

Understanding: the audience

A single team may claim to have 800 million fans, but do they really know them as individuals? Knowing your fans, at personal level, helps a team to establish authentic connections, strengthening the emotional bond between fan and team.

Modern computing has made this reality. For example, teams are now able to track how we like to engage with them, whether that’s through sending team updates on social media, or even providing guidance on the best way to travel to the game. By learning our preferences they’re able to tailor our experiences, cutting the experiences we don’t care about and focusing on those we do.

Learning to see a crowd of fans on game day as a group of individuals, with unique preferences, is crucial for teams who want to be sure we select them as our second favourites.

Connection: the sharing

Finally, the teams with the best chances of securing ‘’silver’ in our affections are those that give us the chance to build and share with communities in the same way we would do with our favourites.

This year’s Super Bowl saw over 240 million interactions across social media. This is proof that we want to plug in and be part of the conversation about our teams, even if we are watching from the other side of the world.

Teams that encourage this sort of 24/7 engagement are the ones that will rule. As such, we increasingly see team-funded radio stations, TV networks, and fan forums, which allow us to tune into our teams and communities at our convenience, even outside of the season.

At the end of the day, every team is out to win on the field. But the smartest teams are those looking to place second with a broader network of fans.