How to combine the venue and fan experience

John Liljelund, secretary general of the International Floorball Federation, explains why an engaging venue offering can help new and small sports grow.

How to combine the venue and fan experience

As sport is slowly gliding towards being an instrumental part of the entertainment industry and at the same time becoming more polarised, new and small sports have a tough nut to crack if they want to grow. The only sure solution is money, regardless of how good your athletes are and how they perform, but if that is scarce, you must try to be crafty. At the same time, the use of information is changing, with videos and pictures becoming more important than written text. The venue offering must therefore be much more compact and detailed to keep the interest of the audience.

Today, it is not enough to just have music and a sound system – you need to have cheerleaders, a master of ceremonies explaining the sport, lights and thunder, interactive commercials, and instant replays on the jumbo-screen. You also need to provide this live in social media and on YouTube to please the fans also in the venue.

To become a ‘real event’ you need a venue with all the technical finesse and live music – you need to build a spectacle that the fan can be part of. To successfully combine the venue and fan experience together, you need to activate the audience throughout the game. It can be true social media or in-venue videos – these could be kiss cams or competitions for the best supporter outfit or fan cheering, as using the audience is key in the in-venue broadcasting to create feelings. All kinds of interactive tools will enhance the experience – even something as simple as a paper clapper will raise the atmosphere in the arena, through participation, which is the key for a wonderful experience. If you feel emotionally involved, you’re more likely to like it.

It has become imperative to provide a good and interesting overall experience for the fans, combined with an exciting sporting product. So the first question is: what is your sport providing that the fanbase like – speed, beautiful goals, technical excellence, hard hits or something else? The second is: what fan activations is it possible to be use in your venues? Can you provide this, without losing your true identity and becoming something else?

Then there is the product itself. Is the game too long? Is there too much time when nothing really happens? Is the level of the game and the athletes on a level required to satisfy even the more critical fans? Here, the sport often encounters the biggest opposition within their own ranks, as you are trying to touch tradition.

Floorball is a young and still growing sport, which is establishing a worldwide presence and awareness. It is really fast and can be quite difficult to follow in the beginning, so the discussion at the International Floorball Federation (IFF) is about how to control the game speed to enhance the experience.

A strategic goal for the IFF, as with probably all other non-Olympic sports, is to enter more multi-sport games. Here, Floorball made major mistakes back at the start, 30 years ago, by setting the game as 5v5 plus goalies, with teams of 20 players (as many as 23 at the beginning) and effective game time of 3x20 minutes making the product quite heavy. One solution could be to follow the example of rugby sevens, but that would be too far from our core product, as we also play 3v3 games.

When included in the World Games 2017, we were forced to find a solution to meet the quota given by the International World Games Association (IWGA). Little did we know at that time, that we actually enhanced our sports product in a way which surprisingly pleased everyone – the athletes, coaches, teams and fans. We played with only 14 players and shortened the effective game time to 3x15 minutes. This reduced the game time from 2h to just under 90 minutes, making it easier to watch. The more important effect was that the intensity of the games grew dramatically as there was no spare time to lose and the games become much more interesting when the best players were playing all the time.

So the solution for an enhanced venue and fan experience lies in the streamlining of the sport product and creating an interactive connection to the audience. But is not easy – it requires trial and error before you know what your audience wants.

John Liljelund is the secretary general of the International Floorball Federation.

This column originally appeared in issue 97 of SportsPro Magazine. To find out more or to subscribe, click here.