Connecting Sports Fans to Brands through Customer Loyalty Strategies

A diehard sports fan is a unique beast, and one in which his behavior doesn’t mirror that of a traditional customer. Often, a deep passion and unmatched level of engagement exists. As an example, my love and hate for my favorite retailer doesn’t fluctuate by day. But, admittedly, sometimes it does for my favorite sports team. As we saw during (and after) the Super Bowl earlier this month, diehard fans are committed, hyper-engaged and are not shy to tell you EXACTLY what they think! So, when sports teams look to foster greater customer loyalty in sports, why would they embrace a traditional view of rewarding transactions? Let's take a look at how customer loyalty strategies are better informed my emulating the fan experience, as well as what loyalty marketing looks like in today’s sports industry. 

Nielsen data tells us that 114.4 million people watched this year’s Super Bowl. And while yes, many people watch for the ads or because they attended a party, sports and fandom are an increasingly prominent factor in American lives. From a business perspective, fans have influenced how companies market goods and services and how media/ad space is purchased. Most importantly, fans have redefined what all of us want from our customers, regardless of industry – passion for and deep engagement with our brand. Fostering real fandom through emotional loyalty is the essence of how loyalty is being built today. And this goes for any industry, not just in sports.

Lessons from the Pittsburgh Steelers about Customer Loyalty Strategies

rDialogue was very fortunate to work alongside the Pittsburgh Steelers to develop and launch a program for their fans last year. For a team with a legacy like the Steelers – a single-family owned operation for the last 82 years with a record of six Lombardi trophies – we faced a unique challenge. We realized that Steeler fans are already loyal to the core. How could we take their existing fandom, coupled with their ‘participation’ in the general community of Steelers Nation, and create something ‘official’? 

Mid-season last year, the Steelers introduced their unique customer loyalty sports program: Steelers Nation Unite. The program focuses on emotional loyalty and showing the Steelers’ loyalty to the fan by establishing a two-way connection. Whether playing at home or on the road, Steelers Nation Unite surprises fans across the country with exclusive in-stadium experiences as well as events where members have the chance to meet former players. Throughout the season, Weekly Huddle events offer members the opportunity to participate, whether it’s a Twitter chat with Antonio Brown or a Fan Forum conference call with Hines Ward. And, instead of offering a traditional points-based loyalty program, members earn badges and bragging rights for engaging with the brand. In the end, for the Steelers, it’s all about connecting the fans with the team and with each other.

At rDialogue, we encourage our clients to take a page out of the sports playbook when building your brand’s own customer loyalty strategies. It starts by thinking of your customers as fans. Turn the lever of emotional loyalty more than that of transactional loyalty. Whether you’re in the hospitality, retail, packaged goods or business services sector, you’ve already established a fan base. There’s no time like the present to recognize them for their fandom.