Gamification: The Key to Fan Engagement and Loyalty
When the NFL season is dialed in, my Sundays are reserved for anxiety, stress, chips and guacamole, and endless rants at my wife who has learned to just let me fizzle out.
While I do love football and have a primary interest in seeing the Rams succeed — the anxiety, rants, and stress actually come from Fantasy Football. Like many others, I am in a bunch of friend leagues with, oftentimes a lot of money on the line. But the reason I am glued to my couch (or floor) on Sundays is because of Fantasy Football and the competitive nature of the game.
For those on the outside cringely looking in, this article explains the concept well. To sum it up quickly:
Fantasy football (less commonly referred to as fantasy association football worldwide) is a game in which participants assemble an imaginary team of real life footballers and score points based on those players’ actual statistical performance or their perceived contribution on the field of play.
Although Gamification is “the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts,” fantasy football fits the bill. It is a side-quest type of competition that fans can partake in to further amplify the excitement of watching NFL games. This introduces an element of fan participation that extends beyond just spectating. It keeps fans engaged and watching all games during the whole season. Kind of in the same way sports gambling positively impacts viewership.
Many fellow fantasy players can relate to this participatory feeling as you feel invested in even players or plays that would otherwise yield minimal impact.
The NFL commands one of the strongest viewership statistics worldwide and has one of the more engaged and rabid fanbases. A big part of this is because of fantasy football. More on that a little later.
Let’s dive in and break down gamification a little more.
Gamification explained and use cases
First, let’s briefly define Gamification.
It is essentially the use of game-like mechanics in non-game contexts. It has been used in a variety of settings, including business, education, and health care.
There are a number of reasons why gamification may be used. For businesses, it can be used to increase customer engagement or loyalty, or to improve employee productivity. In education, it is often used to motivate students or to teach new concepts in ways that are appealing and exciting. In health care, it may be used to promote healthy behaviors among youth or to help patients manage their conditions.
While gamification can be beneficial, some argue that its use creates addictive behavior, makes light of complex or serious issues, or encourages cheating among users.
In essence, Gamification is a way to increase user activity, attention, and of course, sales.
Here are a few examples of brands that have used gamification really well:
- FitBit, Nike Fuel Band, and other fitness watches typically have accompanying apps and some of them have a gamified experience attached. Nike+ specifically gives users daily feedback about their goals and when they hit a goal or have a streak, an animated avatar flashes on the screen and celebrates. This sparks users to open and use their app more often.
- Starbucks rewards app works similarly. When you make purchases, you accrue “stars”. You can then level up into different tiers as you increase in loyalty. You can then get access to other rewards like free coffee and stuff. This drives customers to purchase more and more regularly.
- McDonalds Monopoly is one of the more known and OG gamification examples. McDonalds partnered with Monopoly and made it so that when you purchase certain items, you get monopoly tickets. The more you collect, the more chances to win prizes, free food, etc.
- Under Armour partnered with the Golden State Warriors and launched a trivia game during the NBA playoffs. Under Armour developed an elimination-style trivia app that had questions centered around Steph Curry and other factoids. Winners could win Under Armour gear and more.
A snapshot of fantasy football
So back to fantasy football. I made a claim that the growth and supremacy of the NFL as a sport is largely in part due to fantasy football.
According to ESPN, in 2021, 40 million NFL fans in the United States played fantasy football.
And considering, the total viewership of the NFL in 2017 was around 128 million. That would mean around one-third of NFL viewers play fantasy football. On top of this, the 40 million users number only applies to ESPN’s fantasy app. When we also include other apps like Yahoo, NFL, CBS, Sleeper, etc., who knows how large that number really is?
In addition, the average fantasy player spends about $556 per year on fantasy football, with the most dedicated players spending over $1,000 per year.
Is there any other sport in which 30–40% of its viewers play an accompanying game? Aside from eSports, I doubt it.
The NFL has brilliantly leaned into this fact too with things like NFL Red Zone, which is a program that jumps to different games during scoring situations. This has helped maintain the interest of younger fans unwilling to dedicate 3+ hours to matches.
And NFL Red Zone simultaneously serves the needs of fantasy football players because of how closely we want to track scoring opportunities.
Fantasy football is one of the more successful gamification examples that has had long-lasting effects on the NFL.
Gamification is an effective marketing, sales, and branding option for organizations and companies to drive key business metrics. From in-app usage to engagement rates and user retention, gamification is a concept that is starting to cross into all types of industries.
In sports, organizations are blessed with the unending passion of fans. To best capitalize on that passion, implement off-air gamified experiences like fantasy sports, betting props, and prediction games.
With Unyfy, you can build your own gamified experiences with ease. It is a web3 content and community management builder built for creators and organizations. With plenty of out-of-box functionality paired with some flexible customization options, it might be the option for you.
Let me know if you want to learn more.