Live Chat: A New Social Experience in Sports

Article written by John SKim, CEO and co-founder of global API company SendBird

Social media rose to prominence throughout the world due to its potential for connection. Social channels provided the means to keep in touch with friends and family as well as meet new people who became part of their social graph. But questions have arisen about just how solid those connections are, particularly as money and power skew the once utopian ideals of online community.

Between trolls and fake accounts, the “closeness” people feel has shown cracks. At the same time, people have become so dependent on online approval and the quest for likes that interactions suffer. One of the reasons behind this deterioration is that while we can share pictures, videos or descriptions of what we are doing or watching at any given moment, this is not an actual shared experience. It is imagined, and it can be easily manipulated through filters, false backgrounds and crafty editing. These issues, as well as increasing privacy and security concerns, have left a sour taste for some when it comes to social.

This does not mean that social is dying— rather how we think of it will change. Online connections will shift to become more interactive, enabling new kinds of shared experiences, real time experiences that become richer than ever before.

And nowhere will this be more pervasive than in sports. 

The Evolving Sports Experience

Sports have always had the capacity to draw people in, erasing differences and language barriers for spectators and athletes alike. Sporting events become the ultimate shared experience as people avidly discuss plays or moves and those who make them. 

Increasingly, sports are moving online. According to a Google survey, 30% of sports fans now live stream games to their phones or tablets. Additionally, 80% of spectators report using a computer or phone as they watch live TV to search for stats and scores or message friends, family or colleagues about the event. 

As much as people want to watch and connect online, it remains difficult for fans to find and engage with others who are following the same games and players. Hashtag-surfing works to a point, but people usually only find a small sampling of the broader community they want to interact with. When users want to contribute to the conversation, the opposite problem arises: Instead of connecting with a large, like-minded community, it’s more like shouting into the void, hoping that a message reaches at least a handful of others.

This experience hardly captures the magic of sports. In fact it’s rather deflating, but this is about to change.

Tipping Point

Organisations, be they teams, leagues, betting or sports media sites, are perpetually looking for ways to engage fans and athletes. This not only increases enthusiasm for teams and individuals, it brings in millions of dollars in ticket sales and merchandise.

As more people consume sports online, these organisations seek ways to attract and retain audiences. They have no desire to lose out to social sites, especially when their content is what generates all the excitement. Despite this, companies such as Facebook and Twitter currently control the audience’s experience — and reap the many benefits of hosting conversations and interactions surrounding content they did not create.

At the same time, consumers would love to get rid of the fragmented user experience they’ve come to know. Today, they are forced to use one app to consume content, another to discuss with friends and yet another to chat with the broader community. They want it to be easy to connect with fans about the events they are watching in real time without having to search all over the web or social networks to find them.

The Power of Integrated Live Chat

Enter integrated live chat. Sports organisations and betting sites understand that user experience today trumps everything, and they are starting to partner with technology companies that provide interactive solutions that they can embed right next to the action for a unified experience. There are a number of good examples, including Yahoo Fantasy SportsZenSportsBetmo, and Who Knows Wins, as well as regional-focused sites, such as India’s Dream11 or Cricket Australia

By embedding chat into live streaming media, a new, highly contextual and engaging digital experience is created that is the closest possible equivalent to the stadium experience. People can chat with one another about what they’re seeing as they see it. The audience’s experience is elevated and enriched all while organisations can reclaim revenue streams that originated from their content.

A Step Further

In addition to bringing the audience to a singular destination, organisations that integrate live chat can create a better social experience as well. With controls in place, technology can filter out trolls and bots to keep conversations safe, positive and cohesive in ways that traditional social networks can’t or won’t. Moderators can facilitate conversations as well to make it easier to participate and generate meaningful discussions—no more screaming into the void.

While providing extremely rich engagement, new solutions might also be able to partner or integrate with on-demand delivery services such as Uber Eats or Grubhub to make purchasing food easier than going to the concession stand. Similarly, with speed of delivery, fans can buy merchandise within their viewing experience, making it easier than waiting in line at souvenir shops without missing the game. The possibilities are tremendous for all kinds of different extensions that improve the online experience.

Ideally, chatting about sports in new online environments should feel more like sitting inside a stadium, arena or even a sports bar. A big reason that live sporting experiences are so enjoyable is that when people are surrounded by others who are equally enthusiastic about the game, match or meet in front of them, the excitement ramps up dramatically. Integrated chat empowers fans to enjoy thrilling communal experiences.

By creating real-time connectivity at a large scale within the context of a single online environment, chat offers the opportunity to take the live experience to a more satisfying level and make online connections more personal and meaningful—the way we’ve been seeking over the last decade.

Rather than lag behind where technology is going, teams and sports-focused organisations will sit at the forefront, driving the evolution of what it means to be social online.

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