Recent Foursquare Promotions Highlight Limitations of Location Based Services

Guest Post:  Duane Roft is the Founder of sports start-up Teamtrackr and works as digital consultant to Glasgow Rocks basketball team and British Basketball League.

It’s great to see the ongoing development of sport and digital, and of particular interest to me recently has been the Manchester City FC and UEFA Champions League Final promotions with location based services giant Foursquare.

It’s a commonly held belief that location based services will offer a great opportunity for sports teams to continue to develop deeper and more engaging relationships with fans, and while it has been encouraging to see location based sports promotions starting in Europe with Foursquare it has also highlighted the limitations of the platform and the lack of flexibility currently available to teams, not to mention the lack of incentives for fans to continue to use it.

There are two main features of a Foursquare promotion; a badge and a “special”. Badges are unique virtual rewards that are earned based users meeting certain criteria, such as being in a certain place at a certain time or being in a certain number of different types of place. Specials are offers that are attached to check-ins, and can be used to give away freebies or offer discounts.

In Manchester City’s case, they released a badge for their final game of the season that was able to be unlocked either at the Ethiad Stadium around game time or from several selected venues at various points around the World. They also ran a special for fans at the game – a 2011/12 home jersey to the first thirty fans checking -in at City Square before the game.

The announcement of the release of their promotion – which included the first Premiership Foursquare badge – to coincide with their final game of the season seemed perfect. With tensions high and the title on the line, what better way to remember winning their first title in forty-four years than by earning a special Foursquare badge to commemorate it? A new way to say “I was there when it happened” for the digital era?

The opportunity seemed perfect, but what we got instead was a rather average badge design that had no relevance to the specific game itself and was able to be unlocked from ten selected venues around the World. With no sign of retiring the badge (and therefore it presumably being available again) there’s no way of distinguishing that game from any other – despite its importance and thrilling conclusion – and no way of differentiating between who was at the game and who unlocked it from the other side of the planet. Yes it’s important to make promotions inclusive for a wider fanbase – especially for globally supported teams like Man City – but it’s also be important to reward the die-hard fans who go to every game.

Manchester City also underwhelmed with their choice of “special” for the match. Again, as the first promotion of its kind and with a huge game on the line it offered a great opportunity for something special, like a commemorative t-shirt or something else unique and special. To make their choice of reward some jersey overstocks at a time when you’re heavily promoting next season’s kit feels like an opportunity lost.

It’s also unclear what Manchester City get out of the promotion too, other than the obvious PR of them continuing to be at the forefront of digital innovation and fan engagement. Making the badge a one-off unlock and available from multiple locations adds an element of novelty to the promotion, and doesn’t reward fan loyalty and personal attendance at games like it could. Yes, there’s incentive to unlock the specials at each match (if they continue to run them) and the badge will attract new fans at each game, but the promotion resulted in only 368 check-ins at the Ethiad Stadium itself.

If Man City’s promotion was guilty of providing an element of novelty with a relatively easy unlock mechanic then I’m not sure how to describe UEFA’s badge for the Champions League Final. Available to anyone who followed UEFA on Foursquare and checked in at Munich’s Allianz Arena – where the game was held – or to anyone who checked-in anywhere on the Friday or Saturday around the game and included the phrase “UEFA Champions League” in their check-in “shout”, the badge was one of the more confusing Foursquare promotions. Of the rumoured 20,000+ unlocks of the badge there were only 508 done through check-ins to the Allianz Arena on the day of the game. With that in mind it’s questionable how “location based” the promotion actually was.

By making the badge such an easy unlock and giving no added value or special it’s unclear what the motivation for the promotion is either. Foursquare’s hardcore fan base would have loved it, but is it really driving awareness of the Champions League Final? Is it rewarding fans at the game? It certainly feels like it has more benefit in promoting Foursquare than the event itself, although it is a nice nice compliment to the overall digital marketing mix.


Little of the criticism of these promotions can really be levelled at Manchester City or UEFA – it just highlights the limitations of the Foursquare platform to provide a compelling engagement to sports fans. Of course it would have been presumptive to release a special “We are the Champions” badge for Manchester City when you checked-in ahead of the title decider, but is there any reason why that badge (or a gold version of the original badge or something) could have been issued after the game? Foursquare’s mechanic is very much driven by where you are and what’s about to happen, whereas sports is about what you’ve just witnessed or experienced.

The passion and dedication of sports fans has to be accurately rewarded through location based services for them to really take off. An easy to unlock “one badge fits all” idea is great for casual fans and for widening your global fanbase, but it has no ongoing incentive for dedicated fans. Unlocking different rewards at different levels is essential to keep fans interested, engaged and valued – something that is crucially missing from promotions thus far.

Location based services will provide an important platform for team and fan engagement in the near future, and the first steps into these promotions are welcome. But the limitations of what can presently be achieved coupled with Foursquare not reaching a critical mass in Europe means that, for now, the impact and motivation of these promotions is going to be questioned. They provide more promotion for Foursquare than they do for partners, and once the novelty factor is removed they don’t provide a compelling proposition in the longer term. How partners continue to drive the promotions will be interesting to see bearing in mind the limited options they have available.

About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 820 posts

Dan is the Founder & CEO of Digital Sport. Can be found at sports industry events and heard every week on the Digital Sport Insider podcast. @DanielMcLaren

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