Ep. 25: Keeping Fans Engaged & Gamification with Matan Ganani
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Matan Ganani, VP of Business Development for Fans League, joins Rob Cressy to talk about keeping fans engaged. Why do more brands need to delight their fans and treat them less like a transaction? How can you keep fans engaged after a game takes place? Why doesn’t a sports social network exist? How can brands use gamification as a way to keep fans coming back?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Matan Ganani, VP of Business Development for Fans League. Matan, great to have you on the show. Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Matan Ganani: (00:41)
Yeah, of course. So I'm Israeli. I've had the fortune of living in a few countries in my life, Israeli, US, UK. I've always been a huge sports fan. So I think what's unique is it's given me a lot of viewpoints regarding how people view and interact with sports in different countries. And also I'm now a second time entrepreneur.
Rob Cressy: (01:36)
Okay, that's wonderful. And what I want to talk about and definitely start with is fan engagement. And it's something that I know both of us are very passionate about, but we're going to dig a little bit deeper in terms of the word fan engagement and how it can be used as a buzzword in the entrepreneurship space. And you're talking to me before this about how entrepreneurship and startup culture can very much be about buzzwords that can be thrown into things. Can you sort of elaborate a little bit more on that?
Matan Ganani: (02:12)
Yeah, sure. I mean, and they didn't mention it, "overused buzzword". And I wasn't saying that in a negative way as a two-time entrepreneur, just too many buzz words being used, you know, AI, IoT, Big Data. Just finish engagements, which is a word. It's really wide term. I mean, at the end of the day, it's all about what's happening. Fan engagement, which deals with anything regarding how people engage with what's happening there on a pitch, how fans engage with each other. So let me go reduce because it's such a lot and it does help if you break it down.
Rob Cressy: (03:45)
So is there an alternative word that can be used for fan engagement?
Matan Ganani: (03:51)
I don't know. That's a great question. I think for me it's just about breaking it down: Where are you trying to approach them in the arena or try to approach them while they're watching the broadcast or just try to approach them on the day. And I guess if I was going to dig a little bit deeper into this, for me, fan engagement really starts and ends with relationship building cause that's what you're trying to do. You say we want to engage fans, but I think that the thing that doesn't make sense to me is so often there's an awareness play. I've got this thing that I want you to see.
Rob Cressy: (04:48)
So to see it as more transactional, which to me that is not fan engagement that is being sold to. So for me, the words that I would like to use, relationship building, community building conversation, the things that I think I would look at the word engagement in what is engagement mean? And this is actually the areas where the majority of brands I believe fail because they don't make it a conversation between us. It's usually at someone there. They don't think of it in terms of building a community. It's more a transaction based and it's not as much of a relationship. Because if you've built a community, then you build a relationship with your fans.
Matan Ganani: (05:33)
I agree. The word I love is to delight. I like that word because it evokes a lot of emotion. For me, I'm always going to be that kid that grew up in the 1980s and nineties watching Michael Jordan. And in those scenes, which would you start off with as kid. At least as a kid, it's not transactional. It's all about being delighted and loving what you're experiencing now. And I'm watching him go through this process, it's the idols and the way he interacts with his team and his heroes. So to me it all goes back to that, to myself as a kid and watching my kids. And if I would take that one step further, and this is very much part of my marketing mindset, it would be surprise and delight because if you can give someone something that is unexpected and then in the process of doing so, you can find a way to delight them.
Rob Cressy: (07:00)
Because imagine a brand who foundationally is built on surprise and delight, communication, relationship building and community. And for me that is what fan engagement is all about. So let's move this forward. And I know in our past conversation we talked a little bit about the problems around fan engagement and specifically when you have a broadcast of the game and what the fans do after the game, they'd go to other platforms. How can we help solve this or, or tell me a little bit more about your mindset around this.
So regarding where the fans go after the game or what we do at Fans League. Um, so we're a mobile gaming company. We built a mobile game, which really is centered around the fans. The origin of the company is one of my two partners in the company, or our CEO, he initially thought of the idea for the company when he was traveling 2014 and he's had a realization. You've got this entire ecosystem. This is our sport's ecosystem and you've got your athletes, and your referees and the coaches and the franchise owners and all these people are the center of this entire ecosystem that get rewarded on a daily basis. I mean rewarded financially. They're admired, they're living the life. Everybody around the world watches then=m and essentially wants to live their life. And those people are pretty much 0.0001% of the ecosystem. So the ecosystem are the fans and the fans are the least rewarded members of the ecosystem. I mean essentially being a fan, you know, we're all fans. And if I were to ask you, why are you a sports fan? I'm actually going to turn this back to you.
Rob Cressy: (09:45)
It's actually quite simple. I can drill it down to two things. One, I was raised in Pittsburgh. And in Pittsburgh, sports is like a religion. So I'm a die-hard Steelers and Penguins fan. But Pittsburgh did not have a basketball team. And it just so happens that my mom's side of the family is from Chicago. And I love basketball. Like you, I grew up in the eighties and nineties, so immediately Michael Jordan became my favorite player. So when you combine Pittsburgh plus Michael Jordan, no joke, it is literally why I'm on this podcast with you right now because I wanted to be like Mike and for me, sports became my everything and it still is.
Matan Ganani: (10:30)
So lots of emotional reasons for being a sport fan, but if you really drill it down, then, I mean most of the days you're going to get your heartbroken. You send money, you send energy. And it's an extremely one-way relationship. I mean, when Michael Jordan had a bad day on the court, you were heartbroken. I was heartbroken. But when we were having a rough time in school, Michael Jordan was not heartbroken. So it's an extremely one-way relationship. And what we wanted to build here is a product which would give the fans some sort of recognition for being a fan. So essentially give them a pat on the back of virtual down the bat, telling him, Hey, you're a great of doing great job. And that's actually the way we create the engagement in our game. So then it all boils down again to trying to and and just giving him that reward and recognition.
Rob Cressy: (11:44)
So one of the biggest challenges I've seen in the sports tech startup entrepreneurship space with ideas centered around things like this is actually going to be the technology or the platform side of things. Because conceptually I'm 100% on board with you. But if we look and we've got Pittsburgh Steelers fans who live all across the world right there and is it easier or does it make more sense to have the Steelers have an app where they can capture this which is more native as opposed to something that's third party that says, let me reward you for being part of it. Because for most comedies, the challenge is you're sending them to another app to download, which is a non native experience based on the way that we're currently consuming things.
Matan Ganani: (12:33)
Right. So of course I agree with everything you've just said and we know the world. We live in app companies. And the mobile industry in general, which is a pretty young. And at the beginning there was just a flood into the app market. Tons of money flowing into apps and the app stores got really saturated and then investors, companies, it became very hands off. Then mobile gaming came around and from I'd say five, six years ago, the mobile phone has become the most important gaming platform and that has changed a ton of consumer behaviors, channels, virtual items being sold inside mobile games. I remember about six years ago, I had a couple of months where I became pretty addicted to Candy Crush. And the first time I saw them offering offering to buy some special candy that will help you. I haven't been able to pass. And I looked at that and it looked completely insane to me to actually buy something, basically pay for pixels, which have no value in the real world. And now it's so mainstream. Actually I was talking about my kid before and that actually makes them happier than if I just showed up at home with a physical gift. So, and now getting back to your question, creating another app and customer acquisition in general. So for us as a company, we knew from day one that on one hand would be just incredible for the fan playing it, which is able to create a lot of engagement every single day, not only when there's a match going on on TV, on game day, off game day, during season, off season extremely well, but we also knew that through this beginning we should be able to give great value to partners that are already kind of saw it. So what we need for our product to be perfect is obviously audience, lots of people playing it. We also need things like images, logos all into the game. And organizations that have all of these things are critical parts, which are media companies, rights holders, and when we speak to them, it's always a hurdle we have to get past. And if you just take some of our features, plugged it into existing apps, I mean you don't have just the full game experience. And luckily we have been able to prove our case to a few major partners. Um, I mean it's an uphill battle that startup life, but it's a great model to have.
Rob Cressy: (17:19)
So you mentioned a few things that certainly interested me on the virtual currency in items and purchases. You know, what it really comes down to is experience. So you said, Hey, you're not going to get a tangible item. This is just a bunch of pixels. But here's the thing, the experience and delight you get from playing Candy Crush is more valuable to you than buying a $2 baseball card or for your child, something like that. Because we now live in a digital world where our screen is more important for a lot of people. They had an everyday life. Another thing that I'm interested in is when you're talking about all of his, in terms of the apps and fan engagement and we already have our existing apps, I started to think about my own consumption about sports content. And one thing that I have not seen cracked yet is a sports social network.
Rob Cressy: (18:22)
It's something that everyone says, Oh, we love fan engagement, we want to connect the fans, we want to build community in. Many have tried, but I don't feel, I mean outside of you've got NBA, Twitter, so Twitter has sub niches and cultures where everyone comes together and then you have Instagram, which is sort of the content around it. And Facebook has these fan groups and everything. But if we sort of blend everything that we've talked about of we want to reward the fan or have them live in this ecosystem where when I push a button, the only thing that I am seeing is sports content and sports community. And it very much sounds like this is something that you guys are building and continuing to build, but it's something so far as largest sports is you would think that we would have a central hub where all sports fans come together to have blinders on to only talk sports.
Matan Ganani: (19:25)
I could not agree with you more. You know, the sports is one of these Holy grails, love and space, tried to create the ultimate sports social work. Yeah. Nobody's been able to crack it. I'm not sure because maybe social networking is an intent by itself. So what if it could be two other things. One timing. So when we look at how things get introduced into our life. So from my space to Facebook, to Instagram, to WhatsApp to Snapchat and sort of the evolution of how those things came into our life. And then the second one would be, all right in order for one of these to succeed, who would be the right partner or media company that would need do something like this?
Rob Cressy: (20:48)
So off the top of my head, ESPN would have had the biggest opportunity. So when all of the socials coming, what do they have? They've built an audience. So now they say, let's take the same mindset that we have imported towards this. The challenge of course being is this is a tertiary item in the grand scheme of what they're looking to do. So this isn't something that got the legs to make it something that you and I would play. So why don't you drop down from ESPN? Because remember they were the worldwide leader. So if you're the worldwide leader, and maybe as I look at ESPN, I feel like as a brand, me as a fan, I'm distancing myself from them because there are more choices and they're becoming more of a news organization. But if it wasn't them, I feel like it's ESPN and then a bunch of others and now there's upstarts. There's the Barstools of the world. And quite frankly, Barstools does such a good job of building a community that for them, I would say that they would have one of the better chances of making this happen because of fundamentally they're built around communication relationships in conversation.
Matan Ganani: (22:19)
Right, right. I agree that I think Barstool probably has a better chance of becoming a global sports social network, then ESPN. And this does trace back to the fact that pretty much any sports fan in the world has their ESPN such a famous and veteran organization and people do view it as sports content and use network. So that probably would not be the place where people go to just communicate with each other. And another thing about this, they're veteran companies. What they do, they do really, really well. Anything regarding cutting edge innovation, they will usually have a source just because of these sorts of operations, their knowledge. And that's why the most we see going on in these organizations, which we love and they are our partners, does come from newer companies, from the Barstools of the world, from Fantasies of the world.
Rob Cressy: (23:55)
Lastly, I want to get you out on is a gamification around things. And a friend of mine shared a story that I've never forgot. He was playing some mobile game, I don't even know what it was. And the game was a slot machine and every day that you came back in, pulled the lever, it like multiplied the points or rewards that you got. So imagine today one pole is worth one X, tomorrow's worth two X. The next day is three X. If you don't come back, you go back to the original thing. So what it did is it gave him a reason once a day to check in because he's like, listen, I'm at 75 X on this game. I'm gonna pull the lever in. I've never forgotten the concept. And of course slot machines, fantastic for this. But nonetheless, what can you do to get your fan to come back, even if just to pull the lever once. And I know for you, game of vacation is something that is on your mind. So give us a little insight into your game of vacation mindset.
Matan Ganani: (24:57)
Okay. So, so first of all, gamification, again, just the fact that everybody say them doesn't mean that it's always been around. Due to my job, I spent about 10 days each month abroad, flying between Spain, Israel, and America. So obviously I've become huge consumer of different frequent flyer program and only now I'm realizing how gamification based those programs are. You know, I plan my itineraries around the amount of points I'll receive in this airline, in this silver, platinum. And that essentially is the gamification. And what we do in our product for example, is exactly like, our users do get rewarded for coming into the app on day one and day two, day three each day, once they get it. Actually, if they go in specific times during the day to complete certain missions, they do get extra points. The missions are laid out in different categories. So we have just general knowledge, read three articles to answer five trivia questions, make predictions about the upcoming. If you watch the match on the TV, you want to get points for that, then you can point your phone camera at the TV, and we have an algorithm which gives you points for watching the match and you do need to complete on these missions and specific time. And we do examine the user behavior and we see people reacting exactly as your friend reacted to the slot machines. They planned their engagement, these specific tiny windows. Just the way I had planned my journeys. So I mean there's a lot of psychology behind this. We have phenomenal gaming team, which is responsible for creating a super, super fun and unique experience, which will keep them coming back every single day.
Rob Cressy: (27:41)
I really enjoyed this conversation and the way that you think about fan engagement and gamification. Where can everybody connect with you and fans league?
Matan Ganani: (27:51)
Um, email is always great. Matan@fans-league.club. Um, LinkedIn, pretty much anywhere social networks out there.
Rob Cressy: (28:08)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious, what media brand do you think would have the best chance of creating a sports social network that will, you would use, you could hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. Or you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.