Jessica Gonzalez, Founder and CEO of InCharged, talks to us about the social vending machine and how providers can help soccer fans engage with their brand and team as much as possible.

Sports fans know that there’s nothing more important than branding, even if they might not realise it. Every item of clothing, bumper sticker, novelty cup, scarf, banner, and bobble head they proudly display is just an opportunity to show that they’re a fan of their team and, even more so, their team’s brand.

There’s a high level of built-in engagement when it comes to sports, especially soccer fans. Soccer fans are some of the most diehard sports fans out there and the rivalries between different teams and clubs can be nothing short of legendary. Because of this, fans expect a next-level experience when they see their team play at home. Before you even step into the stadium, you know which team it belongs to without any shadow of a doubt. From the colours painted on the walls to the logos, jerseys, and pictures of players prominently displayed on every surface possible, there’s no doubt “whose house” it is. But if you’re looking to boost fan engagement or increase club revenue for a specific match, how do you expect to stand out if your venue is already over-saturated with the same branding?

When it comes to global soccer, European clubs show the highest level on the pitch in competitions such as the FIFA Clubs World Cup – however, US clubs drive the market in many other ways. MLS clubs are often the first to test new commercial initiatives based on the experience gained by industry professionals in other US sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB that are then adopted in other regions. One prime example of a new initiative taking hold in the US is the branded amenity. Rather than traditional sponsorships that may include banners, ads on a TV screen, or promotional giveaway items, a branded amenity is the sponsorship of a memorable experience. For example: a photo booth, a “red carpet” experience, or even a carefully designed social media campaign.

Many soccer teams in the US give away free merch at home games – but what if you had a more fun and engaging way to distribute your promo items? If your goal is to have a meaningful interaction with each person who gets a free giveaway item or boost your fan interactions online, consider stepping up your game with the Social Vending machine. It offers a one-two punch of engagement by managing the distribution of swag at your venue while also providing a fun way for fans to interact with your brand.

This social vending machine can dispense items as small as business cards or as large and fragile as champagne bottles, and it’s powered entirely by social media interactions instead of cash. You decide how much each item is worth based on what type of interaction you want your fans to have and what information you want to collect. For example, if your goal is to gather email addresses to expand your clubhouse email database, you can make the premium items in your vending machine accessible if the fan enters their email address. If you’re looking to just promote visibility of how much fun fans have at home games, you can make every item in the machine worth one share on Facebook or Twitter.

The vending machine is also a great way to increase foot traffic or dwell time.  If your main goal is to drive more traffic to a specific area within your venue (such as a clubhouse or fan zone), or encourage attendees to linger longer, a social vending machine can help you achieve this goal.

The entire social vending machine can be skinned with your branding and can include a custom interface on the 46” touchscreen, giving the social vending machine a competitive edge against the rest of the branding in your stadium. This eye-catching game station combined with the fun “gamification” the vending machine provides takes social engagement on game day to the next level.

If you don’t want to change the way you’re handling free giveaway items but still need a way to improve engagement, foot traffic, or revenue, consider adding mobile charging stations to your venue. Fans always need a way to charge their phone, especially if they post, share, and use their phone to look up stats during the match. Adding charging stations in strategic areas near merchandise stores and concession stands are great ways to encourage fans to spend more money while they charge. You can also encourage fans to visit the clubhouse by setting up branded charging tables, perfect for enjoying a drink, charging their phone, and watching the game at the same time.

Soccer fans are some of the most dedicated sports fans out there, so coming up with a way to get them further engaged can seem like a challenge (after all, what other fans chant and sing at their games?) Luckily, offering fun interactions, free items, and needed amenities during the match is a surefire way to make your fans happy and, when done effectively, increase revenue via boosted foot traffic.

This article was contributed to the Totum Sport website by Soccerex.