Minnesota Vikings Drive Fan Engagement With Winning Chat Experiences

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On the football field, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings are showing flashes of brilliance, but at this early part of the season, they’ve posted only one win in six games and trail their division rival, the Green Bay Packers. Off the field, however, is a different conversation, as the Vikings just might be leading the league in technology.

Last week, the Vikings became the latest pro sports organization to sign with GameOn Technology, a San Francisco-based conversational commerce company that has taken chat to a new level. While most chat conversations have been associated with customer service issues, GameOn has developed a proprietary chat operating system geared toward customer engagement (or in this case, fan engagement) which will ideally lead to a purchase.

“Because of the unique nature of this season, a lot of our normal touchpoints have shifted to digital,” Scott Kegley, the Vikings’ executive director of digital and innovation, told PYMNTS. “Likewise, social media content and engagement have become more important than ever. We want to provide great content and interact with our fans on the platforms they’re using. Working with GameOn made perfect sense for us. We can use chat to provide score updates, stats and content through Facebook Messenger. We’ll continue to add features and evolve the product over time, further tailoring it to meet the needs of our fans and deliver the content they’re looking for.”

According to GameOn CEO Alex Beckman, the company’s solution is not a standard artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot. The company does use AI, but because it lives in a cloud environment and chat operating system (OS), the options are more conversational than a bot that gives standard answers to standard questions.

For example, a fan can ask for the quarterback rating for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and get the right answer on the team’s desired platform, which in this case is Facebook Messenger. The fan can then ask to place that rating among other quarterbacks in the division, and again get the answer. If a fan keeps showing an intense interest in Cousins, eventually the chat OS will ask the fan if they’re interested in buying an official Cousins jersey and provide a link to do so.

“When we started actually implementing, it was post-COVID,” Beckman said. “So the whole world changed, and when we spoke to the team about it, we had to consider the problems that they and their fans were having. A lot of that had to do with engaging fans and making them feel closer to the team. One way to do that is to keep them in an application that they like and bring them content on a regular basis, and don’t make them have to constantly look for it.”

In that way, the chat OS facilitates a two-way conversation. Although it is platform-agnostic, it keeps the fan within the brand’s ecosystem – in this case, the Vikings. GameOn will build on the “push-respond” model – the brand can push content and commerce offers out to users and then have the technology to answer back without the limitations of a customer service chatbot.

Currently, GameOn is focused on sports leagues, and has relationships with the English Premier League and one of its most popular soccer clubs, Arsenal. It also has the NBA and the PGA in its corner. Beckman said the company will continue to work with sports leagues, and he expects that most of the company’s short-term efforts will focus on that source. But with the $10.5 million funding round that closed in March, GameOn will continue to aggressively expand into other areas, including retail.

“We feel like we have developed a natural gravity for the platform that almost every company can benefit from,” he said. “For example, take an Arsenal team that has 80 million Facebook followers. When they launched that ‘start messaging’ button, we saw tens of thousands of people a day start chatting. And we saw engagement rates and retention rates above 60 percent. We wanted to keep those retention rates and user acquisition rates high. When you start doing the math, it pretty quickly becomes an exciting user base.”

Beckman is particularly bullish on the retail category. He believes customer engagement and retention rates seen in the sports category can be duplicated, and he calls chat a “compelling experience” for retail brands, from fashion to luxury and from single brands to aggregators. His team is currently in conversation with several retail brands and is working on creating a revenue model within the chat OS.

“One of our big hopes is that we start to see some major announcements over the next year,” he said. “Nothing is going to make this catch fire like being able to showcase to the world that they’ve created a whole new revenue stream. There are three billion people chatting every day, and we have just hit the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re going to start to see these revenue ideas come to fruition, not just with us, but also with other companies. And that’s when we’re going to see some really exciting innovation.”

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