Why Levellr is the company to help sports teams build fanbases in new online spaces
While Gen Z might be hanging out on Fortnite or watching videos on TikTok, more than a third of US 18- to 34-year-olds also have a Discord account. The messaging platform helps users stay in touch with friends and find like-minded groups, but its capacity to facilitate engagement between fans and their idols makes it a fascinating proposition for any organisation with a fanbase. Put simply, Discord is the modern day fan forum.
As sports organisations engage with fans on fast-growing platforms such as Discord, they’re utilising the tools and services of our newest Sports Loft member, Levellr. With a strong understanding for how communities are built on Discord, Levellr is providing sports organisations with the data and insights to help them engage with users and grow their community on the platform.
The messaging app of Gen Z
Discord has its roots in gaming, facilitating voice and text chat between friends playing online. But it’s grown to become a home for 6.7 million “servers” – the forum-like spaces where conversations take place between users. These servers often bubble up organically from the 150+ million monthly user base, and are maintained by groups of like-minded enthusiasts.
“Head onto Discord and you’ll find hundreds of communities set up by fans talking about football, F1, basketball, NFL, tennis, UFC or NHL,” says Levellr CEO and co-founder, Tom Gayner. “We’re talking millions of highly engaged fans. And yet today, the majority of rightsholders aren’t part of that conversation, which is a real missed opportunity. This is a highly-engaged Gen Z audience, who have significant spending power ($3.5 trillion by 2030) and different sports consumption habits, that rightsholders need to find new ways to reach.”
Organisations who want to engage with their fans and build new communities on Discord often come up against similar issues: finding their fans and onboarding them to their servers, gaining insights that help grow the community, and keeping the space free of spam and trolls. This is where Levellr comes in.
Levellr’s software plugs into servers on Discord or Telegram to enable first-party data collection, the gathering of user-generated content (UGC), and monetisation opportunities through gated spaces, e-commerce and custom bots. Alongside that, Levellr provides moderation teams to encourage conversation and create a welcoming community.
From fans of bands to supporters of teams
Levellr first launched in the music industry, to help close the gap between musicians and their fans. With ticket sales being managed by third parties, the streaming giants controlling distribution and traditional social media providing limited data insights, artists found themselves disconnected from their followers.
Fast-forward to today and the company counts Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group among its clientbase. Artist and producer Fred again.. uses Discord in conjunction with Levellr to provide exclusive rewards for fans, share snippets of new material, and create dedicated threads around specific live shows, where fans are encouraged to share photos and videos from the gig.
"Think of a Discord community as a home for your superfans,” says Tom. “We make it easy for you to tap into it and understand who and where those fans are. And because being able to join the community is a significant carrot for fans to share information, we've seen a huge 51% average opt-in rate to marketing communications – against the industry average of 2%. This is gold for our customers and their partners, especially when paired with the level of insight we can glean from the communities.”
Sport is a logical next step. Manchester United, FC Barcelona and McLaren have all launched on Discord in recent months. And at Sports Loft we expect Levellr to grow rapidly in the sports industry as they build on the parallels that exist between music and sports – from the way fans engage and congregate together, to the opportunity technology provides for rightsholders to be part of the conversation.
There are lots of use cases for sports rightsholders to use Levellr, but we think there are three immediate examples. The first is gating communities for official membership programs, creating a meaningful benefit for members and driving more sign-ups and stronger retention. This provides clubs with much desired data capture of fans who may follow them on social media but haven’t yet signed up with the club.
The second is the way Levellr can help clients set up specific channels for different groups of fans. This could mean sections for younger groups, or those that sit in a particular stand in the stadium. Looking further afield, they might be used to segment local and international supporters groups.
“A logical way to segment channels is by language,” says Tom. “Bringing together your Portuguese or Arabic speaking fans in specific places, serving them content in their native language is a great way to deepen engagement with international audiences. Levellr’s platform captures everything said in these channels – allowing for new insights into the popularity of particular players, or feedback on different types of content. You can work with community members to help manage those local channels.”
Third is the opportunity around user generated content. On average, Discord communities using Levellr produce 58 pieces of UGC a day, from photos and videos to memes. Sports events are a goldmine for the generation of UGC, and Levellr makes it easy for rightsholders to source that content from their superfans and use it on the official social feeds.
The team behind the tech
Levellr was founded by CEO Tom Gayner and CTO Ben Barbersmith in early 2021. Combined, the pair have more than two decades of experience building communities. Tom worked at creative agency Octagon for five years, where he worked with global brands including Nike, Budweiser and Mastercard. He then took the plunge into the startup world, heading up commercial partnerships at Mycujoo, the video streaming platform for live and on-demand football matches. Ben spent seven years at YouTube – arguably one giant community platform – providing technical leadership for strategic partners around the world.
The pair worked on the product for nearly two years before building out the team. And Levellr now has a staff of 15 split across product, community management and sales, working around the globe but with a focus on UK, Europe and US markets.
“Ben and I built Levellr based on a simple insight,” says Tom. “We realised that when it came to conversations around topics we were passionate about – whether that be the football team we support, our favourite game or music artist – that those conversations weren’t happening on web-based forums anymore. Nor were they happening on traditional social platforms, that have shifted from places to connect and chat with friends, to short-form algorithmic content.”
Ben and Tom found that those fan conversations were now taking place on Discord servers or Telegram and WhatsApp groups. “It felt like a huge missed opportunity that more artists, brands and rightsholders weren’t getting involved with the fan groups which were being built without them.”
We couldn’t agree more. As conversations between fans on the likes of Discord and Telegram continue to increase, sports organisations have a fantastic opportunity to grow their communities on these platforms. It’s been incredibly exciting to see what Levellr has achieved to date in music, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the team in bringing their tech, analytics and moderation expertise to the sports industry.