What would sporting events like the Football World Cup be without the fans? Sports clubs live from their supporters and contact with them is correspondingly important.

For this reason, the Basketball Bundesliga team s.Oliver Würzburg has decided to supplement its communication with fans with a chatbot.

For this purpose, the mascot of the sports team was brought to life. Olli answers questions about upcoming games, squads and tickets via Facebook Messenger. And for fans who can't make it to a game, there's a live ticker where the mascot sends real-time updates on the score.

In the interview, the person responsible for the project Steffen Wienhold (Head of Communications & Media at Sport und Event Würzburg Baskets) about his experiences with the chatbot project from the company's point of view and Ferdinand Kleber as a hobby basketball player from the developer's point of view.

How did the Chatbot project at s. Oliver Würzburg come about in the first place? 

Steffen Wienhold: "The project was a collaboration between you Botfriends, students from the FHWS and us. Throughout the season, we work with students again and again, we make great experiences - the results are always impressive. Since you Botfriends are also a start up made up of former Würzburg students, we didn't have to think twice."

Ferdinand Kleber: "When you founded BOTfriends back then, I wanted to know what the development of a chatbot looked like. Since I play basketball myself and also watch a s.Oliver Würzburg game from time to time, this was the perfect opportunity to combine these two interests. In addition, communication with our fans via social media is very important to us. Optimising this, making it faster and automating it to some extent makes perfect sense."

Why are innovations such as chatbots just as important for professional sports clubs?

Steffen Wienhold: "We receive all kinds of enquiries from our fans through all channels - by phone, email, post or social media. Over time, questions naturally become repetitive and you get a feeling for what is particularly important to the fan. So why should a fan have to wait until an employee finds time to answer or picks up the phone - chatbot Olli can take care of that 😉 Of course, we are still there for our fans for more complex things."

Why do chatbots make sense in fan communication or relationships?

Ferdinand Kleber: "Many fans, but also newcomers, often ask the same questions. Having all the questions answered by a human being takes a lot of time, the bot instead does it in their sleep. With a chatbot, they have the feeling of communicating with a real person who answers them around the clock. This makes them feel even more connected to the club." 

Steffen Wienhold: "A bot can often react faster and in a more structured way to requests from our fans. Links, special offers, ticket prices, etc. are always directly available and independent of our staff's working hours. Chatbot Olli is always available via our Facebook account. If he doesn't have a suitable answer ready, our colleagues will of course still intervene and be able to help."

What is the potential of using Chatbot for s. Oliver Würzburg?

Steffen Wienhold: "A quick answer to frequently repeated enquiries from our fans. But of course it's also a nice experience for our fans to communicate with Chatbot Olli - in addition to information about the match day, ticket prices and a bit of small talk, Chatbot Olli also offers a live ticker during our matches. We hope that our fans like this added value."

Which functions are the most important within a "fanbot"? 

Steffen Wienhold: "In our case, the most personal and authentic communication possible despite all the technology. We deliberately turned our mascot into a chatbot. Olli is not only a chatbot for us, he also sends electronic mail from his office (newsletter) with important information for our fans, partners and sponsors, and he is the mascot at every home game in the Turnhölle - so he is also there to touch. In addition to small talk with Olli, the guided communication function is very important - our chatbot offers ready-made answers to various topics - this helps our fans to get the answer they want more quickly."

What other features within the chatbot would still have potential?

Steffen Wienhold: "More features are conceivable, especially around the game. Chatbot Olli can certainly become even "smarter" and more interesting here. Basketball is a sport that's all about numbers - statistics on the favourite player, matching highlight videos of the last dunk ... we're working on it, with you Botfriends of course."

Have you already been able to draw any lessons from the Chatbot project?

Ferdinand Kleber: "Testing in the development phase has been the most important part; this is where we find out which functions are used and how they are used. Agile working is also very important in such innovative projects. Working with two partners at the same time also requires good scheduling."

You can find more possible uses for voice and chatbots in marketing in our white paper "Conversational Commerce":