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, FHWS students and us. Throughout the season we work together with students again and again, we have great experiences - the results are always impressive. Since you Botfriends are also a start-up of former students from Würzburg, we didn't have to think long."

Ferdinand Kleber: "When you founded BOTfriends, 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. We also attach great importance to communicating with our fans via the social media. To optimize them, to design them faster and to automate them a little bit makes absolute sense."

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

Steffen Wienhold: „We get requests of any kind from our fans via all channels - phone, mail, post or social media. With time, questions repeat themselves and you get a feeling of what is especially 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 do that for you 😉 For more complex things we are of course still there for our fans".

Why do chatbots make sense in fan communication or relationships? 

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

Steffen Wienhold: A bot can often react faster and more structured to requests from our fans. Links, special offers, ticket prices, etc. everything always directly available and independent of working hours of our employees. Chatbot Olli is always available via our Facebook account. If he doesn't have a suitable answer, 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 response to frequently repeated requests from our fans. But of course also a nice experience for our fans in the communication with Chatbot Olli - besides information about the match day, ticket prices and a little small talk possibility Chatbot Olli also offers a live ticker during our games. We hope that our fans will enjoy 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 made our mascot our chatbot. Olli is not only a chatbot with us, he also sends electronic mail from his office (newsletter) with important information for our fans, partners and sponsors and he is a mascot at every home game in the gym hell - so he is also there to touch. In addition to small talk with Olli, the function of guided communication is very important - our chatbot offers ready-made answers on various topics - this helps our fans to get the answer they want faster."

What other features within the chatbot would have potential? 

Steffen Wienhold: "Especially around the game further features are conceivable. Here Chatbot Olli can become surely still "smarter" and more interesting. Basketball is a sport that's all about numbers - statistics about your favourite player, matching highlight videos from the last dunking ... 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, here it is recognized which functions and how they are used. In addition, agile work is very important in such innovative projects. Working with two partners at the same time also requires good scheduling."