How Stories Are Getting More Creative In Social Media and Sports

Instagram Stories were first introduced about a year and a half ago, and the way sports teams, leagues, and media entities have utilized them have evolved quite a bit over the months. Many started out by taking their Snapchat content and replicating it onto IG Stories — ‘Now that raw content people love so much on Snapchat can be exposed to a wider audience.’

But things started to change. They could do better, they could do more. They could take advantage of some of the different features of the platform and the different mindset with which most fans use it and consume content on IG Stories.

As the number of Snapchat users has started to stagnate, it seems (at least anecdotally) that there is greater thought, attention, and effort being put into creatively using Instagram Stories, to earn the coveted taps and eyeballs and time spent that so many fans worldwide give to IG and IG Stories. It’s really a progressive transformation of the ‘stories’ framework, in general. It’s snippets of larger content pieces, active engagement with users, stories  that fans can’t help but complete, listicles that can be consumed more easily in a mobile app than on the web, and allowing fans to consume substantive content at the pace they want in the snackable form they want. Here are ten uses of Instagram Stories (mostly) that have stood out recently:

SportsCenter gives us an interactive, bite-sized version of its ESPN The Magazine Story

 

The visually appealing graphic and invitation to continue is immediately stimulating. Then, we get the chance to ‘answer,’ the story come to life and driving engagement, not just consumption. The Swipe Up CTA at the end puts a cap on a great, shrunken down snippet of the story that invites drives fans to want to continue on with the quiz. This ‘trivia’ idea can certainly be utilized by teams and others in sports. The pull, of course, is creating a need to continue/want more.

The SportsCenter social media channels continually deliver quality content and studiously execute on each platform in a relevant and effective manner. Recommended follow across the board.

 

BarDown (by TSN) gets visual with polls

Twitter polls have become a routine part of Twitter now, but many have lamented that one couldn’t include videos/images/GIFs with them. We know visual content typically performs/engages better and yet the most interactive of tweets – polls can’t include more media (though that is changing now). Well, when Instagram Stories introduced polls, it allowed for an even better marriage of visual polls, and TSN’s BarDown took advantage of that on an NFL Sunday. It’s simple engagement, offers an immediate payoff for the fan, and is an easy way to present the storylines of the day. BarDown is sneaky good at engaging their fans north of the border. Check ’em out on Twitter, especially.

 

Sacramento Kings give us game content in visuals and taps

Even as the way fans consume content changes, the stories and the substance have some semblance of consistency over the years. They’re just more snack-sized, interactive, and visual. But look at this example from the Sacramento Kings (who simply dominate Instagram engagement), which gives you a little interaction, a quote, and a team stat leader. It’s all inherent to the platform and allows a fan to engage with the brand and be caught up in a matter of seconds. Even better, there is a consistency of look and feel that, if one is tapping rapidly through stories, instantly stands out as your team from Sacramento.

 

The Orlando Magic Produce Informative Graphics and Features that Integrate Sponsors

If you want to see sponsored content in action on Instagram Stories (in a good way), follow the Orlando Magic. Whether it’s the Kia Keys to the Game or, as shown here, the Fan Duel Stat Stories, the Magic deliver content that has value for fans, while effectively integrating a partner. This is the type of informative content that has been produced for years by teams — game previews, stats leaders, et al. — and Instagram Stories presents a unique way to deliver it to fans. Adjusting the presentation to tie to a sponsor keeps the value in the content for fans, while exposing the partner to fans. The Magic are great with their social media and corporate partner activation on all platforms, and they’re one of the few who have consistently excelled on Instagram Stories.

 

The Oakland Raiders Make Fans Laugh and Want More With a Single Photograph

I am a professed Raiders fan, but there is no bias needed to recognize the awesomeness in this example. The Raiders really do a tremendous job on Snapchat, as well, and whie Snapchat focuses on the raw content fans have come to expect, Instagram is a visual narrative that brings to life each game and each day. They took a single photo, taken as the Raiders celebrated a touchdown, and injected it with a mini story that puts into an Instagram Story what may be an exchange between friends. They circle various fans in the photo and add a funny caption referencing how they’re reacting (bonus points for the ‘For the Gram’ reference). It’s lighthearted, it makes you laugh, it makes you want to keep clicking for more, and it has you spend more time with the brand, while feeling those positive feelings. How can you make fans stop and spend time with you on the platform? The ‘engagement’ we all seek is even stronger when it comes with a smile on the fan’s face.

 

MLS turns a visual list into a fun countdown on Instagram Stories

Major League Soccer does a great job creating content for the league’s platforms and they, made the most of the days after Toronto FC clinched the club’s 2017 MLS Cup. What would typically be a photo gallery, featuring the rings for the last several MLS champs, becomes a fun, in-your-face (in a good way), illustrated countdown of MLS Cup title rings for the last 20 years. Countdowns and lists are ubiquitous in sports, and Instagram Stories offers a different way to present this content to fans. Going with artistic illustrations over straight photos seems like a no-brainer in hindsight, but was certainly the right call for what fans come to expect on Instagram Stories.

 

 

The Chicago Bulls Suck Us Into a Where’s Waldo Type Game on their Snapchat Story

Ok, so this is an entry from Snapchat, but is really just an excellent use of the ‘Stories’ method of presenting content on social media. The Bulls have continually pushed the envelope on Snapchat, treating their presence there as an entertainment channel, as opposed to strictly a team correspondent. Here, they take a tried and true concept (Where’s Waldo, any Millennial knows it!) and plug in their mascot Benny, and then fans (like me) spend a ton of time carefully scanning the snaps to come, trying to find Benny. It forces me to not just tap rapidly through the Story (from the game), but stop and spend time on each one. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and, at the end, offers a chance to win tickets for finding all four Benny’s — and helps the Bulls get some fan info from Snapchat and test the platform as a lead generation tool. Great work, overall here, and use of Stories.

 

The New York Jets Give Fans a Quick and Fun Glimpse of Player Personalities With their Snapchat ‘Question of the Day’

Snapchat has often fancied themselves as more like TV than anything else when it comes to its non-messaging content. In addition to exchanging messages with friends, fans come to kill time and be entertained. This ‘Question of the Day’ feature is a great, consistent content piece that wouldn’t be out of place as a kicker on a pregame or halftime show, or on a video board during a media timeout at the game. The first-person nature of the platform, along with the ‘fun’ questions the team knows work well on Snapchat, where fans wouldn’t appreciate the football-infused cliches, endears the players to the fans so well – always a good recipe for content. The consistency of it also presents a sponsorship opportunity, as well. This would certainly work on Instagram, too.

 

McDonald’s creates a Coke flip book for users to tap through

So this last one is outside the sports world, but McDonald’s showed some great creativity here that I’m surprised those in sports have not used much on Instagram Stories (and, hey, Mickey D’s is still a pretty active corporate partner and advertiser in sports). They took what would normally be dismissed as an ad and invited fans to tap-tap-tap to create an animation-like effect. I’m also normally not a fan of super-long Instagram Stories with so many notches, it’s scary, but, again, this was all in the hands of the fan to tap as quickly as possible to crack the ice. It’s fun, it feels interactive, and it has fans also starting at the $1 for any size drink messaging/promotion. It’s a simple concept and use of the Instagram Stories UX, and it’ll be cool how others continue to get creative on the platform.

 

Stories have always ruled the day, but after it took centuries and decades to go from books to radio broadcasts/shows to moving pictures with captions, to talkies (yep!) TV shows. And then the last 20 years or so as digital gives us a new way to share and produce and consume content seemingly every day.  And with a fan base that’s more fragmented across channels and platforms than ever, the temptation may be to reshare the content you’re already creating to show these new eyeballs what they’re missing.

But the best treat the platform or the feature like a subject to study — all the ways it can be used, why fans use it, how they use it, how others use it well and not so well, and how to best measure success and engagement on it. As many say, good content remains good content — make fans laugh, teach them, give them access, convey personality, be interactive and engaging, be visually stunning – features like Stories just open a new palette to paint the canvas. Focus on making fans smile and making them care, respect the platform, and you’ll be on the right track in your story.

Authenticity and Crafting Narratives Can Carry Sports Content

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The volume of stories and the ways with which to tell them is only increasing. For many in sports, this is an opportunity. While some may avoid the always-on, highly scrutinized, no holds-barred nature of new media, the savvy embrace it, and run with it. This theme peppered the chatter at the 2017 Sports PR Summit, held at the Players Tribune in May. A few key topics that arose included the ability for athletes to create and tell their own stories, the NBA treating social media like a grown-up, and ESPN’s venerable Tom Rinaldi dropped some memorable quips on storytelling.

Athletes can be and want to be more than just their sport

When scores, highlights, and the usual quotes are easy to come by, it’s the stuff that shows fans a little about players off the field that can win and differentiate. There is increasing demand for fans for such content and teams and media are answering it.

“People want to know athletes are real people and they can relate to them,” aid Mary Byrne, Senior Deputy Editor/Daily Coverage for ESPN.com.

Social media has given fans a window into the lives and personalities of their favorite athletes. And the media isn’t blind to the fervor with which fans treat an Instagram post or Tweet from an athlete showing a bit of their life off the field or their personal thoughts, in general. For Brian Cohen, Talent Producer for Good Morning Football on NFL Network, social media feeds are a producer’s dream – offering not just clues,but clear signs of an athlete’s interests and of which athletes are vocal and, well, out there.

“We dig deep into the feeds of athletes to find who they truly are…their interests, community involvement,” said Cohen. “The more open they are, the more likely we are to invite them to the show to share their story.”

A panel of athletes confirmed these sentiments later on; more and more recognize and appreciate that the paradigm has shifted. That they no longer need the media to get a thought or a story out there. Former NBA player Etan Thomas said as much, noting that social media outlets allowed athletes like him to go past the writers and media and to tell their own stories to fans.

An interesting insight that was shared via one of the athletes, NFL star DeMarcus Ware, was the need for trust. Ware, who said he picked up upon the importance of trust, from the lessons at the NFL’s broadcast boot camp. When athletes trust the media or the team or the reporter to be genuine, to be true to the story – that’s the way it should e.

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Why the NBA has thrived with new media

Many sports have done well to embrace social and digital media, but the NBA is typically the one held up as firing on all cylinders. It’s not by accident. It is largely thanks to the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver, who, well, ‘gets it.’ The league appreciates that social media is something to be embraced, not shunned or feared. It is an opportunity the NBA seizes to be their own media, to speak with an increasingly discerning fan base.

“You can no longer rely just on the traditional media outlets to get your story told,” said Silver in an excellent interview. In telling their story, Silver knows the NBA can’t use smoke and mirrors, but must be genuine. “Fans have pretty good BS detectors” he said. “So you have to be authentic.”

Silver went on to note that the league staffs social media 24/7, to engage fan all around the world at all hours. In keeping with the theme of being proactive, and not reactive or fearful, Silver has led the NBA to not just turn a blind eye to fans using game highlights, but to even encourage it (and the NBA has certainly facilitated so).

The NBA permits ‘liberal’ use of highlights and puts their protective efforts into their live game feeds. It’s not that the league has given up on protecting highlights. Qutie the contrary, they don’t see a need to ‘protect’ highlights – they are helping to promote the league and facilitating fan-generated content that markets their sport and their league.

Said Silver – “Our view on highlights – it’s in our interest to get them out there.”

Sports media is everywhere. The league is a form of media, the reporters and newspapers and TV partners are media, and, yes, the fans themselves are media. Silver is savvy enough to realize that the enormous proliferation if NBA media is nothing but a good thing.

“It’s important to us and our leagues that the sports media thrives,” said Silver. The more bloggers, the more reporters, the more sick edits there are, the more interest and content that is out there that is promoting the NBA. Want to know why the NBA has thrived on social media? Look no further than Silver and his mature look at the landscape, understanding it’s something to be fostered, not feared.

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The best stories create an emotional ride

You’ve likely seen a Tom Rinaldi feature story on ESPN. And, if so, you’ve likely smiled, cried, and felt a surge of inspiration of joy. It all probably happened during the same story. Rinaldi seemed to blow the conference as he talked about the science of story. The ESPN legend invoked the undulation of a wave to hammer home what draws one into a story, and takes them through the emotional swings of the his well-crafted tale.

“The key to stories is waves, not lines,” said Rinaldi. “Highs and lows vs. just a box score.”

Rinaldi enumerated his keys to a story. First, one must build a sense of expectation and anticipation – there has to be that waiting for the payoff. A good story also reveals a new understanding. The surface-level box score gives way to a greater understanding of the subject matter as the story ensues. Finally, Rinaldi said a good story reveals a ‘transcendent’ fact. That’s the wow moment. The finale of a Rinaldi roller coaster and the keystone for a strong story.

Sports drives more compelling stories than the pen of even the most gifted authors because it has all the elements – exciting action, peaks and valleys, and real humans who just happen to be able to do superhuman things in their sport. Take a cue from the lessons learned at this past year’s Sports PR Summit. Do what’s right. Be on the right side of history. Build trust, be authentic, don’t be the bad guy or the untrustworthy guy, and invite and tell stories that make fans feel.

PR used to be a bit too much about smoke and mirrors. But today it is so much more. There are fans sharing stories, players telling theirs, and leagues who no longer stand in the way, but can be on the same team. It’s a game everybody can win.

[See a Sports PR Summit Recap here]

The Ever-Growing Ecosystem of Sports Content and How It Has Evolved Over Decades

Remember when the Internet was small? Even longer ago, remember when the idea of choosing content was fairly limited?

There was a time not long ago when the newspaper you got was pretty much the news content you got (sure, you could buy an extra USA Today or New York Times on a newsstand). Then, the Internet came along, but, even then, competition was limited, at first, and especially for sports.

The evolution of sports media in the age of new media has been a lesson in evolve-or-die for the major names like ESPN that have persisted over the decades. It went from broadening the scope of content to realizing there was competition around them, so they had to be better and to stand out, to a recognition, today, that no click or page view can be taken for granted.

I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of a veteran sports writer, Jim Caple, who spent decades at ESPN writing on a number of topics, especially the off-beat stories that went beyond the play on the field, and he gave great perspective on an evolution through which he has lived, and thrived, after coming to ESPN after years covering the Twins for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. [Check out my interview with Caple]

Caple started early on with ESPN.com working for Page Two, which sought to build upon ESPN’s growing audience by taking on topics and angles that, while rooted in sports, told stories that would appeal to readers whether they were avid sports fans or not. ESPN.com had the size and breadth to tell these great stories that weren’t yet being told, to maintain their dominance of online sports media at the time.

“It was ‘Let’s do something that the other people aren’t doing. Let’s just have some fun with it. And it was really popular at the time…,” said Caple about Page Two. “You just got all these interesting stories. Writing about surfers in Hawaii and what their lives are like. Or just writing something fun off a game…

“We were reaching people [and] saying ‘Look, here is just something interesting. Here is just something fun that you’ll be entertained by. You may not have any interest in this sport. You may not know anything about these people. But this is kind of interesting, and it’s worth reading.’ And people would.”

With a relative dearth of quality sports media on the Internet in the early days, at least those with the credibility and brand chops of an ESPN, ESPN wasn’t necessarily yet competing with the dozens of competitors today. The Worldwide Leader had its competitive eyes on, well, the Worldwide Web. And Page Two’s diverse stories was part of that.

“There weren’t nearly as many [sports] sites at the time. If you wanted to read about sports early on the web, [ESPN.com was] the place to go to…,” said Caple. ‘Then there were so many more options…That’s a good thing for the readers; it isn’t always a good thing for your site…We were trying to draw in as many people. We didn’t want to look for just a [sports] fan…we wanted to look for anybody that was looking for a good story…”

It’s no secret that this ecosystem didn’t remain status quo for long. Sports content, and a lot of quality sports content, began sprouting up all over the Internet. but the most important change? Social media allowed a good story to take off, to get shared, whether it had the clout [and Klout] of an ESPN or not. It also meant that, when there was a good story to be told, there was a better chance that story had already been told and readers [and writers] would easily have seen it. Caple noted that, if nothing else, Twitter gives a glimpse into what people are reading and what articles ARE being seen and consumed. For writers like Caple, it meant a new set of factors to consider when deciding which story to tackle and which angle to take.

“It’s kind of interesting in that in the old days you didn’t see what other people were writing,” said Caple. “And now you see it and you’ll be like ‘Oh, that person already wrote about that if I write about it, will I just be copying or it’s already been written about, so I shouldn’t do?…’ On the other hand, it’s just this is what I want to write about or this is how I want to write about this particular event, then I should write about it the way I want to write about it – take this angle or write about this particular athlete…”

It’s a conundrum for columnists, a risk of redundancy for reporters, especially as the brand power of ESPN isn’t what it used to be make readers choose one over the other. For Caple, he can’t help but notice the other work being published that covers similar topics on his plate. And he is still grappling with the desire to write what he wants and do it better than anyone, while also, well, not being repetitive.

“I don’t go out there searching for [other content on the same topics he’s writing about], but occasionally I’ll see it anyway,” said Caple. “And it will affect how I [write]; I don’t ever want to be accused of copying or [to] be redundant. I want it to be different.”

So this is the part of the article where the big insight is supposed to be delivered, the panacea to creating quality content that stands out and that captures the attention of sports fans and fans of good content, in general. But there is no magic formula.

The solution begins by embracing the wide open world of media, because it’s not going anywhere, and understanding what fans are consuming, how they’re consuming it, and what kinds of content and topics are appealing is more possible and more important than ever. That’s not to say one has to search far and wide to make sure a story or an angle, even if it’s more evergreen and less moment-focused, hasn’t been done before.

Listening to Caple tell about all the unique experiences he’s had, including the treasure of anecdotes compiled while writing and researching and experiencing the stories themselves, I have no doubt the ability to enjoy this kind of content is never going to diminish in the midst of memes and social media fat. Because where Caple and his brethren [and their employers] can continue to shine is having these experiences and helping fans/consumers/readers/viewers get a piece of those experiences, too.

Find a way to convey memorable, sensory, emotional experiences, and you’ll win over fans who want see what it was like to be in those shoes.

The Redskins are Honing Their Digital and Social Content with Analytics

Remember the Internet before data? Even the old-school traffic counters, while no doubt lending a bit of social proof, seemed more novelty than anything else.

And then came Facebook likes, YouTube views, Retweets, email opens, page visits, time spent, video completions, ‘reach,’ and, well a lot more.

There’s so much data and so much knowledge to be gleaned from this content and engagement data that sports teams could hire a full-time position just to analyze it. And, in fact, many have. The Washington Redskins are one of those organizations and I recently had the chance to pick the brain of Geoff Blosat, the Digital Media Analyst for the Redskins, about the monumental task that he faces every day – making sense of tens, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of data points coming from all of the Redskins trackable fan touch points and content.

It’s not just about a top ten list for the content team to view each day and even a general performance report for the marketers and sponsorship team. It’s about what comes next. The best coaches look back at the previous game to inform what they’ll do for the next game. Blosat realized the power of information to inform Redskins strategy early on, and it solidified his belief and enthusiasm or his role.

“In one of my weekly reports, I came up with this article series idea,” said Blosat, who has been with the Redskins since 2015. “And I remember that first week, it was our #1 article on Redskins.com. And it’s really nice that we’ve been trying a lot of new things with data…with measuring results.”

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So as you review the reams of content, don’t just stroke your chin and pat yourself on the back – be reactive when an insight is discovered. And don’t limit it to just the next Facebook post. It can inform ad creative and messaging, content series, in-game content and promotions, sponsored social and digital content, email marketing content and creative, and so much more.

But it’s one thing for Blosat and those in his role across sports organizations to analyze digital and social media to discover insights. The communication is the key. One must take into account to whom they’re speaking, what matters to them, and how the data or insight can inform their previous or next moves. Making it digestible and making it a conversation and not a prescription are also essential elements, said Blosat.

“It can get overwhelming at times because there are so many data touch points (with fans)…But the biggest thing with data is when you create insights and look into results is (to) understand what’s most important that you’re communicating,” said Blosat. “And once you realize what’s most important – those two, three actionable insights — that’s what you go and run with.”

Don’t write a book with every report – it’s no secret attention spans are shrinking these days (you mean you’re still reading this?!), but instead, as Blosat suggests, break into down into just two or three ‘actionable insights.’ The Redskins’s devotion to data is part of a league-wide interest in assuring it’s teams know which content is performing on which platforms. The NFL actually makes a good amount of data available to all its clubs, and Blosat doesn’t let tunnel vision on the Redskins platforms get in the way of him paying attention to macro trends.

“If a team is, say, really over-indexing in article views on their website, [then I will] take a look at (their most popular content)…,” said Blosat while noting that, when thinking about audiences, one must consider how audiences (and audience traits) differ by team, by location, and by platform. “They could be trying something that we haven’t done, or something we’ve thought about doing in the past…”

On the field and the court, coaches and players are making data-drive decisions every pitch and every play. It doesn’t mean you need to do a 180 on your strategy because of one piece of content that breaks the mold. But it does mean you should be thinking actively when it comes to data, communicating what it means, and getting better on all platforms.

Iterate success, ask questions, find answers, repeat. Blosat and the Redskins are drawing up a smarter playbook. It’s the new, better way of doing content. Or say the data suggests.

[Listen to my conversation with Geoff Blosat]

Darren Rovell on Why Raw Video is What’s Now and Next in Social Media and Sports

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In a recent wide-ranging interview conducted by CBS Sports’s Seth Davis, ESPN Sports Business Reporter (and frequent Twitter user) Darren Rovell was asked about what he thinks is next in sports and social media. I appreciated what he articulated and is a good reinforcement on what teams themselves it can continue to do — to find the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. Check out the excerpt below:

“It’s raw. It’s raw stuff. It’s instead of a camera and the standard sit-down interview, it’s raw stuff from phones. ..People want stuff that is raw, and in places that they can’t get. The press box might be dead, but when I was in Wrigley Field (for the first regular season game for the Cubs after their World Series win), I was with my phone as Theo Epstein made his way to his seat and was completely mobbed. That’s what people want to see; they want to be behind the scenes…

That’s one of the products that I’ve helped push and report out (for ESPN) – this kind of on-the-scene thing where people want to see something that is handheld, raw, immediate, and something that feels like they are there. If I’m a Cubs fan and I can’t get to Wrigley [Field], how can I put out video immediately that makes me feel like I’m at Wrigley? So I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time…thinking about places to be, and how to execute that.

And it’s very difficult, because, I think for a long time, I had always thought (that) you happen to catch something going on when you’re walking to your seat or something else and then it turns into gold. And I’ve seen that on my social media feed. I’m at an event for one reason and I catch something else and that becomes the star [sic] of the night. But with this stuff, the behind-the-scenes stuff, you think it requires no preparation because it just kind of happens spontaneously. And I’ve found that you have to block the day out in a way that it’s harder than if you’re going to write a story or have TV hits.

We’re learning this and that’s one of the things that I feel is the future. Raw, immediate, and behind-the-scenes.”

Listen to the full interview here.

Sports Media Adapting to the Modern Fan

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Sports media outlets used to be just about content. The games on the channels were more important than the networks broadcasting them. It’s not like consumers had a plethora of choices from which to get their sports content in the past.

But that has all changed. It’s no longer just ESPN and the local paper. Or even a half dozen sports content websites. It’s thousands upon thousands. So how do the big guys maintain their place at the top of the mountain, particularly in the free-for-all world of digital and social?

They build brand.

Cultivating a brand, and having an active brand presence on every platform on which fans are consuming is an increasingly important concern for players in the social media game. These notions were recently elucidated at the annual Sports Business Journal World Congress of Sports, held April 20-21, 2017 in Dana Point, CA. (Check out a recap)

“SportsCenter is not a show, it’s a brand,” said ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus. “It lives online, social, mobile, our OTT [over-the-top] apps.”

ESPN has long been more than just a set of TV channels, and nowadays they recognize the need to be that omni-channel brand that fans know and trust. As the cable paradigm continues to diminish, too, sports media brands like ESPN know it may be a direct-to-consumer play, not protected by the bundle.

President of Turner David Levy emphasized the need to ‘control platforms’ and not to dice up the distribution, especially in sports. Appreciating the shift in the ways fans are consuming content was a central motif of the conference’s opening panel. Michael Neuman, Executive Vice President, Managing Partner, Scout Sports and Entertainment – ‎Horizon Media, noted in a tweet: “[The] Biggest theme of opening panel is “decentralization” of media consumption and inability of youth to embrace current delivery.”

So how are sports media businesses seeking to combat this conundrum? Build a unique brand, of course.

For Turner and Levy, it means serving a cross-section of the interests of their fans, earning more of their attention every day. “The definition of a network is changing,” stated Levy, specifically speaking about Turner’s brand now including Bleacher Report. “The future of B/R is a cross between sports and culture (music, fashion) and maybe live games.”

Perhaps the best manifestation of finding success with a unique brand in sports media is Barstool Sports. Their irreverent, authentic, informed, unfiltered take on sports stories and content has found some startup success in an increasingly crowded sports marketplace. They’ve done it by letting the punch line that are Internet takes and memes drive much of their hyperbolic content.

“We are SNL [Saturday Night Live] if it were born out of the Internet,” said Erika Nardini, CEO Barstool of Sports: “We have the fan base and loyalty…

“Brand has to be part of the conversation.”

The lesson lies in the fact that fans are no longer coming straight to you in droves. Consumer have so many choices for content and their attention must be earned; you’ve got to make yourself easy to reach and then you’ve got to them want to come to you.

Four Ways to Stay in Touch With Fan Engagement and Social Media Trends

Working in sports and entertainment means adopting a constantly inquisitive mindset. Especially for those focusing on fan engagement, it quickly becomes second-nature to never stop studying.

It is so important to always remember that everything you do is for the fans. It’s not about what you want and like, it’s about what’s best for the fans, how they consume, and what they want and like.

The good news is that the world is a wide open classroom. So take advantage of it. Here are some things I do to study fans.

I observe

Anyone who has seen me at a sports event knows I’m a bit of a rubbernecker. I’m stealing glances and peering over shoulders. I’m not creepily eavesdropping on someone’s text conversation or what they’re writing in their Snapchat message. I am merely looking at – what are fans doing? Are they snapping pictures (and using their camera, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat)? Are they messaging friends via text message, Messenger, or something else? Are they scrolling through one of their feeds, looking up something on the mobile web, looking at a team or ticket app?

Sure, you can scope out studies and surveys, but nothing beats observing fans in the wild.

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I Ask

The best way to learn is to ask questions. I may get annoying with it sometimes, but I pick the brains of everyone I encounter – friends, family [from young cousins to siblings to aunts and uncles], and fans at sports events/games. Which social platforms do they spend time on and for what purpose? How and where do they engage with their favorite sports teams? What are they doing during a game? Where will they post and actually engage? How do they decide to go to a game and how do they go about getting tickets? Who do they go with? Don’t treat it like the Spanish Inquisition, but most friends and family are happy to indulge my interest in information.

Experience What Fans Do

If it’s been a while since the last time you attended a game or event as a ‘normal’ fan, that should change. Know what it’s like to purchase tickets, research security policies, sit in traffic, find parking, battle the ingress, wait in the security line, find your seats, use the bathroom, explore and buy concessions, And, yeah, the actual game. The reality is that working in sports means arriving much earlier and leaving much after fans, and the in-game experience hardly resemble that of a ‘normal’ fan. Not only that, you can learn a lot from attending other sports events – from the entertainment, the sponsor activations, the marketing, the production, the promotions. Be an active student of sports and fan experience.

Experience What Your Fans Do on Digital and Social

When you live as an admin on social media, it can be easy to lose sight of the traditional fan experience. Knowing how your post looks in the feed amongst those of friends, family, and other brands, teams, and media outlets. Is your video thumbnail and copy eye-catching, is your graphic thumb-stopping, does clicking that link inside the Facebook app or swiping up in that Instagram Story deliver a good user experience? What about visiting your website – if you wanted to buy tickets, how easy is it to do? Are there programs and promotions you live and breathe daily, but a fan may not even know about, that your digital and social platforms do a sufficient job to make fans aware of and informed about? Step into a fans’ shoes daily and consume your content, click your links, watch your videos, and be honest with the perception, the visual, the brand, and the experience.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of living on one side of the wall and forgetting what it’s like to be a normal fan. But there are opportunities to learn every day. take advantage of every one of them and develop a sense of intuition that remains true to the fan experience in reality. Try to walk a mile in their shoes every day or see things through their eyes. Become and expert in empathy and never stop being a student of the game.