San Diego Wave vs. Angel City FC NWSL Game – Fan Engagement + Sports Biz

On September 17, 2022, the San Diego Wave and Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) set a single-game attendance record for the NWSL when over 32,000 fans came to see the game at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

Here’s a taste of the game, with a fan engagement bent. Check it out below

Episode 229 Snippets: Why Sports Organizations are Key to Improving the World

On episode 229 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports (an International Sports Marketing Firm; Management Consulting and Solutions for Professional Teams, Leagues and Venues).

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

Episode 229: Aileen McManamon on How Sports Organizations Can Creatively Drive Sustainability and Why it Matters

Listen to episode 229 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports (an International Sports Marketing Firm; Management Consulting and Solutions for Professional Teams, Leagues and Venues).

Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

77 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

How Athletes Can Begin Preparing for their Post-Playing Life the Day their Career Starts

    When did you start planning for your retirement?

    Maybe it was the first time you faced down years of student loan payments. Or when you opened that Roth IRA. Or perhaps when you looked into your company’s 401(k).

    We spend more years planning for retirement than actually being retired from our careers. Except for professional athletes. They’re not thinking about building a career that’ll last past their 30s — they can’t, really, if they want to be among that top 0.00001% of their sport good enough to make a living playing it.

    So the harsh truth is that the majority don’t make it or don’t make it long. And then they have to enter the real world, starting from scratch — so they think. They’re behind their peers in their generation, some believe. But it’s easy to focus on what athletes may lack, better to reframe by accounting for the unique advantages they have, the experience they get, and the skills they develop. This is what Dr. Caleb Mezzy is working to do and we recently discussed his research, findings, insights, and recommendations.

    “You are an athlete for a period of time…,” said Mezzy of the opportunity-laden window of notoriety athletes have during their playing careers. “When you’re an athlete, you have this open door to just say, ‘Hey, I’m a player on this team, I’m gonna be in this town, would you like to meet?’ And you can meet any professional in the world…

    “Maybe you can get 7 or 8AM coffee with some high-ranking CEOs in California or in Arizona or Las Vegas, whatever it may be. Those are strategies that we can put into place.”

    It’s also about skills — “transferable skills,” says Mezzy, who is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management and Business at Neumann University — skills are appealing on a resume and go beyond reading a Cover 2 defense (but there are analytical thinking skills evident in doing that, too!).

    “Transferable skills are such a huge part of athletes going into the workforce…,” Mezzy explained. “Because they work so hard to get here [and] they don’t know how to articulate the skills that they’ve acquired into a different [occupation]…

    “Bridge that gap, tell that story, I think that’s the beauty there…Look at what transferable skills can we bring to the table because of what we did, because of who we were, and now where we’re going?”

    Social media changed the game, too. And as generations of athletes with more social media savvy and propensity enter — and leave, whether by their choice or not — their pro sports career, social media can be a key lever to pull. No matter what an athlete may want to do after their playing career, an audience has value. And if athletes play their cards right during that special window of time, they can accrue a lot of capital.

    “I think that their digital presence plays a role. I think that the ability to network and find other people, other careers, kind of like the exploratory phase of career development could really help them in their next phase in life,” said Mezzy, who also runs an athlete transition practice, Grit and Glue.

    “[Retirement] is an ongoing process because the minute you get drafted or signed and you’re on a team, it’s inevitable that you are going to retire…

    “So at that point, when you know it’s an ongoing process, there are different things that you could be doing along the way. A lot of that could be digital-focused. You build up this audience so that when you do retire that you have an audience that you could [activate].”

    There’s a phrase that entered the lexicon in recent years, a phrase that Mezzy and I talked about — more than an athlete. When you think others see you only as a pro athlete, it’s natural to get wrapped up in that identity. Many of us non-athletes can relate, too — to the point where it’s difficult to separate one’s identity from their job — but most of our jobs don’t have such an early expiration date. So it’s up to athletes to appreciate and work to cultivate their own ‘more than.’

    “They don’t lead with [being a former athlete], and I think that’s the thing,” said Mezzy, talking about how ex-athletes represent themselves in their more white-collar post-playing careers. “Because we always talk about identity and it’s what you do, not who you are. I think if you don’t lead with it and you’re like, ‘This is the value I bring here,’ that’s great.

    “I’m thinking of all these different players as we’re talking about it, because that player I’m talking [about that works in] financial and wealth management, is gonna be posting about how to manage your taxes for the upcoming season. Or ‘if you’re an MLB player who just got drafted, this is what you should do with your first paycheck.’ So he’s looking at it from both lenses — ‘I manage wealth and finances, but I also come at it from I was a former baseball player.'”

    All this is moot if athletes don’t buy in. If they keep that tunnel vision — which helped them reach that elite level — at the expense of an uncertain career and future. And they have to be willing to ask and answer the tough questions, about what care about or want to put time into after their playing days are through. Because, as Mezzy said, “The minute you get drafted or signed and you’re on a team, it’s inevitable that you are going to retire.” There’s an identity, a skillset, and strengths that transcend the court or playing field. There’s a fully formed person beyond a name, number, and roster listing.

    “When I talk to these baseball players and I say this stuff, they get to a point where like, ‘All I know is baseball,’ and that’s not true,” Mezzy said, with conviction. “That’s all you think you know, because that’s what you’ve done, but what can we talk about things that you’ve learned during baseball that will spread it and then we could open them up or dive into those little pieces of fabric to really find out who you are as a person?”

    Athletes may not be able to play their sport forever. But if they play their cards right, they can set themselves up for life.


    Episode 228 Snippets: How Athletes Transition to a Life and Career after Sports

    On episode 228 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Caleb Mezzy, Assistant Professor for Sport Management and Business at Neumann University, founder of Grit and Glue, and co-host of the Beyond Baseball podcast.

    What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

    How NIL Has Transformed College Athletes into Businesses and Brand Builders — and How Schools Can and Should Help Them

      Brands used to have all the power. This was true in just about every industry. That’s not to say individuals didn’t matter — there were celebrity spokespeople and other ‘stars’ that received acclaim, often in third-party media. But that all began to change, gradually, as the creator economy arose and social media was more about individuals than brands.

      And even in college athletics, where we’re not all that far removed from team-wide social media “bans,” the convergence of the power of the individual was always an inevitability.

      And, just like that, decades-old paradigms in college athletics were transformed — student-athletes on social media wasn’t a distraction or a risk, but the next big thing in the arms race we call recruiting.

      “Texas (Longhorns Athletics) really got behind the opportunity for athletes to make the most of their time there and be representatives of the university,” said Marc Jordan, who worked in social media at the University of Texas Athletics before joining NIL platform INFLCR. “I think as soon as the recruiting part of it caught up where they recognized that recruits were following their athletes and that the more active and the more available and the more that their athletes were on social, the better it was for recruiting.”

      There was a positive correlation between athletes posting on social media and schools getting exposure for their programs to the audience that matters most to coaches — recruits. Even while athletes were barred from monetizing their burgeoning social media brands, there was still value in growing their followers and accounts for a potential future payoff. The mutual benefits meant future recruits could be enticed by seeing not just cool content on athletes’ Stories, but also by the prospect of getting access to such cool content themselves when they played there. Water slides and barber shops only go so far for a generation that virtually worships top social media creators.

      Then NIL monetization came and the floodgates appeared ready to open. For Jordan and his Texas colleagues at the time, they knew many student-athletes would be ready to dive in. But these were just kids; 18-21 year-olds that had spent their lives mastering their sport and their bodies, but with little to no experience managing a potentially professional social media presence.

      “We would work with different teams and we would work with different departments to prepare their athletes, get them onto a better posting cadence, have them understand what’s good and what’s bad, the difference between editorial and commercial content, and reasons why you focus more on that editorial,” said Jordan, who now works with schools across the country that utilize the INFLCR platform. “[We were] making sure that they didn’t just become the NASCAR of Instagram where there are just logos everywhere and there’s no value behind it.”

      It’s all easier said than done. There may be colleges with decades or centuries of experience teaching kids traditional academics and decades of time in teaching student-athletes about sports performance — but they never had to worry much about teaching a diverse set of hundreds of athletes of different backgrounds and experience what it meant to build, monetize, and manage their name, image, and likeness. That’s why many have turned to a number of technology and services platforms that have rapidly arisen to serve this need, most notably INFLCR and Opendorse, which together work with hundreds of colleges across the US to help athletes monetize and build their NILs. For Jordan at INFLCR, he’s found an important part of helping athletes is to create a learning system that will actually work for them.

      “I think in the past I’ve been naive to think that we could give athletes, you know, here are 20 steps to NIL success. No one’s gonna go through 20 steps. No athlete is going to go through and do that,” said Jordan. “We’ve offered some online courses that are quick, that have allowed athletes to learn very quickly — but breaking it down to here are four steps that you can do, here are the things that you could do in the next five minutes that will help you down the road, and then letting them learn as they go; adding more as they do the initial steps, but not trying to overload them too quickly, because there’s one thing these athletes don’t have [is] time.”

      Athletes (and, well, students in general) may not get too excited about their chemistry or English lit class (some do!), but when you start to talk about making money from their NIL, ears perk up. This is when the fun starts, when athletes go from potential pitchmen for their sports programs to start-up businesses in their own right — the business of being them. Just like they work with a team dietitian to break down their nutrition, a strength coach for muscle, and a position coach for their sport — it only makes sense for athletes to get down to the food-log and film-study level of developing a strategy to make their NIL the best it can be. This is the kind of analytical work athletes can get behind, because success can be life-changing. But it’s not easy. Jordan starts at the foundation, discussing who the athlete’s social media audience is and how that changes the day they commit to the school and step on campus.

      “We talk to [the athletes] about [brand] and we also break down kind of their audience because we [approach it] for what [their audience] is that day,” Jordan explained. “So let’s say they want to build their brand in a certain area, we talk to them a little bit about, ‘Okay, well, think about your social media now.”

      Jordan went on to explain the different segments that often comprise an athlete’s audience, from their childhood communities to fans of their high school team, fans of their college team, and everyone in between and beyond. But as athletes get more intentional about their soon-to-be professional brands and who they want to be, it can be a challenging balance to serve the various buckets of their social media audience while also evolving themselves as a person and a brand.

      “As you are figuring out content and as you’re figuring out brand building, [you need to understand] that when you post things and when you want to get interaction, you have to at least satisfy one of those buckets or groups,” said Jordan. “But the more of them that you can get interested in that type of content, the better and higher engagement it’s gonna have.

      “So as you’re adding in different things — like, if you’re interested in music in fashion — understand that those are gonna be harder things to build early on because you’re adding a new type of audience into your current following…We want to make sure that they are setting up their audience to care about them for when they aren’t competing anymore, and for when they do go in [and] enter the workforce or they retire and sail off into the sunset — we just wanna make sure that that audience sticks with them.”

      As these NIL initiatives evolve — and boy are they evolving quickly — they will gain more tentacles. A water slide or a lazy lagoon or other quirky amenities constructed to woo recruits requires little upkeep, let alone department-wide integration, compared to NIL programs. There are parts of college football programs, for example, that exist in a virtual silo, almost completely removed from the rest of athletics. But NIL practices — they work best when everybody is on board, focusing on making the flowery promises of their press releases come to fruition.

      “The only way for these programs and these things to work is for them to have substance,” said Jordan. “The recruit will be able to see right through any cute announcement or any branded program if there isn’t any substance behind it…

      “We need this symbiosis between [INFLCR] and the athletics department.”

      College athletics programs are no longer just fostering student-athletes. There’s an influencer-like, brand-building, NIL developing practice that’s part of the program, as well. And it’s only getting bigger. The recruiting pitch will be less about the novel amenities the program has and more about case studies on how they’ve helped student-athletes make money and build a valuable brand. For many student-athletes, their four years of college sports could be among the most lucrative of their lives, monetarily and otherwise. That time presents an opportunity — it’s the responsibility of their institutions to ensure they’re able to make the most of it.


      Episode 228: Caleb Mezzy on Athletes Preparing for Life After Sports, Social Media Strategy, and Teaching the Next Generation of Sports Biz

      Listen to episode 228 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Caleb Mezzy, Assistant Professor for Sport Management and Business at Neumann University, Founder of Grit and Glue athlete consultancy, and co-host of the Beyond Baseball podcast.

      Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

      80 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

      Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

      Episode 227 Snippets: How College Athletes are Building and Monetizing their NIL and Brands

      On episode 227 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Marc Jordan, Manager of Product Success and NIL Services for INFLCR (part of Teamworks).

      What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

      Episode 227: Marc Jordan on Lessons from the Longhorns and Helping a Generation of College Athletes Maximize NIL with INFLCR

      Listen to episode 227 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Marc Jordan, Manager of Product Success for Teamworks | INFLCR.

      Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

      65 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

      Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

      How an NHL Team Built and Executed its Brand: ‘You need to have a vision and a north star’​

      I remember my first social media job in major pro sports. I was an entry-level, one-man content band for social, among other platforms. And nobody told me what content to create.

      Early on that often meant piggybacking off the beat writer stories until I got more comfortable talking to players and coaches. And, looking back, I had some strategy in my head — stories to tell, events to amplify, and my interpretation of the ‘brand’ of the team on the marketing side and how that should manifest on social media.

      Social media has grown up since then. One-man bands in major professional sports are no more; social channels are powerful and they command more resources and efforts now. Strategy is now table stakes. The best teams have social media leaders collaborating with the rest of the organization, carrying out a thoughtful, cohesive brand through content and social media activity.

      The content and social strategy starts with the brand, not the other way around. That’s an important distinction that can be the difference between engagement and connection, short-term results that can set up long-term wins. A strategy built out from a strong brand foundation stands the test of time. I recently spoke to the New Jersey Devils’s Senior Manager of Content Strategy Chris Wescott about the team’s success in building a distinct, relatable, objectively successful cross-platform content practice that effectively activates the team’s brand.

      “You need to have a vision and a north star for your brand,” said Wescott, who has been with the Devils since 2019, the third National Hockey League (NHL) team with which he’s worked. “And then you kind of build your content plan around that, build your marketing around that, and you kind of build your voice around that.”

      One reason that’s so key for social media, too, Wescott explained, is because the voice should not be the voice of the person on the keys. It’s the voice of the team and it should remain so even as key pushers change.

      “The whole point of having a brand identity and voice is so that you can survive turnover at the creative level, too…,” he said. “You have to invest in [social and creative] positions. So that’s where you’re going to get a little helter-skelter in terms of brand voice and then you’re gonna see things that don’t necessarily make sense coming from that team.”

      It’s just as integral to realize that a brand is more than the copy and memes on the team’s social media channels. It represents and manifests from the organization as a whole. And because brand is always the first brick laid, upon which the strategies and tactics are built, it’s vital that everybody works together and works out from the same foundation. That everyone has the same north star. Wescott talked about how this process played out for the Devils as they sought to reinvigorate and define the team’s brand in recent years.

      “Our social media team does not operate in a bubble; we operate alongside marketing brand strategy…,” said Wescott, who previously worked with the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers before joining the Devils. “We all kind of sat in a room and started [asking] what are the Devils? Who are the Devils? Who are we gonna be five years from now? Who are we gonna be 10 years from now?

      “There were a lot of meetings and discussions that went on with this evolution of our brand and how the voice should not only complement who the brand is, but really work in tandem with it to grow brand affinity.”

      Think about one of your own favorite teams or athletes. How would you define their brand? Then consider how the content they post, what they talk about, how they talk about it, how they interact, and whether it all lines up with this overarching ‘brand.’ The word brand gets a lot of play nowadays (I hope you’re not playing a drinking game for use of the word ‘brand’ in this article), but less discussed is how you go from the strategy to tactics, how you put into practice what is put down on paper. As Wescott and his colleagues defined the brand of the New Jersey Devils, it was up to him and his team to activate the brand through their social media.

      “We are Jersey’s team and there’s a certain pride and toughness that comes with New Jersey…,” said Wescott, describing a bit of the team’s brand. “We wanted to reflect that pride, that toughness, that roll off your shoulders kind of mentality in our voice. There’s kind of an attitude and a bit of a swagger with it…if you come at us, we’ll swing back. We’re not gonna take it from anybody, we’re gonna dish it back.

      “And I think that plus a little bit of irreverent humor really kind of blends together with that attitude and toughness to create who the Devils are on social media.”

      One of the best parts about social media, too, is that it offers both quantitative and qualitative feedback on whether the brand, strategy, and tactics are working. Wescott noted that the team has seen largely positive results since they adopted the more ‘Jersey’ brand. And what’s cool is that it’s not just social media. That brand north star really permeates throughout the rest of the organization in a lot of ways.

      “There are certain times where you kind of hold off on integrating it,” Wescott cautioned but also noted, “But I think for the most part, like game presentation (for example) — everything should have that tone to it because you’re the Devils and everything that you do should have that tone to it.”

      Tone, voice, and personality are important parts of a brand. But they’re not the only parts. Particularly in recent years, what a brand values — and how they actively demonstrate they hold those values — is of utmost importance. Remember, the Devils are ‘Jersey’ and that means not just representing the personality and tone of New Jersey, but showing that they really do love and support the Garden State. Wescott discussed how that well-rounded brand plays out through the team’s content — the team and the brand are more than their tone and voice.

      “I think that there are some people [that] just think ‘Oh, the Devils are rude or they’re always roasting [people]’ or something like that,” he said. “But if you see what we do in the community and the amount of social justice initiatives, the amount of helping different underserved parts of our community and what we do for [the] ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ [program] and all those initiatives; it’s also welcoming people into our family, and once you’re in our family, you’re family…”

      A significant part of forming an emotional connection is getting to know someone. It’s hard to form a relationship with someone inconsistent, to understand a disparate collection of interactions. The same challenge persists when sports teams don’t know who they are and who they want to be — if they don’t know, their fans certainly don’t know. The end result is often weaker connections, perpetually chasing short-term engagement day-to-day. A brand north star changes that. It creates a gravitational pull around which everything else orbits. Things just make sense and fans can get to know you, to appreciate you, and to fall in love with you. That’s how relationships form that will stand the test of time.