A Trip to the Los Angeles Wildcats (XFL) Game with a Sports Biz and Fan Engagement Lens

It’s a stimulating experience to witness the birth of a sports league. To see teams try their best to create entertainment worth paying for and to earn fans, win over their hearts and minds.

It was with this excitement and enthusiasm that I attended the Los Angeles Wildcats’s third ever game and second home game, at Dignity Health Sports Park (home of the MLS’s LA Galaxy), where they took on the visiting DC Defenders. As I took in the game, I, as I always do at sporting events because I can’t help it and I love it, I jotted down some observations, took pictures, and thought about what was working well and what more could be added as the Wildcats and the XFL seek to create a successful league and a fan base in year one.
[Check out some images captured at the game in deck at the bottom, too!]

  • They had pregame intros for the starting sides for each team, a good way to get to know the players a bit more. Maybe it was because we were in a soccer stadium, but seeing each player come out as they were announced, I couldn’t help but think how cool it’d be to have a kid escorting each one (as is common in soccer) to create that many more memories, more fans, and more families of fans.
  • A nice touch was the Wildcats team captain getting on the PA mic before the game to give a heartfelt message of thanks to the fans for coming out to the game.
  • The XFL broadcasts have gotten praise for the audio of mic’d up players and coaches during the gameplay and in the huddle and on the sidelines before the play. For fans at the game, the quarterback’s audio could be heard over the PA — which was startling at first, but also really cool. While the fans at home still got far more live audio, this element of the in-game experience still has a lot of potential and perhaps the league’s app could come into play, or, similar to NASCAR, fans could rent radios to listen in on tracks.
  • There were a couple of loud and enthusiastic supporters groups there, with matching t-shirts to boot. These fans appeared to be Rams die-hards who had adopted the Wildcats for the winter/spring, if nothing else because they love the experience of being at the game and yelling. They were also exhorting others to make noise and cheer, starting the wave, and initiating cheers. It could make sense to emulate soccer and facilitate the formal organization of supporters groups, who could add to the atmosphere and recruit and develop other superfans.
    Good degree of super fans (supporters groups?)
  • Something that stood out was the frequency and depth of exposure the team/league’s sponsors received during the game. There isn’t a large quantity of sponsors, and little to no local partners, which resulted in more opportunity for the existing sponsors. The league’s founding partners get treated well, and that’s a good thing.
  • My seats were very close to the field and cost under $30 a pop. While the XFL won’t be able to reach the cache of the NFL, its affordability in getting the chance to get that close to the speed and athleticism is a huge selling point. It was cool to be that close and it’s realistic for a family of four to attend a game without breaking the bank.
  • The fans in attendance appeared to be comprised of mostly young to middle-age males, with a decent spattering of families, as well.
  • Something very noticeable was the wide swaths of open space on the sidelines, in contrast to what is typically seen on a NFL or college football sideline. This leave sa lot to the imagination, whether it’s used for premium experiences, hospitality spaces, special guests, corporate hospitality, and much more.
  • While it picked up later in the game, the lack of fan engagement during media timeouts early on was noticeable. In the second half, fans got more ‘fan cams’ and games.
  • If the league wants fans to emotionally connect with the team, they need to push the players at every chance. When a player makes a big play [or after every catch and tackle and turnover[, put a bio card on the video board, make sure their name is known, fun facts are shared, and fans have a chance to become fans and build a connection.

IMG_0139

  • A lot of fans there, including myself, were attending their first LA Wildcats game (remember, there was only one home game preceding it), so it would have made sense to leave no stone unturned to try and ensure those fans in attendance had a reason to come back and/or commit to come back and/or express a desire to come back again. How could this be done?
  • While there were some fan contests later on and calls to put ‘Claws Up’ [see more about this later], there weren’t many fan CTA’s, whether that’s something like a text to win sweepstakes or sign up for a newsletter, a call-to-action to use the XFL app to hear the extended audio or view replays, promoting the XFL’s prediction app (no mention of this at all)
  • It would also be interesting to see how aggressive and creative the team could get on the ticket sales front to get fans to come back — a box office deal/discount during the game, a sweepstakes to win tickets, a promo code to use on their mobile devices to get tickets to the next game, etc. etc.
  • The opportunities for giveaways will grow as sponsorships grow, but I still found it disappointing that I didn’t leave with anything branded for the Wildcats and therefore nothing to showcase my potential fandom or remember my trip or the team. This could be something to wave at the game like a rally towel, a cheap free t-shirt, magnet schedules for the fridge, car flags, etc. (all whether sponsored or not). A free merch item could’ve also been part of a promotion if fans bought tickets to a future home game on-site during the game or a coupon for a free tchotchke could have been placed in the app (thereby promoting app downloads). Lots here.
  • There were a lot of banners up around the field and venue and the LED’s were largely showing the same 5-6 partners over and over. What more could be done with this inventory to add or create value? Fan CTA’s (like those mentioned above), more welcoming groups and fan shout-outs (there were some of these at halftime for a couple minutes), info about rules or players or in-game stats (a dearth of stats overall), etc. Finding more local partners will help here, as well, and that will come in time and as the team develops metrics to pitch.
  • As you can see in the slideshow, there were a couple of pop-up merchandise areas around the stadium, but surprisingly no mentions of team or league merchandise on the PA or on the screen during the game. A promo code or offer or at least a CTA to use one’s mobile device to buy merch or enter-to-win opportunity would have been welcomed and represented both a sales and fan acquisition opportunity.
  • Really liked seeing local teams in attendance recognized during media timeouts, this type of grassroots fan development and marketing will be essential to continuing to grow the base.
  • The PA and video board went silent at times way too much, missing out on opportunities to use graphics and callouts to celebrate first downs and scoring plays and highlight players. I imagine a good deal of content used on social media would be good to repurpose on the video board, and there seem to be easy wins there.
  • A couple small but noticeable snafus that revealed the league’s relative immaturity — there was a long timeout/stoppage of play following a penalty on 4th down that resulted in a 1st down and fans in attendance never got any explanation as to what happened. There was also apparently an audio outage as the PA and music went silent for about 3-5 minutes straight before returning.
  • As I went to share about my trip to the XFL / Wildcats game on social, I was discouraged to not be able to find any GIFs or GIF stickers for the XFL or the Wildcats on GIPHY or on Tenor. In fact, the closest thing were some GIFs from the old XFL, something I’m sure the league would prefer fans not to find as they build the new league and teams. This seems like another easy win here to activate fans on social to spread the word and the brand.
  • Of course there was a t-shirt toss — which is always good. There was also a heartfelt ‘Hero of the Game’ which was preceded by an impressively produced video featuring the honoree that looked almost like a Nike commercial. This was surprisingly not sponsored, though I’m sure it could (and maybe will in the future) fit for a number of partners and partner categories.
  • I enjoyed the In-stadium player interviews at end of 1st quarter and at the two-minute warning, including a question about fan support in stadium. However, having seen the TV broadcasts, I definitely missed the interviews fans at home get to see right after big plays and scoring plays. These interviews were also the only time we really get player exposure and their name.
  • Something very starkly missing from the game presentation was the lack of anything about the league itself, a missed opportunity to develop XFL fans. There could be scores of other games shown (this was the fourth and final game of the weekend), no league standings shown, no statistical leaders (create stars that fans can become fans of), no highlights from other games, etc. Another easy opportunity here, presumably, to help foster fans of the league, teams, and players.
  • I saw more than one person wearing LA Kiss merch (the former Arena Football League team that played in Orange County until folding recently); definitely a good cohort of fans there for the Wildcats to market to right away who have experience spending time and money attending and cheering on an alternate, minor league football team.
  • The XFL has been discussed as embracing gambling, most saliently by having broadcasts show the spread and over/under. This was not a part of the game for fans in attendance (perhaps by design or not permissible in California?), but it would be interesting to show player props, among other gambling elements, throughout the game as another point of interest and discussion for fans in attendance. (Again, it may not be possible in California at this time).
  • Nice seeing the Wildcats invest in social media aggregation from fans at the game using #TheWildcatWay with their posts. They switched periodically from grids to singling out some posts (those singled out were typically posts by the team, though). There could be some opportunity to somehow notify those fans whose post was shown individually on the video board
  • One missing element from the XFL and its teams is that there are no mascots. This seems like a missed opportunity to win over kids, to engage fans during the game and at community events, and add another avenue with which fans could connect with the brand and the team.
  • Toyota is a partner of the team and, while they didn’t get a ton of play, there was a read by the MC at halftime. However, it was hard to hear the PA, especially unfortunate because he was talking about some $500 off offer. The video board didn’t help here, because all that was shown was a generic graphic with the Toyota and Wildcats logos (and nothing about this special offer). Should be an easy fix/improvement there. It’s also another opportunity to use the LED’s to reinforce the offer at the time and during the game.
  • Something I liked seeing, but wouldn’t have minded seeing more of, were explainer videos shown on the video board to describe the unique XFL rules, which have a handful of differences from traditional football/NFL rules.
  • Halftime is shorter than the NFL halftime, but, even so, there was no entertainment at halftime at all, which was surprising. I anticipated and could see a number of opportunities here — inviting a high school band or cheer or dance team to perform on the field, a contest on the field or in the stands, show highlights on the video board of other XFL games, showing a Wildcats video feature (many of which they’ve produced for their social channels)m honoring a military member on the field (always a win), or many other possible options.
  • There was highlights of the game itself shown at the end of halftime, though interestingly those highlights were without any audio, did not feature a sponsor, and there was no element of making sure fans knew who the players were for the Wildcats that starred during the first half.
  • As you can see in the slideshow, the halftime stats left much to be desired. (Only team total yards, total passing yards, and total rushing yards shown, nothing more). This seemed a missed opportunity to give fans more and, again, a chance to highlight standout performers. Fans couldn’t go “Wow, xx player had tore it up the first half,” because there were no individual stats shown at the game.
  • There seemed to be a tech snafu as several plays took place and all the LEDs in a  were just showing a sponsor and there was nowhere to see the time, score, and down and distance.
  • I liked the fact the stadium had dedicated closed captioning for everything over the PA, which helped both the hearing-impaired and those that couldn’t quite make out the PA (including me) a lot of the time
  • A unique ‘School of Rock Air Guitar’ contest took place during a media timeout in the 2nd half (see deck), which pitted a couple kids against each other trying to do their best ‘air guitar’ performance to music played over the PA. This, like all the activations during the game, was not sponsored and the idea probably sounded better on paper as air guitar performances by these first-timers were just kinda meh on the big screen and it was hard not to feel bad for the kid that lost decisively when fan cheering was used as a barometer for the winner and loser.
  • One of the cool features of XFL broadcasts are the great access viewers get during play reviews, not just seeing replays from every angle, but also going inside the review room and hearing the officials talk through the review and what is going into their decision. For us fans at the game, however, we got next to nothing — no replays, no behind-the-scenes access, just a plain card on the video board reading ‘Under Review;’ that was a bit disappointing and made me wish I were at home watching.
  • The players in this league get it and appreciate the opportunity and the fans. Granted, the Wildcats were winning this game handily, but it was still awesome to see players on the sideline encouraging fans to cheer. This happens sporadically in the NFL, but it was frequent and players went close to the seats and screamed at and with the fans. It was great engagement I hope is encouraged and continued
  • Similar to the start of the game, at the end of the game during the two-minute warning, one of the standout player performers got on the mic and thanked fans for coming out and got the stadium excited. Sure, it helped the home team was assured a win at that time, but it was still a great gesture.

 

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