Will the ‘Lasting Legacy’ of the COVID Sports Shutdown Be Athletes’ Embrace of their Platforms?

Every season the number is shrinking. We’re not far away from sports leagues where every athlete will have been born into a world in which Facebook, Twitter, smartphone cameras, and ubiquitous social media are the way of life.

But that moment can wait. Because this extended period of sheltering has accomplished as more than any generational shift ever could. Over this strange spring of 2020 just about every athlete experienced the epiphany — that fans still care, that they still have notoriety, and that their platform can still be powerful even when the games stop.

Maybe that connection is growing because the walls are being broken down and athletes are being seen at eye-level.

“This is the time where people feel like they’re just like these athletes, because they’re doing the at-home workouts, and they’re just like you having to wear a mask and not going to the gym, not traveling and not going and sitting courtside,” said Jacqueline Dahl  of 1UP Sports Marketing on a panel for the recent Leaders Week.
“So I truly think this is such an opportunity for athletes to engage with their audience because they feel just like them.”

It’s more than that, though. Many marvel at LeBron James not just for his prowess on the court, but also because he has seemed to understand the power of his platform and his brand from day one. As this public health crisis has ensued, many more athletes are realizing they too have a potentially powerful platform and that fans want to hear what they have to say. They always had a feeling they were influential, but now many are acting more like influencers.

“What’s been interesting with athletes is a lot of them are at home and they’re using Facebook and Instagram — they’re used to using these tools, but now they’re becoming power users, which has been amazing to see.,” said Kevin Cote, Facebook’s Director, Sports Partnerships on a panel at Leaders Week. “Leveraging our tools in new and creative ways, doing it themselves…seeing them use tools like Instagram Live to both entertain, but also to inform and support.”

Things really hit home when Dr. Anthony Fauci went on Instagram Live to discuss the coronavirus and the nation’s health and safety. His interviewer/host — not some national news anchor or reporter, but former NBA MVP and true national influencer Stephen Curry. Sure, not every athlete has the clout of Curry, but every one of them is an influencer of some degree and all it takes is to post a bit more personally, engage and interact, and those same athletes have their eyes opened what an enormous audience is there listening, watching, and talking on the other side. Cote took a visionary view, commenting on what this period could mean moving forward.

Coronavirus: Obama joins Stephen Curry's talk with Dr. Fauci - Los ...

“What athletes have especially shown is that they have these massive audiences, they can go directly to these people and connect in so many different ways,” he said.

“…In this moment athletes are stepping up in so many different ways, to identify themselves as they are human beings as well, there’s an ability to connect directly with their fans, directly with other public figures for good. And I think that’s going to be one of the lasting legacies of this time.”

Pro Athletes on Social Media: A Difficult Dichotomy - SMW Toronto 2019

How long would it have taken for so many of these athletes to get on TikTok, Twitch, and Instagram Live without this extended idle time at home? When would these same athletes have realized what they’d been sitting on all this time? When you combine the inherent clout of an athlete with the intent and mindset of an influencer, there is incredible power unleashed.

There are far more important concerns as we all hope this pandemic passes. But these strange circumstances have perhaps helped to usher in a new era for athletes on social media. And even things aren’t quite the same when sports start back up again en masse, the door has opened, athletes have seen the light, and for many things will never be the same again.

(PS: Learn more about Leaders Week)

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Episode 169 Snippets: Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas on the Sports Uniform Geekiness and the Community That Can’t Get Enough

On episode 168 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Paul Lukas, founder and writer, Uni Watch.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Episode 167 Snippets: Jay Hickson Goes Deep on the Keys to Creative Strategy in Sports

On episode 167 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Jay Hicks, Sports creative veteran, Jay Hicks Studios, Sports Creatives Podcast.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

How Social Media and Sports Can Pivot During this Pandemic

Talk to a lot of social media pros in sports and many will tell you they’re working harder than ever. There may be no games, no practices, road trips, scrums, and suits – but they’re pooped. Because it’s not easy to come up with content to fill every day, try to create value for sponsors, and – most importantly – keep fans engaged. To assure fans will remain just as avid even as their favorite teams and players aren’t competing.

There has been a lot of creativity at this time — from pick ‘em posts to trivia, Q&A’s, watch parties, kids activities, UGC, and so much more. The creativity goes beyond sports, toom as platforms like TikTok, Twitch, Houseparty, and Instagram Live all growing rapidly. Everyone is starting to think differently. For years, sports teams have become more like full-time content companies. It may be tougher to create content without the built-in routine and flow of stories from games and news, but these organizations are still content machines teeming with talented creatives and strategists.

So it’s time to think outside the box, right? Games aren’t coming back before the summer, it seems, so what can do social media and sports do to pivot right now?

Experiment

In case you weren’t sure, yeah – social media usage is way up during this COVID-19 quarantine. In times like these, there are few truly dumb or bad ideas. It’s time to brainstorm! With fans consuming more content on social media right now, how can you experiment – and think like a content company first, and a sports team second?

That’s ultimately what this article is about. One area to explore, given the trends, are uber-specific social media accounts that can build an audience while having some tie to the team, however loose. What if your team created a Twitter account to post one random player from the team’s history every day or an Instagram account that only posted sick dunks or blocks daily, or a TikTok account that curated trick shots, or a YouTube account that taught dances, etc. etc. 

There are so many areas of passion that thrive on social media — sports, fashion, music, and more — and so many ways to build content around them. Lean into those skills and that knowledge now, and experiment with new ways to build an audience that can become fans of the brand, not just the sport the employees of that brand typically market and play.

Content Creation

This is a topic that can manifest a number of ways (and plays out all the time as teams create GIFs, stickers, Instagram Effects, lenses, and the like). But as TikTok and Instagram Live, in particular, grow at this time, fans are leaning into performative content more than ever. I mean, what else are they doing stuck at home, so why not create a TikTok themselves or with their kids?

Teams are certainly leaning in here, with a ton of creative UGC campaigns, celebrating fan creations. But a recent article on TikTok got me thinking about the role teams could play in providing the similar value that TikTok and other platforms do in making available effects, audio, and other creative accoutrements. How can teams use their bank of content to give their fans such creative enterprise, to create their own quasi TikTok with highlights, sounds, and maybe even some effects with which fans could create content. Challenges and trends could also play a role, as could team staff, alumni, broadcasters, and ideally players.

The trend that TikTok has been creating and riding has been driven by the incredible energy, enthusiasm, and talent of its network. They’ve provided the tools and sometimes even the prompts, and they’ve let their users take it away. Teams may have the machinery and tools and content to do the same, or some sense of it whether on their platform or influencing use of another.

Entertainment companies

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said his company’s biggest competition was sleep. Meanwhile, sports teams see platforms like Netflix and Twitch as their competition. It comes down to earned attention – but teams don’t have the new highlights and stories that help that earn that attention right now.

But it’s about focusing on what we do have and trying diverse ways to entertain fans with content. There’s an ecosystem of influencers (players and talent), a bank of brand and proven content, and a talented team of content producers. How can all this be deployed? Could you write a recurring comic strip (like the Philadelphia Flyers tried), create a short children’s story or a cartoon, a cooking show, a talk show, short fiction stories, musical and performance guests, motion effects games, and so much more. Step out of the tunnel a bit on the routine content and become a student of producing entertainment in general.

pivot

Community Relations

Many teams right now are doing extraordinary things to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. They’re opening up their venues for use in storage or medical services, they’re donating and helping to prop up local businesses, and using their platforms to deliver information to masses of fans they’re able to reach. 

What are the typical things community relations would be doing at this time and how can digital and social media help keep those activities and that mission alive? It could be reading to kids, much like a player or team member would at a school visit (the Dallas Mavericks had a video of JJ Barea reading a story to his kids) — how much of a typical school appearance could be re-imagined for a livestream or digital distribution. (At both a broad social and direct to school level). There aren’t enough FaceTime calls to go around, but even a few to children’s hospital wards I’m sure would be welcomed, and excerpts could be cut to share on social.

The goals of community relations, as well as fan development, remain important, so the type of applied ideation we’re taking to fan engagement can be taken to these parts of the organization, too.


Visual Entertainment

Something that has caught my eye recently has been the success of street magicians on TikTok. Getting users to say ‘Wow’ is one way to win engagement on social media and the magic, along with the reactions of the people in the videos experiencing it, make for fun content. This isn’t to say teams should crowdsource magicians and magic content (but maybe they could), but the quick hit entertainment is the key idea to hone in on.

Take inventory or brainstorm around ways to make people feel those certain feels that drive social media engagement (mad, sad, inspired, awed, laughing, learning), particularly in quick hits. Maybe it’s shots of celebrations, stupid human tricks, quick artistic creations, trick shots, fitness performances, and, yes, even magic tricks. There may be something here, there may be nothing, but the point of this post is to explore what it means to think like an entertainer first.

Learn from other masters

Of course, we should all always be students of the game. And now more than ever, time permitting, it would pay to study those that are winning this game. The top Instagram creators, YouTube influencers across the board, and TikTok talents that dominate the platform. There are plenty of examples in sports, too, whether it’s Dude Perfect, House of Highlights, or so many more, including individual-driven channels. 

How can teams and sports organizations consider utilizing their talented content teams, influencers, and individuals to mimic the success of these established masters? Sports commands mega audiences on social media, but without games the playing field is acutely level on social between them and the behemoth individuals that have amassed audiences in original ways on social. Teams shouldn’t necessarily imitate them, but they can learn and adapt insights and ideas into their own strategies, as they seek to keep fans coming to them for however long it’ll take to defeat this pandemic.

Hang Out

There has been some impressive content on live social media platforms in the time since this quarantine started. Live musical performances, in particular, have been pretty cool. But there have also been plenty of live sessions when audiences congregate, but, well, not much is happening besides a notable person hanging out. Even just a couple days ago, Barstool Big Cat got almost half a million viewers for his Periscope that featured him hanging out and eating ice cream while engaging with fans.

Many gamers have built huge audiences for live streams on Twitch, more so for their personality and conversation, with the games serving more as a backdrop. So many prominent athletes and alumni are sitting around with not much to do and so many fans would welcome any chance to hang out with them. Even better if it’s hanging out with a group of them. These players could be watching an old game, playing Words With Friends, or a version of the Newlywed Game with each other, or just enjoying a glass of wine and chatting. How can teams get fans opportunities to hang out — with each other, with special guests, with broadcasters, with celebrities?

Help Players and Fans

I have another article on this topic, but it’s worth reiterating — help players and help fans use all these shiny social media platforms right now. It is easy to take for granted that everyone has a basic understanding of all these apps, let alone an advanced fluency with all of the nuances and tricks to get the most out of them. 

This article started by linking to some stats around the growth of social media usage right now. People are jumping on more than ever, including the players, and teams could do a tremendous service by educating all of them. How to make your first few TikToks, go live with a friend on Instagram, navigate Twitch, try an effect or lens or GIF or sticker, and tag someone in a pic on Twitter. Give them the knowledge, the tools, and then the opportunities to engage, to create, to practice the sport that is social media.

What an exciting, inspiring time it is right now for sports and social media. There is so much creativity and originality playing out every day, and I’m psyched to see what more will come in the following weeks. It’s time to expand the playbook. The only bad ideas are no ideas at all.

Zoom is Rapidly Evolving as a Platform Amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak: How Can Sports Teams & Leagues Use It?

It has been fascinating to the see the proliferation and evolution of Zoom during this COVID-19 outbreak. Many workplaces have used Zoom for meetings for years. But with so many businesses now working remotely, classes meeting remotely, and humans in general just seeking connection in a time of isolation, the Zoom platform has seemingly been ubiquitous in the past couple weeks.

The New York Times had an article recently about how Zoom is developing into something of a social network as users of all ages arrange video calls with friends of family to hang out, catch up, collaborate, and get as close as possible to simulate being in the same room together. With such a wide swath of the populace now spending time on Zoom, it stands to reason that sports teams and leagues experiment with the platform to help keep the relationship with their fans strong during this downtime.

The more traditional social platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch and Snap, offer live video; they even offer interactive live video. Yet it’s Zoom that feels the less like a show being put on for fans, and more like an intimate hangout session. Or maybe it’s that Zoom is what we’ve become more comfortable in, since so many of us spend classes and work meetings in it for hours each day. Or perhaps it’s the ease of multi-tasking while sitting in a Zoom call, less common if you’re on a FaceTime call, let alone IG Live.

So what are some ways teams and leagues can jump in on Zoom and do something unique to engage fans on the platform of the moment? Let’s have some fun and ideate.

 

Help Fans Decorate their Zoom

The Zoom background is a chance to show off identity. To showcase a passion or something one cares about. So, just like a cellphone wallpaper, offering fans a collection of (or weekly) Zoom background that shows off the team and its players is a tremendous way to keep fans fans, and give the brand exposure when it’s harder than ever to do so.

 

Get Players Involved

We’re starting to see an explosion of Instagram Live for interviews, with even ESPN’s Around the Horn trying to recreate their roundtable show on IG Live. But, again, that’s re-creating a TV Show. What if a select group of fans could be invited to watch an interview, tantamount to a live studio audience, before the finished show is shared out to the masses on social, even streamed live. Or have team reporters and broadcasters interview a player or mall group of players on Zoom, offering them the privacy to chat without worry, with the team then able to produce a final product that could be quite something by the end. Maybe it’s even sponsored? A lot of fun to be had here, especially if a player or two buy in. Even alumni and broadcasters alone can be effective here.
Zooms

Engage Season Ticket Holders

These most valuable of fans — the ones now many like to call ‘members’ — maybe aren’t as at risk of the casual fans of not coming back after coronavirus,. But these are fans that most value being connected to the team, and invest their hearts, minds, and paychecks into the team year after year. That devotion is why teams often have fan fests and kickoff parties just for them, offering them exclusive access to players and execs. What could such an exclusive event look like on Zoom? Maybe it’s groups of a couple hundred RVSP’ing and being able to hear from a GM or active/former player, and ask questions in an exclusive forum. Teams may even hold impromptu forums with their season ticket holders and other diehard fans, crowdsourcing ideas and getting feedback on ways the team can help and engage during this tough time.

Connect Partners

A growing trend for sports teams and leagues has been the dedication to doing a better job of serving its partners, through providing knowledge and facilitating collaboration among sponsors of the same organization. These often take the form of summits, but consider how valuable a Zoom meeting could be now, and how the team can play that middleman to put it together. No one has all the answers right now, there is no predetermined game-plan to take on this pandemic shutting down much of society. Just like teams are talking to each other and bouncing ideas and strategies right now, so can partners. With so much anxiety and uncertainty, organizing a chance for sponsors to hear different perspectives and learn from industry leaders would be a great way to bring value to the partnerships at this time.

Meet and Learn From the Team

While Zoom is growing in its diversity of users and demographics, it still has spent much of its life as primarily a workplace meeting an video chat tool. So what an opportunity Zoom represents to engage the professionals, young and old, and students to find another reason to connect to the team, especially at a time when there are no games to do so. How many people would be interested to hear the GM or CMO of a sports team talk about their path to the position, their strategy, and to answer questions from the audience? Or what about the Creative Director leading a workshop on the Adobe Creative Suite to a number of attentive eyeballs? The team is comprised of many pros very good at what they do, and working in a sexy and highly visible industry like sports. And Zoom classes would be incredibly value for a team or league to offer right now.

Theme Nights

We’re all familiar with theme nights for sports teams. Some are designed to add an extra gimmick to a game, while many others are driven to attract groups of fans to attend. This could be way out in left field, but could teams organize theme nights on Zoom to help fans of particular interests and niches connect with each other? Consider the possibilities — Teachers Night, Hispanic Heritage, Scouts Night. This could also be less about themes and more about groups of people with similar lives or interests, like parents with young athletes,  cooking enthusiasts, fans of yoga, etc. Sports teams help bring people together, how can they use Zoom to help further that objective?

Content for kids

I was blown away recently talking to my sister and hearing about my nieces going tio ‘school’ on Zoom every day, followed by a dance class, a play date, and there’s a gymnastics class tomorrow, all on Zoom. At a time when parents are trying to keep their kids occupied, increasingly relying on Zoom to help connect them to those outside resources of education and pastime, how can teams help? Could a player or broadcaster read to kids? Could a mascot lead a skit or help with an educational demonstration or lesson? Could a dance team member teach kids a dance? How about a strength coach with a fun exercise class? Or maybe the team partners with a school or university to put together something of a curriculum for kids that the team can host for its fans and their kids. Much of this content can be repurposed for social media, too, of course.

Charity and Community Social Responsibility

This is a time when fans want to help, they want to be part of the solution to this worldwide problem. The charitable endeavors led by teams can help raise funds and give their fans the opportunity to give. How can Zoom play a role here? Fans could purchase ‘tickets’ to an exclusive hangout on Zoom with players or alumni, with all proceeds going to charity. The team could even auction off one-on-chats with players, broadcasters, alums, and execs. On the CSR side, the team could also try to find and invite experts to come on Zoom and address questions from fans tuning and help placate the worries that permeate so much of everyday life right now. This could also work on social, as well.

Think Like a Game Show

Teams have been doing trivia on social platforms for a while now, but what unique features and opportunities exist on Zoom that teams could utilize to bring another level of connection and interaction at this time? This is where thinking more like a game show and less like a one for all trivia contest may help. Could contestants be part of a ‘live’ game show like Family Feud or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Or maybe fans can watch players play a version of the Newlywed Game to see which pair of players know each other best. One could look at a list of game shows to get inspiration and get even more original and creative. There could be a lot of fun here and of course the final product can extend to other platforms.

 

Sports teams and leagues have a history of meeting fans where they are, of providing engagement and connection on the platforms where fans are spending their time and where unique opportunities exist. Zoom is that platform having its moment with fans (and with almost everyone it would seem) right now and it has already been exhilarating to watch it evolve and will be just as fun watching how sports teams may get involved.

Episode 165 Snippets: Oli Shawyer Discusses the Marketing and Fan Development Strategy for the Australian Football League

On episode 165 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Oli Shawyer, Marketing Lead for the Australian Football League.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Episode 164 Snippets: AEG’s Matt Lawler Breaks Down the Ins and Outs of Digital and Social Sponsorship

On episode 164 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Matt Lawler, Director of Digital Media, AEG Global Partnerships.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.