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A year in the life of a sports team is truly 365 days now. And while the games are all marked on calendars, with the home games highlighted and underlined, a lot of the biggest planning across the team revolves around so-called ‘tentpole’ events. Many industries have their tentpole events and they represent opportunities to make a big splash.
In sports, tentpole events are now often accompanied by awesome social media content and an attempt to engage fans. The NFL recently had such an opportunity – with the release of their team’s week-by-week schedules. What used to be a simple press release, maybe a website update or email, is now an ambitious undertaking by many teams.
Every year, the content teams produce gets better and better. Many are thumb-stopping, jaw-dropping, and awe-inducing. But what are teams trying to accomplish with their schedule release content – is the goal to collect the most views, retweets, kudos from peers and media, and some of that sweet ‘virality?’ With tentpole events marked by content – content many fans are anticipating on social media – a night like NFL Schedule Release night represents a strategic opportunity that can be thoughtfully planned and executed – so that, sure, you can maximize your virality, but also accomplish some meaningful objectives.
After reviewing the schedule release posts of every NFL club (primarily on Twitter – as most were optimized for that platform vs. Instagram, et al.), one is struck by the diversity, the creativity, and how some (not all) of the best seem to have at least some strategic underbelly, some forethought into why we’re doing it like this. The themes I’ll explore in the examples include teams that fell into a few buckets:
1) They activated a partnership
2) Clubs kicked off their campaigns for the 2019 season
3) Teams that established or reinforced their brand and voice
4) Many sought to ‘Win the Internet,’ showing off their creative chops
Let’s go in reverse order because #4 has the fire you want…
Let’s Win The Internet…but do it in a thoughtful way
The content game in sports sometimes feels like an arms race, especially around these tentpole events, when fans and teams alike find themselves comparing their content to that of their opponents. Social teams want to ‘win’ on the Internet as much as players want to win on the field.
The Atlanta Falcons were one of a few teams that played off the Game Of Thrones theme. But they did so in a way that showed off their smart, creative chops, including shots at opponents and clever attention to detail. This is how Bleacher Report would’ve done it and the Falcons wanted to win the Internet, and do so in a way that showed fans the high standard to which the content team holds themselves.
Football is coming.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 17, 2019
Why GoT? It’s not just because the HBO show had been a staple for years on NFL Sundays, it’s something content teams know the Internet loves and fans love. Not to mention it’s timely. So, much like puppies and babies, GoT content was bound to win. Check out other GoT-themed posts from the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins
A few other teams put in great effort to produce video game presentations to show off their schedule. The Green Bay Packers made their schedule release into a Pac Man game, the Seattle Seahawks did a nice job integrating their ‘Go Hawks’ chant into their retro game look, the New York Jets want fans to be excited for big plays and did a take on NFL Blitz, and the Carolina Panthers did some incredible work showcasing their schedule through a series of throwback video games any kid of the ’90s and ’00s could appreciate. The Panthers, in particular, were in a good sweet spot of not just ‘winning the Internet,’ but doing so in a way that would particularly appeal to (and be shared by) the Millennials all sports teams want to engage.
Wanna play a game? pic.twitter.com/mF5CeYnGUE
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) April 18, 2019
I have a soft spot for those in this category that also seem to accomplish a club goal. The Dallas Cowboys would be included here, who did their take on ASMR while helping fans see more of a new star player they acquired last year – Amari Cooper [and the curiosity of what came next kept me watching). Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers created content close to the heart of Pittsburghers with a nod to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (I didn’t know he was a part of the Pittsburgh community, but I bet many Steelers fans did!) The Detroit Lions used a content motif that tends to perform well on the Internet – referencing The Office (one of two teams that did this), though not sure of any strategic thought behind this one.
Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers entered today with a plan to win the Internet and to do it in a unique way they could be pretttttty sure no team would be doing. First, they put out a thread showing their opponents as Pop Tarts. Then, for the schedule release itself, they put in some good work to find ‘stock footage’ to go along with every opponent to create a video entirely of stock footage. Maybe the casual fan doesn’t know what ‘stock footage’ means, but the selection was so good that it was amusing either way. The Chargers know they’re a challenger brand, so they need to take more swings and distinguish themselves in a unique fashion. Mission accomplished on this day.
Should we REALLY make our schedule release video with stock footage?
yes yes yesyes
yesyes yes yes yes
yes yes yes yes yes
yes yesyes yes yes
yes yesye yes yes
yes yes yesyes pic.twitter.com/wAB8CdAfnB
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) April 18, 2019
So, yes, try to win the Internet, but do it in a way that makes sense for your team, for the fans you’re trying to reach, and take a calculated swing for the fences.
Building and reinforcing the brand
When you have a chance to reach a large swath of fans, likely for the first time in a long time, it’s an opportunity for a team to strengthen their brand, to reinforce who they are. There were a handful of teams this year that went all in on making sure fans knew they what they’re about and reminded fans why they can be proud to love their team do much.
The Indianapolis Colts embraced their reputation, at least that of their figurehead Andrew Luck, by doing something, well, boring. But it puts their main man front and center and allows fans to embrace the ‘boring’ QB they all love. The Cleveland Browns showed off the dry sense of humor for which they’ve become known over the years – in good times and mostly bad times – and they featured their General Manager John Dorsey printing their schedule on an old-school printer, like something out of 1999.
EXCLUSIVE: The exact moment GM John Dorsey got our schedule pic.twitter.com/EC1tAvMs4E
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 18, 2019
I enjoyed and appreciated the effort of the Tennessee Titans, embracing their country Nashville roots, and allowing Dolly Parton and her country music friends with Lanco to bring their fans the schedule. The New Orleans Saints kept it simple but did a fantastic job as their video just screams New Orleans and perhaps no team wraps their team around their city’s character more than the Saints, and they do so here.
Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles put in a helluva lot of work to round up a bunch of well-known Philadelphia figures to take part in their schedule release video – they were first and foremost out to win the part of the Internet that consisted of Philadelphia fans, and let’s just say the eagle landed (Keep reading, I’m here all night!).
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) April 18, 2019
Kicking off 2019 as they announce the 2019 schedule
The NFL schedule release happened days after many teams started their offseason workout programs and it really starts to feel like the 2019 NFL season has begun. It’s the club’s first opportunity to reach a ton of their fans on social media, and a few clubs used it to set the stage for the season.
While we remember the (amaaaaaazing) Monsters of the Midway motifs from the Chicago Bears last year (and they may be back this year, I do not know), they used their schedule release to begin the yearlong celebration of the franchise’s centennial. Check out their 100 years video below, and it gets you in the mood for Bears history all year long.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) April 18, 2019
In a similar vein, the Kansas City Chiefs highlighted their team’s history with old-school clips peppering their schedule release as part of their 60th anniversary season. The Oakland Raiders have the same 60th anniversary season on the horizon and also featured their team’s #1 face (especially with even franchise QB Derek Carr’s situation not as 100% certain as it once was) – head coach John Gruden. History and Gruden are two Raiders pillars as we kick off 2019.
Teams activated or established partnerships
When you have a tentpole event, there is an opportunity to create and activate a partnership – whether that’s a sponsor, a potential ‘influencer,’ or something in between. It’s why extending creative conversations to more team members – sponsorship, PR, CR, sales, marketing – can be so beneficial.
The New York Giants made fans remember they’re big-time as actor/comedian Traci Morgan dropped jokes for every opponent (and it made you want to complete the video to hear them all) – the Giants got the benefit of the celeb tie-in, Morgan got to plug his show, and fans got a comedic schedule release video. Nice partnership! The San Francisco 49ers worked with Bay Area-based artist P-Lo aka Lil Stunna whose track formed the soundtrack for their schedule release video, which included listing his album/track (and some nice pub for him, too).
— New York Giants (@Giants) April 18, 2019
A few other teams were able to tie in corporate sponsors into their schedule release content – the Denver Broncos gave fans an EA Madden NFL video game-inspired video, the Minnesota Vikings had a little ‘poetry’ to describe each game in their schedule – and it was ‘presented by’ Ticketmaster, and the Jacksonville Jaguars executed a heck of a production – entertaining and featuring ‘gameshow host Josh Lambo (go ahead and laugh, it’s their kicker) and sponsored by McGowan’s HVAC
Get your teal out because today your lives are about to change.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) April 18, 2019
So, yes, stimulate the creative juices, maximize reach and engagement, produce the 🔥 content to which we all aspire, but be thoughtful about it – have a rhyme and a reason, not just a what and a how but a why. Because when content takes off and it’s content that is strategically aligned with the objectives of the organization – that’s really winning the day.
Also…..a ROUND OF APPLAUSE for the work, effort, and thought put into the schedule release content by so many NFL clubs. It’s inspiring to the industry and to content creators and marketers everywhere!
A year older, a year smarter.
That’s the mantra to which we all try to hold ourselves accountable. And we’ve seen this play out over the years in the dynamic field of digital and social media in sports, which often changes by the day, let alone the season and the year. We started out with vanity metrics – followers, page likes – graduated to the nebulous term ‘engagement’ – clicks, likes, comments, shares, which also brought upon the even more nebulous ‘reach.’
And then the progress kind of, well, stopped. We didn’t sit on our hands during this interim, we were just overwhelmed by new platforms – mobile, Stories, GIFs, videos, looping videos, organic, promoted – and we pivoted to try and fit those well-worn metrics – reach and engagement – to these new forms of, well, reach and engagement.
But we can’t stop now. The digital and social space will continue accelerating at a breakneck pace – in 2019 and the years beyond, and the evolution – nee, the revolution – that has started to sprout, and must blossom in the months and year ahead is that of context. Asking more of the metrics – the ‘so what?’ and the youthful, inquisitive cycle this still-burgeoning ecosystem demands. In 2019, let’s go further and ask for a little of the following:
Context For Metrics
How do you evaluate performance? Maybe you look at gross engagements, views, reach – and then check the league rankings or the national or industry-wide averages. It’s time to question and clarify the context in 2019.
There’s no single prescription, but it’s also not a black and white equation where it makes sense for the league champion to have reach or net engagement rate equal to that of those at the bottom of the league. And yet doesn’t it make sense, the thinking would go, to compare teams with teams, schools with schools, etc., since it wouldn’t make sense to do more localized comparison? But one wouldn’t expect one of the local major pro teams to compare with other local businesses, or even other local major teams, which are in different leagues. So where does that leave context for our metrics?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given numerous times on the podcast and in conversations is to benchmark against oneself. We may not know what it all means (more on that later) – the engagement, the reach – but the way the platforms performed today, all things being equal – should hopefully be better than yesterday.
But, uh oh, all things being equal. Again, we’re in need of more context. Was last month better than this month across metrics? It’s always more nuanced – were there more home games, more primetime games, exciting wins, blowout losses, uniform unveilings, breaking news, were there work holidays, etc. etc.? We’re getting to the point where a number of variables can be captured and accounted for, but even in the absence of such a data fire hose, we have to remember that context is key when evaluating performance. Oh, but what about performance – what does that mean? We’re just getting started…
Context For Results
So how’s your engagement rate? I hope it’s high. Higher is almost always better when it comes to these things. But is it? Well, it depends on the context.
Engagement[s] are often touted as a KPI in digital and social media in sports. But we all know that including an Instagram double-tap in the same equation as a Facebook share or a Twitter link click – well, that just doesn’t make sense. Yes, the more interactions – the more active your audience is, the better. It’s some proof there’s someone there on the other side – they hear, they see you. But Facebook comments don’t pay the bills.
Sure, there’s value in the increased reach, the bump via the algorithm, it’s increased awareness [all pub is good pub, yeah?], but seeking more context means looking at what comes next. That’ll leads us closer to the more tangible ROI we all seek.
Are these engaged fans, when isolated and targeted with ads, converting at a higher rate or spending more? Are these engagements resulting in revenue via ads or viewership of sponsored content? What did fans do after they clicked on the link?
Think outside the box, too – are there new entries to this engaged audience (are new fans engaging with us in whatever way)? Are certain types of posts resulting in more new fans engaging for the first time?
Consider the sweepstakes — a common activation in the digital and social sports space, whether sponsored or in-house. Sweepstakes A was run on Facebook and got 2345 entries. Sweepstakes B was run on Twitter and received 3500 entries. Clearly Sweepstakes B was more successful. It’s not so simple – dig deeper.
Was 2400 of the 3500 entries in B simply retreads from a previous sweepstakes while A was 2000 names/emails your database didn’t have before? Was one sweepstakes for tickets to a game while the other was an exotic vacation? Did they both collect the same info? Did the sweepstakes for tickets add to a retargeting audience that later converted with sales? One can keep going. The good news, most of the time the answer exists in some data or in the engineering of the content or sweepstakes.
Thinking beyond the business results, though, is the way our content and platforms connect with fans.
Context For Content
Just a quick word on content, as it has become increasingly complex and overly clever, at times. And that’s not a bad thing.
But as we start to share the number of miles a player ran during the game or the speed of that pass, it means nothing to fans without context. Is it more or less compared to the player’s previous games? Is that faster than the average player in the league or on the team? How would the average person rate? It’s not just context for such advanced stats, though, it’s also being as clear as we are clever.
Look, for example, at team hash tags, some of which even bring up emojis when used on Twitter. Maybe they’re sayings, taglines, nicknames, mantras. Outside of the strategic use of hash tags to finish off a funny tweet, hash tags upon which one hopes to build a community and a brand should be celebrated and embraced. Make it easy for fans to do this (and some do), by adding context. What does this content mean, how does it look, why should fans rally around it, how does it reflect the team?
The above example addressed a team slogan, but it can also apply to sponsor integrations. It’ll help brands if their ‘integration’ is a simple tag on Instagram. Give more context fans and it may just result in a better experience and outcome for all – why is the partner sponsoring this content (i.e. enabling it to be made for fans) and why is the team partnering with this brand? We’re all part of this unspoken agreement – sponsor pays team, team pays employees, employees produce content fans want and enjoy – and yet it’s often in the elephant in the room covered up phrases like ‘presented by’ or sometimes just random tagging on posts. It can be better in 2019.
What this all comes down is the desire to dig deeper, to demand more from your digital and social data. There should be a method to the madness, a reason for making decisions and allocating time and resources. Embrace the inner little kid and ask questions ‘Why?’, ‘So what?’, and ‘And then what happens?’.
It’s always a good thing when one can articulate the reasons they do what they do. And digital and social requires, perhaps more than any other area, a depth of knowledge of the organization, and how the sausage gets made, because it’s the front line to fans, often the first and most frequent touch point.
Go beyond sports, too. Digital and social ultimately is about how individual people – interact on these platforms and why they do it. And, from there, why and how they want to interact with your content. Don’t fall back on trends and best practices; instead, study and consider the underlying reasons for the trends and what they say about interaction, engagement, and people.
Let 2019 be the year the next step is taken, when the meaning of the metrics matter more.
The NFL’s Miami Dolphins hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars in December 2018 and lost in a tough one, 17-7.
What follows is a curation of their gameday / game week content. Some if it was posted across channels (FB, Tw, IG; no active Snapchat content) and some was exclusive to the platform. Good stuff, Dolphins!