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.
In September 2019, Advertising Week held its New York conference, bringing together several thoughts leaders and practitioners from the world of advertising.
What follows is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, and observations shared from the event via Twitter #AWNewYork. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap and for Advertising Week for putting together a great event!
Once you work in sports business, you’ll never experience sports and sports marketing the same way again. Once you work in social media, you’ll never be able to relate to the average social media user again.
These may be well-worn adages, but they nevertheless true. It’s why we must be always be inquisitive – you can read all the studies, observe all the data, but nothing beats a conversation with a human – to get the true take on their perception, their habits, their values, their reasons, and their experience. And it’s why for the 150th episode of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I spoke with a ‘normal’ sports fan – my brother, Steven Horowitz.
I uncovered some interesting insights on fan development, on driving game attendance, content consumption, engagement channels and habits, and more. Here are 7 1/2 findings from my chat with Steven, trying to go inside – as much as possible – the mind of the modern millennial sports fan.
Push Notifications are incredibly important
Many of us live on Twitter in sports. We may even have notifications turned on for noted bomb droppers like Woj, Schefty, Shams, Rosenthal, and Bobby Mac (bonus points if you get all these nicknames). But guess what? Most fans aren’t first seeing that news on the platform with the blue bird – they’re more likely getting an alert from their preferred sports app or hearing about it secondhand from a friend via text or private message. Steven explained, using a recent example related to breaking news about his favorite team – the San Diego Padres:
“For me, how I’m finding (big news) on a normal basis…it’s typically a push notification from one of my apps…[Steven gives the example of a recent Fernando Tatis Jr. injury] I happened to be on Twitter when Kevin Acee from the (Union Tribune) broke the story…shortly after seeing that on Twitter…I started getting notifications from the apps on my phone. When I did find that out about the injury, I was texting someone I work with that’s a big fan of him just to let him know…For the most part, it’s finding out from notifications or another friend or colleague texting me if they hear it before I do.”
We think of apps and push alerts as afterthoughts, oftentimes, but the fact is they work. Fans may not open every alert or expand every alert, but rare is the alert that goes unseen from one’s sports app. And with app downloads for teams only slated to grow as mobile ticketing nears 100% and fans access tickets via their team’s app, push notifications can’t and shouldn’t be simply an afterthought. There can be just as much data analysis and targeting as there is with digital marketing and social media content. Are your push alerts analyzed and executed thoughtfully?
Fans don’t default to pirated streams anymore
A generation of us grew up with Justin.tv (which later morphed into Twitcb – heard of it?) – as an endless source of free live TV. Other sites popped up offering similar free streams and many are linked off from Reddit. They may be grainy, they may get pulled down frequently, but they’re free and they’re difficult to police. But with more options than ever to pay only for the content you want, needing nothing more than a connected device of any type, not as many fans it seems rely on the pirated web to satisfy their sports needs. Steven explained his evolution (and, yes, an income has something to do with his evolution, too) –
“I used to (watch pirated streams) a lot. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done that. There was a time when it was a lot easier and then they started cracking down on it more…Now, I get the Red Zone (subscription) every year. Sometimes, if there’s a big boxing match, I’ll try to stream that on whatever sites are available, but other than that I’ve gotten away from (watching pirated streams).”
Steven noted he’s heard of many new players and platforms in the sports streaming space – DAZN, ESPN+, YouTube TV, et al. (but not so much fubo TV, Pluto, and Flo Sports). The pirates may not be winning as much as they used to, but the live sports space is becoming ever more fragmented and we can’t take for granted fans are aware of all the emerging platforms out there, which sports are on them, and how best to bundle their subscriptions to meet their needs while also not paying more than they have to. We can’t take for granted the average fans keep up with this space, it’s hard enough doing so when you’re actually trying to keep up!
Season Tickets are emotion-driven > value-driven
Yes, fans today seem to be more attuned to what, exactly, they’re paying for. And the term ‘membership’ has largely displaced season ticket holder in many cases (even if some, not all, seem more lip service). But being a member is not all about a laundry list of benefits, 10% off at the team store, access to a preseason VIP or seat selection event – those can all be great perks – and it’s not a mathematical equation looking at average cost per game or potential resale value investment – even though many do sell their tickets, let alone ‘members’ that are actually brokers – it’s still a purchase largely driven by emotion and connection to a community and an experience. Steven was once a San Diego Chargers season ticket holder (yes, San Diego, this was years ago) and he tried to articulate his reason for being a season ticket holder:
“I’d say the real reason why I wanted to go and get season tickets was my love for the team. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than tailgating at Chargers games, spending the day at the stadium, and seeing them win…It was a good time and I always look back fondly on those times…”
Getting season tickets wasn’t a calculated decision for him. It was because he could picture no better way to spend a Sunday than heading to Qualcomm Stadium, pigging out at a tailgate, donning his jersey – those powder blues are pretty cool – and cheering on his team among all his fellow fans, friends, and members of a community connected by that shared passion. Maybe this is an anachronistic, nostalgic view of things, but if being a season ticket holder was about love for a team a decade ago, becoming a ‘member’ is sure as heck about an investment of the heart, an emotional tie.
Football watching when you don’t have a favorite team
As a follow-up to the previous point, Steven abandoned the Chargers when they abandoned San Diego. He then became like many fans today – cheering on their fantasy players and their chance at winning money / beating friends instead of cheering on a specific team. Worrying more about who scored than the final score, more about the name on the back than the name on the front. With players shuffling around the superstar-driven NBA, fans growing up in a culture of fantasy and rarely attending games (pr being priced out of games), it’s the new norm. And while local broadcasts still do big numbers, there’s a reason fantasy and daily/weekly fantasy keeps growing each season and more fans are filling their Sundays with Red Zone or a panoply of highlights and updates across a suite of apps. Steven described his fandom nowadays:
“To me, the NFL has become different. I still enjoy watching it, but the way I experience NFL now really revolves around fantasy football. I watch it to see how my fantasy players are doing, see how my team is doing, and that’s really how I go about watching football now (Steven notes he won his fantasy league last year)…I’m able to be unbiased now about who I choose for my teams, who I start in my weekly matchups because I don’t have to worry about (if they’re playing against the Chargers)…It’s definitely changed how I watched football.”
Fans of teams, fans of players, fans of gamble-able outcomes in sports — no matter how they’re watching, plenty of reasons remain for fans to be as attuned as ever to live content and content about who will win and why and to learn more about the players on their rosters and driving these exciting moments each night.
Daily fantasy (and gambling) can create new fans
Speaking of fantasy and gaming, many in the sports world see a future of new fans and more avid fans brought on by the growth of gambling and continued growth of fantasy options. Will these new opportunities bring about new fans? Steven has lived one fan’s story, finding himself a more avid fan of the NBA than ever – thanks to daily fantasy:
“I never hated the NBA, but I was not a huge fan of it. I followed it casually, but more so in the playoffs. But how this happened is – on the daily fantasy website that I play on typically, they gave me a free play (to win money) for a NBA (game) and I think I ended up pretty high in the standings and won some money…and that got me hooked, and I started playing NBA dailies almost every day and that quickly evolved into enjoying not just following the sport, but I also found myself watching the NBA regular season on TV and I hadn’t done that in years.
“I would check Rotoworld a lot because I was having to teach myself about some of these players, too…I would check their stats, I would also see who they’re up going up against…It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to continuing to playing it.”
It’ll be an interesting next few years to see how teams, leagues, and rights holders can harness these fans entering via gambling and fantasy channels and bring them into their ecosystems. The gateway is there, but it remains to be seen how this new wave of potential fans plays out.
Sponsored content is fine, but don’t be disruptive
There are a lot of ways sponsored content is presented these days – a logo bug in the video, tagged on the social platform, the incredibly original “‘sponsor name’ x ‘team name'” or ‘presented by’ in the copy, an end card, pre-roll, and many more options. The good news? Fans don’t seem to mind if a sponsor is involved or even integrated as long as the content is quality. But don’t be disruptive. Don’t interrupt content viewing or steal attention to simply insert a ‘normal’ commercial or ad. Steven shared his thoughts:
“I would say overall I more tune it out and I’m not really paying attention to who those sponsors are. Even sometimes, if I pull up a video and there’s an ad before it, I’ll turn off the sound for it before the content even starts…
“I would say sometimes when they do videos and they do an ad in the middle of the video, I will turn off the video – whether it’s because I don’t care what’s coming up or it just didn’t have me interested enough to continue to wait 20-30 seconds…I will sometimes just turn it off…”
Fans want the content. And, unlike the days of previous decades, fans and users don’t necessarily see sitting through ads as payment in their side of the value exchange for the content they actually want. There are too many ‘free’ options out there and too many content creators doing a better job of integrating sponsors whether passively or actively. Don’t abuse the attention and don’t disrupt the experience – add to it or, at least, don’t detract from it.
Consistent promotions FTW (and be mindful of price sensitive fans)
There is no secret sauce or magic pill that made live gate for sports rise to the level of 20 years ago. Attendance isn’t falling everywhere, but the trend is clearly a downward one from the highs of previous decades when no one gave thought to building stadiums with smaller capacities. But nowadays, even as many teams and schools are awash in media rights money, getting butts in seats is more challenging than ever. So what could we learn from asking a fan about his experience being driven to go to games? Let Steven share his take:
“Over the last year, I pretty much have been only going to Padres games and occasionally a Gulls (AHL hockey) game. How I hear about them? I obviously follow the Padres pretty closely, whether it’s through an app or the team’s website or social media pages..I just know there are games going on. In regards to the Gulls…I don’t go to a bunch of their games, but really what does drive me there is when they do do promotions – they do $2 beer nights sometimes on Friday nights, I’ll go to those games…”
[Steven notes he finds about Gulls promotions typically through their organic social media and will sometimes check their website to see when their next $2 beer night is]
Marketing and sales staffs at teams are getting more and more sophisticated with targeted emails and ads, retargeting previous buyers, and doing their best to assure the right fans see the right promotions. But a takeaway from my chat with at least this fan, Steven, is that, while advertising and digital/social media remains a key tactic, you can’t rely on these platforms to always assure fans find out about your upcoming bobblehead giveaway or flash deal. Which deals are most effective and/or which promotions are the easiest for fans to recall? If you ask an average fan of your team – especially one not coming to every game – to name a promotion the team runs, what would they say? It may be fun to joke about LeBron usurping ‘Taco Tuesday’ for his own, but every Padre fan, including Steven, knows Tuesday games mean Taco Tuesday at Petco Park. Get the word out about unique or ad hoc sales and promotions, but try to create some that stick with fans, so they look forward to your next Half Price Beer Mondays without having to see multiple ads to remind them.
Why does he attend several Padres games? Nostalgia, atmosphere at the ballpark
What drives fans to go to a game, especially if it’s not a novelty or a one-off? Well, the previous point touched on promotions, but the compulsion to seemingly always have consideration top of mind, the internal notion that watching at home is never the same, the key to penetrating the heart and mind of a fan – that doesn’t come overnight. For Steven, our fan guide, much of his inherent desire to be at the game comes from a sense of nostalgia and a practice and bond that originated as a kid. It’s why so many leagues and teams are focused on getting kids to their games while they’re still in grammar schools and they’re just developing their earliest passions and memories that’ll conjure goosebumps of nostalgia when they look back in 20 years. This is how Steven tried to articulate why he finds himself more than once at Petco Park every season:
“Obviously my love for the team. You and I have been going to games since as long as we can remember. We used to go with our dad all the time to the games…I always look back fondly on those times; I love going to games and I still like watching on TV, but if I have the option of going to watch the Padres in person, I’m gonna be there…”
We’re drawn to things that remind us of good times – and nostalgia plays a big role in that. It’s why those in sports say we’re in the business of making memories. Every game is a chance to help a fan form a memory that’ll last forever and bring up of warm feelings every time an element of that memory is resurfaced. Every night is an opportunity to build a fan for life.
Ever taken a flight on Ryanair? Or maybe you had an experience with easyJet? Heck, I just traveled on Alaska Airlines and had a not quite-as-extensive, but still opportunistic booking process – evaluating the need and value of each add-on. Reminiscing about the experience with the OG’s of $0 base airline tickets made me consider the effectiveness of the airline booking process and how it could fit into the present and future of sports marketing.
So, the question is – why shouldn’t attending a game be like booking a game experience comprised of its parts, why can’t getting a ticket to the game be like getting a ticket for your next flight?
First, a quick reminder of how an airline booking experience can go –
- Search the dates for the trip
- Find options with times that work, maybe check non-stop or allow layover
- Maybe look for an airline for which one belongs to a loyalty program or one that is integrated with their credit card provider for rewards or money back
- With those baseline factors put into one’s search – select the best bargain, the cheapest that meets the aforementioned needs. Done, right? Not even close…
- Add more passengers – cheaper for kids sometimes! Or mark you’re flying solo
- Add luggage allowances if necessary, and add that to the total
- Select the type of experience – first class, business/premium class, economy being the typical options, but some get far more extensive.
- Nope, still not done. Now you can pay a little more if you want to reserve a seat – maybe make sure you get the aisle or further up the section or the window
- Make sure to buy the insurance, too, so you can rest easy should something come up to prevent you from traveling
- For the most part, you’re done – but some may offer (or maybe should consider offering) pre-purchasing food/drinks for the flight, using a deal for transportation (whether public transportation, rideshare, etc.), or even add a hotel room
Still with me? Thanks, because I hope the wheels are turning for how this can be translated to sports – presenting a dirt cheap base price to get fans into the system and then letting them build their experience based on what’s meaningful and worth paying for to them. There is always some concern about adding steps and clicks – especially on mobile – before fans get to that coveted confirmation page, but as long as it flows quickly and is easy and organized on the eyes, fans will be glad to build their experience – making it feel personalized, too – and get what they’re willing to pay for.
So, let’s re-imagine what the fan experience can be like getting tickets for the next game.
- Fans check out a game they want to attend (whether searching it, seeing an ad/email, visiting the team website) and see a not-so-scary base price, dynamically priced based on the opponent, day of week, time (it’s ok to tell fans it’s a premium game)
- NOW, after the fan is already in the purchase flow and juuuuust a tiny bit invested, let them select their seats from those available, with the seats they choose either requiring $0 upgrade fee or a range of tiers. Fans can even select middle vs. aisle to meet their preference
- What’s next in the order? It can go in any order (need some data to optimize), but let’s say next up is an opportunity to pre-order some merch and have it waiting at your seat or available for express pickup at a kiosk, so fans have a t-shirt, a rally towel, a scarf (for soccer), a beanie (or toque, for our Canadian friends), a jersey, a shirsey, etc. etc.
- You’re booking an experience, not just entrance to a game, so why not take a look at the concessions offerings and, should you choose, pre-order something. Even schedule a time for pickup and get an alert or text to confirm it’s ready when you’re there at the game! If you’re in a premium section, maybe you get food delivery and you could even schedule your night’s food, so you get a beer and peanuts early in the game, a burger just before halftime, and a churro toward the end of the game for dessert.
- Not sure what you want to buy at the game yet? That’s ok – another option to add to your baseline experience is to preload your ticket with in-venue currency, offered as part of your booking process for, let’s say, 90 cents on the dollar. Make a commitment to spend money at the game and save! Seems like a good deal to me if someone is planning on getting something anyway and could be enticed to commit for fear of missing out on a deal.
- Wait, we’re not done! You gotta get there. Sure, you may not be thinking yet about how you’re getting to the game or maybe you’ll pull up Uber or Lyft or the Metro on game day. Or you can schedule an Uber (or whomever the transportation/ride-share partner is) and save a buck or two if you do it now as part of your game booking experience. Driving to the game? Great, pre-pay for parking and even get the option – if you’re willing to pay for it – to select/reserve a specific spot!
- We’re almost there as our game day is coming together. So now, for those individuals that couldn’t live without pre-check TSA or have invested in Clear, for example, they can do the same on game day. Or maybe pay a few dollars more to enter into via pa priority gate. If fans value it enough, maybe they’ll go for it.
- Alright, we’re getting to a lot of steps here (this is a work in progress, clearly, as I’ve conceded!), but since we have your attention and we darn well hope you intend to finish this off and attend the game, we have some more partners that want to hook you up on game day – how about a coupon for 2-for-1 Dunkin Donuts coffee to fuel up the morning of game day? Or even save digital coupons to your app that have a chance to be activated at the game if the team meets ‘x’ threshold.
- You are now all set! But, just before you go, we could offer you insurance (a la the airline, but not as keen on this one), so let’s show you some ‘experiences’ you can add to your game day. For a small fee, you can get access to the premium lounge throughout the game, or get a locker room tour before the game, a mascot meet-and-greet after the game, a chance to take part in a game, attend a post-game concert or movie screening, pre-purchase a 50-50 ticket, meet the announcers at halftime, etc. etc.
My verbosity may be making this seem too tedious and we’d lose more fans in the process, but this isn’t an article meant to proscribe, it’s meant to make us think. If fans are feeling priced out, let’s not scare them off and let them start with an economy option. It could be scary for fans to watch their [digital] wallet empty as they see what a full game day expenditure looks like all purchased in advance – as opposed to a slower drip on game day – or it could help fans better understand what a full game day experience can entail and why certain package cost what they do while helping one tailor their experience and feel like they’re getting exactly what they intend to pay for.
A common refrain talks about 50,000 fans at a game having 50,000 uber-personalized experiences. I’m not sure we’ll get there (or even want to get there) anytime too soon, but the more fans can feel like they’re in control, the more teams can expose fans in the moment to additional offerings to increase per caps, the more casual fans can at least find themselves getting started in the purchase process enticed by the low get-in price, the more transparent and tailored this can all become. There’s always the possibility of providing pre-set ‘bundles’ and experiences, too – much like we see today with family packs, student packages, and the like.
As our world becomes increasingly a la carte (can you count the number of subscription services you’re billed for each month?), fans and consumers are becoming more cognizant of exactly what they’re paying for. Fans (and, as the so-called experts say, Millennials) are willing to pay for experiences, so let’s consider learning something from the Spirit Airlines of the world and create a fully integrated purchasing experience that lets fans buy exactly what they want and know exactly what they’re paying for.
On episode 150 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Steven Horowitz, Neil’s brother that works in real estate development and management, to offer the fan perspective on digital and social media in sports, fan experience, and more.
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.