Father’s Day, Empty Stands in 2020, and Building the Next Generation of Sports Fans

It’s Father’s Day and virtually no fathers in the US will be taking their sons and daughters to a sports event.

And while society is gradually reopening and more sports – youth and pro – are hoping to get games going, 2020 will be a year that kids all over the US miss out on opportunities to become bigger sports fans, if fans at all. It’s a scary proposition for sports business. Many leagues are already coping with a rising average fan age and a generation of kids growing up not idolizing the star athletes on the field or court, but instead their favorite YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok follows.

So, as a Father’s Day and a summer arrive, what can the sports industry do to ensure kids in both in the 21st century will fall in love with a favorite team, athlete, and the experience of going to a game or watching it with friends or family?

As is the case with many of the most difficult challenges, it’s instructive to think about the underlying emotions, behaviors, wants, and needs that lead kids to become sports fans in the first place. There are no clear answers to solve this challenge, but there are clues as to where and how to begin trying.

Memorable experiences

I think back to my own experience, falling in love with my first and favorite sport – baseball. I was an avid player, thanks to a pops that never said no to catch or a trip to the ballpark for some batting practice, but not every baseball fan grew up playing. But what made me a MLB fan, a lifelong fanatic for the game and the league?

It’s the unique experiences that stick with me the most. There was a magical World Series run for the hometown team at age 10 – but, remember, sports marketers can’t rely on wins and losses. But that’s not what sticks most today — it was the trips to Spring Training to see the players up close, a pilgrimage to ballparks on the east coast, and going to baseball camp to work with MLB players.

We always say that every game is a chance to create a memorable experience. That applies even more so to the youngest fans in attendance, whose hearts are open and passions still developing. Right now, a lot of sports organizations are trying to create that memory for every kid in attendance. They’re also straddling the line between giving kids memories and giving parents something with which to entertain and distract their kids.

There’s value to creating a memorable experience, something kids will post about on their social media, message their friends about, and talk about the next day at school. But what about the experiences that seep into the soul, latching on with emotion for eternity? Those experiences aren’t easy to create and execute, but that’s what makes them special. Those may not be as scalable, but they’re worth thinking about if it each means creating a lifelong fan, with lifetime value.

Develop a kids arm

During the pandemic sports teams all over the world produced a plethora of activities for kids to help parents entertain their children with families stuck at home 24/7 — coloring books, word searches, mazes, Where’s Waldo adaptations, crossword puzzles, and more. Many co-created these with corporate partners, taking sponsors along for the ride.

But kids still spent most of their time with phones and tablets in hand, watching YouTube, TikTok, and children’s shows on-demand. If parents can stick some headphones or air pods on their kids and get some time to sleep or relax, especially during this quasi-quarantine, you can bet they’ll take it.

What role can the sports industry play? For years now, sports teams and have started to resemble media, entertainment, and content companies. What does Peppa the Pig look with NHL Flyers mascot Gritty instead of the animated British pig? What if my generation didn’t grow up watching Recess and Rocket Power, but also a cartoon about a well-known athlete, team, mascot, or youth sport? Or maybe it’s partnering with the influencers and entertainers already capturing attention of kids more intentionally.

For decades of sports marketing, the straightest path to fostering youth fans was through their parents. But today kids of all ages are consuming more media per day that generations past consumed in a week or a month. And therein lies a potential opportunity for organic infiltration.

Creating influencers

A common staple for sports teams nowadays are kids clubs. They vary in size and sophistication, and typically involve tickets to a game, some swag and merch, an event or two, and maybe a sponsor gift or experience. But with so many kids becoming creators and some fancying themselves as influencers, is there an opportunity to turn those kids clubs members (or via a new initiative) into ambassadors for the team?

Every avid youth fan, from an avid fan family, is a potential ambassador; most importantly, an active ambassador and changes are there a few talented or aspiring creators among them. There is a partnership there, with mutual benefits for both sides. Now is the time to explore it.

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Millennials are the parents now

The notions behind millennial marketing became so ubiquitous over the past decade they, ironically, started to become memes. But there is something to be said that millennials, the first generation to have the Internet in its adolescence, are the ones raising their kids now. And that means something.

At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, it’s worth considering what millennials value. Experiences are an important component, in contrast to ‘things’ that may have held more importance in the past. But now they have kids. How can teams create experiences, while accommodating the parents — group experiences that are designed for families? VIP experiences that include separate activities for kids? Millennials are growing up, so can the marketing and experience tactics to engage them.

What kids want

What else can we learn from this generation? Their lean-back experience still involves engaging, messaging, chatting, listening, participating, sharing. Trying to win 100% of their attention is a fool’s errand and trying to win 100% of their attention split between their screens and IRL experiences isn’t any easier. Instead, fulfill the need to connect without trying to dictate it. The younger generations are complex, but they’re more socially connected than preceding generations, just in different ways.

 

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Plenty of dads will pass down the passion of their teams and their favorite sports to their kids. But that love is not as hereditary as it once was, there are too many other outlets and options competing for attention. And it’s certainly not any easier with a pandemic sweeping the world and the sports world for much of 2020.

Hopefully more than a few fathers out there are playing catch with their sons and daughters today and a love for sports will be kindled, ensuring the generations to come will keep the power and passion of sports alive.

Do This to Get More Fans Posting and Creating More Content About the Team

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We’ve never had more idle time. The quarantines and sheltering has caused social media usage and messaging to increase massively in the recent months amidst the pandemic. Meanwhile, sports teams, leagues, and media brands have exhibited incredible creativity, devising new ways to engage their fans and get them to interact with content and interact with each other. But while many users are eager — using platforms more than they ever have, maybe for the first time in ages, and trying new features and new apps — it’s important to not take for granted that all those fans know what to do with a Snap code or Instagram effect or find your Instagram Live. If we can make fans better at social media, if we can help them do more of what they want to do — create cool posts and messages, while being a fan of the team – we can unlock a ton of value. And unleash a ton of fangelists into the field.

That integral importance of social media in the absence of sports means that activating fans is key to keeping fans engaged during this tough time. So many of us are stuck at home and scrolling our feeds yearning for the sports and sports stories that keep us engaged with our favorite leagues, teams, and players 24/7/365. It’s why now is the time to empower and educate fans on how to use social media to keep the power of sports alive, even in their absence.

This is a call to treat educating and empowering fans on social media as an imperative. What does this mean?

Fans are still fans, but without games and storylines to argue about, it’s harder to activate one’s fandom. Furthermore, people in general, many confined to their homes, are desperate for human connection and for something to post about on social media or message their friends and family. How can sports teams and brands help this?

Become a resource for your fans when it comes to social media, become their coach and their enabler to manifest their fandom while giving them an ‘excuse’ to post or create something on social media! This can take several forms:

  • Think like a teacher. Teachers have resources, they have lesson plans, and they create assignments and projects. Think about the spectrum of social media users among your fans — there are some who may have never posted before, some that want to become more of a master, and some that want opportunities to showcase their skills. Create the 101 content for the relative newbies and show them (with videos, with screenshots, with articles) how to do things like:

    • Post an Instagram story and use your team’s stickers
    • Subscribe to your YouTube channel
    • Create a great TikTok
    • Use the filters and effects on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat
    • Find your team GIFs when posting to Twitter and even when texting or messaging privately in iMessage and WhatsApp
    • How to use hashtags and why
    • How to use lists (and even help them follow your players with a List on Twitter, for example)
  • As noted, teachers also assign projects to give students an opportunity to practice the knowledge they learn. Teams can do the same! As you teach your fans, give them opportunities to put those skills to use! Create contests or sweepstakes that involve using your IG filter or GIF sticker, or to participate in a TikTok challenge, to post a photo or video of an in-game experience, and much more!

 

  • Give fans an excuse to post. Fans are eager and anxious to share content, but they often need a reason to do so. Once you educate, then empower and mobilize them! Brainstorm clever and unique UGC contests — as simple as submitting a pic of them at a game and advancing to best use of your filter, making a meme, or using your stickers. Or try to find your star students and talented fans by having them submit an edit of a photo or recreate a photo, play or trick.

  • Empower fans to connect. One of the most important parts of sports is community and shared experience. Without the live experience of a game or watch party, fans can be anxious to recreate that feeling of connection. Teams can create ways to help fans connect with each other while we all wait for games to come back.

      • Find the niche communities within your fans (gamers, families, diehards, X’s and O’s nuts, super fans of ‘x’ player, trivia buffs, fans from ‘x’ country, fans that also play the sport, etc.)
      • Create opportunities for shared experiences. That could be ‘watch parties’ online with classic games, a gaming or trivia tournament, a fan pen pal program, or many more fun ideas. When fans can virtually communicate, congregate, or even digitally ‘high-five,’ some sense of that community is created that will keep fans together during this time.
      • Create conversation among fans. Think like a barbershop and bring up those fun debates that fans can go back and forth on, whether related to the team or the sport. It’s clear that nostalgia has value here, too.

  • Help fans become storytellers. Your fans are full of personality and incredible stories of their experiences with the team. Leverage and activate those stories! Ask fans for their memorable player encounters, their first memories of going to a game, about the relationships they formed over the years via their fandom, their crazy traditions and trinkets, and much more. Then, don’t just retweet them, but enhance and activate them.

In this uneasy, uncertain time in which fans have little to connect to and to stoke the fires of their fandom, it is so important to embrace social media more than ever. The ones that play offense and seek to put their fans into position to succeed will come out of this better than ever. It can start today. It has to.

A couple great examples here from from Bleacher Report

 

Ideas on How College Athletics Can Adapt to Potentially Challenging Financial Circumstances

It’s a scary time in sports. Heck, it’s a scary time in the whole world, as mankind takes on the threat of the coronavirus. 

And while we all remain optimistic, because it’s all we can do, leaders in the sports space are growing increasingly wary of how the sports business will look on the other side. This is especially dire in college athletics where the notion of the college football season getting canceled threatens the livelihood of countless programs throughout college sports, which rely on the revenues generated by football to keep them afloat. Athletic Directors, according to polls, are more worried than ever about losing out on ticket sales and donations, still, even if there remains hope college football in some form can end up on TV (i.e. with empty stadiums), keeping media revenue on the table.

For years now, many college athletics programs have seemed to the outside world like major corporations, with charter flights, company cars, and more accoutrements on campus than Club Med. College football ain’t going away, but the other sports its revenue supports are at risk and it means college athletics programs must get more creative and pointed than ever to make it mean something for donors to support their school and its programs.

 

Coaches Glad-Handing All Year

Throughout the season, coaches are head-down all about the football — preparing for practice, meetings, watching film, meeting recruits, talking to media, and doing their weekly call-in shows. In the offseason, they’re doing talks at booster events and quarterback clubs, meeting corporate big-wigs, and, yes, still spending a lot of time on recruiting and football.

But with revenue shortfalls from an absence of ticket sales and considerable expected decreases in donations, how can external relations become an integral part of their role, while not diminishing their ability to coach and recruit? It’s time now to consider that question and to brainstorm. 

How can coaches make the days of more donors, and reinforce those donor activities and feelings? This goes beyond football coaches, to every coach in the programs that may literally be saved through the generosity of donors and partners that are able. Could coaches spend 15 minutes a day recording personalized thank you’s to a few donors? Could they write or sign a few handwritten thank you notes in the middle of each day? Could they recreate a campus visit tour for donors, the same way they delight recruits and donors that visit on campus in more normal times?

Without the payoff of games and in-person events, these little things can matter a lot and can scale. 

But where do the student athletes, whose experiences and ability to play the sport they love in college, fit into the equation?

Put a Face to the Funding: Activating Student Athletes

Sure, some big donors will see their name on a building or a coaching position endowment for perpetuity. But with athletes in sports like wrestling, field hockey, track and field, and more at risk of losing their ability to compete for their school and have the experience they imagined all their lives, it’s more of a human game than ever before.

No, most of these kids are not in dire straits of not having food to eat, healthcare, and a bed to sleep in at night [though some are]. But they will suffer in the months and years to come, as schools can no longer afford to pay for them to play their sport, and perhaps their scholarship to attend the school, in general. But what if donating to a school was more personal, and benefactors could see, could form a relationship with, and could connect with someone living out their dreams thanks to a donation? It’s more like an adoption than simply handing over a check to help fill the coffers of the college. 

It reminds me of a customer at Greenfly (where I work), a non-profit organization that uses funds to help pay for the education of kids who have lost a parent in the line of military duty. The organization’s cause is laudable, to be sure, but it means even more when donors get personalized thank you messages from the individual kids whose life they’re improving. It’s a back and forth for life, and it makes the donation that much more meaningful. 

Could college athletics, by necessity, become more personal for the fans and donors that support it, and help programs and student athlete experiences that would otherwise be lost amidst this pandemic? The transactional nature of it all must evolve, but — especially if live events are fan-less or limited in scope and people — the nature of the value exchange for paying fans and donors must evolve, as well.

 

Giving Value Back to Fans and Donors in Creative and Original Ways

Think about the experiences fans and donors and partners receive in exchange for their dollars. They get the live games and the atmosphere, and many enjoy VIP experiences like watching warm-ups from the sideline. Some may have their kids on the field to high-five players as they run in, hang out with prominent alums in the premium club, and get to shake hands (or maybe ‘dap’ nowadays) with the coaches and Athletic Director. 

But if fans aren’t allowed to come to games or the paradigm of experiences either doesn’t work now or needs to evolve, how can there still be value given back to these valuable individuals who help fund all the sports programs, football and well beyond?

Could college athletics do its own take on the ‘Cameo’ app and record special messages on request for donors, like a coach wishing a Happy Birthday to a major donor’s husband or a broadcaster recording someone’s voicemail? Heck, with the imminent arrival of new NIL policies for student athletes, could colleges facilitate similar opportunities for student athletes, with a portion going in their pocket and the rest funding athletics? Or maybe a prominent alumnus can drop into a board meeting on Zoom for an impromptu virtual meet and greet. The creativity is boundless and perhaps as needed as ever as programs rethink how they can make donors feel valued, and give value back in new ways. Because the old ways may either be more limited or not even possible.

In many ways, such evolution is a natural progression already gradually taking place in sports, as season ticket holders all become ‘members’ for the program, and receive value well beyond the face value of their ticket for admission to games.

What Membership Could Mean Going Forward

The concept of being a ‘member’ is more prominent in European and Australian sports, but the nomenclature, at least, has been making its way to the US in the last decade. College athletics by and large typically has a more emotional tie than pro sports to begin with and having an affiliation with the school is something that goes beyond a guaranteed seat and tailgating spot. If fans aren’t able to go to games, how can they still see value from being a ‘member?’ And, heck, even when stadiums do open back up, how can fans that live thousands of miles away still feel it’s worthwhile for them to be a paying ‘member’ (or booster or supporter) of a school and its program?

We can look to those European clubs for inspiration, many of whom have multiple tiers of memberships, and have been monetizing hordes of fans for years that may never attend a game in their lifetime. Members can receive special merchandise and tchotchkes, and many get access to premium digital content. During this COVID-19 pandemic we’re seeing teams all over the world get creative with value they can offer to fans — workouts, nutrition advice, access to Zoom calls with media and IG Lives with players and coaches, a firehose of classic content, and random (but requested) “pop-ins” from mascots to a Zoom call. There are so many ways teams and programs can provide unique value, and it’s time to exhaustively consider all those options, determine what’s feasible, and make sure fans can get value even while they may not be able to go to games or feel they can afford to write a check just because they love their school. That emotional tie can stay strong, even as donations dwindle, and one more tactic to consider is to embrace the idea of mini contributions, when fans, students, alumni, and donors can only give a little at a time.

 

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Micro Donations

For some time now, micro-payments have been a part of the gaming world, whether gamers are paying for extra lives or for a cool ‘skin’ for their avatar. Clemson University has also enjoyed success for a while with their ‘IPTAY’ program (I pay ten a year) in which alumni, among others, vow to pay $10 a year. Micro-donations can be a way to support the program and the school, just like gamers support their favorite video games without breaking the bank. And, over thousands of transactions, it can add up to significant revenue.

In the aftermath of this pandemic (let alone during it), when it’s not realistic for many to part with hundreds of dollars, let alone thousands, how can schools get more creative in offering micro methods of donation? Could they pay a few bucks for a custom avatar or graphic to be produced? Or sign up to give a dollar for every touchdown the team scores? Or pay a dollar to access a mobile video game the team produces? These are very off-the-cuff ideas, but the point is that micropayments are already growing and micro-donations could, and maybe should, be the wave of the future for colleges, college athletics, and beyond.


It’s a time of great uncertainty and apprehension for college athletics leaders, coaches, staff, and student athletes. Unless things change, the anticipated budget that helps fuel so many sports programs that operate in the red simply may not be there when all is said and done. Desperate times call for creativity and creating value wherever possible. It may not be a revolution, but an evolution certainly must come. The experiences of thousands of student athletes and collegiate sports depend on it.

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.
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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.

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.

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  • 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.

 

Episode 163 Snippets: Ed Cahill Oversees Orlando City SC’s Extensive and Thoughtful Content Strategy

On episode 163 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City SC and the Orlando Pride.

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 162 Snippets: Brandon Berrio Helps Lead LSU Football’s Social Content Strategy and Operations Through a Dream Season

On episode 162 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brandon Berrio, Associate Director – Creative and Digital Content for LSU Athletics.

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 158 Snippets: Kathleen Hessert on What to Know about Gen Z, Athlete Image, and Questions to Guide Brand

On episode 158 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kathleen Hessert, Founder + President of Sports Media Challenge and Founder of WeRGenZ, to talk about Gen Z fans, her experience on brand/social media with Peyton Manning, SHAQ, 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.

Episode 155 Snippets: Alexandra Willis Serves Up Aces for Wimbledon’s Digital and Social Content + Communications Strategy

On episode 155 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Alexandra Willis, Senior Manager – Digital Media for Wimbledon and the AELTC.

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.