Alessandro Gasparro on the Importance of Understanding How Fans Speak and What Engages Them

On episode 113 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Alessandro Gasparro, Director of Social Media Strategy, Endeavor.

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.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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Cutting Through the Content Clutter in Social Media and Sports By Owning Niches

The sports content world is crowded. It can be incredibly hard to stand out, especially if you’re an official team presence or even a challenger in the space. But it’s not a hopeless battle of attrition, it doesn’t have to be a daily struggle for the attention of fans.

There’s value in truly owning niches. Become the best in certain areas and command the attention of fans by being unique and providing unique value. For Richard Clarke, who spent years amid the crowded fish bowl of Arsenal and later the upstart Colorado Rapids, part of building a content strategy was focusing on owning niches that others couldn’t do as well as the club.

“What you can do is you can own niches,” said Clarke. “At Arsenal, we had great history, so I would want to own the niche of history. We could do stats really well – that was a niche we could own…

“We made sure we owned any transfer announcement, as well. Because that was somewhere where we were properly creating news…Obviously, with the media in England, when there’s a transfer going on, it’s difficult for the club to comment; but what you do do – is you’re the ultimate rubber stamp…

“Suddenly, you’ve got four or five things where you’re the go-to place for that. You build up an arsenal of niches.”

Right there, Clarke identified niches Arsenal could own, ways they could rise to the surface, not just in spite of, but because of being the official club presence. They not be able to pen overly critical columns or entertain rumors and reports as much as others, but there were things they could do better than anyone.

There’s an extensive content ecosystem throughout sports (and all media, really), but providing something fans can’t get anywhere else, using your resources to your advantage can mark a lot of territory in the battle for fans’ time. The most important thing is still creating content and stories that is worth their time, that isn’t just noise or, worse, a lesser version of what they’re getting elsewhere.

“You’ve still got to give value and, sometimes, it is a matter of owning these niches and building a content plan off of that,” said Clarke. “It’s not perfect, and that’s fine, because we go to different websites and social media accounts for different things…”

Fans maintain a steady diet of content consumption each day, often across a variety of platforms. It’s not reasonable to expect to win 100% of that time and attention, better to target a healthy amount that you can dominate. It’s pretty valuable to be the best at something, and it can start with identifying niches that can be all yours.

Richard Clarke Offers Insights Into Building a Successful Content Strategy for Sports Teams

On episode 112 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Richard Clarke, Sport Digital Consultant and Speaker, formerly with Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids, among others.

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.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

Preston McClellan is helping to grow the PGA Tour through players, content, and experiences

On episode 111 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Preston McClellan, Senior Brand Marketing Manager for the PGA Tour.

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.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

Sports Biz and Fan Engagement Observations from the LA Rams Playoff Game

January 6, 2018 the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Atlanta Falcons in the first NFL playoff game in Los Angeles since…a long time ago. With the Rams losing, it was also the last game of their second season back in Los Angeles, playing the LA Coliseum.

I had the chance to go to the game and, as always, was on the eye for lessons and notables, from a sports business and fan engagement perspective. Here 15 quick observations:

 

  1. Branded hangout areas w/ TV’s 

    Many stadiums nowadays have social areas – a place to have a drink and maybe catch up with your group of friends away from the bleachers, especially at NFL games where most Sundays there are tons of other games happening during the ones fans are attending. The Rams game was no exception with multiple areas with between the concessions with TV”s, bar tables, and other seating. It came in handy as we stopped to watch the end of an earlier game. Easy opportunity to brand these areas and the Coliseum did so with the tent/umbrellas and (maybe?) the TV’s. The main things missing were charging stations and maybe some more loung-ey furniture.
    ramns1 

  2. USC all over 

    The Coliseum has for several years been home to the USC Trojans football team. And it was certainly notable that, despite the importance of this first NFL playoff game in LA in so long, the building concourse was decidedly USC. From the paint colors to the names of hte non-branded concessions stands, the Rams as a renter was readily apparent. I’m not sure what kind of restrictions were in place, but I hope everything possible was attempted to create a venue that screamed Rams that Saturday.
    rams3 

  3. Pop-up stores 

    Venues used to just have one big store if fans wanted merchandise for the team. Then, mall-like kiosks came for hats and maybe t-shirts. Now you’ll often see more pop-up stores where fans can feel and browse what’s for sale. The Rams had a few, including this one for their ‘premium’ merch brand ’47.rams2

  4. Branding Help Desk 

    Learn the partner’s brand and mission, figure out how it fits into the fan experience. For Southern California Honda, they’re all about being ‘Helpful Honda’ Dealers. Well, the Rams know their info booth is an integral part of game day. So it was branded for Helpful Honda [Helpful Hut]. A great way to inject the brand in a way that reinforces their messaging while providing real value to the fan experience in an entirely organic way. More activations like all over the fan experience.
    rams4 

  5. Concessions maps / no app 

    The Coliseum is not known as a beaming beacon of modernity and there was a certain ’90’s vibe to their concessions maps up on the walls around the venue. Digital screens or even a venue mobile app would have been a welcome way to navigate the venue than crowding around an old-school wall map.rams5

  6. Cinnabon 

    It’s always good to have venue (and/or team) partners that serve food from their known and loved brands, including national ones like Cinnabon (smells so good), and local loves like Randy’s Donuts and Trejo Tacos.

  7. Clear bagsIt seems like most sports events now in college and pros have a clear bag policy in place, meaning fans can bring in items provided they are stored in a clear bag of a specified size. Messaging around this clear bag policy has taken up multiple pages of social and PR strategy. And, of course, it represents a great opportunity for teams to sell or disseminate clear bags to make it easier for fans, and get their brand out there more. It’s also a valuable opportunity for a helpful sponsor to assist in giving fans a very helpful bag.

    rams6

  8. Rally Towels 

    I’m not sure who invented the rally towel, but it is a damn good fan engaement tool, in many ways. Create a communal and fun atmosphere at the game [not to mention, solid Instagram pics], while also creating a valuable place to expose a team partner. The towel may end up lost or trashed after the game, but the cheap giveaways are worth every penny.

  9. A few big brands 

    The Rams no doubt have a large portfolio o corporate partners, but if you were to ask fans to look around the game, there are maybe 4-6 brands that would be can’t-miss. For years now, instead of filling every nook and cranny, teams have looked for more integrated partnerships and more meaningful activations. It seems to be a good trend as teams don’t have to divvy up every impression and effort and content piece, instead identifying the more opportune, relevant ways to integrate partners.

  10. 24 Hour Fitness Flex Cam 

    I saw this same promotion at the LA Galaxy game at StubHub Center, and it’s a fun one and a good one, with an obviously relevant tie-in to the partner.

    rams7
     

  11. Whose House?! 

    Call and response chants are a powerful thing in sports, and every team should have one. They bring together thousands of fans like nothing else, and becomes a way for fans to connect and share their enthusiasm like nothing else. I wasn’t aware of the Rams’ call-and-response of “Whooooose house? Rams’s house!” chant before this game, but you better believe I knew it by the end of the game. Whether it was the PA inciting the crowd, random call outs in the concourse (and, yes, even the bathroom), and banners and shirts, the mantra is ubiquitous and Rams fans can’t get enough of it. It was pretty darn cool to see fans come together as one to take part in chant after chant throughout the game day.

  12. Social media-like overlays 

    Just about everyone is familiar with, and delighted by, graphic overlays, mostly referred to as lenses. And the Rams get creative with their fan cam that adds Ram horns to excited fans. It’s like Snapchat and Instagram on the big screen. The only thing missing is the chance for fans to save and share these pics. The excitement of getting on the video board is timeless, and the Rams are keeping that strong with a 21st century twist that turns fans into Rams. Of course, poor cell and no WiFi made social media-ing tough, limiting my ability to share my experience.rams8


  13. Tagboard / #LARams 

    Social aggregation platforms like Tagboard are all over in sports and entertainment these days. If getting on the video board is goal #1, getting your selfie from IG on the board is perhaps #2 on the excitement chart. While these activations are admirable, they never seem to quite get the participation they would seem to merit. I also noted they didn’t push their official NFL Twitter hashtag, #MobSquad, instead deferring to perhaps the more organic and voluminous, #LARams. Similar to some experiences I’ve had at other events, I saw pics repeated multiple times [perhaps intentional]. UGC will remain an integral part of fan engagement, though the means and medium and presentation will no doubt evolve and improve over time.
    [See Flexcam pic above for an example of the callout; the only place I saw social media pics coming in was on the side of the video board]

  14. Snoop Dogg and other celebs 

    It’s LA. It’s Hollywood. So the game wouldn’t be complete without a celebrity appearance or two. And while they may not have a ritual like the Carolina Panthers pounding of the drum, the Rams do have the aforementioned ‘Whose House?’ chant that is perfect for a cameo to lead. Tone Loc (who just made me think Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) was first to rap and chant for the crowd. Later, Rob Lowe also made an appearance. Meanwhile, all the millennials rejoiced (myself included) for the chance to see LA’s own Snoop Dogg perform at halftime. It wouldn’t be a big game in LA without a little star power.rams9

  15. Metro Cards 

    While my party was considering where best to book an Uber (there is no designated zone at the Coliseum), the Metro made their mark, too, with a prominent tent near the exits/entrances, inviting fans to buy and load cards there. It’s an easy and effective way to activate the partnership in a manner that’s super-helpful for fans. The ATM machines in the stadium were also branded with a banking partner (again, easy enough).

rams10

 

Overall, it felt like a Rams team doing the best they could in a building in which they’re just a tenant. Connectivity is a limitation, too. The stadium didn’t seem conducive to kids, with plenty of beer gardens and lounge areas, but no attraction for kids – kids area, face painting, photo-ops, etc. The lack of open space also likely accounts for little novel sponsor activation happening. No memory makers, contest, displays, or pop-ups. We went to a football game.
The video board promos were not bad, and the music selection was good. However, there were multiple times when a replay wasn’t shown or a Twitter-like GIF was used when all I wanted was to see video of the play. There were times those with me missed the close coverage one gets on the couch. But that’s the tradeoff for the atmosphere.

It was a great opportunity, if nothing else, to witness the passion the Rams fans have. While the team remains a tenant, for now, their Inglewood palace is coming, and the experience will be much different. In the end, it’s about giving fans the feeling after the game of wanting to come back.

Shifting the Focus from Platforms to Fans in 2018

A year is far too long to reflect upon or to project these days. I mean, who are we kidding? Mediums and tech and data and attention spans and content delivery and consumption and fan preferences — they all change seemingly every day. So save your 365-day theses.

But one thing stays the same, regardless – the challenge persists. The challenge to keep up with the fans and the social networks, to keep up with your peers, and to keep up with the evolving business and revenue models.

2018: The Year Of ______

2017 was the Year of the Platform. The year we all read more official blogs from the social media big four (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) than ever and stay tuned to TechCrunch and the Twitter feed of Matt Navarra (recommended follow) with watchful eyes. Almost every week saw new tweaks, new ways to create and present content, new forms of interaction and engagement, different ways to promote and target and advertise, and even new (and, usually, better) data at our fingertips.

But 2018 can be different. Sure, the challenge and the change won’t go anywhere, but instead of obsessing over it every day, shift that focus to the fan. If 2017 was the Year of the Platform, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Fan.

Fans love to boast, but they love even more to post. They want those likes, they want to share something to the masses that conveys their love for the team to their friends and followers. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of talented fans out there. So what does this mean? Empower them — with content, with opportunities and capabilities to create awesome content themselves. The gates are starting to fly open on the platforms to co-create content, and teams and their fans can benefit and produce mutually beneficial and beautiful content together.

But the expectations of fans are increasing, too; this is a good thing. They expect teams to know them and anticipate the type of product, content, offer, and service they want and need. One-to-one communication is becoming more important not just because fans are spending time on these platforms and services, but also because that level of intimacy and attention is the expectation. Teams, in turn, are starting to realize that creating a few amazing experiences yields a better net result than tons of mediocre ones. Individual engagement has long been underrated, but is growing.

And we can’t take such intimate fan attention for granted. Whether we know they’re watching our content or inside our mobile app or at our game — that attention is currency and needs to be respected. Could 2018 be the year when disruption at least starts to diminish as a monetization tactic? Fewer pop-ups and pre-rolls, no meddling with mid-rolls or banners, less insertion of display ads in-between and calling it a ‘native’ ad. To say that’s what is best for the fan is a specious argument, at best, and we can all strive to do better. Because, we have to….

Earn and Respect Fan Attention

It feels like the early movers are starting to understand this point as 2017 comes to a close — quality is better than quantity. It’s easier said than done, but teams must resist the temptation to go for the vanity metrics, the ones that give nice pretty charts at the end of the month and the bosses may like, and to demand better. Because it’s only a matter of time before the brand takes a dip, before fans come to expect sub-standard.

There are too many other choices for fans. Too many other sites or accounts or apps they can go to to get their fix of content related to the team/player/sport. The only way to keep fans seeking you out, to make sure they’re clicking on your Story or engaging with your post (and keeping you on the right end of the algorithm) is to deliver good content consistently. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you’re allowed a miss 1 out of 100 times, but you simply can’t take for granted that fans will keep tapping on your content day after day. Cut out the noise, the one-word posts, the ambiguous cheers during a game – make every piece of content matter.

It’s a powerful thing when fans seek out your content, when they look for your story or app or video when they’re killing time on their iPhone or Android. There has been a renewed vigor around owned audiences – fans whom you can reach without having to pay to promote, necessarily. In the Year of the Fan, focusing on building those owned fan communities, who habitually want to consume and share your content. But don’t forget they don’t all want the same experience….

 

Audiences Deserve Attention

The default answer to every question seems to be whichever reaches the most people. But the content and strategy that is most effective for this insular objective doesn’t always align with what’s best long-term. It may seem like a good idea to pepper out every offer on every channel because if one more person signs up or buys, it’s worth it. But does that seem to jive with putting the fan first?

The fan base is not a single persona and to think there is a magic bullet with each and every piece of content offer is not only naive, it’s irresponsible. It’s something easy to preach, but fewer practice. If fans expect teams to know them, teams have to study their fans — some want to attend games, some just want to watch videos; there are fans that want longform and fans that want X’s and O’s; fans looking for an affordable night out with the family and fans looking for a premium asset.

We’re starting to value relevance over reach, and that’s a winning formula for the fans. More of the kind of content and messaging they want in the form they want it. That sounds like good to me. Many tend to value engagement over reach, which seemed like an evolution. But engagement can be a broad term, and it’s past time the term gets the scrutiny it merits…

Meaningful Engagements

Teams and media are getting more skilled at the game of engagement – learning how to play the platforms to drive engagement rates, so the numbers stay high and rising, and their team can rise the social media ‘rankings.’ You know the usual list of metrics – likes, retweets, comments, video starts / video views, shares, and the list goes on.

But what if we started focusing less on the biggest numbers and more on the most meaningful in 2018? If a Snapchat or Instagram Story or a video is good, why shouldn’t completion be the goal? There’s no magic metric that can help compare one post or platform with another, no unanimous definition of success, but calling it a success that fans are seeing just the first frame of a story or first three seconds of a video is no doubt deceiving.

The winners at the end of the day may not be at the top of the weekly engagement leaderboards and they may not have the most video starts or likes, but we’ve all begun to not just appreciate, but practice, the notion that social media is a marathon not a sprint. Focus less on chasing vanity metrics and more on meaning – it’s not an impossible task. Track the leads coming from social media, close the identity loop of social media engagers and fans that spend or that interact with sponsors, and don’t treat the last touch point as the primary piece of monetizing a fan.

This is not a plea to forget about the so-called vanity metrics nor is it about doing away with so-called ‘shallow’ engagement — fans wouldn’t tap or click if they didn’t want to — but it’s not being married to those metrics, and realizing that meaningful engagement, well, means more. It goes back to that quality > quantity conundrum. It’s why those with the talent to produce quality day after day are now valued and needed more than ever before…

Create Awesome Content

The best social media managers in sports are either equipped with amazing design and video production skills, or they’re friends with those in the organization that are. From the smallest college athletics programs and minor league teams to the biggest pro and college teams in the world, the bar is as high as ever for content. But it doesn’t mean every piece of content needs to be a masterpiece.

There is also a great deal of value in consistency and well-executed content, two factors that are coming on strong as the calendar flips to 2018. When fans can recognize your content from a mile away (or scrolling at a million miles/hour], that’s brand strength. And when content doesn’t feel like it was repurposed from another platform and another box was checked to throw it on this social network or that one, that’s the right way to do things. It all takes time, it takes effort. But if we all start to accept the quality>quantity notion, it all starts to make more sense.

 

 

We may be immersed in a world of wins and losses, but it’s not so simple in social media. Instead of being obsessed with the game, obsess over the fans instead – what they want, what they value, what they bring to the table. Don’t just preach fan-first, practice it. Let that sense of thoughtfulness and value go into every campaign, every piece of content, every post. 2018 can be the Year of the Fan, at last.