Build Fans For Life, Not A Consumer For A Day

We’re all after social media ROI. Consider the following two examples, coming from my own experience with my family.

Case #1: While working for the Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club, my mom, predictably, became a big fan of the team and a newcomer as an NHL fan, in general. She watched or attended just about every game, never missed a web story or social media post or video, and soon owned enough Ducks outfits and memorabilia for every day of the week, and then some. I have since moved on from the Ducks in my career, but my mom remains a fan of the Ducks. A superfan.
She still never misses a game or online post and her friends and family now know how big a Ducks fan she is. It is a constant source of conversation and, more often than not, she is wearing some Ducks swag. As a result, her siblings and nieces and nephews have attended games and consumed Ducks content and bought Ducks merchandise. Same goes for many of her friends and their families.
If you can find just a few dozen fans as evangelizing and dedicated as your mom, it can go a long way, even if the exact path of ROI is hazy, at best.

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Case #2: My brother and one of my best friends have long been San Diego Chargers fans, often attending one game each season (I’m a Raiders fan, myself). For years, they talked about the team daily, consumed content, purchased merchandise, and watched every play of every game. As they grew up and started pulling in a higher wage/salary, finding themselves with disposable income, one of their first considerations was Chargers season tickets. With fantasy, daily conversations and articles and TV, a plethora of factors went into what ultimately become season ticket purchases years down the road. The path to ROI here is no more linear than that of the aforementioned case with my mom.

While ads and conversions are more track-able than ever, the fact remains that 85% of digital ad clicks come from just 7% of online users and, with “fat finger syndrome,” many ad clicks come by accident. While advertising is becoming more personalized, contextualized, and optimized, the touch points a fan has with an organization are innumerable, rendering the path to ROI very sinuous.

We’re living between a rock and a hard place as social media and content marketing managers are increasingly charged to show short-term ROI, despite playing in a long-term game. Metrics can tell a lot. They can inform strategy, resource allocation, and messaging. But building fans that think and talk about your team/brand daily, that wear your gear, that proselytize on your behalf — this is the ultimate ROI for social media, even if it isn’t shown this year, let alone this week.

Perhaps Nebraska Huskers’ Director of Digital Media Kelly Mosier said it best at the recent Q1 Sports Fan Engagement Conference, noting that their goal is to create fans who think about nothing but the team “from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep…”
You can sell one ticket today or create an evangelizing, swag-wearing season ticket holder of tomorrow. The ROI is there. It’s up to you frame it and tell the story that appreciates the short-term results, but makes its hay on creating fans for life.

Sports Media Adapting to the Modern Fan

Sports media outlets used to be just about content. The games on the channels were more important than the networks broadcasting them. It’s not like consumers had a plethora of choices from which to get their sports content in the past.

But that has all changed. It’s no longer just ESPN and the local paper. Or even a half dozen sports content websites. It’s thousands upon thousands. So how do the big guys maintain their place at the top of the mountain, particularly in the free-for-all world of digital and social?

They build brand.

Cultivating a brand, and having an active brand presence on every platform on which fans are consuming is an increasingly important concern for players in the social media game. These notions were recently elucidated at the annual Sports Business Journal World Congress of Sports, held April 20-21, 2017 in Dana Point, CA. (Check out a recap)

“SportsCenter is not a show, it’s a brand,” said ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling. “It lives online, social, mobile, our OTT [over-the-top] apps.”

ESPN has long been more than just a set of TV channels, and nowadays they recognize the need to be that omni-channel brand that fans know and trust. As the cable paradigm continues to diminish, too, sports media brands like ESPN know it may be a direct-to-consumer play, not protected by the bundle.

President of Turner David Levy emphasized the need to ‘control platforms’ and not to dice up the distribution, especially in sports. Appreciating the shift in the ways fans are consuming content was a central motif of the conference’s opening panel. Michael Neuman, Executive Vice President, Managing Partner, Scout Sports and Entertainment – ‎Horizon Media, noted in a tweet: “[The] Biggest theme of opening panel is “decentralization” of media consumption and inability of youth to embrace current delivery.”

So how are sports media businesses seeking to combat this conundrum? Build a unique brand, of course.

For Turner and Levy, it means serving a cross-section of the interests of their fans, earning more of their attention every day. “The definition of a network is changing,” stated Levy, specifically speaking about Turner’s brand now including Bleacher Report. “The future of B/R is a cross between sports and culture (music, fashion) and maybe live games.”

Perhaps the best manifestation of finding success with a unique brand in sports media is Barstool Sports. Their irreverent, authentic, informed, unfiltered take on sports stories and content has found some startup success in an increasingly crowded sports marketplace. They’ve done it by letting the punch line that are Internet takes and memes drive much of their hyperbolic content.

“We are SNL [Saturday Night Live] if it were born out of the Internet,” said Erika Nardini, CEO Barstool of Sports:  We have the fan base and loyalty…

“Brand has to be part of the conversation.”

The lesson lies in the fact that fans are no longer coming straight to you in droves. Consumer have so many choices for content and their attention must be earned; you’ve got to make yourself easy to reach and then you’ve got to them want to come to you.

Engage Fans as Individuals and Give Them Lasting Impressions

There was a beautiful, simple gesture recently taken by the Philadelphia Phillies with a fan that reached out on Twitter. It underscored the power of social media, the power of active listening and engagement, and how in a fleeting moment on an ordinary day, a team can leave a permanent imprint on a fan, and all the fans to whom their story emanates.

Every game, every day is an opportunity to give a fan a lifelong memory. A story they’ll tell not just that day, but the best memories can be so special to become part of the, well, story repertoire for a fan. One of their favorites to tell when making conversation, meeting new people, and reminiscing. When was the last time you left such an impression on a fan, giving them a memory to preserve and story to tell forever.

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A story that sticks with me because it reinforces this message? It starts with active listening, a little surprise and delight, and a fan with a memory they’ll cling to forever.

A quick retelling — I was always actively listening on the team’s social media platforms, with mentions, key words, and lists. One game night, I noticed a fan excitedly posting about being at the game with his dad for his dad’s birthday — their first game ever for them both. On a whim I reached out to the fan, got their seat location, and about a third of the way through the game, went and surprised them with some autographed swag to make sure this would be a birthday they’d never forget. (A smartphone pic they requested assured it).

Seeing the smiles on their faces didn’t leave me. The power of a single engagement blew me away. These two would retell this story and hold on to this memory forever. How cool is that? That’s immeasurable ROI.

From that day forward, I realized if I could have at least one of those powerful, one-to-one engagements (not necessarily as grandiose, just making a fan feel like the team cares about them, as an individual, and appreciates their personal support and investment); if I could inspire that feeling in just one every day, the super fan base would grow. The brand ambassadors. The emotionally connected fans. The ones with a story to tell.

Episode 90 Snippets: Inside the Dallas Cowboys Digital and Social Content Strategy with Taylor Stern

On episode 90 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Taylor Stern, Social Media Coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.

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

Episode 89 Snippets: Chris Littmann is Bringing Excitement and Storytelling to NASCAR’s Content

On episode 89 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Littmann, Senior Manager, Content and Platform Strategy for NASCAR.

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

A List of Sports Biz Insights and Stats from the Sloan Conference

The leaders in the sports business world are constantly on a quest to get bigger and better. They’re studying, predicting, measuring, analyzing, evolving. And many of them came together for the 2017 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. While the conference is very much about athlete and team performance, there is also a wealth of sports business stats and insights shared.

Here are 29 quick sports biz bytes from the conference, shared via Twitter from #SSAC17:
[See full recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 here. Lots more.]
*Leagues are evolving in their relationships with sponsors. The NFL talked about actively collaborating with corporate partners on all facets of the business of the league and he game. The success with Microsoft Surface was highlighted as a win.

*Fanatics has become such a dominant player in the sports merchandise space because of its robust digital offering that can act upon demand in an instant. An example cited was that after just five games into his breakout career, with his name hotter than ever, Joel Embiid’s jersey was one of the top-selling in the NBA, thanks to the speed of Fanatics.

*While this principle was stated from the NFL and MLB, it was a theme (and has been) for thought leaders for a while – content must be disseminated to reach fans at the places and on the platforms on which fans are consuming their content. Simple enough, right?

*Also from the NFL and MLB [and another recurring lesson] – a major key to the growth of any sport is youth participation. Get them playing, make them a fan while they’re, and there’s a better chance they’ll be fans for life.

*It’s great if you can collect data, but it’s all about what you do with it. Casey Wasserman clearly shared a lot of wisdom to SSAC attendees and this one resonated, as it should.

*Teams and leagues are now seeking to serve every fan, regardless of where or how they’re consuming and engaging. That means focusing during games on digital engagement, on the in-venue experience, and on the TV broadcast. Each offers an opportunity to engage, and treats every fan of the team with care.

*The FOMO acronym seemed to be another common consideration. It’s still about making others want to be there, at the game.

*Lots of talk about personalization. Ticketmaster envisioned reaching a place, soon, where every experience for fans is personalized – discovery, purchase, amenities. Team execs are similarly focused on personalization, particularly with fan messaging and in-venue experiences. The new norm is personalization, and it’s only going to get better.

*A stat that certainly stood out – 50-70% of Fanatics listings on Amazon are counterfeit. Bad news for consumers, perhaps fodder for teams to convince fans to buy from their stores. Or maybe teams should sell directly on Amazon.

*Every league is worried about the waning attention spans, and desire for ‘content snacks,’ of Millennials and Generation Z. The objective is not so much focused on shaving minutes off games, but more so about reducing dead time in games [NFL, MLB, NBA]. Less time between action. The NFL also noted adjusting their commercial ad structure, for something more fan-friendly.

*Some interesting findings from stats around Los Angeles Dodgers concessions – alcohol comprises 49% of concessions revenue. Perhaps not surprising, but interesting. Also from the Dodgers – fan cart size increased with self-serve kiosks, and the Dodgers saw concessions revenue and sales decrease when Clayton Kershaw pitch, because his starts were so much shorter. (And fans likely want to be in their seats to see the ace in action)

*Stats to consider from WWE – While we focus on so much on mobile TV viewing, just 15-20% of WWE Network viewing is on mobile devices. Even on the digital-only WWE Network, fans still seek out the big TV for their sports. Another eye-popping stat from WWE – 70% of their content consumption comes from outside the US.

*Wasserman Managing Partner Elizabeth Lindsey noted the need for sports leagues to focus on international growth, despite so much attention at home paid to driving youth, female, and minority viewership growth. The NBA has their eyes on India (looking for India’s version of Yao Ming), while the NFL is hoping to crack China. The NBA, in discussing their success growing the game and the league in China, noted that content was provided for free to a Chinese network to show on TV, building in exposure for the NBA and the game.
*Pretty impressive user and user engagement stats from Twitch. The esports and video game streaming platform boasts 100 million monthly active users, and their users average  a mind-blowing 140 minutes per day on Twitch.

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*The aspects of personalization are also of increasing concern when it comes to content and digital marketing. As more data is collected and put into action, greater degrees of custom experiences with content is a goal for the sports business industry, as well.

*Virtual reality and augmented reality were not surprisingly popular topics. A stat that stood out that either means future growth or stuck in the rut for VR is that the Consumer headset market for VR in the US is currently around six to ten million. One definite positive was the news from sports VR company STRVIR, which reported that it has been profitable the last two years.
*NBA Commissioner Adam Silver talked about how lucky they are to have players that market the league themselves, with all their activity on social media and in the media. The league also focuses on social media education and empowerment, which, along with willing and already social media-savvy players, makes for great success there.

*170+ million fans watched March Madness games in 2016. That’s a helluva number, and is certainly happening on an ever more diverse array of platforms now.

*Uninterrupted, the player-driven and video-focused content network co-founded by LeBron James, is not trying to displace journalism outlets like ESPN. Instead, explained Maverick Carter, their competition is more premium content producers, like HBO.

* This stat just stood out to me a bit…Which sport would you guess has the fifth most estimated fans in the world? I’ll give you a second…

It’s volleyball. I wouldn’t have guessed correctly.

*Good gambling stats to heed, as legalization expands in the US –> In Europe, sports gambling via mobile comprises 80% of the market and in-play [during the game/match] gambling makes up over 50% of total handle. Lots of $$ to come in this space for the US. That said, one limiting factor for such real-time gambling, it was noted, is the slowness/lag of data feeds delivering the stats.

*The CTO of Ticketmaster provided some fascinating insights on a panel at the conference. One that stood out to poder was that 68% of all tickets on Ticketmaster are sold after the original on-sale and presale. This could mean a lot of things, but mainly that most tickets are not bought early, which aligns with notion that fans are waiting to buy tickets.
Another ticket sales stat, that ws quite mind-blowing, was that there is an estimated $7 BILLION worth of arbitrage in the ticket sales market. You think teams want some of that/

*Another stat that opens some eyes for teams (via Ticketmaster) is that the names captured to tickets sold ratio is 1:2.8. Yep, nearly 3 of every 4 tickets are sold without teams knowing the identity of the buyer.

*The point was raised that there are two main cohorts of fans attending games. There are those fans that are there because they’re fans of the team and feel invested in them. And there are those who are there for the experience of attending the event, the spectacle (and, yeah, probably the social media fodder).

* A great insight from the San Francisco 49ers VP of Sales & Serivce Jamie Brandt, as he noted that, for Millennial fans, share-able experiences are valued far more than expensive things/items. Something to keep in mind for memorable fan experiences.

*An interesting stat from the panel on gambling was a study estimating that legalization of gambling would result in an average 10% increase in viewership for pro sports. Fans that are invested, literally, are engaged and don’t miss the game.

*In the ever-evolving world of tickets, paper and paperless, the 49es talked about everything from all-mobile ticketing to even a ‘biometric’ solution for fans of the future to gain entry into the game.

*As teams, leagues, and brands continue to try and do social media the right way, a statement that permeated and penetrated was that ‘Social media is for consuming content, not [conducting] transactions.’ (Though, Facebook Ads do work pretty well). Don’t forget why fans are there in their Feeds in the first place.

*There was a fascinating panel on sports journalism with Adrian Wojnarowski, Adam Schefter, and Ken Rosenthal that was full of good nuggets, some of which you can see in the SSAC recap. The powerhouse reporters talked about the nature of breaking news and how it’s not always so simple when you want to balance confirming vs. getting beat, and throwing in promises to sources to hold info until a certain time. They also spoke about the importance of building relationships and getting to know a lot of people in the industry, as well as getting to know the athletes as people. Other tips included a warning against burning bridges  (because word spreads quickly) and when reporting news answer and bring out the why and the how, not just the what.

*It’s a dialogue, not a monologue on social media. This is paraphrased from VP of Wasserman Mike Bernstein, which succinctly reinforces the need to remember the social in social media. If you’re the only one talking, that’s broadcasting, not relationship building. Creating conversation through content is powerful.

 

I’m always thirsty to learn more and greatly enjoyed picking up on some insights via #SSAC17. Be sure to check out the recaps.

 

The Minnesota Wild Earn Attention on Social Thanks to Buy-In From All

“We need to give fans a reason to come to our channels.”

Welcome to the era of extremely elective consumption. When there are so many content choices and so many channels from which to choose, appeal and attraction is key or teams. And the statement above, from Katlyn Gambill, Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Minnesota Wild, sums up succinctly a key point in this era of social media marketing – it’s earned attention.

When fans want to come to you, want to see what you’re doing, and feel attracted, not alienated, there’s clearly tremendous value to that. And, the best part about building that relationship, as Gambill, described is then you can also deliver content with offers, sponsors integrated, and some sales CTA’s. But it’s all about the organization buying into the fan-first mentality, where it’s thinking about what fans actually want to see, not what you want or need them to see.

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It’s all easy to say, of course. Far more difficult is to put such fan-focused principles into action on a consistent basis. Gambill made some great points in talking about a decision the team made, as all eventually did, about adopting Snapchat, and therefore dedicating time, resources, and thought to it. Here’s the point – becoming more accepted – it’s not about a short-term gain tomorrow. It’s about relationship-building, with an intentional, thoughtful strategy and mindset of how it will create more value for the team, too.

“Just because we can’t necessarily bring in a ton of revenue on Snapchat, doesn’t mean it’s not useful,” said Gambill, who spent time with the New Jersey Devils, before starting with Minnesota. “Because we can’t have every single post on every single platform just promoting a corporate sponsor, otherwise people just aren’t going to pay attention to us…We might not be able to bring in revenue right away, but that doesn’t mean down the line that we can’t.”

The most important part of the organization, though? It’s not a trick question, the fans come out to see the players perform. They read about the players, watch videos of them, post on social media about them. And, as much as we talk about buy-in from the suits in the organization (and rightfully so), just as important is the buy-in and the shared understanding by the players.

And it is a tribute to Gambill and the Wild, and a foundation behind much of their quality content, that she has had frank and understanding conversations with the players about social media, content, and why she’s constantly around them with a phone or camera.

“I was lucky enough to sit down with our captains at one point, and talk it through with them, and explain what my goals were with social media,” Gambill told me about her first year with the Wild. “And explain that ‘To you, it seems like I’m just taking a photo. But, by doing that, I’m telling our fans what you guys are doing. I’m giving them a visual of you guys getting ready.”

“Me taking photos of you guys playing soccer may seem super-weird to you. But our fans don’t see that…’ They understood and bought in to the fact, they don’t have to participate in social media for the team to be successful, they just need to let me be around…”

When the people in the C-suite get it, when the hockey ops people get it, when the players get it — magic happens. When everyone is on helping to build deeper connections with fans, it DOES lead to more emotional investment and, ultimately, a better bottom line for everybody.

So have the conversation; show, tell, and explain. No one will ‘get it’ if you don’t try to tell them the what and the why.