Building a League and Fans from Scratch: Inside Fan Development with the Premier Lacrosse League

Every sports team and league has its diehards. But every team and league also knows they can’t thrive at scale on diehards alone. That’s why so many are perpetually chasing the casual fan. The curious observer that can one day turn into a diehard. And even the biggest, most established leagues in the world still don’t have 100% penetration, there is always room to grow.

If cultivating more fans is a challenge for the longstanding major pro sports leagues, imagine an upstart league with an emerging sport. This was what the Premier Lacrosse League and its founders Paul and Mike Rabil were and remain up against. Lacrosse participation is growing, sure, but the viability of the PLL rests on its ability to bring its sport, teams, and players to the masses — whether they’re lifelong players and fans or just discovering it for the first time.

But it’s happening. They’re doing it. The PLL is still just getting started, but RJ Kaminski, the league’s Director of Brand who has been there from the start, sees fans being borne. His charge and his efforts are a big part of it. Kaminski recognizes that fans aren’t built in a day. There are steps along the way as the fan goes from just noticing the PLL to consuming more to the point where they’re buying swag and making plans to go to a game. For Kaminski, to see the process in action is so gratifying.

Kaminski described it: “The most satisfying part has been watching the fan who really doesn’t have an interest in the sport of lacrosse, but something along the way — a campaign that we did — sparked their interest enough to follow along, which led them a little bit further down the fan funnel to potentially watch a game with us, and then they’re really in it. And then they’re potentially picking a team and then they’re potentially appearing in person.

“Watching some of those fan journeys just on Twitter as you can see when someone follows along or when you see someone start to engage and then see them actually come to a game — watching that probably has been the best part.”

There is no one way, no magic pill campaign that can create fans. But the path to fandom involves emotion, getting fans to care. For the PLL, playing a sport with which the majority of people are not familiar, this means highlighting plays and players to inspire awe, empathy, and exhilaration.  Kaminski talked about bringing out the stories of their players, citing an example of Redwoods star Myles Jones recounting his dreams as a kid playing lacrosse. Those human stories can ignite the initial intrigue.

“[The Jones story] was an inspirational bit [and makes them ask] ‘What is the PLL? Who is Myles Jones?’” Kaminski explained. “And then they follow along and whether it’s just from a passive capacity and they’re just keeping an eye on what we’re doing or whether they’re ready to come to a game or turn on the TV to see a Redwoods game, whatever it may be — there’s an interest sparked.”

Once fans have a reason to care, Kaminski and the league can watch them dive in, while showcasing what makes the PLL so great. Start by making fans care, then connect, and then fall in love or find someone or something to latch onto. Clearing this pathway is why Kaminski and his colleagues mix the slick shots and moves with scenes that show the human side of the players.

“So you’re sitting at home and you’re watching someone like Myles Jones barrel someone over and put it in the back of the net from two and then you see him in the locker room with his shirt off drinking a beer, celebrating with his teammates, making jokes, and singing along to his favorite Drake album,” he said. “Those are the moments that humanize our players and really deepen the fandom that already exists there and potentially attracts a new fan to follow along with someone like Myles.”

So there you go, right? Drive fans to find players they can love and who can make them go wow in highlights. That’s not the finish line, though. Such fandom may play well on social media and stories off the field, but the most invested and engaged fans care about the final score, too, and not just who scored the sickest goals. The PLL has had fans of its players from the earliest days of the league, but creating fans of the teams is more challenging because of the nature of the team.

The eight Premier Lacrosse League teams don’t represent a city or state like most of the PLL’s pro sports counterparts. They’re relatively arbitrary. But the PLL knows the best fan experience involves them cheering on a favorite team to win the game, bringing an intensity that only rooting on one side and against an opposing side can deliver. Kaminski talked about why getting fans to pick a team is an important objective for the PLL.

“It’s [about] building rivalries, man,” said Kaminski, who can be seen hosting a lot of the PLL social media content. “It’s getting the opportunity to have competing fan sections at games. It’s what you see in the more traditional sports media landscape.

“It’s being able to attend a Redwoods-Whipsnakes game, and have one part of the stadium cheer when a ball goes in one net, and then the same for the other side. That’s happening and we’re progressing there, but there’s a lot of work that goes into actually getting a fan to pick a side, to pick a team or pick two teams or just follow a superstar.”

So how does the PLL go about differentiating the teams, such that being a fan of one and not another really means something? Social media plays a big role here. It’s where, through the content shared, the tone, the personality, the sights and sounds — where all that can create a vibe and, eventually, a unique brand for fans to choose to wrap their arms around and identify with. That’s easier said than done, of course, because it has to fit. A team shouldn’t have a jokey brand if its players exude intensity. So Kaminski and his colleagues take care in building these team brands.

“It’s largely driven by the culture that’s developed from the head coach and the players of those clubs,” he said.

“For example, I think Chaos is one that we can start with — a team that quite literally is incredibly chaotic in the locker room. Pregame speeches, and for those that don’t know who are listening, the Chaos are led by Andy Towers, who’s an incredible head coach. He’s about six foot five, he’s bald and you can hear him from a mile away. [He] gives incredible pump-up speeches, usually has an incredible anecdote to get his guys fired up, and it usually goes viral the next day for how he got his guys going in the locker room. “

All the best marketing, human stories, and entertainment wouldn’t get the PLL all the way there. They’re a professional lacrosse league, their primary product is the game its players are paid to play. But Kaminski is confident that once fans get in the door, they’re not leaving. The PLL has a winning product, so, while conceding that it’s not easy or a given to keep fans in the fold, that he’ll bet that fans who sample it will stick around for the long run.

“Retention can be one of the hardest things to succeed in for a sports league,” he said. “But when the product’s there and the product’s the best out there that combines [with] what we’re doing in the broadcast side and the talent in the booth, to me it’s gonna be tough for them to flip the channel.”

LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH RJ KAMINSKI

Where Major League Soccer Fandom Has Been and Where It’s Going as the US Enters a Critical Period for Football ⚽️

    What was your favorite team growing up? Regardless of sport or league, which team captured the heart of your 9-year-old self?

    It’s likely that that favorite team came from a parent or sibling passing it on and/or from the local team that everybody favored in your town. But here’s the thing about soccer in the US — millennials and the generations preceding them didn’t really have much of a favorite American soccer club (Major League Soccer will turn 30 years old in 2023). So if you’re a soccer fan growing up in the States, particularly pre or early-world wide web, your favorite team was kind of random. It’s no wonder MLS has been battling uphill to win lifelong fans and broad relevancy. Kyle Sheldon, who has spent years working in pro soccer in the US, including stints with four MLS clubs, recognizes the challenge pro soccer clubs in the US face.

    “I’ve seen data over my career that soccer fans in the US are more likely to have multiple teams that they follow than just about anywhere else in the world, which makes sense when you think about it,” said Sheldon, who is founder and CEO of soccer-specific marketing and creative agency NAME & NUMBER. “It’s a dynamic country with people from all different backgrounds, and you’ve got really kind of first-generation soccer fans in a lot of cases who are discovering the sport and their attachment to a particular team varies pretty wildly.”

    Without such inherent or inherited fandom, MLS clubs had to act a bit more like minor league teams in the earlier days, focusing on affordable family entertainment than a beacon of the collective will and inborn identity of the community. But as younger millennials grew up and Gen Z came along, MLS teams have, for the first time for many of them, been able to aspire to more coveted demographics. They could earn a spot in the local zeitgeist alongside the other most popular, more deeply rooted teams for American sports fans. Sheldon noticed this evolution for soccer marketing in the States, especially with the newest clubs borne in the last few years. It’s a watershed development and one that many MLS clubs can follow.

    “You started to see a different type of person attend those games and there was a different connection in the city, in the community that just indicated a different opportunity,” said Sheldon, describing the new type of fan being marketed to and won over in MLS that newer clubs targeted. “I think those were really eye-opening moments for people around the league, and a lot of teams are still frankly trying to capture it…

    “Then as you sort of fast forward and you look at — I think it’s a more subtle shift, but you see Atlanta and Minnesota and LAFC and more recently Austin FC have come into the league and these teams are very culture-focused, they’re value-focused, they’re community-focused…”

    Sheldon double-clicked into the importance of penetrating community and culture, alluding to LAFC’s success in doing so. “‘Plug into culture before you plug into soccer,’” said Sheldon, quoting LAFC’s Chief Brand Officer Richard Orosco. “I think that’s a good recipe for anyone. You’re a team and a club that’s representative of a very specific place, and that very specific place has cultural connection points. It has its own creative, community, it has music and design, and just a lifestyle that’s really specific to that space.”

    It is a tall task to earn acceptance, let alone embrace, into the community. To try and be universally beloved in year one is a foolhardy task. And soccer is different, anyway. The most ardent soccer fandoms are just that: fervent, passionate, whatever intense emotion you want to insert. That’s what markets the product (games to attend and watch) better than any messaging about affordable family entertainment — and, as Sheldon called out — MLS clubs mostly can’t market that their league displays the best soccer players in the world, because they don’t. The experience has to sell, Sheldon told me, and clubs need to build that into their overall strategy.

    “MLS has never really had the ability to say come watch the best soccer players in the world, so the experience and the supporters experience in particular is the differentiator for sports viewing or attendance in this country. [But that experience] just doesn’t exist [Sheldon did name a few MLS clubs that are exceptions…

    “There’s nothing like [the European experience]. There’s nothing like the 90 minutes of singing, chanting, drum beating, just raucous atmosphere…I think it has to start with growing supporters culture because that’s the differentiator,” said Sheldon, describing the superfan clubs that do all that chanting and drum beating. “And naturally, if you create something that is experiential, that is raucous, that is interesting to watch, that is enjoyable to participate in, then other people will come, I think, because of that experience.”

    So all you need is a sizable group of die-hard fans that love the club so much that they’ll sing and cheer for 90 minutes straight at every home match. Sounds easy, eh? Creating and building upon such a fan base cannot happen overnight, kind of by design. Teams have to build credibility and consistency; fans can’t wrap their arms and hearts around something unfamiliar. Sheldon spoke first and foremost about teams committing to a north star identity, and then ingratiating that brand into the community. Not every potential fan will respond to the same approach, but that’s okay (consider your own personality and how you activate it differently around different people).

    “I believe in ultimately kind of segmenting your fan base in different ways so that you’re creating content for each. The number of entry points to fandom is vast,” said Sheldon, whose NAME & NUMBER works to help brands and teams in soccer with marketing and creative. “There are a lot of ways people get connected to a club and to an experience. You can’t do it all, especially in a league where there still are limited resources. But to be thoughtful about that and ultimately to ensure you have the right guiding principles as to who you say you are and what your brand is and what you stand for is really what’s most important.”

    Sheldon spoke further of earning credibility as a member of the community. Because MLS teams have to succeed locally, first, he said. It’s great to have fans in Panama that love your club’s Panamanian player, but they’re a luxury; the hundreds or thousands of fans chanting at your games and evangelizing your team are the essential.

    “I think the starting point has to be hyper-local,” he explained. “It comes back to how do you plug into civic pride? How do you plug into the local culture? How do you plug into the local creative community? What’s the hole-in-the-wall taco joint down the street that everybody in the neighborhood knows? How do you connect to them?…

    “How do you connect to culture in such a way that it communicates ‘We know this place and we are a part of this place?’…I think that’s the starting point for sports marketing today. But yes, you have to be relevant locally before you can be globally.” 

    Domestic professional soccer continues to face those generational challenges, but it’s already growing year-to-year and the much-anticipated World Cup in 2026 promises to throw rocket fuel into that growth. The vision of hordes of casual fans coming is seductive, to be sure, but don’t forget that the most important part of building anything lasting is establishing the foundation.

    LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH KYLE SHELDON

    How to Maximize Resources in Sports Marketing at Any Level

    Not enough time, not enough people, not enough budget and resources.

    No matter the size and scale, pro or college, American or abroad — the next department that says they wouldn’t love to have more time, budget, resources, and people will be the first (okay, there are some exceptions).

    But bigger isn’t always better — except when it is. And smaller and more agile isn’t always better — except when it is. That’s why it was so enlightening to learn from Michael Murtaugh, who has spent time in college athletics marketing at a number of levels, most recently at Iowa (a B1G school with a relatively massive budget and department) and today at Montana (a Big Sky school with a relatively smaller budget and department, compared to its FBS counterparts). Both schools are D-I, both have passionate fanbases, and both have talented student-athletes that achieve in their sport and their studies. But when it comes to marketing programs and resources, Murtaugh and his team at Montana must be more mindful of how they spend their time and use their resources. The team is leaner and the initiatives perhaps a bit more scrutinized. However, both school A and school B face challenges; they’re just — different.

    “I’m glad that I’ve been at both levels…I think there’s a lot of value in each [experience]. I don’t think one’s better or worse than the other. They’re just different and you just have to figure out what’s important to you and what matters to you,” said Murtaugh, who also spent time at Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, SUNY Brockport, and even an internship at Clemson. “You talked about having a lot of people at Iowa — .the department is probably two and a half times the size of the one here in Montana — so sometimes things might take a little bit longer to get implemented just because of the layers, where here you talk to one or two people. 

    “Now there’s good and bad to that because on the way up you’re like, well, did you think about this, this and this? And you’re like, oh, I guess I didn’t. Whereas if you’d had less people you might make some errors because things hadn’t been thoroughly checked through, so then you have to say oops, won’t do that again.”

    There are the pluses and minuses of the bigger departments and budgets. But one truth is that more resources means the athletic department gets to take more swings. When you shrink the ledger, each investment becomes that much more of a big deal. And therefore each decision must stand up to more scrutiny. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important. And if you try to execute every idea, well, nothing gets done. For college athletics marketers, there is a constant balance at play. Because there are so many sports, so many fan segments to reach and engage, and a mandate to make every sport and event the best possible. For Murtaugh and his colleagues, it means they have to identify and focus on what matters most.

    “It’s really trying to figure out what is important. What should we be focusing our energy on? Because if we’re focusing our energy on like ten different things, we’re not really doing anything. And so what good is that?…,” he said. “And so it’s like, what are some of the things that are fads that it might be nice to know this now, but six months from now, it’s going to be nothing again. Do we spend our time on that?…You just have to kind of try to figure it out along the way, see industry trends, see what other people are doing, see what other people are having success with.”

    Murtaugh also discussed how that mindset permeates their strategy 24/7/365. It’s not just about each game, each season, and each academic year. The volume and the speed of college sports necessitates always staying (or trying to stay) a couple steps ahead.

    “What are some of things that we just cannot do without?,” Murtaugh asked rhetorically, reinforcing the equation of economy. “But what are some of the things that we want to do in the future?…Let’s start putting a plan together so when we’re talking in March and April of next year we’re hitting the ground running. So [come] summer we’ll be ready to go and we won’t have any downtime because we’re already going to have our kind of our marching orders because we already know where we want to go.”

    Regardless of size, resources, or any number of variables, all organizations could benefit from the scrutiny and planning Murtaugh preaches. Plans, preparation, and certainly execution cannot happen in a silo, however. Cross-team coordination is becoming more valuable and expected than ever. Part of it is aligning goals, to be sure, but something else is at play here, too — a convergence around content. While there are different skillsets and tactics that permeate each aspect of a college athletics department, content is currency for most — telling their story, conveying their messages, and winning over their customers — content amplifies and is often the foundation of those efforts. Murtaugh talked about the various hats college sports pros have to wear, regardless of department. It’s not always ideal, but it’s often out of necessity (and increasingly so).

    “Marketing departments are kind of becoming game operations/content creators. In my opinion that’s a different person…it’s a different brain [and] mindset,” Murtaugh explained. “So to be hopping back and forth from one to the other — I think that can be a little bit taxing and I think that’s why you’re starting to see some people [specialize]…

    “I don’t think that we’ll ever be at a point where we’ll be able to have you just do [one thing], because I do think that there is some benefit to having multiple positions, but who’s the one that’s saying enough is enough? Like, alright, I’m already doing this and this and this. I don’t want to do this either, but it has to get done and you’re the only person that can do it.”

    Back to the main idea at hand — that ubiquitous challenge of always wanting for more resources — because many of Murtaugh’s notions come together here. It’s about making each other better, the whole ‘sum of the parts is greater than the whole’ principle. There sure will be times when we have to wear the less familiar hats, but when we work together, align goals, and maximize the skills and resources at disposal as a group — that’s how an athletic department (or any organization) operates at beyond 100%. Murtaugh summed it up perfectly:

    “You get so much more accomplished when you’re a bunch of we’s instead of a bunch of me’s.”

    LISTEN TO MY FULL INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MURTAUGH

    Know Your Goals: What it Means to have a Craft and Execute Effective Social Media Strategy

    Social media is easy, right? It’s the vocation of iNtErNs, after all. Everybody knows how to post content on social media, almost everybody has posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. etc.

    But don’t let the accessibility and ‘fun’ nature of social media obscure the fact that it can and should be an integral part of business strategy. A thoughtful, effective social media strategy can create and build brands, can cultivate and activate audiences, and can make or break the short-term and long-term success for an organization, campaign, and balance sheet.

    The key to understanding social media strategy — the key to understanding just about anything — is asking ‘why?’. Why should a business or brand post on social media? Sure, more followers, more engagement, and more attention is usually not a bad thing; the whole ‘all publicity is good publicity’ epigram at play. But it’s at the next level where professionals reside. Where there’s a method to the madness. David Brickley, founder and CEO of STN Digital, a ‘social-first’ marketing agency talked about the importance of understanding the why of it all.

    Brickley explained: “That’s the big thing that we help do is [define] ‘What’s our core purpose?” What’s our mission? What’s our North Star? What are our brand pillars? What audience are we trying to attract? Where do they live?’ 

    “All those things I think sometimes get left behind and people just start posting content or ‘let’s grow to a million followers;’ [it’s] like, ‘Wait a second. Do you want a million followers that are more the Gen Z demographic? Do you want a million followers that are more 35 to 54 [age range]?’ That’s an important distinction to make before you just start creating content because you want to attract the right viewers that ultimately, from an ROI perspective, can purchase your product or tune into your television network or what have you…

    “[Otherwise] how do you know if you’re successful or not?”

    It can be challenging, however, to work toward strategic objectives when the giant scoreboard often equates performance with the vanity metrics. Social media goals can’t be defined by some vanity metric without context and forethought. This is what separates the ‘anybody can do social’ strategy from the pros. Brickley walked me through a scenario in which the vanity metrics scoreboard didn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

    “We have some clients that really want to increase their Gen Z demographic (or) they really want to increase Latinx or their Black audience,” said Brickley, who has overseen STN Digital working with some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment. “So those are the things that we’re looking at — is our Gen Z audience that’s only 17% this month, can we get it up to 18% next month? So we may lose [net] followers, but if we lost, no offense, the 54 to 65 year old demo, and we gained a bunch of 18 and 22 year olds [then] that’s actually a win, even though the net score looks like we lost followers this month.

    “So we work with a lot of brands that are trying to re-identify themselves, or they have a new initiative from the top down saying we need to get younger or we need to get more diverse audiences and consumers. And those are the things that we look at rather than maybe your traditional vanity metric, which is followers.”

    Sometime in the early days of digital advertising, marketers began tracking return on investment (ROI). After years of billboards, TV commercials, and radio ads that largely lacked direct ROI measures, digital offered more insight than ever. And then social media arrived on the heels of digital and those direct ROI measures were expected, too. But just because new mediums arose, the marketing funnel itself didn’t disappear. Customers are rarely created with a single ‘impression.’ And expecting every social media post to have a directly attributable ROI is missing the forest for the trees. Brickley broke down the framework with which to look at social media (and, really, to look at for any form of marketing).

    “I think [what] frustrates some marketers is they can’t attribute ROI immediately,” Brickley explained. “But there’s such a thing as upper funnel and lower funnel marketing. And a lot of what social is is upper funnel and awareness. And then you can kind of drill that consumer down to take action in the lower funnel.

    “But we have clients that say this all the time — they want to go straight to lower funnel. But if you haven’t built education, if you haven’t built rapport, if you haven’t built brand loyalty or brand trust with something, it’s gonna be very difficult to have (somebody) buy a car if you’ve never heard of that car before.”

    Customer acquisition, even with the help of social media, is nonlinear. The most valuable ‘engagement’ happens off-platform and the most valuable part of the social media marketing funnel often can’t be found in the metrics. The highest demonstration of success isn’t direct attribution of a social media post to a sale or conversion — it’s inspiring a current customer (or follower) to evangelize and convert their friends and family. To turn one follower into fifty and truly activate the network effect of social networking. The focus can’t always be on finding the next customer or follower when the surest path to doing so is augmenting the avidity of the existing ones [and to ensure they don’t unfollow, because all it takes is a quick click].

     “I think your goal as a brand is to continually engage [and] evoke emotion from your current audience, but also attract a new audience,’ said Brickley. “How do you attract a new audience? Well, you gotta have your current followers reshare your content. Maybe they DM their friends this content. I’ve been a big golfer here for the last year or so because of COVID and my friends are constantly sending me fun golf memes…And all of a sudden, I start following those accounts because I enjoy the content they’re putting out. So that’s one way to acquire a new fan.

    “But absolutely once you get those hundred thousand followers, it’s your job to keep those followers. I was talking to Lyndsay Signor over at NBC Sports — I think she said this on my podcast: ‘You know, they don’t have to follow you, right? At any time someone can unfollow you.’…”

    So, putting it all together, social media strategy targets specific goals while staying true to brand purpose while attracting new followers and fostering current ones while keeping up with the ever-changing nature of platforms, user behaviors, and online culture in which they operate.

    Okay, on second thought, maybe it’s not so easy, after all.

    LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH DAVID BRICKLEY

    Social Media Changes but Humans Mostly Don’t: A List of Needs to Heed for Sustained Success

    As a new year begins, there will be no shortage of prognostications, trends, and visions in the social media world. Some (though increasingly fewer) industries take years to evolve, but in social media, seismic change can happen overnight. While the social networks evolve, the packaging looks different, and the surface-level behaviors may alter, they are all tied to principles of intrinsic human nature that pale any platforms.

    So, before you jump on the next emerging social media trend or network, consider what behavior, what natural human want or need is being activated or exploited. Here are 7 ideas that form the roots of so much of what we have seen, continue to see, and will see in what takes off in social media.

    1. People want to be seen and heard

    Look at the trends emerging in platforms today. Twitch has made streaming more interactive than ever, and users are even paying for premium emotes to ensure their favorite streamers notice them. Meanwhile, the greatest thrill continues to be appearing on the video board at an arena or stadium. The only thing that can come close to equaling the hormone hit for a fan is getting a reply, retweet, or DM from their favorite team or athlete. The individual that has their question responded to in an Instagram Q&A, or whose comment leads to the team posting a specific photo from the pregame warmup, or whose video gets reposted by the team — all help fulfill that fan desire to be seen and be heard.

    At a deeper level, people want to know they’re seen and heard in bigger decisions. It may be polling fans on the littlest of decisions or taking into account their collective thoughts on a highly visible or significant decision. Even the appearance of fans being seen and heard can yield considerable cachet. If more fans are feeling seen and heard, you’re doing something right. Embrace this idea going forward and always think about elements of engagement that make fans feel like someone’s paying attention to them out there.


    2. People want to feel connected to others

    Several months without large gatherings only reinforced this human need. But it goes beyond simply being around other people. It’s about shared experience, yes, but also shared emotion and shared interests. And, to conjure back the previous point, to know somebody else out there sees or hears them. How else could so many of us (myself included) have survived 2020 without painful feelings of loneliness? Social media lends that feeling, however real or artificial it may be, of connection. It’s why it’s difficult to enjoy a sporting event, a piece of social media content, or any moment at all unless there is someone to share it with.

    A lot of times in social media, especially in sports, the primary source of content and attention is front and center. And while it’s fun to watch the Verzuz showdowns, for example, it’s even more fun to feel connected to so many others that experienced it or are watching it alongside you live (digitally). How can we continue to uncover new ways to drive human connections in 2021 and the years to come? As social platforms keep evolving, keep in mind this why and less about the shiny new toys and the ‘what.’


    3. They like to feel anticipation and reward

    As social networks, most notably TikTok, prioritized video completions to help inform their ‘For You’ algorithm, many creators realized they could leverage our human enjoyment of surprise. The chemical and hormone-induced excitement of uncertainty, suspense, and anticipating a denouement is enthralling. It’s one of the many reasons we love sports and the unpredictable, tension-laden action. It’s why, for years, movies and TV shows have made us wonder what’s around the corner. And it’s reinforced by comedians working their way up to a punch line as the audience holds their breathe for that payoff. Heck, it’s even part of some of our favorite music, which often builds to an awesome riff.

    This buildup of suspense is becoming more intentional as the social platforms place greater importance on users spending the time to get to that payoff. And publishers on social media strive to play off that formula of creating anticipation (sometimes even explicitly with notes telling us to ‘Wait for it’ or ‘Watch til the end’). Strive to creatively come up with ways to build those feelings of what’s coming and what’s gonna happen, and give them a payoff feeling complete. And maybe even anticipating the next journey you’ll take them on.

    4. We want to feel feelings (the emotional roller coaster)

    Whether it’s in social media content, entertainment programming, marketing, or storytelling — the best stuff makes us feel something. Awe, joy, delight, anger, fear, sadness, inspiration. We feel alive when we feel. When sports came back following the pandemic-induced pause, whether our teams were winning or losing, something just felt invigorating about feeling feelings again, getting back on the emotional roller coaster.

    We think and talk all the time about goals and metrics and executing (or gamifying) our way to those goals and metrics. But it can help to start with the feeling. What feeling do you want to induce and how successful is your content in creating that feeling? And then work from that point. Because if the consumer isn’t going to end up feeling something — anything — it’s not going to break through.

    5. They want to socialize and need a reason to do so

    The group chats, the social feeds, even the phone calls all light up when something wild happens in sports or significant news drops. Groups (in normal times) gather together at a buddy’s place or a bar to watch the game together or head out to the arena for a night out. And when sports went away, so did a source of connection and of socializing with friends and family.

    How can we help foment friendships, start conversations, and give more and more reasons for others to socialize, converse, or message with each other? The best part of experiencing the excitement of a Woj bomb, a buzzer beater, or watching a hilarious or awesome video isn’t in the moment itself. It’s that it is an invitation to talk about it, share it, or experience it with others. To restart that previously dormant group text, or to slide into someone’s DMs. Keep this in mind moving forward. Entertainment and information is great, but as a source of kindling for friendship and socializing, it’s even more powerful.

    6. People want things to talk about

    I won’t wax poetic on this one quite as much, because it very much relates to the previous point in #5. We all want something to break the silence, something to bring up besides the weather. Among the most important, valuable things sports provide is something to talk about. There has been a renewed effort throughout 2020 to embrace this need, because there were no games or transactions to fill the void. And we could only talk so much about ‘these unprecedented times.’

    All of a sudden the constant trend was teams and brands asking questions [or its relative, ‘pick/choose one from the choices presented’. Looking for users to flood the replies and comments. And while this kept engagement up during a time when nothing much was happening to talk about, think and go further moving forward. There is just as much value in the conversations being created (and the fodder being served up help start them) that happen outside the comments. The interest and enthusiasm won’t ever wane in the team or sport if it’s providing a bountiful font of conversation topics. We all want something to talk about.

    7. We want to remember and recall personal memories

    Nostalgia ain’t new. For years and generations we’ve realized the power of nostalgia. South Park satirized the proliferation of nostalgia with their ”Member Berries’ storyline. But something else is happening now, too, making nostalgia more personalized. Because just about everyone loves nostalgia, but we’re not all nostalgic for the same things. Social media isn’t segmented by generation, but when it’s more personal, it’s easier to activate. Not everybody recalls watching that game or playing with that toy, but everybody CAN recall (or look up) who their favorite player was at 10 years old or the first concert they ever attended.

    How can we create opportunities for people to reminisce, to delve into their own personal vaults and pull out a memory? Every chance to revisit those times pours a little gas on the internal flames to keep them blazing. It could be from the earliest childhood memories to even where we were when something significant happened with the team or sport at any time in our lives. When the strength of the feeling and experience is conjured back up, we can all feel it. Nostalgia and memory will continue to play a key role and there will be more creativity and activity to evolve it in the years to come.

    It can be easy to get caught up the trends and the trending tactics. To adapt or imitate, to ride the wave of proven concepts. But step back and ponder why something is successful and what base-level human traits and wants are being fulfilled. That’s what can help drive new ideas and original executions. And that’s what will keep you ahead of the curve, always. Because the platforms may change overnight, but human needs have been around, largely unchanged, for millennia.

    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.

    parents-cheering-sports-game

    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.

     

    ***************

    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.

    How Social Media and Sports Can Pivot During this Pandemic

    Talk to a lot of social media pros in sports and many will tell you they’re working harder than ever. There may be no games, no practices, road trips, scrums, and suits – but they’re pooped. Because it’s not easy to come up with content to fill every day, try to create value for sponsors, and – most importantly – keep fans engaged. To assure fans will remain just as avid even as their favorite teams and players aren’t competing.

    There has been a lot of creativity at this time — from pick ‘em posts to trivia, Q&A’s, watch parties, kids activities, UGC, and so much more. The creativity goes beyond sports, toom as platforms like TikTok, Twitch, Houseparty, and Instagram Live all growing rapidly. Everyone is starting to think differently. For years, sports teams have become more like full-time content companies. It may be tougher to create content without the built-in routine and flow of stories from games and news, but these organizations are still content machines teeming with talented creatives and strategists.

    So it’s time to think outside the box, right? Games aren’t coming back before the summer, it seems, so what can do social media and sports do to pivot right now?

    Experiment

    In case you weren’t sure, yeah – social media usage is way up during this COVID-19 quarantine. In times like these, there are few truly dumb or bad ideas. It’s time to brainstorm! With fans consuming more content on social media right now, how can you experiment – and think like a content company first, and a sports team second?

    That’s ultimately what this article is about. One area to explore, given the trends, are uber-specific social media accounts that can build an audience while having some tie to the team, however loose. What if your team created a Twitter account to post one random player from the team’s history every day or an Instagram account that only posted sick dunks or blocks daily, or a TikTok account that curated trick shots, or a YouTube account that taught dances, etc. etc. 

    There are so many areas of passion that thrive on social media — sports, fashion, music, and more — and so many ways to build content around them. Lean into those skills and that knowledge now, and experiment with new ways to build an audience that can become fans of the brand, not just the sport the employees of that brand typically market and play.

    Content Creation

    This is a topic that can manifest a number of ways (and plays out all the time as teams create GIFs, stickers, Instagram Effects, lenses, and the like). But as TikTok and Instagram Live, in particular, grow at this time, fans are leaning into performative content more than ever. I mean, what else are they doing stuck at home, so why not create a TikTok themselves or with their kids?

    Teams are certainly leaning in here, with a ton of creative UGC campaigns, celebrating fan creations. But a recent article on TikTok got me thinking about the role teams could play in providing the similar value that TikTok and other platforms do in making available effects, audio, and other creative accoutrements. How can teams use their bank of content to give their fans such creative enterprise, to create their own quasi TikTok with highlights, sounds, and maybe even some effects with which fans could create content. Challenges and trends could also play a role, as could team staff, alumni, broadcasters, and ideally players.

    The trend that TikTok has been creating and riding has been driven by the incredible energy, enthusiasm, and talent of its network. They’ve provided the tools and sometimes even the prompts, and they’ve let their users take it away. Teams may have the machinery and tools and content to do the same, or some sense of it whether on their platform or influencing use of another.

    Entertainment companies

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said his company’s biggest competition was sleep. Meanwhile, sports teams see platforms like Netflix and Twitch as their competition. It comes down to earned attention – but teams don’t have the new highlights and stories that help that earn that attention right now.

    But it’s about focusing on what we do have and trying diverse ways to entertain fans with content. There’s an ecosystem of influencers (players and talent), a bank of brand and proven content, and a talented team of content producers. How can all this be deployed? Could you write a recurring comic strip (like the Philadelphia Flyers tried), create a short children’s story or a cartoon, a cooking show, a talk show, short fiction stories, musical and performance guests, motion effects games, and so much more. Step out of the tunnel a bit on the routine content and become a student of producing entertainment in general.

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    Community Relations

    Many teams right now are doing extraordinary things to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. They’re opening up their venues for use in storage or medical services, they’re donating and helping to prop up local businesses, and using their platforms to deliver information to masses of fans they’re able to reach. 

    What are the typical things community relations would be doing at this time and how can digital and social media help keep those activities and that mission alive? It could be reading to kids, much like a player or team member would at a school visit (the Dallas Mavericks had a video of JJ Barea reading a story to his kids) — how much of a typical school appearance could be re-imagined for a livestream or digital distribution. (At both a broad social and direct to school level). There aren’t enough FaceTime calls to go around, but even a few to children’s hospital wards I’m sure would be welcomed, and excerpts could be cut to share on social.

    The goals of community relations, as well as fan development, remain important, so the type of applied ideation we’re taking to fan engagement can be taken to these parts of the organization, too.


    Visual Entertainment

    Something that has caught my eye recently has been the success of street magicians on TikTok. Getting users to say ‘Wow’ is one way to win engagement on social media and the magic, along with the reactions of the people in the videos experiencing it, make for fun content. This isn’t to say teams should crowdsource magicians and magic content (but maybe they could), but the quick hit entertainment is the key idea to hone in on.

    Take inventory or brainstorm around ways to make people feel those certain feels that drive social media engagement (mad, sad, inspired, awed, laughing, learning), particularly in quick hits. Maybe it’s shots of celebrations, stupid human tricks, quick artistic creations, trick shots, fitness performances, and, yes, even magic tricks. There may be something here, there may be nothing, but the point of this post is to explore what it means to think like an entertainer first.

    Learn from other masters

    Of course, we should all always be students of the game. And now more than ever, time permitting, it would pay to study those that are winning this game. The top Instagram creators, YouTube influencers across the board, and TikTok talents that dominate the platform. There are plenty of examples in sports, too, whether it’s Dude Perfect, House of Highlights, or so many more, including individual-driven channels. 

    How can teams and sports organizations consider utilizing their talented content teams, influencers, and individuals to mimic the success of these established masters? Sports commands mega audiences on social media, but without games the playing field is acutely level on social between them and the behemoth individuals that have amassed audiences in original ways on social. Teams shouldn’t necessarily imitate them, but they can learn and adapt insights and ideas into their own strategies, as they seek to keep fans coming to them for however long it’ll take to defeat this pandemic.

    Hang Out

    There has been some impressive content on live social media platforms in the time since this quarantine started. Live musical performances, in particular, have been pretty cool. But there have also been plenty of live sessions when audiences congregate, but, well, not much is happening besides a notable person hanging out. Even just a couple days ago, Barstool Big Cat got almost half a million viewers for his Periscope that featured him hanging out and eating ice cream while engaging with fans.

    Many gamers have built huge audiences for live streams on Twitch, more so for their personality and conversation, with the games serving more as a backdrop. So many prominent athletes and alumni are sitting around with not much to do and so many fans would welcome any chance to hang out with them. Even better if it’s hanging out with a group of them. These players could be watching an old game, playing Words With Friends, or a version of the Newlywed Game with each other, or just enjoying a glass of wine and chatting. How can teams get fans opportunities to hang out — with each other, with special guests, with broadcasters, with celebrities?

    Help Players and Fans

    I have another article on this topic, but it’s worth reiterating — help players and help fans use all these shiny social media platforms right now. It is easy to take for granted that everyone has a basic understanding of all these apps, let alone an advanced fluency with all of the nuances and tricks to get the most out of them. 

    This article started by linking to some stats around the growth of social media usage right now. People are jumping on more than ever, including the players, and teams could do a tremendous service by educating all of them. How to make your first few TikToks, go live with a friend on Instagram, navigate Twitch, try an effect or lens or GIF or sticker, and tag someone in a pic on Twitter. Give them the knowledge, the tools, and then the opportunities to engage, to create, to practice the sport that is social media.

    What an exciting, inspiring time it is right now for sports and social media. There is so much creativity and originality playing out every day, and I’m psyched to see what more will come in the following weeks. It’s time to expand the playbook. The only bad ideas are no ideas at all.

    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.

    How Ten Brands were Activating Paid Social Campaigns as Super Bowl Sunday Kicked Off

    1.4 billion impressions on Twitter. 560 Instagram posts by stars of ‘The Bachelor.’ These are just a couple of the entries from this year’s article by Digiday (now seemingly an annual tradition) for what the same $5.6 million it costs to run a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl can buy a brand on social.

    Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year for advertisers, as is the build-up to the day of the big game. And whether brands are forking over those millions for a spot on the screen during the game or not, activating on social is an essential part of the game plan to drive success before, during, and after the big day.

    With that in mind, we checked out ten brands that were active on social media on Super Bowl Sunday, taking a unique angle (because there are plenty of places to read ad reviews) and looking specifically at what they were putting money behind, revealing a bit more behind their tactics and what they wanted to assure consumers saw in their feeds.

    Jeep

    Auto brand Jeep allowed their ad with Bill Murray to ‘leak’ early Sunday and they made sure it got into fans’ feeds with ad spend around a single Facebook/Instagram sponsored. They supplemented the ad, which saw Bill Murray return in his role made famous in the movie Groundhog Day, with plenty of other ongoing ads promoting their other vehicles. None, however, promoting the Jeep Gladiator that the ad does.

    Frank’s RedHot

    Hot sauce brand Frank’s RedHot usually cooks up something clever on social and this year was no different as their in-game strategy featured several prompts on Twitter that sought replies from users. They used Twitter ads primarily in advance of the game to push fans to the platform during the game, while they also had ads running that mentioned the ‘game day party’ with recipes that included their product. Note the video, the variation in orientation (i.e. suitable for Instagram Stories with the vertical version) and the thoughtful thumbnail to drive attention.

     

    Bud Light

    Bud Light, and the many brands under AB-InBev, is always active on Super Bowl Sunday and this year they continued their push into the seltzer category. They had several ads running on Sunday, one of which was video of the ad they’d show on TV, but many more that were looking to activate mobile users by helping them get delivery on this big game day. Note also, the care taken to personalize ads targeted by state, calling out ‘Hey Oregon,’ for example in the copy.

    Doritos

    Fans got a taste of TikTok with the Doritos ad campaign pitting the musician whose star rose on the short-form video platform, Lil Nas X, in a ‘Cool Ranch Dance’ challenge with actor Sam Elliott. They had several ad variations, leaning on video teasers, leading up to the big game, and calling out their celebrity stars in the copy. They also did a good job providing versions that were vertical in addition to square. We did not notice either of the ad’s two stars posting anything themselves leading up to the game, but Lil Nas X did post a tweet after the ad ran.

    Avocados of Mexico

    Every year there seems to be an Avocados of Mexico ad campaign and this year was one of its zaniest yet, introducing the #AvoNetwork, offering fans the chance to buy avocado-themed merchandise. Their ads had a call-to-action to get fans to sign up for their sweepstakes and bright, eye-catching colors to stop thumbs in the feed. They also had ad versions out there to promote their product’s prominent placement in any gameday spread.

    Hyundai

    Leading up to the game, Hyundai was not too active with ads promoting their commercial, which called out their “Smaht Pahking,” using well-known actors with their hyperbolic Boston accents. While their Twitter bio was updated, the ads they were running were the typical car ads and even after the game, there were no promoted posts or ads reinforcing their commercial. That said, they did release their commercial on YouTube a week earlier and it now has 38M views.

    Kia

    Auto brand Kia is often present around major sporting events and for the Super Bowl they enlisted Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and activated his story of overcoming adversity, going from homeless to star player. They ran several ad variations to promote the actual spot and reinforce the mission behind it of combating youth homelessness. The campaign was strengthened thanks to a steady stream of promoted tweets from Jacobs himself leading up to the game, though after the spot ran, he retweeted Kia’s old tweet instead of natively tweeting the video himself.

    Olay

    Olay enlisted multiple strong female stars to activate their campaign #MakeSpaceForWomen, championing females and STEM, including a partnership with Girls Who Code, in which tweets equaled donations. The brand spent to get ads from their talent into more feeds and the promoted tweets led more veracity to the campaign; it’s true and often stated users trust people more than brands.

    Pop-Tarts

    Pop-Tarts teamed up with Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness to promote their Pop-Tarts Pretzel new product and they put their social media ad dollars to good use to boost up what their endorser Van Ness was doing. If a brand is going to spend millions to put together a campaign and hire a celebrity endorser, it makes sense to let him be the genuine face of it and to spend to get his face and his content out there more. Their ads also featured calls-to-action, whether it was to watch their live broadcast during the Super Bowl or check out the new product in a video or link.

    Mountain Dew

    It was a remake of the famous shower scene in the movie Psycho that formed the backbone of Mountain Dew’s commercial and campaign, seeking to teach users that Mountain Dew Zero Sugar, like their new version of Hitchcock’s famous movie, is ‘as good as the original, maybe even better.’ They spent budget leading up to the game teasing their commercial spot and notably included one video that had captions and one without. They also took care to provide different specs for the different placements. Those weren’t the only ads they were running, though, as they were also promoting a mobile game, which was centered around a different product than Zero Sugar, in this case Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel.

    Super Bowl Sunday is like a national holiday for marketers, watching campaigns come to life, messaging resonate or fall flat, and seeing tactics play out in real-time, especially in the ubiquitous feeds so many fans are checking and scrolling throughout the day. It’s no longer just about putting out a TV ad and crossing one’s fingers, there are so many channels to augment an advertising campaign, so many more ways to reach and engage consumers, and so many opportunities to activate the celebrities that pepper these promos.

    Looking Back on a Decade of Social Media and What Its Resemblance in 2020 Means

    It has been just over ten years since Instagram launched and rounded out the triumvirate of the next decade of social media, with Vine, Snapchat, and most recently TikTok, among others, exhibiting their influence, too. There has been a ton of evolution and developments across platforms, user behaviors, creative trends, and strategy and tactics.

    And, yet, as the 2010’s roll over the 2020’s, it’s hard not to notice the principles, behaviors, and ‘trends’ of yesteryear emerging in new forms. What’s old is new again.

    So as countless articles come out now looking back on 2019 or trying to predict what’s to come in 2020, this one will set out to try and decipher why a lot of what’s prevailing today isn’t all that dissimilar to what the first digitally-enabled generation, yep the Millennials, grew up with and why it’s those deeper patterns of human behavior that’ll stand the test of time in the decade to come, and beyond.

    1.

    Facebook didn’t start social media. Neither did MySpace or Friendster. No, the first memories most of us have of connecting with others — socializing on media — came with America Online. Before there were followers and friends, there were buddies. Before feeds and stories and trends, there were chat rooms. Before it became about who could reach the most people, it was about communicating one-on-one, with friends or even with faceless others across the country who found themselves in the same chat room.

    For years, broadcasting became the ambition. Trying to reach the most people with your message, chasing those big numbers, those vanity metrics. But look around today and the evolutionary pyramid is on the way back to intimacy. Endless feeds peppered with brands, friends, family, acquaintances, and, well, ‘randoms, are starting to more and more to be replaced with time spent on Messenger, WhatsApp, close friends group chats, and the like. We’d rather converse with a few than casually and loosely connect with the many.

    In many ways, it’s starting to feel like we’re back where we started with AIM (or MSN Messenger, especially for the international peeps). So herein lies the light bulb, the insight. Genuine, intimate connections will always prevail and as cool as it is to throw your content or idea into the ether, it’s more satisfying and rewarding to have a good conversation with one or a few at a time. The difference today is that there are countless ways to enhance messaging, whether that’s with emojis, filters, GIFs, and music. The root behavior is still there, but we can make it better.

    2.

    Speaking of music, it’s clear how much music now penetrates so much of social media nowadays. There was a time over the last decade when music became more commoditized, when MySpace tried to restructure themselves around music, when PureVolume and SoundCloud and the like were just kinda there.

    Music formed the backbone of early ‘social media,’ as many of us used Napster, LimeWire, Kazaa, and many others, which were file sharing sites first and foremost. I can still remember myself today how thoughtful my favorite bands list was on my MySpace profile. Well, music — not just the personalities and soap operas that comprise the culture across artists — pure music is making a comeback, forming the soundtrack of countless TikToks racking up millions and millions of views.

    So, looking ahead, what can we learn from the powerful potion of music to continue to engage fans and enhance content? There are a number of directions to speculate: teams and leagues creating their own music, more and more content synced to music (AI could help here, too), more content around specific player music tastes or talents, and as more power players get their mitts into the sports space, perhaps a more formal relationship or synergy with the music side of an agency and the sport, or a league/team partnering with a record label. Not too many industries have the potential to be bosom buddies like sports and music, not too many industries have ‘fans’ instead of customers, so the future ahead sure sounds like it’ll have some music behind it, in front of it, or both.

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    3.

    One of the more intriguing social behaviors of the last half decade has been the rapid growth of Twitch, primarily on the back of esports and gaming. Many of the Millennial generation grew up playing video games, sure, but watching others while waiting for one’s turn to play hardly seemed ideal. But it wasn’t so bad if a group of friends were around to talk to while others took their turn. It was never just about video games, it was about socializing, and the video games in this case gave a mutual live topic of interest and an atmosphere to socialize.

    Squinting one’s eyes just a little and it doesn’t sound all that different from those early chat rooms back in the AOL days. Put the AOL chat room and Twitch live chat feeds alongside one another today and they may not look too different outside of the emojis and stickers on Twitch. Both represent places connections are happening in real-time, ad-hoc and lasting communities are formed, and, ultimately, it is the innate desire to know someone on the other side is listening that stands the test of time and path of platforms.

    As the next decade begins, the propensity for live conversation, for chatter will continue to evolve, but perhaps we’ll see something akin to the chatrooms of days old. Places where live chatter can happen around a number of topics, interests, and events. Forums and online communities became more live, started happening alongside live content, and are just a bit more interactive today. The on-demand community, the always-own forum is as old as time, and will continue to persist in the years to come.

    4.

    Quick — without thinking much, what was the first piece of digital real estate you could really call your own? Maybe it was a Facebook page, a blogspot, a MySpace profile; but for many of us that first true ‘profile’ was the AIM profile. It was a place to list one’s basic bio, their likes, and many changed it up or updated it frequently. (Along with ever-present ‘away message’). Eventually everyone ended up on Facebook, but traffic to profiles, along with the effort put into them, started waning the day that News Feed was first introduced.

    Somewhere along the way the engagement and interaction in the Feed became more frequent and more important than the profile. And while static profiles aren’t making a comeback, social media is certainly more about the self than ever before. Almost every user is a wannabe influencer or micro-influencer, a majority of individuals are cognizant of their online ‘brand as we enter 2020, carefully cultivating who they want to be and how they want to be perceived through their posts, their voice, their bio, and, yes, their profiles.

    Where might this focus on the self go? It’s playing out right now with more people posting than ever, especially in Stories, and a platform like TikTok, which wants to invite every user to participate and seeks to make content creation easier for anyone. The emerging generation wants to cultivate their online presence, the platforms are meeting that desire, and we’re back to the future as users seek to develop and decorate their own place and persona on the Internet.

    5.

    If you’ve been on Facebook since the last decade, there’s a good chance your ‘network’ is a mix of family, old friends, new friends, and a handful of random people you met in the early ‘friend everyone’ phase or crossed paths with on a semester abroad or a recreational soccer league. It was a way to turn offline relationships into online.

    Somewhere along the way, our actively engaged social networks mostly began to shrink, and the magic occurs more often turning an online relationship into one that includes physically paths as a sign of solidification. But as this decade ends, the old is becoming new again, in some subtle ways. We’re now seeking and using ways to spark those new relationships — that may start with a chance meeting because of a mutual interest or crossing paths (while out and about on social).

    It’s playing out in dating apps and around gaming, but how can social media help foster the genesis and kindling of these new relationships? There could be a stronger intra-social movement to come within the communities that form around celebrities, TV shows, music, gamers, YouTubers, and certainly as strong as ever around sports teams. One of the most beautiful things that can happen in sports, whether on social media or at the game, is when true relationships form between individuals who were brought together because of the team. As a generation comes of age more accustomed to cultivating relationships via mobile device than real-life experiences, the ability for teams, leagues, brands, whomever to facilitate the formation of stronger connections will become integral.

    6.

    It was a long time ago, but it doesn’t feel that long ago when so many eschewed social media because “no one cares what I had for lunch today.” Well, a glance at many Instagram Stories will show otherwise. But it has certainly evolved over the last decade as photos gave way to video, to Live, GIFs, graphics, music, and the conglomeration of all those elements on TikTok.

    But even as reality becomes more augmented and content more complex, there is another movement that is bringing back the value of raw. The extraordinary in the ordinary. Fans may enjoy some cool productions, but they also want to see something unedited, some unabashedly real. Studies have come out in the last year or so that have shown real photos and videos perform better for social media, whether organic or paid, than those that come off expertly produced. That’s not say we’re going back completely to raw and untrained video, but simply that it’s worth appreciating that there remains a desire for something real, too.

    Regardless of how sophisticated technology and media gets, it seems there are still inherent tenets of communication, connection, and humanity that persist through it all. The cave paintings of prehistory are the emojis of today; the more things change, the more the big ideas remain the same. No one can say for sure what 2030 will look like, but there will be relationships, there will be art, and there will be stories.