What Stood Out at the NACDA Vendor Showcase

There are only so many things in which a team or athletics program can invest. And the vendor exhibition at the annual NACDA conference is a visual manifestation of just that – from compelling new products to nice-to-haves to innovations, and enough to stretch the budget of even the boldest behemoths.

I love these things. Because, if nothing else, it is a showcase of what college athletics folks, in this case, want and need; and at what those out there think they want and need. (Except free booze; always free booze).  It is also an opportunity to identify pain points for college athletics programs, because these businesses should, in theory, help solve a pain point or at least enhance or streamline a strength.

With that in mind, here are eight of the most common solutions and types of vendors I saw pitching their services to the college athletics folks (in digital, in marketing, in development/fundraising, in ticket sales, in operations, in media relations, in external relations…all over) at the 2017 NACDA Conference vendor showcase

Branding companies

Everywhere you turn, there is a new and novel way to propagate your brand. While digital is growing more and more, there is still a lot of faith, and a lot of value, in physical, visual branding. From logos on the carpet to branded accessories to wrapping a bus, and just about anything you can imagine, there is a way to find a branded version for anything, a way to make sure the school’s logo is front and center all over. Colleges are getting more and more savvy and self-sufficient with graphic design, but sometimes you need someone that specializes in pool tables, corn hole boards, or gymnasium floors.

Lockers

You may have heard about the University of Texas football program’s new $10,000 lockers. Not sure there any that ostentatious, but there were plenty of locker companies and displays there that could no doubt make them. Lockers aren’t just a utility anymore, they’re an attraction and a sign of brand and grandeur for a college athletics program looking to impress recruits. It is another cog in the arms race and vendors pitching the latest and greatest and most innovative and visually appealing lockers were not in short supply at NACDA.

Digital / Video

With the proliferation of social, mobile, and digital among fans (and, well, everybody), colleges know they need to have the digital and video capability and output of a colossal conglomerate. Content is key to affect all departments in athletics, and video and digital offers the youngest and largest audience, and the best bang for the literal and figurative buck, in many cases. These companies help hook up complex camera and video / video replay systems, offer streaming solutions across platforms, streamline the transfer of content from phone or camera to social or web, allowing any associate SID to provide amazing content, that gets disseminated, at the drop of a dime. The mind is ahead of the body for some athletics departments – they know what they want to do, but may lack the resources, bandwidth, or knowledge to make it happen. That’s where these guys seek to come in.

Architecture

There’s nothing college athletics loves more than scaffolding. Perpetual construction connotes shiny new facilities or additions, a sign of financial health and progress for their athletics programs. And I was struck by the number of architecture firms specializing in sports facilities seeking to catch the eye of attendees to design their next new buildings funded by the next successful campaigns. There is indeed big business here, and a number of firms were there trying their best to stand out as best-in-class, most trusted, or most creative.

Turf

There were also a handful of artificial turf companies, which seemed fairly indistinguishable. There is still demand for the product and therefore an opportunity to win market share (maybe someone has?) and seek to stand out through innovation, creativity, and/or relationships.

Digital Signage

Screens, screens, and more screens. Society has a surfeit of screens, and there are solutions that want to help fill and organize those screens, and other digital signs of all shapes and sizes. There is opportunity to expose more fans to more content, more marketing, and more sponsors. It’s not easy to serve and organize all the content across those screens, and measure it; let alone come up with the physical signs and screens themselves. Another case of knowing what one can and should be doing, and seeking a solution to make it happen.

Fundraising

Digital has certainly penetrated content, ticketing, marketing, media relations, and operations. But fundraising, a major part of college athletics, have yet, it seems to reach full digital maturation. There weren’t a ton of solutions targeting this space, but there were some. Solutions helping to marry technology, data, and digital with fundraising and donations. This is a unique space that no doubt catches the eye of the development folks there, as these businesses seem to have things streamlined and figured out to make donation via digital both optimized and in compliance with the oh-so-many regulations.

Ticketing

While many can name the major players in ticketing for college athletics, there remains opportunity for a number of smaller players to get a small piece of the pie. Almost every program needs a ticketing solution and there is increasing demand for digital, for mobile, and for data among every one of those programs, of any size.

 

In the end, industries will evolve by seeking to make things better, easier, more successful. The vendors that win the value prop equation and have feasible, actionable solutions will capture college.

2017 SBJ/Intersport Brand Engagement Summit Recap

In Spring 2017, Sports Business Journal and Intersport held the annual Engagement Summit, bringing together leads from the sports business and media world, as well as brands, to discuss the latest trends, tactics, and insights of the day.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, insights, images, and observations shared via Twitter #SBJEngage from the event. Thanks to all whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

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.

 

Episode 87 Snippets: Katlyn Gambill Serves the Fans and the State of Hockey for the Minnesota Wild

On episode 87 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Katlyn Gambill, Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Minnesota Wild

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

Review of Los Angeles Lakers Game Sponsorship and Content

The LA Lakers have one of the strongest, most storied teams in professional sports. With a brand that transcends their sport, brand association is no doubt a valuable proposition for corporate partners. While the Lakers have their share of activations on game night, it is clear this partnership association holds the most value, thereby lending credibility to more traditional, less active approaches.

I attended a game on January 31, 2017, and here is a brief look around at marketing, engagement, and sponsorship elements that caught my eye.

Upon arriving at Staples Center, walking through LA Live, one can see Lakers wraps to show that, tonight, Staples (also the home of the LA Clippers, LA Sparks, and LA Kings) is home to the Lakers. Lines to get in through security were slow and long (~ 25 minute wait; issues with ingress is real. Egress would be far easier). Like the wraps, the ‘Team LA’ store is full of Lakers merchandise, while ticket tables are peppered throughout the concourse and the floor and dasherboards are adjusted to Lakers. Notably, Lakers.com was the main digital property promoted, as opposed to any social media, in addition.

 

Throughout the game and between game play, the eyes are constantly drawn to the Staples Center video board, and the Lakers content and eye-catching graphics. The Lakers know where much of the attention is going and show their sponsor messages in that line of vision. It’s not a lot of ‘presented by’ elements or integration, but organic content and graphics to attract/earn the attention, while also borrowing some attention for sponsor messaging.

This is not to say there isn’t room for more active sponsorships and more elements that can organically tie in a partner, while providing value for fans. But instead of the Toyota Halftime Highlights, it’s just Halftime Highlights. Similarly with other on-screen elements and fan engagement features like the ‘Bubble Cam,’ Kiss Cam, Dance Cam, and more.

 

While there were fewer booths and activations of any sort overall at the Lakers game version of Staples Center than the Clippers’s version I attended weeks earlier, there were will some effective sponsor activations around. These were all, notably, on the first floor, whereas the Clippers had some on the upper levels, as well. There was a Verizon-branded activity (shooting for basketball games, changes for hockey games and concerts) that was popular, even during the game. The Los Angeles Times was also giving away t-shirts to market their newspaper subscriptions.

The most memorable and unique activation was the StubHub memento maker. Fans could sign up with name/phone number/email, get their photo taken, and then customize an image to be printed on the spot and shared digitally. A fun and creative way to get some shareable content and a commemorative ticket lanyard to wear it around. An excellent and effective activation.

The Lakers also had their own data capture activation, with an enter-to-win VIP tickets to a game/event. These digital sweepstakes are active for every Staples Center event. There were also a few ticket sales tables peppered throughout.

While there were not a lot of directly sponsored elements in-game, there was one late in the game as the Lakers sought to close out their victory. In the fourth quarter, the scoreboard exhorted fans to Make Some Noise. Jack In The Box is a fixture late in Lakers home games, as fans get free tacos if the team holds their opponent under 90 points.

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Overall, the Lakers are not overly blatant, nor overly novel or engaging with many of their sponsor activations and in-game entertainment elements. The traditional brand has a handful of major corporate partners and hammers home these relationships with repeat impressions and positioning as true partners, as opposed to just sponsors.

A Sampling of LA Clippers Game Activations

Staples Center is a busy venue. Every Fall and Winter features three teams – the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings – share the arena for their home games, while other events pass through, as well. Standing out can be tough.

I recently attended a Clippers game at Staples Center, a Monday night affair against the Oklahoma City Thunder that was not exactly a full crowd. The Clippers did do a good job of trying to provide experiences, content, and services for their fans, while also integrating partners, where relevant and/or non-intrusive, and doing so that was effective for the partners’ brands. Take a brief look with me below:

Upon entering Staples Center, one walks right into a Toyota, where fans are invited to enter to win the car, a typical data capture activation and certainly a visual that is impossible to miss.

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Also prominent inside all the entrances were a few digital screens on which fans could enter to win VIP tickets to some Staples Center event. As you can see, the first question is meant to collect one’s interests, an easy and transparent way to help them deliver better messaging and marketing to you in the future and, in theory, connect it to the same CRM that identifies you as a Clippers game attendee.

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With the shared venue, the Clippers had several tables and backdrops to capture fan attention in the concourses. Among other things, they had a table dedicated to promoting their fan app, Club Clippers. Fan apps are beginning to emerge with some teams in the NHL and NBA (the LA Kings have a fan app, too) and MLB has a fan app. This is NOT meant to displace the official team apps, but more focused on ‘fun’ stuff and wanting to be a social network for Clippers fans, instead of news and stats.

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The Clippers also had a sign making station, which is fairly common in arenas across the country.

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Even before the game started, fans were reminded that Clippers wins mean a deal on Papa John’s Pizza. I swear like 75% of NBA, NFL, and NHL fans get 50% off pizza on days after their team wins. This was the only time it was mentioned during the game, and it was promoted on Clippers social media, as well.

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While the crowd wasn’t huge, the Clippers entertainment and game operations did their best to create a visually exciting atmosphere with lighting and throbbing music.

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Draft Kings may not be as ubiquitous on TV broadcasts as they once were, but the daily fantasy giant still has partnerships with many pro teams, including the LA Clippers. Draft Kings was featured and activated in an endemic, relevant manner, including the ‘Draft Kings Starting Lineup,’ as well as a Draft Kings fantasy lounge/bar fans could frequent to watch other games and catch up on fantasy performances.

The Clippers had several replay sponsors, an easy way to get a brand logo in front of eyeballs, as all the fans’ gaze turns toward the scoreboard to check out an instant replay of a suck play. Arco was featured more consistently and frequently, a way to ‘pump up’ the crowd.

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With all the LED and video board mentions of the Toshiba ‘Hologram Station,’ I simply had to check it out. While calling it a ‘hologram’ was a bit of hyperbole, the station offered fans the opportunity to get a picture or video with their favorite player, with the LA Clippers backdrop behind them. Fans, especially kids, very much enjoyed it, especially the way they could see themselves next to an animated player on the screen, Hall of Presidents style (yeah, I made a Disney World reference).

Next to the Hologram Station was another sponsored, AR (green screen) activation was a fun ‘Posterize Me’ promotion. Another great way to collect fan data and give them the opportunity to make memories to share and preserve <– The is major key.

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The Clippers had a couple of airlines – American Airlines and Delta – integrated into the game presentation. Certainly interesting to consider the different ways the brands were showcased and how the partners value the means and the value. American was featured in a ‘Taking Flight’ fact about a rising player (does every branded ___ start with a play on words? Ha) and Delta was a sponsor of the Spirit team.

City National Bank had a strong presence all night at the LA Clippers game, at which they were sponsoring a Clippers coin bank giveaway to fans in attendance. The bank also had a presence in the game presentation, including a simple Hi-Lo fan contest, in which a fan guessed whether a player’s stat line was higher or lower than the number given (it was easy). The second Hi-Lo question, however, was not Clippers or basketball-related, but related to finance, to tie it back to City National. It seemed a bit out of place, but it certainly reinforced who was behind this contest and what they do. Later, gifts tied up were “parachuted” from the rafters, to fall into the waiting hands of lucky fans.

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Most pro sports teams nowadays have fan social media posts aggregated, typically using Tagboard to aggregate, filter, and display on the video board. But not all have a salient sponsorship, as the Clippers did with Car Max. Nothing too relevant about this activation, but an easy way to take advantage of eyeballs going to the screen to make sure fans know of the partnership.

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Nothing special here, I just found it interesting that, for both in-arena hosts, their personal Instagram profile was listed under their name, as opposed to their Twitter handle. Also notable was that, unlike their NBA roommates, the Lakers, the Clippers did not have their Twitter handle spelled out on the floor.

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Kia is all over the place as an NBA partner and the car brand was all part of some branded entertainment during the game, delivering both the Sounds of the First Half audio (helping to bring what fans are accustomed to seeing on TV broadcasts), as well as the Kia Noise Meter, in which a meter that looks like a car speedometer ratcheted up as the crowd got louder (ok, so it wasn’t that loud).

One of the most fun activations came during a media timeout late in the game with an on-court contest in which furniture company Jerome’s Furniture provided motorized recliner chairs for a race between fans, that culminated with a having to shoot and score while reclined in the chair. A great way to take a fun contest, while also activating the brand and their product for fans watching.

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While walking around the concourse, I caught a glimpse of several tablets provided by Stubhub, presumably to allow fans to peruse and purchase while they were at the game. It’s certainly interesting to see Staples Center (these looked like permanent installs, not just rolled out for the Clippers game; though they could be turned off, as they were late in the game this night) facilitate the secondary, just steps away from the official arena box office and ticket sales tables throughout the arena.

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Chick-Fil-A is a heavy sponsor of many pro sports, and they love the word play of foul / fowl. At Clippers games, when an opponent misses two straight free throws in the fourth quarter, fans can take a coupon handed out at the with to Chick-Fil-A for a free chicken sandwich. (There has to be a mobile/digital way to do this, one thinks, fans don’t have to hold on to a piece of paper). I am starting to see this activation (two straight opposing team missed FT’s late in the game) quite frequently in college and pro basketball, and is a great way to keep fans engaged until the end, especially for those interminable free throws that are inevitable in the waning minute or two of a close loss.

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When the final score alert went out (to all fans that had the LA Clippers app installed, presumably, as opposed to just those inside the arena), it included a CTA to book an uber for a safe ride home. Clicking on the alert opened the Clippers app, which then asked to open the Uber app. While not the most seamless experience and surprisingly no first-time rider promo code [though hard to execute in this work flow], a timely and relevant time to integrate Uber, of course.

Lastly, a quick look at the collection of Snapchat geofilters available during the game at the arena. Besides some of the banners hanging from the rafters, this was really the only presence of the Clippers’ co-tenants in Staples Center and worth the investment of those teams to pay for those filters to be up, even on nights when a different team is hosting thousands of fans in the arena.

Once you work in sports business, experiencing a game is never the same. The fan engagement activations, the sponsor integrations, the data capture and marketing efforts,

Make Social Media Great Again

It’s the dawn of a new year. Of course, in the world of digital and social media, we age in a more dog-year like fashion, and what social and fan engagement looks like today will be different from how it looks in February, in May, and who knows what is in store for the next 12 months.

But despite how far we’ve come and how good many have become, there is still  some WTF in social media, in general, and in sports. So hear me out (and please disagree with any of the forthcoming points, it’s all about conversation!), it’s time to make social media great again.

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Don’t get seduced by shiny new toy syndrome…but don’t get left out

Ok, I get it. Being first to try the newest platform feature is fun. And, yeah, first mover has some value and cachet. But if being first is the only reason you’re jumping on to something, then something is wrong. Don’t get seduced — get it TESTED.
T – Try it out yourself. On your own accounts or a test account. And please check out how others are using – friends, influencers, other teams, randos. E – Evaluate. Is this useful for the organization, does it allow for unique delivery or type of content? Does it fit in with resources/time/manpower (and, if not, should it replace something else)? S – Strategize. How is using it going to fit in with the content and brand, as well as fan development and even sponsorship and analytics and in-game strategy? Be specific. Think of examples. T – Test and trial. Go to work and put the plan into action! E – Evaluate. Yep, look at the results. What worked and what didn’t work? Do some more trialing. D – Data and discuss. Now that you have at least some data coming in from shiny new platform/toy, organize it, so it is presentable, useful, and actionable. And discuss with every department in the organization. Teach and talk about how it can relate to their content and their objectives.

Make it social, dammit

Let’s make sure we put the ‘social’ back into social media. If there’s only one-way communication, if nary a single piece of user-generated content sees the light of day, if fans have no idea if anyone on the other side is listening…change that. Do a deep dive and see how ‘social’ your social media presence and platforms are now.  Be an active social media participant and amplify fans. One of the most gratifying things you can do in social media and sports, too, is to build a community and to connect fans. When two fans who were previously complete strangers can have a conversation about the team they love, well…it’s a beautiful thing. So, don’t make me say it again — be social on social media.

Understand engagement

So if there was one word to sum up the previous point, it’d probably be everyone’s favorite catch-all term — engagement. Consider an example – team A averages 25% of followers ‘liking’ their posts on Instagram, team B averages 5% of their total reach per post deciding to ‘share’ on Facebook, while team C leads the league in Twitter retweets, and team D gets a high % of screenshots per snap on their Snapchat. So, uhh, which team has the best engagement? Which engagement is most meaningful? And how can anyone in their right mind use the same word to describe all those different types of activity?

Ultimately, engagement tries to capture whenever a fan takes some sort of action with the content – viewing, sharing, liking, commenting, etc. Start defining meaningful engagement. If you have the tools and the wherewithal, start tracking engagement at a more granular level — you just might (most likely will) learn something! No more patting oneself on the back for a great ‘engagement’ rate, and more looking at effective engagement. Engagement that matters.

Have a strategy

This may seem a bit (crazy noises), but – every single piece of content, every gosh darn post, should have some sense of strategy behind it. Even the way a simple score update is written, a transaction presented, an image chosen, and certainly the content, campaigns, contests, etc. all should trace back to an overarching strategy that guides the look, the feel, the voice, the overall presentation. And, yes, this very much relates to everything else in this article — KNOW YOUR WHY. Is that a bit cliche? You’re damn right it is, but too many say it, but don’t practice it. Be able to articulate the why for every platform, every post.

Don’t get addicted to routine

You got your strategy. Now you’re executing. One post at a time, dipping into a well-planned bank of templates and manning the usual battle stations or real-time coverage and content. The routine of game days, practices, promotions, and the content calendar can make days turn into weeks turn into months. But don’t let social media content and strategy get stuck in a rut. Surprise and delight. Be creative. Try something new. Try something another team did, but a different spin on it. Just don’t necessarily do the same thing today that you’ve done tons of yesterdays before. Avoid satisfaction with the status quo.

Measure real metrics

Make 2017 the year you’re transparent to a fault. The vanity metrics and the highest # to report is always gonna be tempting (and, I hate to say it, can be useful), but listen to the voice in the back of your head that’s telling you you’re not REALLY getting 300,000 viewers of that video; just because your reach on that tweet was 12,000, it doesn’t mean 12,000 fans actually read it (or even saw it, TBH). Sure, it is difficult to define and measure a true ‘social media ROI.’ But you should be trying. Are fans connected on Facebook spending more money with the team or attending more games? (I bet you have the data to deploy to answer that question) What are fans arriving via the website from ‘x’ platform doing on the website from an engagement, activity, and sales perspective? And if you work in social media and do not have at least an informed understanding of paid social, you gotta change that now. For realz. (Start with each platform’s 101/FAQ’s, check out Social Media Examiner, and YouTube can be your best friend, too).

Respect

Lots of people pay lip service and claim they are practicing respect in social media. But it’s one thing to talk about and another to walk the walk. This means respect  for the platforms – (cliche alert) it’s better to be amazing at a few platforms than half-assing with a few. It doesn’t mean you have to confine content, it just means figuring out the best way to present content to fans on each platform. They deserve that. Which comes to another area of respect – people. Don’t talk ‘at’ fans, don’t fill their feed with organic content that looks more like a commercial. Put yourself in their shoes and consider the experience and the feel. And that all ties back to respecting your purpose. Every post on every platform can have a why and a so what to answer. Don’t disrespect the platforms and people by posting without a purpose.

Don’t have tunnel vision

It’s easy to get so focused on the 24/7, day-to-day nature of the work in social media and sports. But, geez, there is a whole world of activity going on around you. We are peppered with practices and creativity from the community of teams, fans, and brands all day every day. It’s downright dangerous (kinda) to have tunnel vision and not check out what others are doing, trying out different ideas that are working in some form elsewhere, and learning from the plethora of samples freely and easily provided to us all across each platform on a daily basis. The even cooler part? You can reach out and ask the others about what they’re trying, how it’s working, and what they’re eyeing next. Yeah, we’re pretty damn lucky.

Use what you got

It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate and offer something novel or unique these days. Part of it is so much content from so many sources and part of it is fans taking for granted the incredible access offered today that was unthinkable a decade ago. This underlies the importance of realizing the value of the access you have and content you can create to go beyond what ans are getting elsewhere and to think about what they would enjoy and what would make them say ‘Wow.’ What can you do, where can you go, what relationship can you leverage to create or deliver something others cannot or will not. (And then make sure the packaging is proper for each platform).

It’s Not About You

React and create according to what fans want and speak according to how your brand and your team sounds. Social media in sports is so much bigger than the individuals behind the handles (who are extremely important and talented), but let the fans and the organization guide more than anything.

Practice

How can you expect to understand social media strategy, content, and use, if you’re not utilizing the tools, yourselves. This doesn’t mean to spend all day perfecting personal presences, but if you’re not playing with stickers on Instagram, scrolling through a Facebook feed, posting and interacting on Twitter, and tapping through Stories and posting your own (it doesn’t have to be that often), how are you ever going to learn about what fans experience every day, how they discover your content, and how it looks and feels from their point of view. You can’t think like a fan if you don’t act like a fan.

Communicate

While amusement and entertainment are laudable aspects of social media and sports, communication is crucial. In a number of ways. Again, it shows fans someone is listening, the organization cares enough to listen, and it is one of the best ways to get insight and answers to important organizational and fan experience and content questions. But wait, there’s more. It’s about communicating openly and widely to everyone in the organization in a no bullshit kind of way.
It’s okay to not just be the social media fly on the wall. The more communication there is between the social/digital team and the rest of the organization – from PR to players and everyone in between, the better off EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is. It won’t only help with getting content done and messaging on point an amplifying organizational objectives, it’ll also develop genuine relationships. That’s a win for everybody.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media, fan engagement, and sports. I am blown away every day by the creativity, foresight, strategy, and fun that comes from all over every day. But we can’t let progress get in the way of what made social media so great in the first place. Make social media great again in 2017 and beyond. One post and one day at a time.