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

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

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

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

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

Memorable experiences

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

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

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

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

Develop a kids arm

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

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

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

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

Creating influencers

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

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

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Millennials are the parents now

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

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

What kids want

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

 

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

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

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.

Episode 157 Snippets: Kendall Baker on Telling the Stories of Every Day in Sports for Axios

On episode 157 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kendall Baker, Sports Editor for Axios.

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.

Content Marketing World 2019 Twitter Recap

In September 2019, the annual Content Marketing World conference was held by Content Marketing Institute, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners in the world of content marketing and beyond.

What follows is a collection of quotes, images, observations, and ideas shared via Twitter #CMWorld at the event. Thanks to all whose tweets helped fuel this recap and to the Content Marketing Institute for putting on another incredible event!

Episode 151 Snippets: Chris Grosse on Driving Attendance in College Athletics, Building Fan Experiences, and Creating a Special Game Atmosphere

On episode 151 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Grosse, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing at Penn State Athletics.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Inside the Mind of the Modern Sports Fan: Insights from an Interview with a ‘Normal’ Fan

Once you work in sports business, you’ll never experience sports and sports marketing the same way again. Once you work in social media, you’ll never be able to relate to the average social media user again.

These may be well-worn adages, but they nevertheless true. It’s why we must be always be inquisitive – you can read all the studies, observe all the data, but nothing beats a conversation with a human  – to get the true take on their perception, their habits, their values, their reasons, and their experience. And it’s why for the 150th episode of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I spoke with a ‘normal’ sports fan – my brother, Steven Horowitz.

I uncovered some interesting insights on fan development, on driving game attendance, content consumption, engagement channels and habits, and more. Here are 7 1/2 findings from my chat with Steven, trying to go inside – as much as possible – the mind of the modern millennial sports fan.

Football- Soccer,a lot of fans  in full stadium celebrate goal. blurred.

Push Notifications are incredibly important

Many of us live on Twitter in sports. We may even have notifications turned on for noted bomb droppers like Woj, Schefty, Shams, Rosenthal, and Bobby Mac (bonus points if you get all these nicknames). But guess what? Most fans aren’t first seeing that news on the platform with the blue bird – they’re more likely getting an alert from their preferred sports app or hearing about it secondhand from a friend via text or private message. Steven explained, using a recent example related to breaking news about his favorite team – the San Diego Padres:

“For me, how I’m finding (big news) on a normal basis…it’s typically a push notification from one of my apps…[Steven gives the example of a recent Fernando Tatis Jr. injury] I happened to be on Twitter when Kevin Acee from the (Union Tribune) broke the story…shortly after seeing that on Twitter…I started getting notifications from the apps on my phone. When I did find that out about the injury, I was texting someone I work with that’s a big fan of him just to let him know…For the most part, it’s finding out from notifications or another friend or colleague texting me if they hear it before I do.”

We think of apps and push alerts as afterthoughts, oftentimes, but the fact is they work. Fans may not open every alert or expand every alert, but rare is the alert that goes unseen from one’s sports app. And with app downloads for teams only slated to grow as mobile ticketing nears 100% and fans access tickets via their team’s app, push notifications can’t and shouldn’t be simply an afterthought. There can be just as much data analysis and targeting as there is with digital marketing and social media content. Are your push alerts analyzed and executed thoughtfully?

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Fans don’t default to pirated streams anymore

A generation of us grew up with Justin.tv (which later morphed into Twitcb – heard of it?) – as an endless source of free live TV. Other sites popped up offering similar free streams and many are linked off from Reddit. They may be grainy, they may get pulled down frequently, but they’re free and they’re difficult to police. But with more options than ever to pay only for the content you want, needing nothing more than a connected device of any type, not as many fans it seems rely on the pirated web to satisfy their sports needs. Steven explained his evolution (and, yes, an income has something to do with his evolution, too) –

“I used to (watch pirated streams) a lot. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done that. There was a time when it was a lot easier and then they started cracking down on it more…Now, I get the Red Zone (subscription) every year. Sometimes, if there’s a big boxing match, I’ll try to stream that on whatever sites are available, but other than that I’ve gotten away from (watching pirated streams).”

Steven noted he’s heard of many new players and platforms in the sports streaming space – DAZN, ESPN+, YouTube TV, et al. (but not so much fubo TV, Pluto, and Flo Sports). The pirates may not be winning as much as they used to, but the live sports space is becoming ever more fragmented and we can’t take for granted fans are aware of all the emerging platforms out there, which sports are on them, and how best to bundle their subscriptions to meet their needs while also not paying more than they have to. We can’t take for granted the average fans keep up with this space, it’s hard enough doing so when you’re actually trying to keep up!

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Season Tickets are emotion-driven > value-driven

Yes, fans today seem to be more attuned to what, exactly, they’re paying for. And the term ‘membership’ has largely displaced season ticket holder in many cases (even if some, not all, seem more lip service). But being a member is not all about a laundry list of benefits, 10% off at the team store, access to a preseason VIP or seat selection event – those can all be great perks – and it’s not a mathematical equation looking at average cost per game or potential resale value investment – even though many do sell their tickets, let alone ‘members’ that are actually brokers – it’s still a purchase largely driven by emotion and connection to a community and an experience. Steven was once a San Diego Chargers season ticket holder (yes, San Diego, this was years ago) and he tried to articulate his reason for being a season ticket holder:

“I’d say the real reason why I wanted to go and get season tickets was my love for the team. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than tailgating at Chargers games, spending the day at the stadium, and seeing them win…It was a good time and I always look back fondly on those times…”

Getting season tickets wasn’t a calculated decision for him. It was because he could picture no better way to spend a Sunday than heading to Qualcomm Stadium, pigging out at a tailgate, donning his jersey – those powder blues are pretty cool – and cheering on his team among all his fellow fans, friends, and members of a community connected by that shared passion. Maybe this is an anachronistic, nostalgic view of things, but if being a season ticket holder was about love for a team a decade ago, becoming a ‘member’ is sure as heck about an investment of the heart, an emotional tie.

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Football watching when you don’t have a favorite team

As a follow-up to the previous point, Steven abandoned the Chargers when they abandoned San Diego. He then became like many fans today – cheering on their fantasy players and their chance at winning money / beating friends instead of cheering on a specific team. Worrying more about who scored than the final score, more about the name on the back than the name on the front. With players shuffling around the superstar-driven NBA, fans growing up in a culture of fantasy and rarely attending games (pr being priced out of games), it’s the new norm. And while local broadcasts still do big numbers, there’s a reason fantasy and daily/weekly fantasy keeps growing each season and more fans are filling their Sundays with Red Zone or a panoply of highlights and updates across a suite of apps. Steven described his fandom nowadays:

“To me, the NFL has become different. I still enjoy watching it, but the way I experience NFL now really revolves around fantasy football. I watch it to see how my fantasy players are doing, see how my team is doing, and that’s really how I go about watching football now (Steven notes he won his fantasy league last year)…I’m able to be unbiased now about who I choose for my teams, who I start in my weekly matchups because I don’t have to worry about (if they’re playing against the Chargers)…It’s definitely changed how I watched football.”

Fans of teams, fans of players, fans of gamble-able outcomes in sports — no matter how they’re watching, plenty of reasons remain for fans to be as attuned as ever to live content and content about who will win and why and to learn more about the players on their rosters and driving these exciting moments each night.

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Daily fantasy (and gambling) can create new fans

Speaking of fantasy and gaming, many in the sports world see a future of new fans and more avid fans brought on by the growth of gambling and continued growth of fantasy options. Will these new opportunities bring about new fans? Steven has lived one fan’s story, finding himself a more avid fan of the NBA than ever – thanks to daily fantasy:

“I never hated the NBA, but I was not a huge fan of it. I followed it casually, but more so in the playoffs. But how this happened is – on the daily fantasy website that I play on typically, they gave me a free play (to win money) for a NBA (game) and I think I ended up pretty high in the standings and won some money…and that got me hooked, and I started playing NBA dailies almost every day and that quickly evolved into enjoying not just following the sport, but I also found myself watching the NBA regular season on TV and I hadn’t done that in years.

“I would check Rotoworld a lot because I was having to teach myself about some of these players, too…I would check their stats, I would also see who they’re up going up against…It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to continuing to playing it.”

It’ll be an interesting next few years to see how teams, leagues, and rights holders can harness these fans entering via gambling and fantasy channels and bring them into their ecosystems. The gateway is there, but it remains to be seen how this new wave of potential fans plays out.

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Sponsored content is fine, but don’t be disruptive

There are a lot of ways sponsored content is presented these days – a logo bug in the video, tagged on the social platform, the incredibly original “‘sponsor name’ x ‘team name'” or ‘presented by’ in the copy, an end card, pre-roll, and many more options. The good news? Fans don’t seem to mind if a sponsor is involved or even integrated as long as the content is quality. But don’t be disruptive. Don’t interrupt content viewing or steal attention to simply insert a ‘normal’ commercial or ad. Steven shared his thoughts:

“I would say overall I more tune it out and I’m not really paying attention to who those sponsors are. Even sometimes, if I pull up a video and there’s an ad before it, I’ll turn off the sound for it before the content even starts…

“I would say sometimes when they do videos and they do an ad in the middle of the video, I will turn off the video – whether it’s because I don’t care what’s coming up or it just didn’t have me interested enough to continue to wait 20-30 seconds…I will sometimes just turn it off…”

Fans want the content. And, unlike the days of previous decades, fans and users don’t necessarily see sitting through ads as payment in their side of the value exchange for the content they actually want. There are too many ‘free’ options out there and too many content creators doing a better job of integrating sponsors whether passively or actively. Don’t abuse the attention and don’t disrupt the experience – add to it or, at least, don’t detract from it.

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Consistent promotions FTW (and be mindful of price sensitive fans)

There is no secret sauce or magic pill that made live gate for sports rise to the level of 20 years ago. Attendance isn’t falling everywhere, but the trend is clearly a downward one from the highs of previous decades when no one gave thought to building stadiums with smaller capacities. But nowadays, even as many teams and schools are awash in media rights money, getting butts in seats is more challenging than ever. So what could we learn from asking a fan about his experience being driven to go to games? Let Steven share his take:

“Over the last year, I pretty much have been only going to Padres games and occasionally a Gulls (AHL hockey) game. How I hear about them? I obviously follow the Padres pretty closely, whether it’s through an app or the team’s website or social media pages..I just know there are games going on. In regards to the Gulls…I don’t go to a bunch of their games, but really what does drive me there is when they do do promotions – they do $2 beer nights sometimes on Friday nights, I’ll go to those games…”

[Steven notes he finds about Gulls promotions typically through their organic social media and will sometimes check their website to see when their next $2 beer night is]

Marketing and sales staffs at teams are getting more and more sophisticated with targeted emails and ads, retargeting previous buyers, and doing their best to assure the right fans see the right promotions. But a takeaway from my chat with at least this fan, Steven, is that, while advertising and digital/social media remains a key tactic, you can’t rely on these platforms to always assure fans find out about your upcoming bobblehead giveaway or flash deal. Which deals are most effective and/or which promotions are the easiest for fans to recall? If you ask an average fan of your team – especially one not coming to every game – to name a promotion the team runs, what would they say? It may be fun to joke about LeBron usurping ‘Taco Tuesday’ for his own, but every Padre fan, including Steven, knows Tuesday games mean Taco Tuesday at Petco Park. Get the word out about unique or ad hoc sales and promotions, but try to create some that stick with fans, so they look forward to your next Half Price Beer Mondays without having to see multiple ads to remind them.

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Why does he attend several Padres games? Nostalgia, atmosphere at the ballpark

What drives fans to go to a game, especially if it’s not a novelty or a one-off? Well, the previous point touched on promotions, but the compulsion to seemingly always have consideration top of mind, the internal notion that watching at home is never the same, the key to penetrating the heart and mind of a fan – that doesn’t come overnight. For Steven, our fan guide, much of his inherent desire to be at the game comes from a sense of nostalgia and a practice and bond that originated as a kid. It’s why so many leagues and teams are focused on getting kids to their games while they’re still in grammar schools and they’re just developing their earliest passions and memories that’ll conjure goosebumps of nostalgia when they look back in 20 years. This is how Steven tried to articulate why he finds himself more than once at Petco Park every season:

“Obviously my love for the team. You and I have been going to games since as long as we can remember. We used to go with our dad all the time to the games…I always look back fondly on those times; I love going to games and I still like watching on TV, but if I have the option of going to watch the Padres in person, I’m gonna be there…”

We’re drawn to things that remind us of good times – and nostalgia plays a big role in that. It’s why those in sports say we’re in the business of making memories. Every game is a chance to help a fan form a memory that’ll last forever and bring up of warm feelings every time an element of that memory is resurfaced. Every night is an opportunity to build a fan for life.

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LISTEN TO MY FULL INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN HOROWITZ

What if Buying Tickets to Sports/Entertainment was more like Buying Plane Tickets?

Ever taken a flight on Ryanair? Or maybe you had an experience with easyJet? Heck, I just traveled on Alaska Airlines and had a not quite-as-extensive, but still opportunistic booking process – evaluating the need and value of each add-on. Reminiscing about the experience with the OG’s of $0 base airline tickets made me consider the effectiveness of the airline booking process and how it could fit into the present and future of sports marketing.

So, the question is – why shouldn’t attending a game be like booking a game experience comprised of its parts, why can’t getting a ticket to the game be like getting a ticket for your next flight?

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First, a quick reminder of how an airline booking experience can go –

  • Search the dates for the trip
  • Find options with times that work, maybe check non-stop or allow layover
  • Maybe look for an airline for which one belongs to a loyalty program or one that is integrated with their credit card provider for rewards or money back
  • With those baseline factors put into one’s search – select the best bargain, the cheapest that meets the aforementioned needs. Done, right? Not even close…
  • Add more passengers – cheaper for kids sometimes! Or mark you’re flying solo
  • Add luggage allowances if necessary, and add that to the total
  • Select the type of experience – first class, business/premium class, economy being the typical options, but some get far more extensive.
  • Nope, still not done. Now you can pay a little more if you want to reserve a seat – maybe make sure you get the aisle or further up the section or the window
  • Make sure to buy the insurance, too, so you can rest easy should something come up to prevent you from traveling
  • For the most part, you’re done – but some may offer (or maybe should consider offering) pre-purchasing food/drinks for the flight, using a deal for transportation (whether public transportation, rideshare, etc.), or even add a hotel room

Still with me? Thanks, because I hope the wheels are turning for how this can be translated to sports – presenting a dirt cheap base price to get fans into the system and then letting them build their experience based on what’s meaningful and worth paying for to them. There is always some concern about adding steps and clicks – especially on mobile – before fans get to that coveted confirmation page, but as long as it flows quickly and is easy and organized on the eyes, fans will be glad to build their experience – making it feel personalized, too – and get what they’re willing to pay for.

So, let’s re-imagine what the fan experience can be like getting tickets for the next game.

  • Fans check out a game they want to attend (whether searching it, seeing an ad/email, visiting the team website) and see a not-so-scary base price, dynamically priced based on the opponent, day of week, time (it’s ok to tell fans it’s a premium game)
  • NOW, after the fan is already in the purchase flow and juuuuust a tiny bit invested, let them select their seats from those available, with the seats they choose either requiring $0 upgrade fee or a range of tiers. Fans can even select middle vs. aisle to meet their preference
  • What’s next in the order? It can go in any order (need some data to optimize), but let’s say next up is an opportunity to pre-order some merch and have it waiting at your seat or available for express pickup at a kiosk, so fans have a t-shirt, a rally towel, a scarf (for soccer), a beanie (or toque, for our Canadian friends), a jersey, a shirsey, etc. etc.
  • You’re booking an experience, not just entrance to a game, so why not take a look at the concessions offerings and, should you choose, pre-order something. Even schedule a time for pickup and get an alert or text to confirm it’s ready when you’re there at the game! If you’re in a premium section, maybe you get food delivery and you could even schedule your night’s food, so you get a beer and peanuts early in the game, a burger just before halftime, and a churro toward the end of the game for dessert.
  • Not sure what you want to buy at the game yet? That’s ok – another option to add to your baseline experience is to preload your ticket with in-venue currency, offered as part of your booking process for, let’s say, 90 cents on the dollar. Make a commitment to spend money at the game and save! Seems like a good deal to me if someone is planning on getting something anyway and could be enticed to commit for fear of missing out on a deal.
  • Wait, we’re not done! You gotta get there. Sure, you may not be thinking yet about how you’re getting to the game or maybe you’ll pull up Uber or Lyft or the Metro on game day. Or you can schedule an Uber (or whomever the transportation/ride-share partner is) and save a buck or two if you do it now as part of your game booking experience. Driving to the game? Great, pre-pay for parking and even get the option – if you’re willing to pay for it – to select/reserve a specific spot!
  • We’re almost there as our game day is coming together. So now, for those individuals that couldn’t live without pre-check TSA or have invested in Clear, for example, they can do the same on game day. Or maybe pay a few dollars more to enter into via pa priority gate. If fans value it enough, maybe they’ll go for it.
  • Alright, we’re getting to a lot of steps here (this is a work in progress, clearly, as I’ve conceded!), but since we have your attention and we darn well hope you intend to finish this off and attend the game, we have some more partners that want to hook you up on game day – how about a coupon for 2-for-1 Dunkin Donuts coffee to fuel up the morning of game day? Or even save digital coupons to your app that have a chance to be activated at the game if the team meets ‘x’ threshold.
  • You are now all set! But, just before you go, we could offer you insurance (a la the airline, but not as keen on this one), so let’s show you some ‘experiences’ you can add to your game day. For a small fee, you can get access to the premium lounge throughout the game, or get a locker room tour before the game, a mascot meet-and-greet after the game, a chance to take part in a game, attend a post-game concert or movie screening, pre-purchase a 50-50 ticket, meet the announcers at halftime, etc. etc.

My verbosity may be making this seem too tedious and we’d lose more fans in the process, but this isn’t an article meant to proscribe, it’s meant to make us think. If fans are feeling priced out, let’s not scare them off and let them start with an economy option. It could be scary for fans to watch their [digital] wallet empty as they see what a full game day expenditure looks like all purchased in advance – as opposed to a slower drip on game day – or it could help fans better understand what a full game day experience can entail and why certain package cost what they do while helping one tailor their experience and feel like they’re getting exactly what they intend to pay for.

A common refrain talks about 50,000 fans at a game having 50,000 uber-personalized experiences. I’m not sure we’ll get there (or even want to get there) anytime too soon, but the more fans can feel like they’re in control, the more teams can expose fans in the moment to additional offerings to increase per caps, the more casual fans can at least find themselves getting started in the purchase process enticed by the low get-in price, the more transparent and tailored this can all become. There’s always the possibility of providing pre-set ‘bundles’ and experiences, too – much like we see today with family packs, student packages, and the like.

As our world becomes increasingly a la carte (can you count the number of subscription services you’re billed for each month?), fans and consumers are becoming more cognizant of exactly what they’re paying for. Fans (and, as the so-called experts say, Millennials) are willing to pay for experiences, so let’s consider learning something from the Spirit Airlines of the world and create a fully integrated purchasing experience that lets fans buy exactly what they want and know exactly what they’re paying for.