Shifting the Focus from Platforms to Fans in 2018

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

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

2018: The Year Of ______

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

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

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

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

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

Earn and Respect Fan Attention

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

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

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

 

Audiences Deserve Attention

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

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

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

Meaningful Engagements

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

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

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

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

Create Awesome Content

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

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

 

 

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

 

Four Ways to Stay in Touch With Fan Engagement and Social Media Trends

Working in sports and entertainment means adopting a constantly inquisitive mindset. Especially for those focusing on fan engagement, it quickly becomes second-nature to never stop studying.

It is so important to always remember that everything you do is for the fans. It’s not about what you want and like, it’s about what’s best for the fans, how they consume, and what they want and like.

The good news is that the world is a wide open classroom. So take advantage of it. Here are some things I do to study fans.

I observe

Anyone who has seen me at a sports event knows I’m a bit of a rubbernecker. I’m stealing glances and peering over shoulders. I’m not creepily eavesdropping on someone’s text conversation or what they’re writing in their Snapchat message. I am merely looking at – what are fans doing? Are they snapping pictures (and using their camera, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat)? Are they messaging friends via text message, Messenger, or something else? Are they scrolling through one of their feeds, looking up something on the mobile web, looking at a team or ticket app?

Sure, you can scope out studies and surveys, but nothing beats observing fans in the wild.

4wys

I Ask

The best way to learn is to ask questions. I may get annoying with it sometimes, but I pick the brains of everyone I encounter – friends, family [from young cousins to siblings to aunts and uncles], and fans at sports events/games. Which social platforms do they spend time on and for what purpose? How and where do they engage with their favorite sports teams? What are they doing during a game? Where will they post and actually engage? How do they decide to go to a game and how do they go about getting tickets? Who do they go with? Don’t treat it like the Spanish Inquisition, but most friends and family are happy to indulge my interest in information.

Experience What Fans Do

If it’s been a while since the last time you attended a game or event as a ‘normal’ fan, that should change. Know what it’s like to purchase tickets, research security policies, sit in traffic, find parking, battle the ingress, wait in the security line, find your seats, use the bathroom, explore and buy concessions, And, yeah, the actual game. The reality is that working in sports means arriving much earlier and leaving much after fans, and the in-game experience hardly resemble that of a ‘normal’ fan. Not only that, you can learn a lot from attending other sports events – from the entertainment, the sponsor activations, the marketing, the production, the promotions. Be an active student of sports and fan experience.

Experience What Your Fans Do on Digital and Social

When you live as an admin on social media, it can be easy to lose sight of the traditional fan experience. Knowing how your post looks in the feed amongst those of friends, family, and other brands, teams, and media outlets. Is your video thumbnail and copy eye-catching, is your graphic thumb-stopping, does clicking that link inside the Facebook app or swiping up in that Instagram Story deliver a good user experience? What about visiting your website – if you wanted to buy tickets, how easy is it to do? Are there programs and promotions you live and breathe daily, but a fan may not even know about, that your digital and social platforms do a sufficient job to make fans aware of and informed about? Step into a fans’ shoes daily and consume your content, click your links, watch your videos, and be honest with the perception, the visual, the brand, and the experience.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of living on one side of the wall and forgetting what it’s like to be a normal fan. But there are opportunities to learn every day. take advantage of every one of them and develop a sense of intuition that remains true to the fan experience in reality. Try to walk a mile in their shoes every day or see things through their eyes. Become and expert in empathy and never stop being a student of the game.

Scoping The Digital and Social Media Master’s Scorecard Heading into Sunday

It’s a tradition unlike any other (trademarked!), a rite of passing into spring, and the singular sports event that melds March Madness into NBA and NHL playoffs — The Master’s Tournament. While tradition reigns at Augusta National, social media has become an indispensable part of the fan experience in sports.

The Master’s has millions of followers across social platforms, along with plenty of TV coverage, and a website and mobile app. Many would say the game of golf was slow to evolve, but the social media team at The Master’s does their best to keep up with the latest and greatest.

Here’s a look at the 2016 round:

Par: Video highlights on Facebook and Twitter

longvideo   themasters_shortvideo

It’s pretty much a no-brainer, now, to provide video on social media of sports’ big events. Gone are the days when official brands thought such content undermined the networks’ media rights and cannibalize viewership. Now, it’s embraced. But the best stuff for social is, simply that…the best and most share-worthy. The snackable and mobile.

Birdie: Short, significant videos

We know video is king for content, but, as the metrics show, it’s those magic moments that matter most. And get the most views, the most shares, and the most earned media. Social media, an increasingly mobile medium, is a place for quick consumption; fuel for the next Snap, text, or Tweet. It’s easier and more likely a fan will completely consume and share a sweet snippet than a four minute package. The Master’s could’ve and should’ve done more than this throughout the rounds.

 

themasters_shortvideo2  shortvideo

 

Bogey: Instagram is about emotion and inspiration. Beauty and brand. The Master’s did a lot of good on Instagram (more on that), but this attempt at a fan’s eye view does little but display the blue sky. Contrasted with the close-ups and constructed masterpieces elsewhere from Augusta and on the Master’s feed, it becomes clear why this and similar Instagram posts received less engagement than others.

themasters_IG-Nogood.PNG

 

Eagle: Emotion and beauty on Instagram is awesome.

This is how you get someone to stop scrolling. This is how you let an image tell a story — in the case below of a determined Jordan Spieth. These Instagram posts evoke emotion and thought, a visceral reaction. If an Instagram feed doesn’t stir in some way, it’s probably time to re-craft content.

themasters_IG-good  themasters_IG-good2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Par: A website made for mobile, highly visual, but lacking in volume of video and social media.

The Master’s website, which greets users with a video and (classic Master’s) music background splash page, is made for the mobile user. It has a side menu, quick buttons to watch and track the scores and action, and an endless scroll over highly visual story links. However, video is not very salient or featured, nor is there any integration of real-time social media content and commentary. In fact, there is no links to, nor promotion of, any of the Master’s social media outlets on this website. There is a ‘favorite’ star, presumably for personalization, but no clear call to action, let alone any attempt at data capture.

themasters_website

 

Bogey: Sharing links all over their Facebook page.

It’s no secret the Facebook algorithm isn’t friendly to shared links. The platform is optimized for content consumption natively. Content gets far more reach when there are videos and photos, with links in the description or text of the post for fans that want more. There is a place for shared links, but it’s ok to embrace content consumption, reach, and earned media on social during the big event. It will result in more net traffic and search in the long run, most likely, anyway.

themasters_sharedlink

Double bogey: No live content and no Snapchat presence

If 2016 has revealed any “new” trends, it is that any major sports event should be maximizing and capitalizing upon live content and garnering millions of views of related Snapchat stories. Not only is there no Snapchat presence at all, The Master’s has also yet to do anything with Periscope nor Facebook Live (which would be huge, given golf’s international reach). While content rights may blur the picture, there is no doubt ample opportunity to engage fans with live content beyond the links — interviews with players after their course, walking the course and the  grounds, seeing the preparation of the players, the tees, the dinners, the jacket, and talking to some of the legions of legends at Augusta. CBS will get a lot of viewers (skewing in the older demographic) of its TV coverage and The Master’s streaming on its website and its app will get a decent share, but the Master’s is surely wasting strokes not getting out to social media networks with more live content – to viewers not watching on TV and to viewers who ARE watching the hole-by-hole coverage, looking for a second screen amidst the leisurely pace of the game.

Par: Excellent app and but little promotion of it.

The Master’s App is a tour de force. It has reams of streaming live video (for the US only), highlights, and in-depth course stats and coverage. It is also a great brand activation for IBM Sports, which powers the intelligence and data that lies within the app, which is also compatible with tablet, smart watch, and Android. But, outside of some of the broadcast reads, promotion of the app is few and far between. Little to no social media mentions of its app, no incentive to download, no static presence promoting it on the website or social media bios and pinned posts of The Master’s, and, as a result, likely a lot fewer downloads than there would be otherwise. The app is a beautiful, straight shot up the fairway, that helps save par, but they fail to hit the hole with precision by not getting the word out there to fans craving a mobile companion.

themasters-app2  themasters-app3themasters-app1

Bogey: No engagement

Looking across the social media presence for The Master’s, it appears social is merely an additional broadcast medium, a one-way conversation. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al., there is virtually zero interaction with fans, no active listening, no retweeting of celebs and star athletes chiming in, golf alumni getting in on the chatter, and fans expressing emotion, joy, and disbelief at the drama playing out on the hallowed holes of Augusta National. Not only does this prevent The Master;s from surfacing and amplifying some of the best content, it also chills the potential to further fuel the fire and fans to post more, to spread the word, and to start conversations around the tournament, the content, and the stories. It is becoming a tired cliche, but one that plays out all too often — we cannot forget the *social* part of social media.

Par: Story-telling

By Master’s Sunday, the story lines are set. The leaderboard is peppered with players that all represent stories for fans to follow and for reporters to write about. The Master’s, as is the case with much major media nowadays, doesn’t wait for the traditional writers to set the stories – they frame the leaderboard, and the conversations around the players at the tip –  themselves. A set of names with minus numbers next to them becomes a collection of stories that give fans a reason to care. Why is this merely a par and not a better shot? Identifying the stories and letting reporters run with the good stuff is only half the battle. Social media allows The Master’s to not rely on merely the media, but to create compelling content themselves – with little to no effort. The potential is even greater if working with the brands affiliated with these tournament pros. A story about Matsuyama’s quest for glory for Japan can come alive with a simple photo or video from the Far East nation, or Matsuyama playing as a kid there, or a magical moment when he won a medal at The World University Games for Japan in 2011. Throw back a photo or video of the 58 year-old Bernard Langer, back from his Master’s wins decades ago, to progress the story, while giving fans great content to share and consume. Identifying the stories is the recipe — then it’s time to cook and make a great feast, complete with snacks and meals, all setting up for the big show on Master’s Sunday.

themasters-story1  themasters-story2

themasters-story3

So here we are on Master’s Sunday. A green jacket will be awarded, history will be written, and an emotional roller coaster will play out live across a plethora of platforms, spanning generations of fans. The game may not have changed much in the 80+ years that The Master’s Tournament has been played, but the amount of content and coverage is greater than ever. We love the low prices that remain at The Master’s concessions stands, but not all things are meant to stay the same.

It’s a new era and new paradigm for sports, media, fans, and social media. And the conscious caddie can see The Master’s is making some good shots, but may need a few more progress beyond par. Then, the tradition unlike any other can live up to its legend.

Enjoy Master’s Sunday!

 

How Social Media is Converging and What it Means

It was all about visuals one year. Then video and mobile. Stickers and filters, which were first popular with Line and WeChat, are all the rage now. Other words that can reasonably fill the blank in 2016 in social media and sports will be the year of _____, include real-time, community, location, user-generated content, messaging, and influencers.

And, upon close inspection, several social networks are all beginning to converge around the same features and themes as networks seek to capture attention, engagement, and, ultimately, advertising dollars and consumer data. It’s not about adopting and mastering one emerging trend after another. There are certain underlying principles guiding innovation and the convergence of all these competing social platforms. Here are a few that can inform a solid strategy in fan engagement in social media and sports:

  1. Fans are telling stories. Help them do this even better.
    Whether they’re sending Snaps, on messenger or texting, post that perfect pic to Facebook or Instagrams, or Tweeting and retweeting all day, fans are sharing info, telling stories to their friends, family, and followers. This is not an opportunity to interject, but is an opportunity to amplify and enhance those stories.

    This is one example of convergence — the difference ways to dress up a picture across platforms, so fans can be hopeful their posts will get those coveted likes. In turn, the teams (and, often, brands) get valuable user-generated content, that are increasingly being amplified through various means by the team (on the video board, through retweets and regrams, and inclusion in a Snapchat story). Spitballing, but safe to say at least 7 out of 10 fans focused on their phones during a game are engaged in some form of communication — messaging, posting content, or even Periscope-ing! — instead of interrupting, enhance and amplify. Any platform, increasingly so, will do.

  2. Leverage the power of community. Fans want to feel part of something greater than themselves.
    Always remember the social part of social media. When fans feel connected to the greater community, the positive feedback and strength of connection to the team is greatly enhanced. Social networks’ increased focus on leveraging local – from geofilters and live streams to Snapchat stories and different kinds of curated sports hubs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Not to mention the likes of Postano, Tagboard, and other aggregators / visualizers.

    And here we end up in a cadre of convergence with social media platforms again. With hashtags, hubs, and location-savvy enhancements, the desire to be, and ability to feel, part of a community of like-minded fans and individuals is as strong as ever and as facilitated as ever through social media [whether all at the same place or all engaging digitally at the same time]. By leveraging hashtags, graphics, video, photo, filters, on-site photo opps, and more, each social platform presents a possibility to cultivate community. Turning a collection fans into a fortified flock.

  3. Let fans help tell your story.
    There are teams and brands out there creating incredible content day in and day out. But there are even more fans out there creating their own impressive pieces of content, backed up my the added authenticity at the root of user-generated content. It not only helps bring in talent that would normally cost times, resources, and budget, but embracing fan-generated content helps make fans stars of the show, at times. Fans can often a raw, genuine perspective that can be better, or least different, from that what teams routinely produce.
    The culture of convergence in social media is very much attuned to this idea and teams are starting to embrace it more and more. Snapchat stories and Twitter timelines are increasingly filling with great stuff from fans. Takeovers from fan-sourced content or with influencers are increasingly the trend, regardless of platform. As live streaming video grows, too, we may see some fan-cams coming in to offer a unique (and improving, quality-wise) perspective, let alone what the growth of streaming VR could mean. Your fans are talented, they want to help spread your story, they have passion and authenticity, and they are at your games and events, in perfect position to enhance content and coverage on any platform. It’ll even help give that localized, real-time community feel referenced previously. There goes that unity of motifs, again.

 

At the end of the day, it’s not so much that social networks are running out of ideas and just copying each other. It’s learning more about how fans want to communicate and how they want to consume and create content. But, as quickly as the mediums and platforms change and evolve, the principles remain firmly entrenched, no matter the social network. Create community. Help tell and create stories. Be present. Amplify. We may not be able to predict the next flavor of the week feature or network, but rest assured a good story will remain a good story.

An example from the Buffalo Sabres that helped fuel this post:

sabres-snaps

 

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

Social Media Truths Decoded…In A Good Way

I am a big proponent of social media. Not just for the power it permits individuals and brands to disseminate their message, frame perceptions, and connect with, well, just about anyone. But, if you’re reading this, you are NOT normal. Most people are not active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat every single day. Engagement is great, but there is a little secret you may not want to admit about the 17 comments on every other post.

It’s time to put it out there. Some social media facts. Five, for this article. It is by no means doom and gloom in sports or any industry, however. Read on and share your feedback, please!

1) Social is the minority…BUT it’s a vocal one.

The community consistently seeing your content and engaging on social media, which can sometimes reach impressive numbers, still represents a vast minority of your “fans,” those active engaged with your brand through any means, physical, financial, digital, and emotional. However, it is just as true that this minority is also likely more vocal and prone to proselytizing than average. They’re the ones starting a conversation about something they saw on Twitter or sending a text of a screen-shot of an Instagram. There is multiplier effect inherent in *social* media. An amplifying factor, the less track-able way of spreading the word is often categorized as “dark social.”

2) You’re not reaching everyone…BUT you have good content

I’m willing to bet about 99% of sports teams would say the fans that follow them on social media get a superior experience and see better content than fans that are not active on social networks. There are quotes, incredible photos, quick anecdotes, nicknames, and smiles. From injury updates to player personalities, there is a good chance all this good content is not reaching all the fans that want it. Just say no to subscribing to silos. If you live-tweeted a fun anecdote from practice, held a prediction contest on Facebook, did a doodle contest on Snapchat, or gotten some priceless insight from a player tweet or Twitter Q&A, it is perfectly fine, sometimes encouraged even, to share that content on your “traditional” channels, too. Fans on your website or your email list at least deserve a glimpse into what they are missing on social media, the great content you have on it, and even the amazing fan-generated content all over the place.

3) Sponsors don’t value it as much…BUT it’s more active and track-able

Venue signage continues to garner huge rates (and does indeed command a lot of eyeballs). Game programs garner more interest, though, than social media or website activations. Not yet, at least. Sponsorship is maturing and there is a lot of creativity and evolution happening in sports sponsorship [rendering this gripe moot in the next 2-3 years], but rates sill seep with skepticism. But here’s why it will change: it’s active and track-able. How much business is a billboard on the highway bringing, exactly? How many people even drove by and actually saw it and how many were in your target audience? Well, social, digital, and mobile is changing that, which is why demand and rates are rising. It’s track-able, personalized, and active. This last point meaning, contrary to a static sign, it allows the brand to come to life through content or allows the funnel to happen right there – from ad/content to conversion.

4) Social media is not a place to serve offers…BUT there is lots of ROI opportunity

We talk about the 90-10 or 80-20 rule. We like to espouse Gary V’s jab-jab-jab-right hook methodology of social media. Yet, the real ratio I see playing out far too often skewed toward the wrong direction on pro team social media pages (college, minor, pro, junior). There is still a period of maturation that needs to happen, to no longer treat social media as another broadcast channel to disseminate offers constantly. Make it more about relationships and engagement, because THAT will lead to ROI opportunities with your loving, dedicated, consistently engaged audience. Through sponsor integration with content, through better-converting ads, and through well-timed right hooks that are welcome and that work.

5) Social media is not where most STHers are and breadwinners are…BUT it’s where their kids are and where everyone coming of age is, not a fad, a new paradigm

While this last point will be moot in the next half dozen or dozen years, the fact remains that, for most teams, season ticket holders, the backbone for several teams’ bottom lines, still, are, well, older. They may check out old classmates or post pics of kids and grandkids on Facebook. They may even be trying out of some of the “other” social networks. But most are not. So while you think you can start driving a huge piece of sales pie directly through social media, think again. However, it is still incredibly strong, across networks, because it affects the well, recipe the breadwinner follows. (Sorry for that analogy). That would be the kids, as well as the younger adults now making more money and starting families. They’re coming of age as social media natives, they’re influencing as much transactions as they’re making, and their attention is perhaps even more valuable than the current season ticket holders whose signatures are contributing to a sizable chunk of the annual gate receipts. You can lament the time and resources being spent to amuse some kids that may pay to attend a single game and possibly get a cap and t-shirt, but that would be a naive, short-sighted way of looking at it.

So while there may be some facts to face, the biggest fact of all is that social is not a fad. It’s not a “thing” or a channel. It’s a new paradigm for communication, for information discovery and sharing, and for funnels to commerce and relationships. Those that heed these more important elements first and foremost will win in the end. It’s not about being the kid on the street with the best toys, it’s about being the kid that remains lifelong friends with every kid on the block.

Treating Fans Like Real People: A Winning #SportsBiz Concept

A classic Seinfeld scene is when George Steinbrenner (as portrayed by Larry David) visits the Costanzas and is harangued by Frank Costanza, who exclaims “What in the Hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?!” In the modern day world of sports and social media, this kind of vocal vehemence is commonplace among fans spouting off with the intention of having their opinions heard, and valued, by the team. And, while social media is comprised by too many trolls and the irrational and immature, teams are increasingly embracing enhanced communication channels with fans. More and more recognize the value of engaging with fans, with social media playing a prime role. The weight placed on face-to-face or one-to-one interactions are also, rightly, gaining higher appreciation once again.

At the recent Q1 Sports Fan Engagement Conference (See day 1 recap and day 2 recap decks), there was a lot of discussion about the reprising usage of fan surveys. While focus groups can be contrived and analytics can help us make only educated guesses about fan intent and values, based on often nonlinear data, we’ve arrived at the revelation that, well, you can try asking them! San Diego Padres CMO Wayne Partello discussed how he gets valuable feedback and ideas from surveys and brainstorming sessions with fans and season ticket holders. Other executives in attendance talked about how feedback from surveys, directly from fans, have played a prominent role in influencing organizational decisions related to the fan experience. By reaching out to fans, particularly at a more engaged, even 1-to-1 level, you can not only reinforce that you value fans’ input, but also get some genuine, helpful ideas, too. Those marketing newsletters, instead of not inviting replies, should explicitly encourage fans to reply with questions, ideas, and suggestions!

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When the corporate giant reveals itself to be relate-able, emotionally, and human, like its fans/customers, fans can better reach a level of affinity and identification with the brand. This is why I loved when New Orleans Saints social media manager Alex Restrepo, also speaking at the Q1 Conference, talked about empathizing and the importance of understanding the “mood” of Saints fans when posting on social media. It’s ok to be upset when the team gets beat badly, it’s ok to be excited (and unabashedly biased) after a thrilling win, and it’s normal to be exasperated after a close match concludes. The more you can blur that line between brand and friend, and connect on a deeper level, the stronger the unconditional affinity developed between fan and team.

I loved how Atlanta Hawks Director of Interactive Marketing Micah Hart stated their social media mindset, when I spoke with him recently. “My pitch from the beginning was to be the voice of the (Hawks) fan,” said Hart, whose team has been lauded this year for success on and off the court. “It’s not authentic to try and make everything like it’s always 100% and everything is golden.” Thoughtfulness and authenticity as social media guiding principles can go a long way.

So stop talking about the need to make emotional connections with fans, while still posting in a voice seeking to be some omniscient, stoic entity. The path to a fan’s heart is by showing the team has a heart, too.

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Plethora of Player Publishing Prefaces Progressive Press Paradigm

Between #DeflateGate and Marshawn Lynch’s incendiary (non) statements, some of the most compelling media during this past Super Bowl week, in advance of Super Bowl XLIX, have come from players, themselves, picking up the (virtual) pen. Whether it’s Seattle CB Richard Sherman writing his column on SI/Peter King’s The MMQB website (a season-long column), embattled Cleveland WR Josh Gordon firing back at his naysayers in a letter published on The Cauldron, a Medium publication, or Seahawks QB Russell Wilson sharing his personal thoughts following Seattle’s miraculous NFC title win on The Players Tribune, a site for which he is a Senior Editor, the players are bypassing the traditional press, taking matters into their own hands.

Players using their own voice to tell their own story isn’t an entirely new idea. ESPN The Magazine had anonymous Player X columns for years, newspapers and team websites have had player-written blogs, but, even as athletes got their own websites and Facebook pages, the presence of active players communicating thoughtfully in a direct manner with fans rarely went beyond the handful characters in a tweet or Instagram comment. Until now.

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As social media increasingly gave players the ability, for the first time, to control and disseminate their thoughts themselves, instead of having to go through the media or team media relations, players began to realize the value of their voice. Some of the best team content in sports is that showing player personalities — a bit about them off the court, ice, or field. Fans welcome any opportunity to get what they perceive to be a peek behind the curtains of their favorite athletes’ thoughts, motivations, and everyday lives. So, if players have the power, if their content reigns supreme, what’s to stop an imminent future in which players control their valuable content?

There are certain to be implications when star players begin producing their own media on their own terms, instead of being summoned by the public relations director to the nightly scrum. If a player feeds the media a few quick cliches and then pens a thoughtful post about that night’s game on his own website (from which he can make money) that drives far more web traffic than the poor beat writer’s blog, what’s to stop the press paradigm from paralysis? Content is king and where the value is derived and a future, and present, of easy personal publication, is certain to change as quickly as the modes of content delivery. Fast.

Have you noticed this trend? What do you think are the implications for sports business, for teams, for media, for players? Be social and share your opinion!

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