What does the recap look like for your sponsored social media content?
It’s likely packed with the usual metrics — reach, comments, likes (‘engagement’), perhaps video views and completion rate, maybe even some audience demographics. And that’s great. But recognize that those metrics really only help the sponsor accomplish a couple of objectives — awareness and (more loosely) brand association.
But if the sponsor is investing in that partnership with your team or league and hoping to tie it to its bottom line, that’s going to be more challenging. Nick Lawson has been around the sports business for years and saw too many sponsorships churn over the years because of such limitations. When the partners assessed the effectiveness of their sponsorships to allocate budget, deals that delivered reach and awareness only were often the first on the chopping block.
Sponsors are trying to reach your fans, so, yeah, reach certainly matters. They want fans to interact with their brand, so engagement means something, too. But it’s after the reach and the engagement that the most value gets created and, even weeks or months later, can help a partner’s bottom line.
“…A lot of people forget, especially in sponsorship, the re-engagement,” said Lawson, who is co-founder and CEO of digital engagement platform SQWAD. “When you run a Facebook ad and you earn that email, even if somebody doesn’t make a purchase, you can create an audience that reengages that person who maybe put something in their cart. We didn’t have that in sponsorship [when Nick was coming up].”
These corporate partners are businesses with marketing and partnership budgets. Money spent on one avenue, like a team sponsorship, means taking away from another tactic to help drive sales or lead generation or whatever helps make money for the business in the short term and long term. That’s ultimately what the team is up against each cycle for a partnership, to prove that the ROI of the sponsorship is better than the ROI of spending that budget elsewhere. So it has to go beyond impressions, says Lawson, because when decision day comes, that’s what separates the indispensable from the rest.
“If you’re not giving a reason why return on investment a brand should come back with you, they’re gonna default to, ‘Okay, we’re gonna cut something, what’s it gonna be?,” said Lawson, whose SQWAD works with the biggest sports teams in the world. “Well, we don’t really need social impressions anymore. That’s kind of a vanity metric for us. So let’s cut everything that has social metrics.’
“If you have a thing that says, ‘Hey, we’re earning 1500 leads per month through this team. I can’t turn off that pipeline. That’s too important for my organization.”
It seems so clear and simple. But go back to that original question and envision what the sponsored social recap looks like across the board. Are those results that the partner can’t live without? That’s what Lawson is getting at, the results should be aligned with what the sponsor needs to accomplish. Sometimes that’s only awareness and the reach metrics look great. But if the way to maintain and grow the sponsorship goes beyond helping to drive awareness, you have to deliver more.
That can be a mindset shift, too, because engineering or delivering such measurement goes beyond the norm. The ‘typical’ sponsored social campaign still has a foundation of reach and engagement. It doesn’t have to be that way, Lawson told me.
“The tough thing becomes is just because [the sponsor] is not asking you for those numbers [that] doesn’t mean they’re not gonna make a decision based on, you showed that this social tweet got ‘X’ amount of views, if their north star metric was earning leads that means nothing to them,” he said. “And again, going back to if you’re not giving a reason why return on investment a brand should come back with you, they’re gonna default to, ‘Okay, we’re gonna cut something, what’s it gonna be? Well, we don’t really need social impressions anymore. That’s kind of a vanity metric for us. So let’s cut everything that has social metrics.’”
So what goes into developing a fan engagement post or platform for a sponsor? There are several ‘classics’ that one can find across teams and sports at all levels. Lawson and his team at SQWAD have spent years and built a business on, creating platforms that deliver results. That fans enjoy, want to engage with, and end up converting on. It doesn’t have to be rocket science; indeed some of SQWAD’s most popular activations include prediction contests and scratch-off sweepstakes. It’s all by design. Because successful concepts share a couple of key characteristics, Lawson explained.
“The first part of it is the activation should be fun and familiar,” he described. “Like, when we’re thinking of a new activation, the first thing is, is this fun? Would I actually have fun doing this? And that goes back to entering an email for a chance to win a jersey — is that fun? No. It’s only fun for one person because only one person wins a jersey. So the fun factor is very low on that.
“And then familiar. I always go to this [idea] of somebody says, ‘Hey, there’s a new card game that I want to play with you.’ If they say it’s like ‘this,’ then I’m much more obliged to play than if they just say it’s a brand new one [and] have to teach you all the rules. So familiar is the second piece of it. Is it fun? Is it familiar?”
Including all of the business objectives, all sides prize one common goal — a positive fan experience. Engagement is a good sign of that, it’s a store of value. But don’t forget about the partner in the equation, find a way to ensure they’re getting some of that value, too. Include that in the recap.
Even the best ‘KPI’ in social media can’t cover everything. Sorry, nope, it’s not so simple.
That’s a feature, not a bug, for social media and sports. It’s powerful because its definition of success can be versatile and multi-faceted. And that’s why it’s integral to build a mutual understanding of ‘what are we trying to do here?’ in the macro and micro sense.
Jared Kleinstein has these conversations a lot, pretty much every time his agency Fresh Tape Media embarks on a project with a client, most of whom are in sports and entertainment. Because the most holistic measures of success and best-constructed initiatives go beyond the traditional metrics.
“[We] set expectations early on about, ‘Do you care about the views? Do you care about the stats? Because in that case, shoot, we can just repurpose your highlights over and over again,” said Kleinstein who is Founder and CEO of Fresh Tape Media. “Do you care about community engagement? Do you care about creative reputation? All those things.”
“So I think that you have to get into the intangibles and you have to think about is the brand or somebody you’re working for — are they making money off it? Does it help their bottom line because it’s a part of a brand campaign, in which case they can start selling more and more things like this?”
The traditional metrics — the “public-facing metrics,” as Kleinstein refers to the stuff like # of comments, likes, et al. — still matter. Kleinstein also noted that their public nature is a signal to everybody else (other users, fans, potential fans, potential partners, etc.). But if you ask ‘why’ a couple more times, it turns out that social media delivers much more.
“[Also consider] are there soft things, like, does this [content] help them win any relationships with a player? Did the player have such a good experience with this that they [will be] more willing in the future to collaborate on creative executions?,” explained Kleinstein, who worked for Twitter/Vine before starting Fresh Tape. “So we love making sure that, for every project we do, that the athlete experience was good, that internal people got what they needed in terms of did they make money off of it and all that stuff, and then did it help the brand overall in terms of engagement and exposure.”
That’s a lot of objectives that social media can touch. Pretty good, eh? But go a little deeper into the evaluation and we can get even smarter. It’s easy to look at the social media feeds and compare one team or brand with another, making snap judgments on content concepts, quality, execution, and the ‘public-facing metrics’ they elicit. One can even consider those ‘softer’ things that Kleinstein alluded to. Kleinstein and Fresh Tape have an advantageous view, too, because they’re basically hired guns. A team or league or network or brand or whoever hires and pays them to accomplish whatever those objectives may be. And, regardless of which numbers comprise the KPIs, there is a cost and benefit look to the ledger. Discreet (countable) metrics, as Kleinstein stated, can serve as a bit of a consistent scorecard to track how good the organization as driving them. He’s seeing more scrutiny in that direction in recent years.
“I think [what] it is more valuable nowadays now that there have been years of foundational data to calculate your year-over-year engagement for each platform, and for each tentpole event and stuff like that, to compare your year-over-year engagement and your return on your investment,” described Kleinstein, who is also Founder and President of social media credits and measurement platform Gondola. “I think people are getting more granular about ROI in terms of like, ‘Listen, we got a million more views. Last year we were at 46 million, this year we’re at 48 million, 2 million more, right? But we spent $50,000 more. So did we get the ROI on that?’
“So people are definitely being a bit more granular about the ROI.”
Kleinstein also brought up that some of the most valuable engagements happen beyond owned and operated channels, so every ounce of engagement can’t be tracked and dissected. Again, that’s the power of social media, the viral capability of content that stretches success in a number of directions. We may not talk or think enough about earned media.
“Earned media is probably more valuable than ever,” said Kleinstein. “So just not just looking at your own stuff, but looking at the distribution of your content outside of your own channels. Are meme accounts picking it up? Are major media outlets picking it up?
“And [to track] earned media, there are a bunch of tools out there. Gondola is only one of a few other tools that are doing a really great job helping people track and find the reach of their content beyond their owned and operated channels.”
Okay, so there’s been a lot of thought-provoking, advanced points about what makes for ‘good’, ‘successful’ social media and sports content in this article. It can be dizzying, really, because the goalposts often move and the industry also improves in the ability to measure, understand, and articulate these goals. At the same time, so-called ‘best practices’ and winning ideas are as ephemeral as TikTok trends.
But here’s the thing — as the platforms change, new features evolve, more metrics come about —the keys to quality, needle-moving content largely remain unchanged. Kleinstein has seen it. Kleinstein has lived it — from Vine (where he once worked) shuttering to Snapchat and TikTok coming and Instagram continuously adding features; amidst all the change, the most important elements are pretty much the same. Kleinstein recounted speaking recently at a Denver Startups Week event, where he showed how the substance of a deck he had from over six years ago remained the same today. The core principles of great content were the same then as they are today.
Said Kleinstein: “I’m gonna say a few sentences that have not shifted in forever: People’s attention spans are shorter than ever. Literally. Vine was a six-second platform, we were saying back then the same thing about TikTok and everything now. Creating evergreen content that shows player personalities and really gets to emotional attributes, that’s gonna be wins — hasn’t changed.
“Little things like when you’re framing for social media, don’t think of it like framing for a traditional interview. You only have so much square footage on the screen, so where a traditional interview may do a three-quarter shot or you can see somebody sitting back and you see from the top of their head down to their belly button — on social, you wanna be more faces. So getting more faces and showing more personality is great…
“I think the biggest learning about the state of the creative industry is that what makes great content isn’t changing…”
Take a close look at the fans in the stands at the next NFL game in the UK. Or the next exhibition match of Premier League teams in the US. Or when there’s an NBA game in Mexico. What you’ll notice is a virtual rainbow of team jerseys—fans representing a variety of teams from the league or even the sport at large.
They may not be watching their favorite team, but they look to their left and right and recognize they’re in a special club, and they finally have an opportunity to congregate with fellow club members. They may not cheer for the same team, but there’s a sense of unity, still, as fans of the league or sport in a country where such fans are in the minority for now. These are revelations that Harry McIntire has witnessed throughout his career, building up fan bases where they largely didn’t exist before. And yet something magical happens when fans recognize a familiar peer, even if they’re wearing a different club’s crest.
“There is this natural commonality and this bond of being a fan of the sport or the league in particular,” said McIntire, who is the Director of Digital and renowned agency SPORTFIVE. “I think the perfect representation of what this is in America is the Premier League Fan Fest…
“There is this interesting bond that forms as a soccer fan (in the US) because you’re a fan of the same sport that is a bit niche still, and you can have this kind of a natural commonality of having to search hard to find all the best information on your favorite team or see what all the transfer rumors are because…you’re not getting it on all these traditional outlets in the same way you’re getting after the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and so on…”
But cultivating a fanbase of a minority sport isn’t just about connecting existing fans, it’s about developing new ones to join the fold, too. The goal is not to have the sport or team or league remain underground, but to find ways to bring more fans in and foster an ever-growing fanbase to blossom. And just like there are these intersections of commonality among the existing ‘punk rock’ fans, there are points of intersection where future potential fans can find their way onto the path to fandom.
McIntire gave a poignant example of US Soccer star — who plays for Premier League team, Chelsea — Christian Pulisic, who also happens to be a New York Jets fan.
“So when [SPORTFIVE] helps the New York Jets internationalize to the UK market, as they were one of the winners of the [NFL’s international marketing rights for the UK], one of the first things we tried to do was work with Christian [Pulisic],” McIntire explained.
“It was a no-brainer…Now we can work with him to try and communicate the message of the NFL game of what the Jets are in that market and have this soft entry in to potential fans.”
Pulisic is not just a potential familiar face to drive fans to sample the NFL, he represents an opportunity for American sports fans to find a familiar face, a point of intersection with the English Premier League and the sport of footba — I mean, soccer, at large. International players are a meaningful entry point for sports fans in countries abroad to fall in love with the team, the sport or both.
Think about how many South Korean sports fans love Tottenham and the EPL because native son Son Heung-min is among their top players. Or why so many sports fans in China started watching the NBA when Yao Ming burst onto the scene, many of them becoming Houston Rockets fans (though the passion of Chinese fans for Kobe Bryant is incredible, too). For teams hoping to build an international fan base, activating around a native son can be a powerful arrow in the quiver. But it can’t be everything; it’s a foot in the door, but the goal is to develop fans that fall in love with the entire team.
“Fans are smart. They do research on their own because they’re just excited and interested in the club,” said McIntire, discussing SPORTFIVE’s work with German top-tier club Borussia Dortmund (aka BVB). “If we were marketing to the US market by just putting (American player) Gio Reyna in every single place possible, we’d be missing the boat because there are people who became fans of the club because of Gio or because of [former Borussia Dortmund player] Christian [Pulisic]. But at the same time, they’re now BVB fans…
“So yes, the player might be a vehicle at the beginning to try and get someone excited about a club, but it’s not the end goal. The end goal is how you turn into a fan of the club itself.”
Look, it is different for fans that live in the club’s home area. They are surrounded by a town full of fans of the same team, they can go to the historic grounds and see the team in person, and they can see the organization and its activity in the surrounding community. But just because it’s different that doesn’t mean fans around the world aren’t significant and can’t be just as passionate and dedicated. It’s just different.
But there’s something that’s common to pretty much any and all sports fans — they want to know the club sees them. That they matter and that the club will engage and serve them just as they do for those back home.
“[Making] a fan feel appreciated is always the goal. Because people wanna be heard…” McIntire said, discussing his work developing international fans through a localization strategy. “[These teams] are cultural representations of the local identity.”
There’s a magical point on the fandom path at which the team or league becomes part of one’s identity. It doesn’t happen overnight, nothing truly significant does, but each impression, feeling, touch, and tweet accumulates. There is no magic pill that makes a fan a fan, let alone a fan for life. It’s all of what was discussed in this article — and then some. The way McIntire put it, the strategy is like stacking a lot of pebbles, with the occasional boulder of a tentpole event or mass-gathering, to construct fandom.
“When I think about social, it’s like that daily grind, that pebble, if you will, that’s just building up and you just gotta keep doing it day after day after day,” said McIntire. “You know, you’re looking six months from now, you’re gonna be so impressed that you built a mountain of pebbles, but you shouldn’t forget you can have those tentpole moments where you can build a mountain purely by doing something amazing and massive…
“So just creating those tentpole moments that can collaborate with those pebble ones, so pebbles vs. boulders in a way, allows it all to synchronize together.”
There are reasons that sports fandom conjures up some of the most intense emotions humans can feel. There’s a sense of identity, unity, family, and appreciation. And there’s a powerful synergy when that all comes together, an everlasting flame of fandom alights, burning for generations to come.
The sports sponsorship and advertising space is evolving in multiple directions. In some ways, analytics and marketplaces and automation can make partnerships like mathematical transactions, no different than the NBA Trade Machine on ESPN.com. But then there are true partnerships — with each side banking on the other, entering into a mutually beneficial agreement with upside; the whole greater than the sum of their parts.
That sounds good on paper, but what does it look like in practice? While massive athletes and organizations can play the upper hand, the up-and-coming or niche athletes and organizations face a more level playing field. And it’s in those scenarios where the partner in partnerships is even more integral.
It is at this intersection where Andrew Stallings and Athelo Group are flourishing, with brands investing in athletes and vice-versa, both rising together. Stallings and his team work with some athletes on the rise, others that are at or near the top of their sport, even if their sport is not among those typically shown on SportsCenter every night or debated on First Take. For Stallings’s clients, it’s showing why they’re a great investment — why they’re valuable and how their value is only growing (so invest now!).
“(These athletes) need somebody to be constantly upselling, showing how I can bring more value, how this is growing, [how] that’s growing,” said Stallings, who is Founder and President of Athelo Group. “If my TikTok’s not working, my email newsletter is. If my email newsletter isn’t working, guess what? We’re starting a subscription box service in the next three months. They just want us to be constantly in that person’s ear to help build them.”
Stallings added that the athlete should show that same interest in learning about the goals, values, and opportunities of their brand partners, too. “They should learn, they should be able to understand the brand,” he said, “the company, the morals, the people that they’re working with and representing; because [then] social content, messaging, and really explaining to their own audience why they work with a brand is gonna come second to none. It’s not gonna be just hashtag ad.”
The opportunity is boundless for athletes as the creator economy builds out more avenues for activation, as Stallings alluded to above. The most appealing partners in the sports space, in any space, are offering not just ad space, but a platform; a platform built around them. The savvy athletes are dipping their toes, if not diving all the way, into a number of tributaries that can activate their brand and engage their fans — and present new avenues for partners to come along for the ride. Stallings talked about the partnership marketing piece to athlete sponsorships; while a select few superstars may have deals thrown at them like scripts to a movie star, for most of the sports world, there’s a marketing, buy-and-sell aspect.
“(Brands) want to converse with agencies and teams and athletes and influencers that have a diverse portfolio of assets for them to activate against,” explained Stallings, whose Athelo Group has formed and activated marketing partnerships with athletes and brands since 2018. “They don’t all need to be built out. You don’t need to have a million followers across every single platform you work with. You don’t need to have audiences with massive buying power.
“What you do need to show is that you’re working towards and you’re trying and you’re steadily building and finding the success to be able to provide case studies to these brands of what is working, what can work, and what can be better with their help…They’re looking at how can this individual or how can this agency bring forth more assets to complement existing campaigns, further brand’s activation ideas and stuff that we have — how can they complement and be a supplemental resource to us?”
There’s a different feel when both parties are on the same side of table. There’s a desire, and even instinct, to not plan to execute the minimum requirement combined with the least necessary effort. Instead, the sense of teamwork and genuine connection can entrust and empower each side to optimize how they put the partner’s campaign into action. There is a positive feedback loop at play — the more believable the athlete activation, the more their authenticity and appeal to fans increases, thereby adding to the athlete’s value as a partner. Pretty cool, huh? Stallings calls it the “good stuff” and goes into detail about the realistic, ideal scenario.
“(You) find the authenticity, find the pivot, and be prepared when things don’t perform the way that the brand is expecting them to, be prepared to offer up alternatives, be able to give more and more before you’re just sending over that invoice,” he said. “Because that’s the good stuff, right? Like, you might be educating them by saying ‘Hey, if this is just an Instagram campaign, I get that you want to carousel, but I’ve been seeing great value with Reels. Do you mind if, for you, on the house, I just experiment by mixing your product in on this Reels post and let’s see how it goes?’
“A lot of people won’t do that. But if you’re one of those more lesser-known creators with value and upside, take the risk. What’s it gonna do? It’s gonna be an extra hour of work for you and you know what? You might have gotten yourself three more campaigns because of it. So you have to always be willing to overdeliver a little bit.”
In order to deliver (and overdeliver) and optimize, it’s essential to understand what success means for each side. That goes back to understanding objectives and strategies, to be sure, but the KPIs presented can also expose a bit about the relationship. There are transactional, immediate and visible ‘ROI’ partnerships, and then there are those may include more long-term, penetrating partnerships that expect to last a long time. Both types, and those in between, can be seen all over, but Stallings knows the type he likes to look for for Athelo’s clients.
“For some people [ROI means] big numbers, that’s all they want. Other people they’re like, man, we want signups. We want link clicks. We want sales,” said Stallings, who worked at Octagon, among other stops, before founding Athelo. “I think the worst nightmare you can ever have when working with a brand or an agency or anybody is if they are 100% sales-driven and nothing else, [it’s] probably best for you to walk away because they are not seeing the bigger picture of the authenticity of a relationship and they probably haven’t done the homework on your audience.”
Athletes thrive when working as part of a team. They want to be versatile, multi-tool players. And they will study and adjust and do what it takes to win. That all sounds like a winning formula for their competitive endeavors and well beyond.
Just about everybody’s an amateur social media strategist. They’re thinking about which platform is worth being active on, what content they should post and why, gauging success by engagement, and trying to craft their own ‘brand’ — whatever it may be.
But then there are professionals, those that ply their trade in the digital, social, and content space. They represent businesses and organization, and everything they do is subject to scrutiny and analysis. They also have to keep up with the ever-changing nature of the platforms, as well as fickle user behaviors and consumption patterns.
The level of intellect and understanding inherent in content strategy really came out in my recent interview with Jonah Ballow, Head of Content Strategy & Production and founder of HEARTLENT Group, a strategy and content collective. Ballow is one of those pros, innovating with content for several major brands and organizations, including full-time stints with the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves, among other stops. I couldn’t focus on just one area in this piece stemming from the interview, so I’ll let the wise words of Ballow lead the way. (Lots of good stuff below 👇)
Words are important. How individuals, businesses, and teams speak, how they approach the most delightful and the most difficult topics conveys a brand, a personality, a point of view. And yet many, even still today, kinda just wing it. Ballow understood the importance of copy early in his career and expertly elucidated why it’s so important to take a strategic, thoughtful approach to what we say and why.
“What changed [at the Knicks] was we had a copywriter and we sat down and we said: how are we going to speak? Like, literally, are we going to say we, or they?…And we made the change to go to a we — like ‘we’ are the Knicks…And it helps so much; even though that copywriter wasn’t writing every tweet or post on Instagram or on Facebook — it helped us to clarify the role of that person. And I would advise that every department has a dedicated copywriter that is working day to day on that messaging.
“Again, it’s more of a guideline. We developed a whole book on here’s how we do the messaging during the game, here’s how we do it on off days, here’s how we talk about big events, right? Like September 11th is very important in New York City. So those things are so important because, again, this the level of responsibility that you’re putting on these people and for myself, I felt it all the time…the New York Knicks channels can reach millions of people with in one click and I’ve got to somehow craft the right tone and messaging for Charles Oakley getting tossed out of the arena or Kristaps Porzingis going down for the year with a knee injury. It’s a lot to ask for.
“You really need the people there to help craft that voice; it’s very important. And it’s so important — not just what you’re expressing to the public, but for those staff people, those people who are running the accounts that feel comfortable and have the guardrails of how they should talk so that you don’t see a moment — what we see many times before where people can get in trouble and they always [blame] ‘the stupid social media intern’, like that’s such a dumb phrase. Again, a lot of these people who are running those accounts are seasoned vets and have been in marketing, branding and are very experienced and very talented. You’re going to make a mistake and things are going to happen. And it’s unfortunate, with that job, it happens in front of everybody else where things can get taken out of context. So I think it’s really important that the teams work on having that structure or having that department that can really help craft what the voice is and how they’re going to express information to their fanbase.”
Appreciating the Why behind Content: Understand the Goals
There is so much content produced, it can start to feel like teams and brands are content factories. But the point of producing content is not to just fill the feeds, not to elicit engagement for engagement’s sake. If you don’t know the why of it all, then what are we even doing? Ballow talked about the process of working with clients at HEARTLENT Group to understand their objectives, because that’s where content strategy starts.
“So it’s always kind of a fact-finding mission of what is the content that you’re trying to create and why? I think we start there [and then] try to backtrack a little bit, and then that develops the strategy for the content; (it’s) not just to do things because it’s cool, but to do things that are going to (accomplish your goals).
“I just treat every client very differently based on what their needs are, but it really works best when they’re very transparent about budgets, about what their end goals are for the project and how we can accomplish that together. I think you get the best out of it, because essentially what you’re looking at is internally that that client can’t achieve what they’re looking for you to do. So if you can find ways to make them look good on whatever it is, or really fine-tune their objectives, you’ll land in the spot where what you’re creating will work for that organization.
“But I think that the first step is ‘What is the reason for this? What do you want to do with this content?’ And sometimes they’re just like, ‘Hey, we need to do cool stuff to make my boss happy.’ I mean, it can sometimes be that simple, but most of the time I think that there’s been a genuine need for the content.”
Understanding and Appreciating the Value of Good Content
In a world where people check their phones hundreds of times per day and consume ridiculous amounts of content every day, the notion that every single piece of content — that every post — should drive direct ‘ROI’ is rather shortsighted, if not foolhardy and naive. It’s a long, emotion-driven game that we play in most cases. Ballow discussed the idea of fan/customer development through content, because when it does come to time make a purchasing decision or go toward the bottom of a funnel and see an ad, that relationship — built up over time — delivers ROI in droves.
“Let’s be honest, how many millions of dollars do brands spend on 30-second TV ads that sometimes I watch and I’m like, I don’t even know what the fuck this is for. Like some of these Geico ads, I’m like I don’t even know what this is. It has nothing to do with what they’re trying to do, but they’re trying to get your eyeballs, right? So they’ll spend millions of dollars on that. I mean, millions. And yet for some reason the social and digital doesn’t get the same allocated dollars or the bandwidth to succeed in a way that doesn’t have an immediate ROI.
“Now there are certain ways to achieve that. And certain brands need to have a way to sell. I mean, ultimately that’s the bottom line, but…everything goes into that pot, and there are certain levels that will be content that you need to consistently do that will not have a direct [line to ROI]…
“I think there’s some really great D2C brands that do it [well]. They have good content, they serve it up well from a strategic standpoint and it’s delivered to you in a way that makes you want to be a fan of the brand and then purchase. So it has to go hand in hand.
“I would love to tell you I got the answer to it. I don’t. I think it’s always going to be a difficult discussion with a brand; if they’re not willing to see the value in it, it’s unlikely to have success in my opinion…
“The team thing is the same deal. You gotta build that loyalty, that fan base and have those people fall in love with the brand; and when they get good, it’s great…
“[For example] the Warriors were terrible for a decade, right? And now that they got Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, [and] had Kevin Durant. They’re a team that has cache and will have followers. The content always does well. Let me see what you can do when the team isn’t good.”
Content Strategy is not about Conformity
Content tropes and trends move at a mile a minute. Memes, pop culture stories, and even creative platform hacks blow up in an instant and spread like wildfire. But big, meaningful wins don’t happen by riding the waves of the masses — nobody cuts through the noise by staying inside the box. Ballow and his partners at HEARTLENT Group really do such a good job of leading true innovation in content strategy, so listen up:
“We live, I think in, in almost like a golden age for the creators; these kids who are 20 or younger, or even mid twenties who have taught themselves that on all the Adobe products or the ability to bring this content to life a little bit different version of what I was doing earlier on when I was teaching myself HTML. And there’s so many creative ways to be deliberate. So it’s thinking outside the box, always challenging the norm, not just looking at something saying let’s replicate what Nike did or what a brand did or what another team —the Brooklyn Nets did this, let’s do that, and I think you’ll find yourself in a good spot of [finding] innovative ways to bring the content [to life] and match that with unique storytelling. I think that’s a pretty basic great recipe for winning on social.”
Social media is constantly evolving. There is little debate to that statement, and it’s almost a running joke among professionals in the space to note the new platforms, features, trends and tactics that pop up seemingly every week.
But while the pace of change in social media is dizzying, there are foundational principles that have been around since the first poke, tweet, and top eight first came to be.
It has now been over a decade since my own social media and sports career began. And while I’ve been in the space in varying capacities over the years, as I look back on my first season in #smsports almost 11 years ago to the day of this writing, those key principles that I learned through practice continue to ring true today.
The more things change, the more important it feels to heed those seemingly innate traits of social media and sports fans. So here are 11 for 11 — 11 themes that became clear to me in my nascent days of social media and sports and that continue to feel relevant today. (Agree? Disagree? Let me know!)
Fans want to feel heard
My peers and I recognized this over a decade ago, whether it was simply answering a fan’s question, quote-tweeting a fan (literally quote-tweeting, the old-school way!), DM’ing a fan to let them know you’re getting more info. This can take form in many entertaining ways, too — by asking fans their ideas for in-game contests (that was fun!), showcasing the ‘tweets of the game’ (I even used a Pinterest board for this, at times), and proactively listening across platforms for needs and opportunities to surprise and delight (I still think about the smiles on the fans’ faces when we surprised him and his dad at a game for his dad’s birthday and they tweeted from their seats to mark the occasion and we then showed up to surprise them with autographed swag).
It has become cliche to remind ourselves that the word ‘social’ is part of social media and sports. While fans are accustomed to screaming into ether of their TV screens or from several stories up from the field or the court, the beauty of social media is that it doesn’t have to be one-way communication. The most effective social media ‘tactic’ is simply to show fans that someone is there, listening. It comes in the comments, the replies, the DMs, even the ‘likes’ of comments and tweets.
There’s a level of connection achieved when fans feel heard and there always will be.
Deep engagements matter
While vanity metrics and big numbers still yield perhaps too much power today, the case was even more pronounced early on. But something we recognized early is that depth of engagement matters. When fans put more time, effort, heart, and thought into engaging, it just means more. Even if the bloop single looks the same as a line drive off the right field wall in the box score in baseball, it doesn’t mean we have to look at a double-tap ‘like’ the same we do as a comment that tells the story of how a fan first fell in love with the team.
While it remains challenging to tell that story through metrics, there’s an innate, intuitive feel that content which elicits more deep engagements, that fosters more superfans, is more successful than that which simply accumulates shallow vanity metrics. Heck, many of us have (and continue to) game the system to rack up those metrics, to ensure the engagement rate and reports look high at the end of the month, quarter, or season. When it came time back then to evaluate the success of content or campaigns, there was a mix of art and science that continues today, because while the platform evolve, the deeper engagements are those that create more valuable, lasting fan connections.
Fans want to know the team personally and no detail is too minor
When we first started in social media and sports, far fewer players were active and visible on social media, and those that were were largely not as open as athletes today. But even with that caveat, the most minute details of the team and its players slayed on social media a decade ago and still do just as well today. Looking back, I can remember fans delighting at knowing the littlest of little things like the restaurant catering lunch for the team after practice (man, I was jealous when they got to chow down on PF Chang’s), what songs were playing on the speakers while the team did their dynamic stretches before the game (I got reprimanded the first time I posted that information, believe it or not), or the novelty t-shirt one of the players was sporting when heading home from practice.
Those are just a small sampling of the tiny details that fans couldn’t get enough of back then and still love. And every little thing is an opportunity for fans to relate to the players and team they love, which deepens those emotional ties and helps foster more superfans. Sweat the little things; we did then and you still can and should now.
The ordinary is extraordinary
The social media and sports life can get monotonous at times. It’s why the seasons often fly by, with one game day rolling into the next, broken up only by tentpole events, holidays and milestones. But you can’t forget (just like we couldn’t a decade ago) that so many fans would pay to be in your shoes, see what you see, and have your experience on just a ‘normal’ day at the office. It’s why I once wrote about how Seinfeld could teach #smsports pros that there is content gold in what feels like ‘nothing’ happening as they go about their day. That article sums up a lot of my thoughts for this section, but it goes beyond even what the players, dance team, and mascot are doing.
Remember that fans delight in being able to see what you (and your coworkers) see, and that’s as true today as it was when Twitter was text only. What does the control room look like during a game’s pregame ceremony? How do all those t-shirts get wrapped up and place just so on thousands of seats or hundreds of hats get signed? Is that the equipment manager sharpening some skates or the team massage therapist working out the kinks in a guy’s calf? Is that corner of your office full of extra promo items getting bursting at the seams with random knick-knacks? What feels ordinary, everyday life for those that work it and live it every day is indeed extraordinary for fans, so give them a slice. Those behind-the-scenes peeks stand the test of time.
Fans like winning stuff — use that to the fullest
Contests and sweepstakes are some of the oldest tricks in the sports marketing playbook, and that is as true today as ever. An early revelation in my career was that fans are excited to try and win just about anything. An ETW (enter-to-win) for a t-shirt would often elicit just as much participation as tickets to a game or even some coveted signed swag. That corner of the office full of extra promo items referenced above was a gold mine. That fervor to win something is still strong today, as is the opportunity it presents.
Along with understanding the engagement earned from contests and sweepstakes was valuable, there was also an evolution for us in being more strategic. The goal was almost never just the nebulous ‘engagement.’ It may have been pushing fans to a landing page to collect names and emails (and fans entering to win tickets are almost certainly good leads to try and sell tickets). Or collecting content or stories from fans as part of a contest that could provide stories or media to repurpose. Or perhaps we wanted to promote the new community relations social media account so we could drive fans to engage there for the sweepstakes, or to the team’s mobile app to drive more installs and users. Social media is more strategic than it was over a decade ago, but even back then we recognized the opportunity that contests and sweepstakes presented, and planned and strategized accordingly. Many sports business pros still have that cluttered corner of the office, by the way — that veritable gold mine.
Be original and unpredictable
Social media was a lot more vanilla in the early days. But while the spectrum changes over the years, the value of skewing away from the ‘normal’ remains considerable. It’s the ‘purple cow’ principle espoused by renowned marketing thought leader Seth Godin — an ingredient of success is earning attention, and standing out from the crowd [being the purple cow] is a key factor.
There was more diversity, one could argue, a decade ago in social media and sports. While the voices were largely more stodgy before the arrival of personality (it’s not an understatement to say that the Los Angeles Kings started this movement), over the years, many seemed to regress to the mean; and the mean was snark and sarcasm, often paired with the same old pop culture GIFs and memes peppering everyone’s feeds daily. What was true years ago and remains true today is that originality [buttressed by authenticity and consistency] is important and give fans something distinct to invest in emotionally, something to integrate into their identity. If all brands and voices start to look and sound the same, it’s hard to conjure up passionate feelings.
It’s why we quickly became very intentional about who we were and who we wanted to be on social media. The omniscient voice of the team’s PR didn’t cut it if the goal was to form genuine relationships with fans, nor did the same old graphics day after day. The leaders in social media and sports are savvier than back then when it comes to defining a true brand strategy; and while there may be more decks today, the early days were defined by an internal understanding and evolution over time of being unique, staying true to values, and earning attention by keeping fans on their toes.
Good ideas can and should adapted
While the previous section celebrates originality, this section serves as a reminder that, as my friend (and sports digital/social business thought leader) Sean Callanan likes to say “steal with pride.” It took me a little bit to understand this way back when and I find myself reinforcing the key point to others today, as well — you may follow all the other teams to get ideas and insights, but the vast majority of your fans are not following what other teams are doing on social.
The point is not to copy exactly what every team or outlet does that results in success, it’s more about iterating on winning concepts and cool ideas, and adapting them in a way that fits your brand, your fans, and your capabilities. [I remember ‘borrowing’ ESPN’s “Beat The Streak” with first goal predictions — tweeting out the names of fans with active streaks before each game, showing them we’re listening and giving them a dopamine hit of fame] It’s a service to your fans to bring in and adapt good, fun ideas for them on social media. We’ll still be reminding future #smsports pros to ‘steal with pride’ in another ten years, I reckon.
Recognize when you get gold and maximize it
Every once in a while, the team gets dealt figurative pocket aces. An incredible play, a significant announcement, a historic milestone, or a championship. These moments and opportunities go a long way in separating the good from the great. In my first social media and sports role, one of the early days included a monumental announcement that the team’s most legendary player would be coming back to play for ‘one more year.’ It was one of those things where you know as soon as you pushed ‘send,’ that the Internet would figuratively break, at least in our world. And we had a laundry list ready of content, contests, and promotions ready to go.
Those fleeting pocket aces usually result in a win — big numbers, engagement, and emotiveness — but the point is not to kick back and enjoy the ride, but to figure out the best ways to maximize that pot [poker analogies!]. The mandate to make the most of the ephemeral opportunities is as powerful today as it was a decade ago. In fact, there are more levers to pull and, most importantly, social media (for the most part) is valued as a key part of the organization’s strategy in extracting the most value from that gold, so you have more hands to play. You may not always see the moments coming, but know what to do with when they arrive.
Stats tell a lot but they don’t tell everything
Every year, every season, every day social media strategy an marketing becomes more data-driven. Numbers don’t lie, right? Social media ‘ROI’ was a question we were just starting to truly tackle a decade ago and the vanity metrics were the majority of what we had to go off of, let alone what the higher-ups cared about. We received league-wide reports on digital and social media success (no CrowdTangle in the earliest days!) and measured up. But we all kind of knew, back then, that numbers could be game-ified. In fact, many of the simplest tactics delivered to a crazy degree, at times, back then. The first insights really came, however, when we learned to look at the outliers. What performed beyond predictability?
In many ways, we’ve gotten so much savvier in looking beyond the surface metrics, asking more thoughtful and penetrating questions, and demanding answers that vanity metrics alone cannot answer. Heck, I can even remember requesting data from our marketing department and having my request declined — it was pretty hard back then. Now data flows freely to inform every department, so we’ve come a long way. But in other ways, there is still too much pressure put on the optics of the vanity metrics and engagement rate. Rankings and virality are still seen, certainly externally and to some degree internally, as a marker of social media success, despite the diversity of goals, brands, strategies, and audiences. Whether a decade ago or today, we all have true objectives that can’t be measured in likes, views, or comments. But many still can’t quit those old-school numbers.
Forming community goes beyond two-way
Online community long predates social media. Before MySpace and Facebook, there were AOL chat rooms, forums, and message boards. But the early days of social media weren’t as social as they should’ve been. Many brands were so excited to have this ‘free’ broadcast channel, and the organic reach in those days was exponentially better than what it is today. And yet, the coolest role I realized we could play back then was fostering community among our fans. When fans formed relationships and friendships, and interacted with each other, with the team forming the glue of those connections. There was nothing more gratifying than seeing fans hanging out at real-life events, bringing relationships to life that started out on the team’s social.
Such relationship fomenting is even stronger today. Communities form in the comments, replies beget remixes and collaborations, and one-way communication has leapt over two-way to an enlightened present day of pan-directional conversations. So while it once seemed novel or even (sigh) groundbreaking to proactively spend time DM’ing and replying and starting, but not always leading, conversation — today fan nation-building is the expectation, and we’re all better for it.
Big ideas are only as good as your ability to articulate and execute
One of the most fun parts of social media and sports is that there is seemingly no ceiling for creativity (time and budget notwithstanding). It’s the type of job that has you lying in bed at night and thinking up cool ideas and clever executions. But as I started as a bright-eyed social media and sports rookie, I learned along the way that, in more ways than one, alignment and collaboration are key. And to earn that, you have to know how to make shit happen, and how to take that idea in your head, document it, explain it and justify it, and actually, well, do it. [A lot of social, and strategy in general, is writing it down]
Social media has become ever more valued and intertwined with sports organizations, and there are increasing layers of project management, backed by well thought-out processes, and often software like Trello, Monday.com, Airtable, etc. We may have had more whiteboards and Excel sheets than management software back then when we cooked up one of my cross-platform, weeks-longs campaigns that spanned departments (and is still going today!), but we still covered every post, asset, need, and responsibility.
The culture of innovation is as strong today as it was a decade ago — and anyone that works with me knows that I still very much approach each day with the idea wheel turning — ideation has just become more professionalized today AND more scaled. There is a balance there, to be sure. Because while the increased ability to scale ideas and campaigns across an organization increases its potential value, it also means there are more cooks in the kitchen and often that scaling cannot, and should not, be done at the expense of timeliness. The mandate for modern sports organizations is agility, to be able to make (good) decisions and execute (effectively) as quickly as possible before the fleeting moment passes.
[Bonus] Don’t be afraid to ask what for you need to achieve success
Okay, so technically this is #12 (and I actually cut another out — about ‘follow the money’), but this last point is near and dear to my heart, and one that continues to resonate in the conversations in social media today.
The demands of social and digital media staff are so massive, it’s almost a meme to list all of the professional skills one needs to succeed in these roles today, from creative to community to analytics to project management and the list goes on. And leadership continues to want their organization to be “best-in-class” across the board, and social media is as visible and measurable as anything.
But it doesn’t happen without buy-in, literally and figuratively. You need staff, you need resources, you need access, you need trust, and you need recovery time. I’ve found myself on all ends of this spectrum throughout the last decade-plus, some points of pride and certainly many regrets. The emerging generation today feels empowered to ask for what they need to achieve success and that has been a great evolution over the years. It doesn’t mean we always get everything that we want or need, but we’re able to better frame what’s needed for maximum performance and how different allocations and provision of resources affects the best potential outcomes.
These jobs are not getting any easier and the best of the best people provide immeasurable value, a high ‘WAR,’ if you will, thereby diminishing any notion that thousands of individuals would take their job with their hours and their salary in a heartbeat AND perform at a similar level.
It’s impossible to imagine what social media and sports will look like in another year, let alone another decade. But we can rest assured that certain fan wants, needs, and behaviors may not look altogether different than today. Ideas that work today will work tomorrow, even if they look or sound a little different.
Take to heart those core principles at play in your strategy and tactics, you’ll learn a lot by developing philosophies that can fuel you for life. The pace of technology and features and storytelling possibilities is as quick as ever, but if you squint hard enough, even if it’s in the metaverse, you’ll see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
[Random fun I discovered from discarded remnants of a verrry old deck; I wish I had the whole thing and documented all the forward-thinking ideas my colleagues and I ideated and executed way back when!]
The worst parts of the pandemic appear to be over and sports are gradually returning to normalcy. Games are being played in front of packed venues and there is more than enough live sports programming to satisfy any fan’s appetite. But there have been and will be lasting effects of 2020 for the sports industry — new platforms, new fan behaviors, new opportunities and necessities. These themes permeated much of the conversation at the 2021 Hashtag Sports Virtual Conference this past June, one of many great industry events that Hashtag Sports holds.
I recommend you check out all the panels (they’re available on demand). You’ll digest some thought-provoking ideas and key learnings from the panels — here I present some of mine in the following 20 nuggets:
Don’t chase numbers, accomplish goals. In a conversation between STN Digital’s David Brickley and Shareablee’s Tania Yuki, a key point was to establish objectives and KPIs for social media strategy and campaigns and focus on those metrics as measures of success. Depending on the goals, there are successful scenarios in which the vanity metrics do not go up.
“Too much time is spent on finding the wins.” This quote came from Yuki, who noted there is a ton of insight to come from looking at the ‘losers’ among social media posts as there are the winners; perhaps even more.
On one of the panels, the moderator asked each speaker to name their favorite social media platform and why. For Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup, notably, it was Facebook. Why? It’s because it’s THE place for him and his partner brands to reach families. “Grandparents, aunts & uncles, (family) – you got everybody on there…” said Gallup.
We see influencers partner and collaborate on platforms like TikTok and teammates often pairing up for podcasts for videos. But Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekelter talked about his initiatives uniting athletes across sports for causes, collaborations, organizations, and events like Twitch streams and tournaments. If athletes across sports start working together more, the possibilities are endless…
In discussing the last year and recent priorities, both Jared Harding (Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche) and Nick Monroe (Milwaukee Bucks) named YouTube as an area of focus. They touted YouTube as a good way to reach new and broader audiences, so they’re programming for YouTube strategically.
Greg Mize, Senior Marketing & Innovation Director with the Atlanta Braves, discussed the three criteria he and his team use when evaluating new digital/social platforms. There is the business case (how can this benefit the business?), the audience there (who can we reach?), and the resources required for success on the platform.
In articulating his thoughts about TikTok, Mize characterized the content there with a thoughtful quote: “It’s the micro-highlight…It’s the highlight within the highlight.” A sharp summation about content like the bat flip and high-five resonating more than the actual home run (my line, not his).
Portland Trail Blazers Director of Content Aaron Grossman talked about gleaning insights early on new platforms by getting feedback from the audience. “They say don’t read the comments, but with a new channel it’s important to [do so], to learn (what the audience likes).” The audience will often point to where you’re going right and where you’re going wrong.
Grossman also cited the growth rate of the brand/account’s audience on a new platform as a key KPI to know if the team’s content is resonating and to evaluate the viability of the platform for the team overall.
In discussing how teams can look at the ROI of social media, the Braves’s Mize talked about the long tail of fandom. “We believe firmly that creating engagement on social media will eventually have a long-tail impact on monetization…(We need to) build fandom through engagement.”
Joe Carr, the CEO of Thrill One Sports and Entertainment (Nitro Circus, among other brands) talked about the company’s success with UGC, particularly during the pandemic. But Carr cautioned that it’s important to not saturate the brand’s feed with UGC and to be mindful of the type of UGC they’re sharing. Thrill One is cognizant to maintain brand integrity amidst the UGC strategy, he said.
The Sacramento Kings have had a tough time on the court, but they operate at an all-pro level on social media. A key for them, according to Kings Social Media Manager Sydney Zuelke is to have fun on social media. That’s why the team has embraced a light, playful tone that is mimicked in their engaging content. If you have fun then fans will, too — win or lose.
How pervasive is gaming (not to be confused, necessarily, with esports) among Gen Z? According to Hollister Director of Brand Marketing Jacee Scoular, 90% of their Gen Z consumers consider themselves a gamer (!). A stat that explains why the brand has entered the gaming space for various campaigns.
Twitch Regional Vice President Nathan Lindberg was on a panel alongside Scoular and made an interesting comparison that esports fans are a bit like NASCAR fans. By that he means they genuinely appreciate the partners supporting their favorite drivers (or gamers) and sport — and therefore are undyingly loyal to those sponsor brands.
Speaking of appreciating sponsors and being loyal (even evangelical) to those partners, Scotiabank’s Lisa Ferkul said this level of proselytizing fidelity has been very much the effect her brand has seen from their sponsorship of women’s sport. To underscore the opportunity (and dearth) for sponsorship of women’s sports, Ferkul cited an eye-popping stat — just 0.4% of sports sponsorship revenue. It’s just about all with men’s sports. Wow.
Instagram’s Head of Sports Dev Sethi is always thoughtful on these conference panels and here he spoke about Instagram’s objective (for sports organizations to heed) of helping fans express themselves [and driving/helping them to do so by posting content to IG]. “How do you encourage fans to express themselves?” Sethi succinctly stated.
Sethi also recommended organizations think ‘holistically’ about their Instagram strategy. To utilize all of the platform’s offerings in a cohesive manner — Feed, Stories, Reels, Shopping, IGTV, and Live.
Kaitee Daley runs social media for ESPN, so she knows all too well the frequent ideas and opinions expressed by everyday social media users (including coworkers) that aren’t social media professionals. It’s an experience to which many can relate, but Daley encouraged social pros to not let ‘backseat social media drivers’ get them down. Said Daley: “Driving your car every day doesn’t make you an expert in cars just like using social media every day doesn’t make you an expert in social. So trust your experts…”
Jack Settleman, the brains behind leading Snapchat [and general social media] sports media brand Snapback Sports gave a thoughtful panel and talked about how he actually planned to go viral (and did) at the Super Bowl. How? He knew every year there’s a big hullabaloo about the color of Gatorade that would be dumped on the winning coach (also always a popular sports betting prop). So he made sure he had a good shot of the moment and got the video out there while the main broadcast wasn’t as focused on the Gatorade pouring moment. You can’t manufacture virality, but you sure can anticipate opportunities that present viral moments.
Settleman also confirmed what many had suspected — hot takes and polarizing stances drive engagement with sports fans. There’s a reason the Skip Baylesses of the world drive engagement and reaction with their polarizing takes on TV and social media. Settleman said taking such stances and then letting the fans argue away has been a key ingredient in their engagement strategy.
There are far more nuggets of insight from the Hashtag Sports Virtual Conference that I could not get close to covering in the short list above. I recommend you check out the on-demand videos for further enlightenment.
If there’s one thing sports business professionals can count on, it’s that the engagement and activation strategies that prevail today won’t be the same next year, perhaps even next week. While we must follow the money and the metrics oftentimes, it’s important to never stop asking questions. To tackle challenges, to question the meaningfulness of the best and the worst ‘results’, to never get complacent, and to follow our instinct as fans at heart.
Social media has to wear a lot of hats. For a sports team, they have to learn a lot of positions, if you will. Social media is marketing and fan development. It’s communications, community, customer service, entertainment, partnership marketing, and it’s the most visible and powerful manifestation of the brand.
Many may sum up social media with metrics like engagements, views, reach, taps, clicks, and swipe-ups. But while those numbers can signal the success of tactics, strategic objectives sound more like those important to the business — customer development and acquisition (attracting fans, growing the database), customer retention and user experience, brand awareness and sentiment, and, ultimately, making money.
“I think the most successful social media teams are thinking about revenue every single day,” said Marissa Mast, Vice President of Social Media and Brand Strategy for the Arizona Coyotes NHL club. “I came in with a journalism background, storytelling was my passion. Over the years I’ve spent a lot more time learning about how do we bring in revenue on social media? How can we continue to grow there? And think about different ways to really meet the team goals.”
The pathways to reach those goals can be complex, but goals themselves can be clear. They want to create more fans from all walks of life, drive attendance, enhance love for the brand, and produce value for sponsors. With this (admittedly oversimplified) list of objectives in mind, it was enlightening to hear from Mast, now in her sixth season with the hockey team, walk through many of the ways her team attacks their goals. Mast told me about the team’s recent investment in influencer marketing, which includes working with local and national celebrities or influencers and typically having them attend a game. The goal of the influencer marketing tactic is not tied to those social media metrics like double-taps and video views; it’s about activating fandom. About showing different audiences what it’s like to be a Coyotes hockey fan.
“A big push for us in recent years has been influencer marketing. And having people showcase what it is like at a Coyotes game because we all know hockey on TV and hockey live are just two very different experiences,” said Mast, who worked for E! Online and NBC’s Olympics coverage before coming to the Coyotes. “So for us it’s all about if somebody is not physically in our arena, how do we bring them?
“I think a big part of our strategy has been more the micro-influencer, who lives in Arizona, talks to people who live in the Phoenix area all day long. And having them showcase what a game day is like and why people should want to come to a game or should want to buy the cute beanie — all those elements that can go into it. Not just showcasing the game, but we love when they show the food options, the drink options, what they did before the game, what they decided to wear.”
There are thousands of different experiences and perspectives at every pro sports game. When teams can showcase and amplify those diverse points of view, the different people and ways to relate to the excitement and value of going to a game — that’s inviting, reaching, and bringing in new fans.
Fan development and growth. Marketing the game experience. Check and check. Mast and the Coyotes know they’re more than a hockey team and more than an entertainment option. The team can bring together Arizona like no other businesses can. So it’s vital for Mast and her team to appreciate that they’re stewards for a brand that can and does mean a lot to a lot of people. The Coyotes need to be a brand people can be proud of, want to support, and one to which they feel a familial connection. That’s a heck of a responsibility and an essential objective.
“We really want to be a brand with a purpose,” said Mast. “We want to showcase how much we are giving back to the community and really how important sports are to the fabric of the community. (It’s) so much more than just ticket sales and a game day. It really is, I think, a huge part of the culture of a city.”
In order to achieve all of these goals and help fans fall in love with the club, the players, and the brand, teams have to earn attention. Because of this mandate, social media staff for sports organizations often have to think like companies that make their living off earning attention. It’s why the kind of content sports teams produce often bears resemblance to Netflix, Hollywood, and TV networks. Stories are currency and are inherent to the unpredictable nature of the season. But when teams have programming and content that fans will want to consume regardless of the team’s record, the success of their strategy is not as contingent on the elements ‘wingagement’ (credit to Mast for that term!). And, just like media companies, there arises opportunities to monetize quality content. Entertain fans, help fans fall in love with the players and team, and drive revenue through partnerships. That’s a tic-tac-toe beauty of a goal right there.
“We’ve always taken the approach that we don’t need to rely on wins to have ‘good’ social media. I think at the end of the day that we’ve had that (mindset) for so many years,” says Mast. “(Because) we’ve been able to think creatively and think like a media company or an entertainment company, we’ve been able to do things like ‘The Bachelor Report’ or ‘Home Trippin’…That’s allowed us to entertain fans and…give people a reason to follow us besides just in-game action.
“From there, we were then able to pitch it to White Claw and White Claw loved that it skewed female. It was this perfect success story of creating great content and then bringing in a sponsor and then bringing in revenue.”
It’s true that social media was once left to entry-level employees or interns (I was one of them way back when). But those days are long gone. Social media is the most powerful lever brands, sports or otherwise, have their disposal. Hearts and minds are captured on social media, brands are manifested and felt, and the ingredients of business strategy come together on social media. Social media has grown into an adult, and the organizations that fully embrace and activate its capabilities will come out on top.