20 Quick Sports Business and Social Media Nuggets, Insights, and Takeaways from the 2021 Hashtag Sports Conference

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: 

  1. 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.  
  1. “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. 
  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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).
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. 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…”
  1. 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.
  1. 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.  

How the Arizona Coyotes Connect Social Media Strategy to Business Objectives

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.

LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH MARISSA MAST

Episode 166 Snippets: Brad Friedman is Spreading the Stories and Joy of MiLB’s 160 Teams through Social Media

On episode 166 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brad Friedman, Social Media Manager for the Minor League Baseball.

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

Episode 164 Snippets: AEG’s Matt Lawler Breaks Down the Ins and Outs of Digital and Social Sponsorship

On episode 164 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Matt Lawler, Director of Digital Media, AEG Global Partnerships.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeep

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

Frank’s RedHot

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

 

Bud Light

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

Doritos

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

Avocados of Mexico

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

Hyundai

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

Kia

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

Olay

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

Pop-Tarts

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

Mountain Dew

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

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

Episode 161 Snippets: Ryan Delgado on how Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Executes on Social and Leans into their Brand

On episode 161 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Ryan Delgado, Manager of Digital Marketing and Creative Services for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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

Episode 154 Snippets: Chris Gehring Brings the Personality and Personalities of the Washington Wizards to Life on Social Media

On episode 154 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Gehring, Senior Manager – Digital Media for the Washington Wizards. What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Advertising Week NYC 2019 Recap

In September 2019, Advertising Week held its New York conference, bringing together several thoughts leaders and practitioners from the world of advertising.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, and observations shared from the event via Twitter #AWNewYork. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap and for Advertising Week for putting together a great event!

 

Episode 152 Snippets: Kassie Epstein Seeks to Reach and Engage Every Fan That Attends Gillette Stadium

On episode 152 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kassie Epstein, Social Media Manager & Event Coordinator for Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots.

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