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Once you work in sports business, you’ll never experience sports and sports marketing the same way again. Once you work in social media, you’ll never be able to relate to the average social media user again.
These may be well-worn adages, but they nevertheless true. It’s why we must be always be inquisitive – you can read all the studies, observe all the data, but nothing beats a conversation with a human – to get the true take on their perception, their habits, their values, their reasons, and their experience. And it’s why for the 150th episode of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I spoke with a ‘normal’ sports fan – my brother, Steven Horowitz.
I uncovered some interesting insights on fan development, on driving game attendance, content consumption, engagement channels and habits, and more. Here are 7 1/2 findings from my chat with Steven, trying to go inside – as much as possible – the mind of the modern millennial sports fan.
Push Notifications are incredibly important
Many of us live on Twitter in sports. We may even have notifications turned on for noted bomb droppers like Woj, Schefty, Shams, Rosenthal, and Bobby Mac (bonus points if you get all these nicknames). But guess what? Most fans aren’t first seeing that news on the platform with the blue bird – they’re more likely getting an alert from their preferred sports app or hearing about it secondhand from a friend via text or private message. Steven explained, using a recent example related to breaking news about his favorite team – the San Diego Padres:
“For me, how I’m finding (big news) on a normal basis…it’s typically a push notification from one of my apps…[Steven gives the example of a recent Fernando Tatis Jr. injury] I happened to be on Twitter when Kevin Acee from the (Union Tribune) broke the story…shortly after seeing that on Twitter…I started getting notifications from the apps on my phone. When I did find that out about the injury, I was texting someone I work with that’s a big fan of him just to let him know…For the most part, it’s finding out from notifications or another friend or colleague texting me if they hear it before I do.”
We think of apps and push alerts as afterthoughts, oftentimes, but the fact is they work. Fans may not open every alert or expand every alert, but rare is the alert that goes unseen from one’s sports app. And with app downloads for teams only slated to grow as mobile ticketing nears 100% and fans access tickets via their team’s app, push notifications can’t and shouldn’t be simply an afterthought. There can be just as much data analysis and targeting as there is with digital marketing and social media content. Are your push alerts analyzed and executed thoughtfully?
Fans don’t default to pirated streams anymore
A generation of us grew up with Justin.tv (which later morphed into Twitcb – heard of it?) – as an endless source of free live TV. Other sites popped up offering similar free streams and many are linked off from Reddit. They may be grainy, they may get pulled down frequently, but they’re free and they’re difficult to police. But with more options than ever to pay only for the content you want, needing nothing more than a connected device of any type, not as many fans it seems rely on the pirated web to satisfy their sports needs. Steven explained his evolution (and, yes, an income has something to do with his evolution, too) –
“I used to (watch pirated streams) a lot. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done that. There was a time when it was a lot easier and then they started cracking down on it more…Now, I get the Red Zone (subscription) every year. Sometimes, if there’s a big boxing match, I’ll try to stream that on whatever sites are available, but other than that I’ve gotten away from (watching pirated streams).”
Steven noted he’s heard of many new players and platforms in the sports streaming space – DAZN, ESPN+, YouTube TV, et al. (but not so much fubo TV, Pluto, and Flo Sports). The pirates may not be winning as much as they used to, but the live sports space is becoming ever more fragmented and we can’t take for granted fans are aware of all the emerging platforms out there, which sports are on them, and how best to bundle their subscriptions to meet their needs while also not paying more than they have to. We can’t take for granted the average fans keep up with this space, it’s hard enough doing so when you’re actually trying to keep up!
Season Tickets are emotion-driven > value-driven
Yes, fans today seem to be more attuned to what, exactly, they’re paying for. And the term ‘membership’ has largely displaced season ticket holder in many cases (even if some, not all, seem more lip service). But being a member is not all about a laundry list of benefits, 10% off at the team store, access to a preseason VIP or seat selection event – those can all be great perks – and it’s not a mathematical equation looking at average cost per game or potential resale value investment – even though many do sell their tickets, let alone ‘members’ that are actually brokers – it’s still a purchase largely driven by emotion and connection to a community and an experience. Steven was once a San Diego Chargers season ticket holder (yes, San Diego, this was years ago) and he tried to articulate his reason for being a season ticket holder:
“I’d say the real reason why I wanted to go and get season tickets was my love for the team. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than tailgating at Chargers games, spending the day at the stadium, and seeing them win…It was a good time and I always look back fondly on those times…”
Getting season tickets wasn’t a calculated decision for him. It was because he could picture no better way to spend a Sunday than heading to Qualcomm Stadium, pigging out at a tailgate, donning his jersey – those powder blues are pretty cool – and cheering on his team among all his fellow fans, friends, and members of a community connected by that shared passion. Maybe this is an anachronistic, nostalgic view of things, but if being a season ticket holder was about love for a team a decade ago, becoming a ‘member’ is sure as heck about an investment of the heart, an emotional tie.
Football watching when you don’t have a favorite team
As a follow-up to the previous point, Steven abandoned the Chargers when they abandoned San Diego. He then became like many fans today – cheering on their fantasy players and their chance at winning money / beating friends instead of cheering on a specific team. Worrying more about who scored than the final score, more about the name on the back than the name on the front. With players shuffling around the superstar-driven NBA, fans growing up in a culture of fantasy and rarely attending games (pr being priced out of games), it’s the new norm. And while local broadcasts still do big numbers, there’s a reason fantasy and daily/weekly fantasy keeps growing each season and more fans are filling their Sundays with Red Zone or a panoply of highlights and updates across a suite of apps. Steven described his fandom nowadays:
“To me, the NFL has become different. I still enjoy watching it, but the way I experience NFL now really revolves around fantasy football. I watch it to see how my fantasy players are doing, see how my team is doing, and that’s really how I go about watching football now (Steven notes he won his fantasy league last year)…I’m able to be unbiased now about who I choose for my teams, who I start in my weekly matchups because I don’t have to worry about (if they’re playing against the Chargers)…It’s definitely changed how I watched football.”
Fans of teams, fans of players, fans of gamble-able outcomes in sports — no matter how they’re watching, plenty of reasons remain for fans to be as attuned as ever to live content and content about who will win and why and to learn more about the players on their rosters and driving these exciting moments each night.
Daily fantasy (and gambling) can create new fans
Speaking of fantasy and gaming, many in the sports world see a future of new fans and more avid fans brought on by the growth of gambling and continued growth of fantasy options. Will these new opportunities bring about new fans? Steven has lived one fan’s story, finding himself a more avid fan of the NBA than ever – thanks to daily fantasy:
“I never hated the NBA, but I was not a huge fan of it. I followed it casually, but more so in the playoffs. But how this happened is – on the daily fantasy website that I play on typically, they gave me a free play (to win money) for a NBA (game) and I think I ended up pretty high in the standings and won some money…and that got me hooked, and I started playing NBA dailies almost every day and that quickly evolved into enjoying not just following the sport, but I also found myself watching the NBA regular season on TV and I hadn’t done that in years.
“I would check Rotoworld a lot because I was having to teach myself about some of these players, too…I would check their stats, I would also see who they’re up going up against…It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to continuing to playing it.”
It’ll be an interesting next few years to see how teams, leagues, and rights holders can harness these fans entering via gambling and fantasy channels and bring them into their ecosystems. The gateway is there, but it remains to be seen how this new wave of potential fans plays out.
Sponsored content is fine, but don’t be disruptive
There are a lot of ways sponsored content is presented these days – a logo bug in the video, tagged on the social platform, the incredibly original “‘sponsor name’ x ‘team name'” or ‘presented by’ in the copy, an end card, pre-roll, and many more options. The good news? Fans don’t seem to mind if a sponsor is involved or even integrated as long as the content is quality. But don’t be disruptive. Don’t interrupt content viewing or steal attention to simply insert a ‘normal’ commercial or ad. Steven shared his thoughts:
“I would say overall I more tune it out and I’m not really paying attention to who those sponsors are. Even sometimes, if I pull up a video and there’s an ad before it, I’ll turn off the sound for it before the content even starts…
“I would say sometimes when they do videos and they do an ad in the middle of the video, I will turn off the video – whether it’s because I don’t care what’s coming up or it just didn’t have me interested enough to continue to wait 20-30 seconds…I will sometimes just turn it off…”
Fans want the content. And, unlike the days of previous decades, fans and users don’t necessarily see sitting through ads as payment in their side of the value exchange for the content they actually want. There are too many ‘free’ options out there and too many content creators doing a better job of integrating sponsors whether passively or actively. Don’t abuse the attention and don’t disrupt the experience – add to it or, at least, don’t detract from it.
Consistent promotions FTW (and be mindful of price sensitive fans)
There is no secret sauce or magic pill that made live gate for sports rise to the level of 20 years ago. Attendance isn’t falling everywhere, but the trend is clearly a downward one from the highs of previous decades when no one gave thought to building stadiums with smaller capacities. But nowadays, even as many teams and schools are awash in media rights money, getting butts in seats is more challenging than ever. So what could we learn from asking a fan about his experience being driven to go to games? Let Steven share his take:
“Over the last year, I pretty much have been only going to Padres games and occasionally a Gulls (AHL hockey) game. How I hear about them? I obviously follow the Padres pretty closely, whether it’s through an app or the team’s website or social media pages..I just know there are games going on. In regards to the Gulls…I don’t go to a bunch of their games, but really what does drive me there is when they do do promotions – they do $2 beer nights sometimes on Friday nights, I’ll go to those games…”
[Steven notes he finds about Gulls promotions typically through their organic social media and will sometimes check their website to see when their next $2 beer night is]
Marketing and sales staffs at teams are getting more and more sophisticated with targeted emails and ads, retargeting previous buyers, and doing their best to assure the right fans see the right promotions. But a takeaway from my chat with at least this fan, Steven, is that, while advertising and digital/social media remains a key tactic, you can’t rely on these platforms to always assure fans find out about your upcoming bobblehead giveaway or flash deal. Which deals are most effective and/or which promotions are the easiest for fans to recall? If you ask an average fan of your team – especially one not coming to every game – to name a promotion the team runs, what would they say? It may be fun to joke about LeBron usurping ‘Taco Tuesday’ for his own, but every Padre fan, including Steven, knows Tuesday games mean Taco Tuesday at Petco Park. Get the word out about unique or ad hoc sales and promotions, but try to create some that stick with fans, so they look forward to your next Half Price Beer Mondays without having to see multiple ads to remind them.
Why does he attend several Padres games? Nostalgia, atmosphere at the ballpark
What drives fans to go to a game, especially if it’s not a novelty or a one-off? Well, the previous point touched on promotions, but the compulsion to seemingly always have consideration top of mind, the internal notion that watching at home is never the same, the key to penetrating the heart and mind of a fan – that doesn’t come overnight. For Steven, our fan guide, much of his inherent desire to be at the game comes from a sense of nostalgia and a practice and bond that originated as a kid. It’s why so many leagues and teams are focused on getting kids to their games while they’re still in grammar schools and they’re just developing their earliest passions and memories that’ll conjure goosebumps of nostalgia when they look back in 20 years. This is how Steven tried to articulate why he finds himself more than once at Petco Park every season:
“Obviously my love for the team. You and I have been going to games since as long as we can remember. We used to go with our dad all the time to the games…I always look back fondly on those times; I love going to games and I still like watching on TV, but if I have the option of going to watch the Padres in person, I’m gonna be there…”
We’re drawn to things that remind us of good times – and nostalgia plays a big role in that. It’s why those in sports say we’re in the business of making memories. Every game is a chance to help a fan form a memory that’ll last forever and bring up of warm feelings every time an element of that memory is resurfaced. Every night is an opportunity to build a fan for life.
Marketing is much more than Mad Men these days. Sure, a good story still matters. But if it’s not backed up by sound digital strategy, strong social media content – paid and organic, analytics to measure and adjust, and documented processes to allow marketing last beyond campaigns and management turnover – then even the strongest stories can fall short of delivering success.
During my recent foray into digital and social consulting, I’ve encountered different business practices and challenges, both from clients I’ve worked with directly and others I’ve observed or actively encountered along the way, and over the years at my last job – working with several dozen clients of varying scale and sophistication. I’m no expert, let alone anything resembling a guru or ninja, but here I discuss a few lessons I’ve learned about the areas businesses of any size can heed as they seek to optimize and develop their own digital and social strategy.
- We’ve always done it this way
There is almost always going to be resistance to change. But if a system seems to rely a bit too much on plugging holes with manual workarounds, it may be time to question. Or if an office manager is the only one that really knows how something works (and the company may just be screwed if he/she was gone tomorrow), it may be time to question. If there are questions you wish you could answer and have a sneaking suspicion others can, it may be time to question. It’s hard enough to run a business every day, while evaluating how replicable, cohesive, and documented one’s systems are, but don’t let inertia preserve a status quo that isn’t as good as it could be and should be.
We have data, great! We can track key metrics like click-through rates, reach, engagement, conversions, conversion rate, and all that fun stuff. So, are these numbers good? Sure, you can try to look up industry benchmarks, see what comes up in a Google search of recent articles and blogs, but the most important benchmark is your own. And to benchmark your data requires not just measuring metrics today, but making sure you can quickly, easily ,and effectively compare it to last year, last quarter, and to this ad or that post in a similar context. We may focus on delivering reports period to period, but if you’re not benchmarking, it’s pretty much impossible to discern whether you’re performing well or not, whether you’re getting better or getting worse.
3. Thinking single touch
These ads delivered no conversions – what went wrong? For years, we blindly accepted the practice of spending money on billboards, radio and TV ads, magazine and newspaper ads, and, later, digital banners and then social ads. But, with the exception of straight coupon / discount offers, rarely could these marketing efforts be traced all the way to a monetary conversion. If it was a multi-touch world the last several decades, today’s consumption-heavy era can involve even more touch points before a consumer is ready to buy. And digital and social ads, in particular, see consumers at all points in the funnel, many of which can be led down the funnel to that last click or that conversion. It’s okay for a “conversion” to not involve a sale – it can be a video completion, a form or contest entry, or just engagement with a post. It’s not typically single touch and that’s not only ok, it’s often expected.
4. Having paid and organic social working in silos
Buying and optimizing social and digital ads is not easy. It involves knowing (and keeping up with) the small and not-so-small changes that seem to occur with the platforms, targeting options, and tactics every day, and making adjustments to copy, creative, audiences, keywords, and placements to deliver the best results. For this reason, many small-to-medium businesses and teams will enlist an outside agency to take of their digital marketing. Meanwhile, the organic social, digital, and email content is usually produced and handled internally. Having these teams in silos eliminates some of the sweet synergies of aligning and working together – sharing and creating content that can and should be used in ads, having a strategy to post dark or boost posts, using the data and learnings from both paid and organic to inform and improve the content strategy on each side, and so much more. It’s not easy and, in many cases, it’s far cheaper on the surface to pay an agency than to hiring a full-time employee, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to accept silos.
5. Naming conventions
This is not just a pet peeve, but a potential obstacle to organizing data to drive actionable insights. Clean data means naming conventions, and better naming conventions allows for far more effective analysis on the back end. There’s a reason Google has their UTM parameters in place – so digital marketers can track every link down to the campaign, creative, and copy. Likewise for social media ads, if campaigns, ad sets, and ads have arbitrary names, it won’t be too efficient when evaluating ad performance over time that ‘Ad 3’ performed best last quarter, while ‘Ad 6b’ performed best the same quarter last year. You can do the legwork to look it up, but a strong, organized nomenclature is pretty much a necessity these days of big data, and allows for consistency over time as people, roles, and platforms change.
6. Overthinking content
Say the word ‘content’ and some will run away screaming. Sure, the thought of producing content for so many platforms in so many forms, multiplied by days, weeks, and months can be freakin’ frightening. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a worthwhile business, you’re providing value to consumers or fans in some way. You have the ability to earn the attention of your customers and prospects by leaning into content that’ll make them smarter, make them laugh, make them feel something, or make them empathetic. Be a thought leader – curate and share knowledge; be a friend – share something that’ll make your customers smile because it resonates with who your customers are; tell me about people like me – share stories of your customers and lessons learned or ideas they try. And don’t be afraid to repurpose and repost! A video can beget a blog post can beget a quote or stat graphic can beget a poll can beget a blog post summarizing poll results can beget UGC and so on. And don’t whip out a camera or bring in a video producer to create a single video for a single content piece – instead of shooting for two minutes for one piece, shoot for 12 minutes and get a whole lot more, so you won’t have to touch a camera for weeks or months. Content does take work and does take strategic forethought, but it doesn’t have to be hard as we make it out to be.
7. Underthinking content
The other side of the spectrum when it comes to content should be avoided, too. Don’t post or send content just to post or send content. There should be a why and it’s always helpful to take a step back, put yourself in the shoes of the scroller, and think if it’s truly something would slow your scroll or something you want to consume or engage. Every piece of content, email, ad is an opportunity to strengthen your brand and credibility, or to weaken it. The attention of consumers is also not something to be taken for granted. Give content the thoughtfulness and quality your fans, your customers, and your future customers deserve
8. Put the *action* in actionable data
You have data to review, awesome! But don’t just look at it, and then go about business as usual. Learn from it – insights should often lead to action, if you’re not uncovering insights, you’re probably not asking the right questions of your data or looking at it in the right way. It’s not easy to take the time to think through and execute changes, but that’s the point of the data – to justify and assure the effort taken to deviate from the status quo. When reviewing performance metrics, make sure to answer the ‘So what?’ and follow that with ‘So then let’s try this.’ Don’t force strategic overhauls, but don’t sit back when the data is telling you to move.
9. The fallacy of relying on ‘best practices’
Ok, a bonus one to tie much of this together: the fallacy of overly relying on best practices.
A funny thing about ‘best practices’ – once they become best practices, everyone using best practices has regressed to the mean. Another thing about best practices – they’re at best a guide, far from a prescription. Spend less time studying best practices and more time testing, measuring, and benchmarking with your audience (or that of your competitors/peers), and studying and evaluating their engagement and consumption habits. There is a whole lot of variety among the businesses and brands utilizing digital and social media marketing, and thinking there is a uniform set of practices that are optimal for them all is not the foundation upon which to form a strategy.
It’s easy to get stuck in a tunnel of just keeping up every day and sometimes impossible to see, or take the time to look for, areas to improve and insights to uncover. Sometimes it takes a different set of eyes, or the courage to ask and attack the difficult questions. There will be wins and there will be the losses, but once you get in the game, you’ll have far more control of the outcome, able to veer toward victory in the end.
The best part of working in digital and social media is that we’re surrounded by examples every day. Examples of marketing, of sponsorship, of content, of ads, of engagement – every swipe and scroll is an opportunity to learn. I’m always trying to continue learning – it’s no secret these platforms are changing daily and new ones are popping up, too. The tactics, the metrics, the algorithms – you have to be a lifelong student. There’s also incredible talent and creativity all over, and it’s an excellent ‘free’ source from which to learn.
So, here are the latest Five Finds (examples of sponsored social media or marketing in sports and social/digital):
- Manchester City gave away a signed jersey via sweepstakes in its Instagram Story. The player whose jersey would be the prize was Vincent Kompany, whose thrilling goal was the game-winner. If you’re going to activate a sweepstakes, best to do so when more fans are paying attention and engaging, and IG Story views (in this case) will be above average. You may even throw money behind such a timely sweepstakes in the moment, to reach as many new fans as possible, too.Also, something that definitely stood out was the option to enter to win via Amazon. The Facebook and Google options are to be expected, but not often I encounter Amazon used for such a purpose – something to watch. I also imagine international clubs will other major platforms like QQ, WeChat, and WhatsApp, among others.
- Good stuff from the Boston Celtics, who have taken an asset they’re producing every game for social media – pregame entrances (aka in the NBA as the pregame fashion show) – and put a sponsor on them. Historic numbers and a proven commodity are attractive for partners looking for season-long awareness, and the JetBlue ‘runway’ tie-in (a la the fashion runway) works well here on Instagram (and IG Stories). Also always good to see digital and offline working together, as is the case here with on-site branding of the area players enter.
- Another example of a consistent, predictably performing digital asset – the starting lineup graphic for the San Francisco Giants, shown here on Twitter. While you can have some fun getting creative to showcase and activate a brand partner, when the one of the main KPI’s is awareness (as I’m guessing is the case here), this is perfect. If a dedicated fan sees that Biofreeze name/handle 75+ times during the season’s 162 games, chances are they’ll click to see what the heck it is eventually (I did! Their tagline is on the pic, too, so that gives some clues). Several teams brand their starting lineup like this.
- I wanted to jump to another platform for this example – a final score post on Facebook by the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. There’s plenty of room for novelty and creativity with partnership marketing on social, but there are also classics like the final score to activate. After a win, these posts will get some good engagement organically and it doesn’t hurt many fans are seeing ‘Pedialyte’ late at night maybe right before (or the day after) a night out. (Pedialyte has not so subtly embraced one of its uses as a hangover aid)
- Even though my timelines and digital diet is chock full of sports, I know how helpful it can be to learn from other brands and other peeps. This cool promotion was one I read about online and my interest piqued further when Ad Strategist Jack Appleby posted a video sampling (see below) – Chipotle took to TikTok. The app – known as Douyin in China and owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and formerly known as Musical.ly in the US – is rapidly growing and teams and brands are taking notice. One feature are the hashtag challenges, where users create content (in the form of short videos) in response to a challenge. So Chipotle created the ‘Lid Flip.’ (read more here) These challenges can be fun, quirky and awesome highlights set to music do well, fun stuff like players dancing and high-fiving, and also the well-produced, uber-creative stuff that we used to love on Vine seem to have a happy home on TikTok.
The #ChipotleLidFlip: Chipotle’s TikTok influencer program to try to start a trend.
Looks like it’s rolling out today – curious to see how kids respond to sponsored trends (& ones that pretty much require you to buy a meal to play). Smart to get Dobrik – his fans love him. pic.twitter.com/dB5qqEuHFV
— Jack Appleby (@JuiceboxCA) May 5, 2019
A year in the life of a sports team is truly 365 days now. And while the games are all marked on calendars, with the home games highlighted and underlined, a lot of the biggest planning across the team revolves around so-called ‘tentpole’ events. Many industries have their tentpole events and they represent opportunities to make a big splash.
In sports, tentpole events are now often accompanied by awesome social media content and an attempt to engage fans. The NFL recently had such an opportunity – with the release of their team’s week-by-week schedules. What used to be a simple press release, maybe a website update or email, is now an ambitious undertaking by many teams.
Every year, the content teams produce gets better and better. Many are thumb-stopping, jaw-dropping, and awe-inducing. But what are teams trying to accomplish with their schedule release content – is the goal to collect the most views, retweets, kudos from peers and media, and some of that sweet ‘virality?’ With tentpole events marked by content – content many fans are anticipating on social media – a night like NFL Schedule Release night represents a strategic opportunity that can be thoughtfully planned and executed – so that, sure, you can maximize your virality, but also accomplish some meaningful objectives.
After reviewing the schedule release posts of every NFL club (primarily on Twitter – as most were optimized for that platform vs. Instagram, et al.), one is struck by the diversity, the creativity, and how some (not all) of the best seem to have at least some strategic underbelly, some forethought into why we’re doing it like this. The themes I’ll explore in the examples include teams that fell into a few buckets:
1) They activated a partnership
2) Clubs kicked off their campaigns for the 2019 season
3) Teams that established or reinforced their brand and voice
4) Many sought to ‘Win the Internet,’ showing off their creative chops
Let’s go in reverse order because #4 has the fire you want…
Let’s Win The Internet…but do it in a thoughtful way
The content game in sports sometimes feels like an arms race, especially around these tentpole events, when fans and teams alike find themselves comparing their content to that of their opponents. Social teams want to ‘win’ on the Internet as much as players want to win on the field.
The Atlanta Falcons were one of a few teams that played off the Game Of Thrones theme. But they did so in a way that showed off their smart, creative chops, including shots at opponents and clever attention to detail. This is how Bleacher Report would’ve done it and the Falcons wanted to win the Internet, and do so in a way that showed fans the high standard to which the content team holds themselves.
Football is coming.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 17, 2019
Why GoT? It’s not just because the HBO show had been a staple for years on NFL Sundays, it’s something content teams know the Internet loves and fans love. Not to mention it’s timely. So, much like puppies and babies, GoT content was bound to win. Check out other GoT-themed posts from the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins
A few other teams put in great effort to produce video game presentations to show off their schedule. The Green Bay Packers made their schedule release into a Pac Man game, the Seattle Seahawks did a nice job integrating their ‘Go Hawks’ chant into their retro game look, the New York Jets want fans to be excited for big plays and did a take on NFL Blitz, and the Carolina Panthers did some incredible work showcasing their schedule through a series of throwback video games any kid of the ’90s and ’00s could appreciate. The Panthers, in particular, were in a good sweet spot of not just ‘winning the Internet,’ but doing so in a way that would particularly appeal to (and be shared by) the Millennials all sports teams want to engage.
Wanna play a game? pic.twitter.com/mF5CeYnGUE
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) April 18, 2019
I have a soft spot for those in this category that also seem to accomplish a club goal. The Dallas Cowboys would be included here, who did their take on ASMR while helping fans see more of a new star player they acquired last year – Amari Cooper [and the curiosity of what came next kept me watching). Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers created content close to the heart of Pittsburghers with a nod to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (I didn’t know he was a part of the Pittsburgh community, but I bet many Steelers fans did!) The Detroit Lions used a content motif that tends to perform well on the Internet – referencing The Office (one of two teams that did this), though not sure of any strategic thought behind this one.
Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers entered today with a plan to win the Internet and to do it in a unique way they could be pretttttty sure no team would be doing. First, they put out a thread showing their opponents as Pop Tarts. Then, for the schedule release itself, they put in some good work to find ‘stock footage’ to go along with every opponent to create a video entirely of stock footage. Maybe the casual fan doesn’t know what ‘stock footage’ means, but the selection was so good that it was amusing either way. The Chargers know they’re a challenger brand, so they need to take more swings and distinguish themselves in a unique fashion. Mission accomplished on this day.
Should we REALLY make our schedule release video with stock footage?
yes yes yesyes
yesyes yes yes yes
yes yes yes yes yes
yes yesyes yes yes
yes yesye yes yes
yes yes yesyes pic.twitter.com/wAB8CdAfnB
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) April 18, 2019
So, yes, try to win the Internet, but do it in a way that makes sense for your team, for the fans you’re trying to reach, and take a calculated swing for the fences.
Building and reinforcing the brand
When you have a chance to reach a large swath of fans, likely for the first time in a long time, it’s an opportunity for a team to strengthen their brand, to reinforce who they are. There were a handful of teams this year that went all in on making sure fans knew they what they’re about and reminded fans why they can be proud to love their team do much.
The Indianapolis Colts embraced their reputation, at least that of their figurehead Andrew Luck, by doing something, well, boring. But it puts their main man front and center and allows fans to embrace the ‘boring’ QB they all love. The Cleveland Browns showed off the dry sense of humor for which they’ve become known over the years – in good times and mostly bad times – and they featured their General Manager John Dorsey printing their schedule on an old-school printer, like something out of 1999.
EXCLUSIVE: The exact moment GM John Dorsey got our schedule pic.twitter.com/EC1tAvMs4E
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 18, 2019
I enjoyed and appreciated the effort of the Tennessee Titans, embracing their country Nashville roots, and allowing Dolly Parton and her country music friends with Lanco to bring their fans the schedule. The New Orleans Saints kept it simple but did a fantastic job as their video just screams New Orleans and perhaps no team wraps their team around their city’s character more than the Saints, and they do so here.
Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles put in a helluva lot of work to round up a bunch of well-known Philadelphia figures to take part in their schedule release video – they were first and foremost out to win the part of the Internet that consisted of Philadelphia fans, and let’s just say the eagle landed (Keep reading, I’m here all night!).
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) April 18, 2019
Kicking off 2019 as they announce the 2019 schedule
The NFL schedule release happened days after many teams started their offseason workout programs and it really starts to feel like the 2019 NFL season has begun. It’s the club’s first opportunity to reach a ton of their fans on social media, and a few clubs used it to set the stage for the season.
While we remember the (amaaaaaazing) Monsters of the Midway motifs from the Chicago Bears last year (and they may be back this year, I do not know), they used their schedule release to begin the yearlong celebration of the franchise’s centennial. Check out their 100 years video below, and it gets you in the mood for Bears history all year long.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) April 18, 2019
In a similar vein, the Kansas City Chiefs highlighted their team’s history with old-school clips peppering their schedule release as part of their 60th anniversary season. The Oakland Raiders have the same 60th anniversary season on the horizon and also featured their team’s #1 face (especially with even franchise QB Derek Carr’s situation not as 100% certain as it once was) – head coach John Gruden. History and Gruden are two Raiders pillars as we kick off 2019.
Teams activated or established partnerships
When you have a tentpole event, there is an opportunity to create and activate a partnership – whether that’s a sponsor, a potential ‘influencer,’ or something in between. It’s why extending creative conversations to more team members – sponsorship, PR, CR, sales, marketing – can be so beneficial.
The New York Giants made fans remember they’re big-time as actor/comedian Traci Morgan dropped jokes for every opponent (and it made you want to complete the video to hear them all) – the Giants got the benefit of the celeb tie-in, Morgan got to plug his show, and fans got a comedic schedule release video. Nice partnership! The San Francisco 49ers worked with Bay Area-based artist P-Lo aka Lil Stunna whose track formed the soundtrack for their schedule release video, which included listing his album/track (and some nice pub for him, too).
— New York Giants (@Giants) April 18, 2019
A few other teams were able to tie in corporate sponsors into their schedule release content – the Denver Broncos gave fans an EA Madden NFL video game-inspired video, the Minnesota Vikings had a little ‘poetry’ to describe each game in their schedule – and it was ‘presented by’ Ticketmaster, and the Jacksonville Jaguars executed a heck of a production – entertaining and featuring ‘gameshow host Josh Lambo (go ahead and laugh, it’s their kicker) and sponsored by McGowan’s HVAC
Get your teal out because today your lives are about to change.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) April 18, 2019
So, yes, stimulate the creative juices, maximize reach and engagement, produce the 🔥 content to which we all aspire, but be thoughtful about it – have a rhyme and a reason, not just a what and a how but a why. Because when content takes off and it’s content that is strategically aligned with the objectives of the organization – that’s really winning the day.
Also…..a ROUND OF APPLAUSE for the work, effort, and thought put into the schedule release content by so many NFL clubs. It’s inspiring to the industry and to content creators and marketers everywhere!
In March 2019, the annual Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference was held in Boston, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners throughout sports business, performance, tech, and, of course, intelligence/analytics.
This deck is a collection of the best quotes, insights, and observations (for sports business, generally) shared via Twitter at the event.
Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap and to Sloan for hosting and providing coverage of an incredible conference! For more on me, follow on Twitter @njh287, connect on Linkedin (Neil Horowitz), and check out more on the website while you’re here!