How Brent Gambill Helped Develop and Package Strong Stories with SiriusXM Baseball

The circumstances brought on by the pandemic has caused evolution in a lot of industries to happen more rapidly than anyone could have imagined.

When athletes were stuck sheltering with the rest of us, and certainly as many entered their respective league bubbles, the sports world witnessed the rise of the athlete journalist. This may not be exactly what Derek Jeter had in mind for athlete journalism when he founded the Players Tribune back in 2014, but no one can deny the power and scale of athlete-produced content now, ushered by social media.

But here’s the thing — as cool as it is to see athletes giving us the pictures, the reactions, and feel of things, this development in sports media perhaps helps fans appreciate sports journalists. The storytellers, the objective eyes and ears, the ones who can put to words the emotion and novelty of the moment. It’s hard not to consider this unique value reflecting on my recent interview with Brent Gambill, now the Director of Communications for NASCAR, Mid-Atlantic region and formerly a longtime producer with XM (and later Sirius XM) radio and their show ‘Baseball Beat.’ Their show was different because they didn’t chase down players, they wanted the writers instead.

“(Baseball Beat host and current LA Dodgers broadcasts) Charley (Steiner) used to describe as the show as ‘I didn’t want to start a show with players, I wanted to talk to the people that were actually in the room, who are actually covering everything,'” said Gambill. “Who can tell you what they ate and what the feeling of the crowd was and know how to report and put cohesive sentences together and really paint the picture o the sports universe and what’s happening on the baseball diamond…

“He goes: It’s the romanticism…'”

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That mindset of embracing the writer perspective continued to carry the show for Gambill and Steiner. Their cumulative sensory knowledge and intuition of the stories playing out in front of them were invaluable. Fans have, and likely always will, want to relate to the players. To try to put themselves in the shoes of these aspirational super heroes and experience what it’s like to be a pro athlete. But it’s the journalists who are the flies on the wall, taking in the sights, sounds, and storylines. And the story of the storytellers emerged just as intriguing as the stories themselves, oftentimes.

“I can still remember Game of Shadows [book detailing BALCO and steroid usage in MLB], getting an advanced copy because we had worked so closely with Mark Fainaru-Wada and the rest of the team working on that…,” Gambill recalled. “All those guys for the New York Post that were writing all these amazing stories covering the scandals, we were talking to those guys…We tried to tell it from the perspective of the writers who were doing it. It was such a unique time to be a part of it.”

But while the reporters brought great intrigue and interest to the show, Gambill also knew that much of sports radio — and that’s what he and Steiner were doing, even as their content began showing up online, too — is driven by engaging with fans: listener calls. A lot of the Baseball Beat listeners, however, were listening passively often at their desk at work. Previous attempts at caller segments were mostly mediocre. But when social media arrived, new avenues for interaction opened. Gambill explained it:

“What happened was – radio was driven a lot of times by callers and you have an audience who’s listening. They’re passive listeners, but they can’t pick up the phone and talk…We said ‘let’s start finding a way to (engage them).’ So we started doing a question of the day…”

Nowadays fans want to, and can, engage directly with players. But, realistically, only a select few will get a like, let alone a comment or reply from their favorite player. The writers are more accessible and the two-way relationships developing between fans and journalists are nearing a golden age.

As more bubble games begin and most fans remain confined at home, there is more demand than ever for the stories and more options to find them. The players are giving their unfiltered view of experiences through their lens. Media is curating many of those stories. Reporters are consuming it all, giving their objective firsthand view, leveraging their sources, and having on and off the record conversations. There’s a place for both and the fans are the winners.

Something happened when the sports stopped. Players realized that fans were eager to engage even when there were no games. Fans still cared what they had to say. The PSA’s for COVID and the response to social justice that came weeks later empowered generations of players that were already increasingly social media savvy. Meanwhile, reporters are bigger brands themselves, whether it’s Woj becoming an institution or The Athletic’s writers bringing hordes of subscribers with them when they joined the publication.

The stories will always reign supreme. But there is a renaissance for great storytellers, each with their own unique perspectives, points of view, and personality.

LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH BRENT GAMBILL

 

 

 

Episode 174 Snippets: NASCAR’s Brent Gambill on Evolving Storytelling Over the Years

On episode 174 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brent S. Gambill, Director of Communications, NASCAR— Mid-Atlantic Region.

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 Sports Business Looks in Summer 2020: Industry Insights from the Hashtag Sports Virtual Conference

The sports and social media world is not afraid of change. The social platforms and the sports industry as a whole are constantly evolving, but it’s been a few years since something really transformational has happened in the biz.

After hearing several industry leaders discuss their strategies, insights, and observations about the current state of the sports business, social media, sponsorship, and fan engagement at the recent Hashtag Sports conference, it seems there could be paradigm changes coming out of the stay-at-home period from the pandemic.

Many athletes have seen the light of social media, corporate partnerships have been reimagined in a world without games, everybody has taken a closer look at esports, the social platforms themselves were utilized in different ways, and all the digital and social engagement has only reinforced the pathways of data collection to personalization.

Athletes

  • When the games stopped, fans’ desire to see and engage with athletes certainly did not. Yahoo Sports’s Sarah Crennan said she would’ve liked to have had more working relationships with athletes with whom to co-create content. Meanwhile, NBC Sports’s Lyndsay Signor noted that the move to mobile productions and all remote appearances meant working on content with athletes was less challenging than it had been pre-pandemic. What could this mean moving forward? Will sports media businesses make it a point to establish relationships with athletes, even after the stay-at-home orders are lifted and sports return in some form? And will media companies be more comfortable connecting with an athlete via his/her phone even if it’s not as polished as their more produced content?

 

  • Many athletes during the pandemic posted first-person content on social media for the first time, or participated in live or mobile interviews. Coming out of this quarantine, many more athletes will be comfortable creating their own content, according to Bleacher Report’s Beckley Mason. Adding to that insight, Colleen Garrity of Excel Management pointed out that a lot of athletes tried and learned new things during this period, whether that was jumping on IG Live for the first time or streaming on Twitch. They’ll now have those abilities in their back pocket. When athletes are serving as their own directors and producers, it won’t be perfect, but that’s okay, and fans, publishers, and partners will learn to value it, said B/R’s Mason. It’s more authentic that way, anyway.

Content production

  • Sponsors may have been skeptical at first of seeing their dollars and branding go into content that looked less-than-polished. But numbers and performance don’t lie and as more results come in, less-produced content can prove its value. And it has and will continue to, suggested Bleacher Report’s Beckley Mason. The new normal that has prevailed for the past several months, when more amateur-looking content was not just tolerated but welcomed, means brands can be more nimble and more open to experimentation, according to Octagon’s Meredith Kinsman. When they’re not spending a ton on an on-location shoot with a full crew, there’s less risk involved and more creative trialing possible.

 

  • Social media managers working for teams or leagues have recognized the value of raw content captured on mobile devices for years. But even while COVID forced a lot more original content to be less-produced, especially involving coaches and athletes, there remains a place for both produced content and raw content. This point was reinforced by Oregon State’s Kylie Murphy, who noted there’s time and place for both, and it can depend on context, listening to the data, considering the platform, and learning by trial and error.

 

  • It’s an understatement to say the last few months have been the golden era of archived content on social media. Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, a lot of archived content may have been stuck on VHS tapes and DVD’s. But digitization has made it easier to access, produce from, and use to engage fans across platforms. There has proven to be a lot of potential, and maybe more to come, with historical content, said Octagon’s Kinsman, and this sports hiatus has only reinforced that value proposition.

 

  • Meanwhile, a company like Overtime has been able to double-down on its original content efforts in the absence of live sports. The mobile-first sports media company has seen more and more content consumption happening for longer average sessions. They’ve also seen a lot of YouTube viewing happening on smart TV’s and larger screens, not confined to merely mobile devices. Fans are willing to binge sports content, just like they are a series on Netflix or Hulu, and there’s an opportunity for sports to earn more and more of that screen time outside of live games.

Sponsorship

  • The coronavirus pandemic along with the period of social unrest catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd has obligated every brand to prove themselves worthy of consumers, to show they are adding value to society at such a challenging time. This applies to sports-related sponsorships, too, where partnerships are being scrutinized to ensure authenticity more than ever. Rakuten’s Kristen Gambetta talked about wanting to make sure players with whom they partner are aligned with their values, while Dairy Management International’s Darcy Nichols, who oversees the company’s NFL sponsorship, said they look at players’s social media posts to make sure they represent a brand with whom they want to partner. Nichols also noted she wants players who aren’t just going through the motions, but those who actively believe in the message and brand they’re endorsing, and want to be there.

 

  • Dairy Management International’s Nichols also reiterated a prevailing point in sponsorship — that the operative term is ‘partnership;’ it shouldn’t be a transactional relationship between brand and league/team/athlete. Wasserman’s Anup Daji made a similar point stating that the best partnerships include those in which both parties accomplish objectives. Rakuten’s Gambetta gave a good example of this in action, describing the e-commerce brand’s activation with the Golden State Warriors. Rakuten and the Warriors offered fans cash back when they purchased merchandise at games, in partnership with Rakuten, who promotes their own cash back system for purchases made on their online shopping platform.

 

  • With no live events with which to activate, any and all sponsorships in sports became digital and social-focused. This only increases the value for a publisher like Bleacher Report, suggested Mason, as they can help a brand activate around a major sports event with a social-first campaign. And they can do it even if neither is participating as an official rights holder or partner.

 

  • Social media is less a throw-in these days compared to years past and partners now expect a campaign to be activated across channels. The New York Giants’ Katie Carew described this framework, offering the team’s activation with Stop and Shop as an example. It included physical and digital elements and resulted in content coming out of the campaign to allow for an effective social extension. AT&T’s Shiz Suzuki described her company’s viral ‘Pose with the Pros’ augmented reality onsite activation with the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, which provided not just a demonstration of their 5G technology, but also produced socially share-able content.

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Esports and gambling

  • 2020 was supposed to be the year that sports gambling saw massive growth in the US. It still can be, but it perhaps won’t reach the peaks once projected. As sports brands look to capitalize on gambling, they’re increasingly cognizant of the best way to ease fans into becoming bettors. Prop betting seems to be an answer, with Bleacher Report’s Stefanie Rapp identifying prop betting as an entry point for sports betting. B/R has seen huge growth the last several months in its betting content, too, with its betting stream content in the B/R app growing 300% faster than any of their other streams. Fans that engage in this content and sports betting, in general, have stronger retention metrics, too.

 

  • While many continue to eye gaming as an opportunity, the pandemic led to more interest than ever in esports, which were only mildly affected by the public health crisis. Turner/ELEAGUE’S Seth Ladetsky recognized the opportunity for esports, especially when their competitions get airtime on linear TV. An important consideration, he said, as esports looks to capitalize on these opportunities is to recognize the audience and the platform, and produce a presentation that is optimized for each. Because an avid esports audience is different from the casual and curious community checking it out.

 

  • More sponsors started to gravitate to esports, too, seeing an opportunity to reach and engage fans viewing live events. ESL’s Paul Brewer said the most common way brands are measuring their esports sponsorships now are brand sentiment and share of voice. Brands are still learning the space and AT&T’s Suzuki noted how important it is to do the research of the fan base first and to always be thinking of how a sponsorship can produce additive value for esports fans. Brewer also pointed out how esports is starting to also look for ways it can mimic the traditional sports sponsorship activations menu to which brands are accustomed, such as corporate hospitality and experiential opportunities.

Platforms

  • It’s no secret that TikTok has enjoyed explosive growth across the board during this stay-at-home period, including sports, athletes, and sports fans gravitating more and more to the social network. TikTok’s Harish Sharma presented the platform’s POV when it comes to sports, suggesting that TikTok is a place for teams and athletes to share about themselves away from the field. Sharma also recommended activating around ‘exclusive moments’ and ‘seminal moments.’

 

  • Facebook facilitated and even unveiled a lot of new features or behaviors and opportunities on its platforms during this period. They’ve long been focused on developing Groups and this feature remains a strong and growing part of the platform. Facebook Sports’ Nick Marquez talked about the engagement and data collection potential with Groups. He also lent a little inspiration calling Group members potential ‘ambassadors’ for the brand.

 

  • Facebook (as well as Instagram) saw a lot of creative usage of its Live capability, including archived content and virtual watch parties, during the sports shutdown. Digital-first content overall picked up by necessity, with no live games and accompanying highlights, and in their place Marquez pointed out how sports teams have been able to build up digital content franchises that then become valuable sponsorship assets and entitlement opportunities. Sports teams and leagues are digital publishers, Marquez said, that happen to play sports. He also enumerated four buckets of content where sports found a lot of success during the shutdown, including archive (as noted above), fitness, cooking, and gaming. One last feature to keep an eye on are Facebook Messenger Rooms, a product many saw as an answer to the usage of Zoom during the pandemic for social interacting.

 

  • Instagram has also been an essential part of sports organizations’ fan engagement strategies for the last few game-less months. Usage of IG Live has grown a lot — in case you somehow haven’t noticed — and Instagram has been working with sports organizations on monetizing the platform. Instagram Sports’s Will Yoder identified three ways sports biz has been monetizing IG: Branded content (which is treated the same as organic content in their feed algorithm, Yoder noted), shoppable posts, and Instagram ads, including direct response ads.

Analytics

  • The NBA’s Jorge Urrutia del Pozo talked about their efforts to build a ‘golden record’ for each fan, by collecting data strategically. The key concerns for them are a) utilizing data to deepen fan engagement and b) determine the next best action or step for each fan to take to drive optimized lifetime value.

 

  • Both the NBA’s Urrutia del Pozo and the NHL’s Heidi Browning noted that collecting fan data has to deliver value back for the fan. The NBA collects information from fans progressively, delivering something back to fans at each step; this so-called ‘zero party data’ is valuable for the league in its efforts to personalize and enhance fan experiences. The NHL’s Browning called out the league’s ‘learning campaigns,’ which similarly asked fans for information while delivering tangible value back to the fan at each step. That exchange of value is vital.

 

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The past few months have felt like a year passing and the sports industry has evolved at a similar rate. Thanks to Hashtag Sports for putting on a great event! Subscribe to their newsletter, follow them on social media, and attend their future events.

A Look at The Debut of Venue: Facebook’s New Live Sports Companion App

The second screen for live sports. The app that fans are checking and refreshing while watching the game.

Which social media network comes to mind?

It’s likely Twitter is on the tip of your tongue, but as you may have seen Facebook is taking another swing at being sports fans’ second screen, with the launch of Venue. ‘The live event companion experience,’ as the headline of their blog announcing the app states. ‘[Venue] brings passionate fans and expert commentators together to experience live events in a new interactive way,’ they promise.

The first event to go live in Venue was the Supermarket Heroes 500, a NASCAR race held at Bristol Motor Speedway this past Sunday (May 31). The ‘expert’ host was NASCAR Twitter personality @nascarcasm (he also has ~ 45,000 Instagram followers, but over 180,000 on Twitter). His Twitter feed is full of the interaction and commentary that Facebook’s product team wanted to host their first ‘venue.’

Below you’ll find a look at the Venue app as it played out during the race, along with some commentary from my experience hanging out in it during event. There were also a couple of occasions when @nascarcasm asked for product feedback from all of us users (even explicitly stating that Facebook’s product team was listening). It looked like between 800-1,000 users were in the venue together during the race.

Overall, the MVP (minimum viable product) has the foundation of a unique offering. I don’t think it is meant to replace Twitter, but could be more like a combination of Twitch and IG Live/IG Stories, with some WhatsApp genes in there, too. There was only one ‘venue’ available for this race, but the idea is there could be multiple venues across multiple events, primarily with ‘expert commentators’ (based on their description), but after this review you can decide for yourself how it could evolve (and even if it has a future at all).

Come into the ‘Venue’ along with me:

Getting Started

These are the three introductory screens to introduce new users to app prior to getting to the registration screen. One must either sign in or create an account, which requires entering age and email address. Notably, there was not an option to sign in with your Facebook, Instagram, or phone number/WhatsApp. One also then selected their @ name, typing into an open field following the ‘@’symbol. You can also see the App Store entry below for further insight into how the team is describing their app right now.

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Home Screen

The home screen showed all live venues, in this case just the one was there for the NASCAR race. It’ll be interesting to consider how this home screen evolves as more venues are live (or still accessible after an event has ended) concurrently, and how the app may recommend live venues to a user based on their engagement and friends/follows/followers.

venu2

 

Inside the Venue

There was a live scoreboard showing the current standings and the lap the race was on. The live content provided was very limited (which fans pointed out), but that’s also kind of the point. Venue isn’t trying to be a way to watch and consume the game, it’s trying to be your ‘live companion.’

The only one who could post in the vertically-moving timeline was the host, @nascarcasm, and he was typically reacting to notable events in the race, such as a caution, crash, lead/position change, or end of a stage. A piece of feedback from fans was wanting to be able to ‘comment’ and ‘like’ the stuff @nascarcasm was posting.

There was periodic interaction, with intermittent opportunities for fans to ‘chat’ and for @nascarcasm to post polls. You can see the countdown clock, which was 60 seconds for polls (from what I saw) and 285 seconds for chats. Fans seemed to enjoy the polls, and it was a cool touch that – after submitting one’s own vote – users could see the ratio of responses move in real-time. It looked like, at least at the moment, polls were limited to two options. Users saw polls from three different sources during the race — the event itself the Supermarket Heroes 500, the host, and, in this inaugural event at least, the app itself, Venue.

The chats were fast-moving with the countdown clock and were more of a passing interactive element than a key feature of the venue. Though fans certainly asked for a way to chat continuously and even to form their own group chats within the app. Chats were in response to an event or prompt from the host or a note from the event (as you can see in one of the examples below). You can see the arrow symbol in the chat (and in @nascarcasm’s posts), which functions the same as the ‘reply’ function in WhatsApp. You can also see the expert’s chats are highlighted in red. Once the timer is up the chat is closed, but one can go back in to review it and even scroll back up the timeline to see previous chats, i.e. chats in response to events or specific prompts from the host. As users scroll up the timeline to revisit old posts, too, the scoreboard and lap number adjusted to show the state at that point in the timeline.

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Multiple times during the race, including after the finish, the Venue app opened a chat asking fans for feedback. The majority had a positive response – some of the commentary I gleaned included [paraphrasing real statements]:

  • Not as good as Twitter during the live event
  • Want a place to continuously chat with each other throughout the event
  • Fans want to be able to like and comment on the host’s posts on the timeline during the race (instead of only when he started a limited time chat)
  • Better than Facebook Groups live chat
  • One fan made the logical suggestion of letting fans start their own ‘venues’ on which to host others
  • There was a call for video or highlights
  • Complaints about the dearth of live standings and a lag in that scoreboard updating during the race

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Other Notes

  • It’s going to be difficult to be the primary second screen without photos and highlights. Even though the expectation is fans in the venue are watching the live event, I think being able to watch and re-watch highlights while discussing them is important. Facebook may be limited by content rights, while rights holders eagerly live-post video throughout the race on Twitter.

 

  • As one of the fans mentioned, and something logical to consider is fans creating their own interactive, and perhaps customizable, ‘venues’ to enjoy with their friends or build their own communities. There may be some synergy with Facebook’s recent new app – Rooms, a video chat room app, with venues being a room to experience live sports events alongside friends. Different experts and ‘everyday’ people can also start venues for specific communities – an interactive version of the megacast ESPN has tried for major events, trying to target different types of viewing audiences with a unique viewing experience. Gambling may have a role to play, too, eventually.

 

  • For fans accustomed to the speed of Twitter during a live sports event, Venue feels like going from an all-out green NASCAR lap to something even slower than a caution lap. (Yes, I love my sports analogies). That makes it less taxing to keep up with, but there remains something special about a Twitter timeline ‘blowing up’ during a big moment in the game/race/match. Perhaps that’s where Venue would have a contained chat box pop up for those moments. But the long-ish periods of nothing new in the timeline are a deterrent from making Venue the always-on second screen.

 

  • There was only the one venue to choose from for this race, so it remains to be seen how the app experience will be when many more are available. With the venue more of a one-way experience, with interaction opportunities intermittently.

 

  • The timed chats and polls give a sense of urgency to the experience, making one check in regularly, even if the pace of the timeline is slow overall. The app sends timely real-time alerts for interaction opportunities – chats and polls the only options for now, which helps fans to not miss one. The alerts were helpful and really important for users to have turned on for this reason.

 

  • At least for now, there’s no way to share the venue externally and/or invite others to join. There didn’t appear to a way to access an external link, let alone share to one of Facebook’s apps. This will almost certainly change as the product evolves.

 

There is nothing like experiencing live sports together and social media has been an integral companion now for years. Facebook has had trials over the years of trying to create a product offering to complement live sports. Now they’re hoping Venue can be the solution fans need to to complement their experience while they’re watching a game.

Check out the app yourself on iOS and Android.

Will the ‘Lasting Legacy’ of the COVID Sports Shutdown Be Athletes’ Embrace of their Platforms?

Every season the number is shrinking. We’re not far away from sports leagues where every athlete will have been born into a world in which Facebook, Twitter, smartphone cameras, and ubiquitous social media are the way of life.

But that moment can wait. Because this extended period of sheltering has accomplished as more than any generational shift ever could. Over this strange spring of 2020 just about every athlete experienced the epiphany — that fans still care, that they still have notoriety, and that their platform can still be powerful even when the games stop.

Maybe that connection is growing because the walls are being broken down and athletes are being seen at eye-level.

“This is the time where people feel like they’re just like these athletes, because they’re doing the at-home workouts, and they’re just like you having to wear a mask and not going to the gym, not traveling and not going and sitting courtside,” said Jacqueline Dahl  of 1UP Sports Marketing on a panel for the recent Leaders Week.
“So I truly think this is such an opportunity for athletes to engage with their audience because they feel just like them.”

It’s more than that, though. Many marvel at LeBron James not just for his prowess on the court, but also because he has seemed to understand the power of his platform and his brand from day one. As this public health crisis has ensued, many more athletes are realizing they too have a potentially powerful platform and that fans want to hear what they have to say. They always had a feeling they were influential, but now many are acting more like influencers.

“What’s been interesting with athletes is a lot of them are at home and they’re using Facebook and Instagram — they’re used to using these tools, but now they’re becoming power users, which has been amazing to see.,” said Kevin Cote, Facebook’s Director, Sports Partnerships on a panel at Leaders Week. “Leveraging our tools in new and creative ways, doing it themselves…seeing them use tools like Instagram Live to both entertain, but also to inform and support.”

Things really hit home when Dr. Anthony Fauci went on Instagram Live to discuss the coronavirus and the nation’s health and safety. His interviewer/host — not some national news anchor or reporter, but former NBA MVP and true national influencer Stephen Curry. Sure, not every athlete has the clout of Curry, but every one of them is an influencer of some degree and all it takes is to post a bit more personally, engage and interact, and those same athletes have their eyes opened what an enormous audience is there listening, watching, and talking on the other side. Cote took a visionary view, commenting on what this period could mean moving forward.

Coronavirus: Obama joins Stephen Curry's talk with Dr. Fauci - Los ...

“What athletes have especially shown is that they have these massive audiences, they can go directly to these people and connect in so many different ways,” he said.

“…In this moment athletes are stepping up in so many different ways, to identify themselves as they are human beings as well, there’s an ability to connect directly with their fans, directly with other public figures for good. And I think that’s going to be one of the lasting legacies of this time.”

Pro Athletes on Social Media: A Difficult Dichotomy - SMW Toronto 2019

How long would it have taken for so many of these athletes to get on TikTok, Twitch, and Instagram Live without this extended idle time at home? When would these same athletes have realized what they’d been sitting on all this time? When you combine the inherent clout of an athlete with the intent and mindset of an influencer, there is incredible power unleashed.

There are far more important concerns as we all hope this pandemic passes. But these strange circumstances have perhaps helped to usher in a new era for athletes on social media. And even things aren’t quite the same when sports start back up again en masse, the door has opened, athletes have seen the light, and for many things will never be the same again.

(PS: Learn more about Leaders Week)

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Do This to Get More Fans Posting and Creating More Content About the Team

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We’ve never had more idle time. The quarantines and sheltering has caused social media usage and messaging to increase massively in the recent months amidst the pandemic. Meanwhile, sports teams, leagues, and media brands have exhibited incredible creativity, devising new ways to engage their fans and get them to interact with content and interact with each other. But while many users are eager — using platforms more than they ever have, maybe for the first time in ages, and trying new features and new apps — it’s important to not take for granted that all those fans know what to do with a Snap code or Instagram effect or find your Instagram Live. If we can make fans better at social media, if we can help them do more of what they want to do — create cool posts and messages, while being a fan of the team – we can unlock a ton of value. And unleash a ton of fangelists into the field.

That integral importance of social media in the absence of sports means that activating fans is key to keeping fans engaged during this tough time. So many of us are stuck at home and scrolling our feeds yearning for the sports and sports stories that keep us engaged with our favorite leagues, teams, and players 24/7/365. It’s why now is the time to empower and educate fans on how to use social media to keep the power of sports alive, even in their absence.

This is a call to treat educating and empowering fans on social media as an imperative. What does this mean?

Fans are still fans, but without games and storylines to argue about, it’s harder to activate one’s fandom. Furthermore, people in general, many confined to their homes, are desperate for human connection and for something to post about on social media or message their friends and family. How can sports teams and brands help this?

Become a resource for your fans when it comes to social media, become their coach and their enabler to manifest their fandom while giving them an ‘excuse’ to post or create something on social media! This can take several forms:

  • Think like a teacher. Teachers have resources, they have lesson plans, and they create assignments and projects. Think about the spectrum of social media users among your fans — there are some who may have never posted before, some that want to become more of a master, and some that want opportunities to showcase their skills. Create the 101 content for the relative newbies and show them (with videos, with screenshots, with articles) how to do things like:

    • Post an Instagram story and use your team’s stickers
    • Subscribe to your YouTube channel
    • Create a great TikTok
    • Use the filters and effects on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat
    • Find your team GIFs when posting to Twitter and even when texting or messaging privately in iMessage and WhatsApp
    • How to use hashtags and why
    • How to use lists (and even help them follow your players with a List on Twitter, for example)
  • As noted, teachers also assign projects to give students an opportunity to practice the knowledge they learn. Teams can do the same! As you teach your fans, give them opportunities to put those skills to use! Create contests or sweepstakes that involve using your IG filter or GIF sticker, or to participate in a TikTok challenge, to post a photo or video of an in-game experience, and much more!

 

  • Give fans an excuse to post. Fans are eager and anxious to share content, but they often need a reason to do so. Once you educate, then empower and mobilize them! Brainstorm clever and unique UGC contests — as simple as submitting a pic of them at a game and advancing to best use of your filter, making a meme, or using your stickers. Or try to find your star students and talented fans by having them submit an edit of a photo or recreate a photo, play or trick.

  • Empower fans to connect. One of the most important parts of sports is community and shared experience. Without the live experience of a game or watch party, fans can be anxious to recreate that feeling of connection. Teams can create ways to help fans connect with each other while we all wait for games to come back.

      • Find the niche communities within your fans (gamers, families, diehards, X’s and O’s nuts, super fans of ‘x’ player, trivia buffs, fans from ‘x’ country, fans that also play the sport, etc.)
      • Create opportunities for shared experiences. That could be ‘watch parties’ online with classic games, a gaming or trivia tournament, a fan pen pal program, or many more fun ideas. When fans can virtually communicate, congregate, or even digitally ‘high-five,’ some sense of that community is created that will keep fans together during this time.
      • Create conversation among fans. Think like a barbershop and bring up those fun debates that fans can go back and forth on, whether related to the team or the sport. It’s clear that nostalgia has value here, too.

  • Help fans become storytellers. Your fans are full of personality and incredible stories of their experiences with the team. Leverage and activate those stories! Ask fans for their memorable player encounters, their first memories of going to a game, about the relationships they formed over the years via their fandom, their crazy traditions and trinkets, and much more. Then, don’t just retweet them, but enhance and activate them.

In this uneasy, uncertain time in which fans have little to connect to and to stoke the fires of their fandom, it is so important to embrace social media more than ever. The ones that play offense and seek to put their fans into position to succeed will come out of this better than ever. It can start today. It has to.

A couple great examples here from from Bleacher Report

 

Episode 169 Snippets: Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas on the Sports Uniform Geekiness and the Community That Can’t Get Enough

On episode 169 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Paul Lukas, founder and writer, Uni Watch.

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 168 Snippets: Missy Perez on the Social Media Structure and Strategy for the Philadelphia Phillies

On episode 168 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Missy Perez, Coordinator – Interactive Media for the Philadelphia Phillies.

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 167 Snippets: Jay Hickson Goes Deep on the Keys to Creative Strategy in Sports

On episode 167 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Jay Hicks, Sports creative veteran, Jay Hicks Studios, Sports Creatives Podcast.

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 Social Media and Sports Can Pivot During this Pandemic

Talk to a lot of social media pros in sports and many will tell you they’re working harder than ever. There may be no games, no practices, road trips, scrums, and suits – but they’re pooped. Because it’s not easy to come up with content to fill every day, try to create value for sponsors, and – most importantly – keep fans engaged. To assure fans will remain just as avid even as their favorite teams and players aren’t competing.

There has been a lot of creativity at this time — from pick ‘em posts to trivia, Q&A’s, watch parties, kids activities, UGC, and so much more. The creativity goes beyond sports, toom as platforms like TikTok, Twitch, Houseparty, and Instagram Live all growing rapidly. Everyone is starting to think differently. For years, sports teams have become more like full-time content companies. It may be tougher to create content without the built-in routine and flow of stories from games and news, but these organizations are still content machines teeming with talented creatives and strategists.

So it’s time to think outside the box, right? Games aren’t coming back before the summer, it seems, so what can do social media and sports do to pivot right now?

Experiment

In case you weren’t sure, yeah – social media usage is way up during this COVID-19 quarantine. In times like these, there are few truly dumb or bad ideas. It’s time to brainstorm! With fans consuming more content on social media right now, how can you experiment – and think like a content company first, and a sports team second?

That’s ultimately what this article is about. One area to explore, given the trends, are uber-specific social media accounts that can build an audience while having some tie to the team, however loose. What if your team created a Twitter account to post one random player from the team’s history every day or an Instagram account that only posted sick dunks or blocks daily, or a TikTok account that curated trick shots, or a YouTube account that taught dances, etc. etc. 

There are so many areas of passion that thrive on social media — sports, fashion, music, and more — and so many ways to build content around them. Lean into those skills and that knowledge now, and experiment with new ways to build an audience that can become fans of the brand, not just the sport the employees of that brand typically market and play.

Content Creation

This is a topic that can manifest a number of ways (and plays out all the time as teams create GIFs, stickers, Instagram Effects, lenses, and the like). But as TikTok and Instagram Live, in particular, grow at this time, fans are leaning into performative content more than ever. I mean, what else are they doing stuck at home, so why not create a TikTok themselves or with their kids?

Teams are certainly leaning in here, with a ton of creative UGC campaigns, celebrating fan creations. But a recent article on TikTok got me thinking about the role teams could play in providing the similar value that TikTok and other platforms do in making available effects, audio, and other creative accoutrements. How can teams use their bank of content to give their fans such creative enterprise, to create their own quasi TikTok with highlights, sounds, and maybe even some effects with which fans could create content. Challenges and trends could also play a role, as could team staff, alumni, broadcasters, and ideally players.

The trend that TikTok has been creating and riding has been driven by the incredible energy, enthusiasm, and talent of its network. They’ve provided the tools and sometimes even the prompts, and they’ve let their users take it away. Teams may have the machinery and tools and content to do the same, or some sense of it whether on their platform or influencing use of another.

Entertainment companies

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said his company’s biggest competition was sleep. Meanwhile, sports teams see platforms like Netflix and Twitch as their competition. It comes down to earned attention – but teams don’t have the new highlights and stories that help that earn that attention right now.

But it’s about focusing on what we do have and trying diverse ways to entertain fans with content. There’s an ecosystem of influencers (players and talent), a bank of brand and proven content, and a talented team of content producers. How can all this be deployed? Could you write a recurring comic strip (like the Philadelphia Flyers tried), create a short children’s story or a cartoon, a cooking show, a talk show, short fiction stories, musical and performance guests, motion effects games, and so much more. Step out of the tunnel a bit on the routine content and become a student of producing entertainment in general.

pivot

Community Relations

Many teams right now are doing extraordinary things to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. They’re opening up their venues for use in storage or medical services, they’re donating and helping to prop up local businesses, and using their platforms to deliver information to masses of fans they’re able to reach. 

What are the typical things community relations would be doing at this time and how can digital and social media help keep those activities and that mission alive? It could be reading to kids, much like a player or team member would at a school visit (the Dallas Mavericks had a video of JJ Barea reading a story to his kids) — how much of a typical school appearance could be re-imagined for a livestream or digital distribution. (At both a broad social and direct to school level). There aren’t enough FaceTime calls to go around, but even a few to children’s hospital wards I’m sure would be welcomed, and excerpts could be cut to share on social.

The goals of community relations, as well as fan development, remain important, so the type of applied ideation we’re taking to fan engagement can be taken to these parts of the organization, too.


Visual Entertainment

Something that has caught my eye recently has been the success of street magicians on TikTok. Getting users to say ‘Wow’ is one way to win engagement on social media and the magic, along with the reactions of the people in the videos experiencing it, make for fun content. This isn’t to say teams should crowdsource magicians and magic content (but maybe they could), but the quick hit entertainment is the key idea to hone in on.

Take inventory or brainstorm around ways to make people feel those certain feels that drive social media engagement (mad, sad, inspired, awed, laughing, learning), particularly in quick hits. Maybe it’s shots of celebrations, stupid human tricks, quick artistic creations, trick shots, fitness performances, and, yes, even magic tricks. There may be something here, there may be nothing, but the point of this post is to explore what it means to think like an entertainer first.

Learn from other masters

Of course, we should all always be students of the game. And now more than ever, time permitting, it would pay to study those that are winning this game. The top Instagram creators, YouTube influencers across the board, and TikTok talents that dominate the platform. There are plenty of examples in sports, too, whether it’s Dude Perfect, House of Highlights, or so many more, including individual-driven channels. 

How can teams and sports organizations consider utilizing their talented content teams, influencers, and individuals to mimic the success of these established masters? Sports commands mega audiences on social media, but without games the playing field is acutely level on social between them and the behemoth individuals that have amassed audiences in original ways on social. Teams shouldn’t necessarily imitate them, but they can learn and adapt insights and ideas into their own strategies, as they seek to keep fans coming to them for however long it’ll take to defeat this pandemic.

Hang Out

There has been some impressive content on live social media platforms in the time since this quarantine started. Live musical performances, in particular, have been pretty cool. But there have also been plenty of live sessions when audiences congregate, but, well, not much is happening besides a notable person hanging out. Even just a couple days ago, Barstool Big Cat got almost half a million viewers for his Periscope that featured him hanging out and eating ice cream while engaging with fans.

Many gamers have built huge audiences for live streams on Twitch, more so for their personality and conversation, with the games serving more as a backdrop. So many prominent athletes and alumni are sitting around with not much to do and so many fans would welcome any chance to hang out with them. Even better if it’s hanging out with a group of them. These players could be watching an old game, playing Words With Friends, or a version of the Newlywed Game with each other, or just enjoying a glass of wine and chatting. How can teams get fans opportunities to hang out — with each other, with special guests, with broadcasters, with celebrities?

Help Players and Fans

I have another article on this topic, but it’s worth reiterating — help players and help fans use all these shiny social media platforms right now. It is easy to take for granted that everyone has a basic understanding of all these apps, let alone an advanced fluency with all of the nuances and tricks to get the most out of them. 

This article started by linking to some stats around the growth of social media usage right now. People are jumping on more than ever, including the players, and teams could do a tremendous service by educating all of them. How to make your first few TikToks, go live with a friend on Instagram, navigate Twitch, try an effect or lens or GIF or sticker, and tag someone in a pic on Twitter. Give them the knowledge, the tools, and then the opportunities to engage, to create, to practice the sport that is social media.

What an exciting, inspiring time it is right now for sports and social media. There is so much creativity and originality playing out every day, and I’m psyched to see what more will come in the following weeks. It’s time to expand the playbook. The only bad ideas are no ideas at all.