How Bud Light Has Activated Its Brand with Sports Partnerships and What Can Be Learned

What makes for an effective brand activation in sports?

Is it that fans hear and see the name of a brand hundreds or thousands of times? That fans know and remember that ‘x’ brand is the ‘official’ whatever product or service of the league?

Depending on the goals of the sponsor, those can be laudable objectives. But the best partner activations in sports? They, well, activate the brand. Fans don’t just know what brand ‘x’ does or sells, they know what makes that brand preferable to others and therefore the one fans should consume and give their loyalty.

That’s why my favorite brand to watch do their thing in sports is Bud Light. 

Bud Light latches onto the exciting moments in sports, the times when fans are most likely to stand up and high-five their friends. That’s what Bud Light wants fans to think of when they think of the Bud Light brand.

How Bud Light Activates their Brand in Sports

This first example is cheating – it’s Budweiser, not Bud Light – but it’s too good not to mention. Budweiser looked at hockey and thought about those moments when fans burst out of their seats (or couches) and cheer. There is the final buzzer at a win, opening faceoff, big hits, amazing saves, hat tricks — but Budweiser went after something scalable and universal: goals. And, in hockey, goals means the red light going off. So what did they do? They came out with the Bluetooth-powered red light for fans to have at home. The light worked to go off when the fan’s team scored. The brand is part of the celebration, enhancing it.

Bud Light found another low-hanging fruit that was part of the excitement of scoring goals — the goal celebration. Goal celebrations are a special part of hockey and, again, part of the moments when fans are cheering and high-fiving. Enter the #BudLightCelly. The NHL league account, in addition to team accounts, used the hashtag when posting goals/celebrations on social media.

It’s not just hockey. Bud Light found the same moment that fit the brand actuation in other sports. In football, the #BudLightCelly happens with every touchdown. When hockey fans think of the excitement of goals being scored, they could think of Bud Light. Now it could be the same with football upon every touchdown scored.

Bud Light owned the goals and the touchdowns and – with their XFL activation – became the brand of celebrating after wins. After victories, team social channels were full of #BudLightCelly videos showing players in the locker room spraying and drinking Bud Light. Bud Light was able to associate their brand with celebratory moments in yet another unique but relevant and organic way.

And now, introduced recently as of this writing, Bud Light has seized the repeatable, high five-worthy moments in baseball: home runs. You can see the details below. And this time they’re adapting to the unique circumstances of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. They’re engaging fans — 100% of whom can only take in the games remotely — and using the carrot of home run balls to fuel a social media sweepstakes. Bud Light is owns the moment of celebration (well, at least for some fans watching).

There is no shortage of gameday brand activations in sports. But it’s instructive to analyze what makes Bud Light’s effective and how it can be replicated for other brands. Not every brand can own those celebratory moments like goals, touchdowns, and homers. But to be associated with ‘get off the couch and cheer’ moments isn’t right for every brand.

For years, a lot of sports sponsorships have been reliant on puns. It’s the Honda Keys to the Game, the T-Mobile ‘Call to the Pen,’ the ‘XYZ’ Gas and Electric Company Power Play. But, think back to earlier in this piece and which objectives those achieve.

We celebrate a good pun because it’s a way to sneak in a brand mention in a clever way, in hopes that, for example, when fans think of cars, they’ll think of Honda and therefore buy a Honda. What does this convey about the Honda brand, though? I know Honda for their ‘Helpful Honda’ brand promise, because the information booth at the arena was branded as such. Should GMC Trucks sponsor the ‘Drive Summary’ graphic for a football team (drive = cars, get it!?!), or is there a way to activate GMC’s brand with a ‘Toughest Play of the Game” to highlight the toughness they want their cars known for?

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Excuse the extemporaneous example above, the goal is not create gold, but to stimulate a thought process to strive for more. To be more than puns and presented by’s. To find the moments to latch on, the emotional ebbs and flows that open fans’ hearts and minds, and the opportunities to insert a brand as a relevant part of the story.

Next time you’re exposed to the Bud Light brand at a moment of screams and cheers -— it won’t take long if you follow sports — appreciate the strength of that activation. That fans come to associate Bud Light with celebration. Achieving that is worthy of a #BudLightCelly.

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.

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 Hitachi US Activated their IndyCar Sponsorship with Social Media Works of Art

It’s never been easier for a brand to tell its story in this era of digital and social media. But it has also never been more difficult to drive people to actually engage with and relate to those stories.

Brands can pay for attention – as they’ve been able to do for decades – but those that are ahead of the curve today aren’t creating ads that interrupt, they’re creating content that inspires. They’re not engaging in standard ‘best practices,’ they’re creating what’s next – the best practices of tomorrow.

For years, Hitachi Motorsports has been lauded for their forward-thinking tech like their fuel injectors, which plays out each week fueling every car in the IndyCar series, but as the 2019 season approached, the global brand knew they had an opportunity to push their sponsorship and reach further, engaging consumers like never before. As Hitachi headed into what would prove to be a monumental second year with driver Josef Newgarden, they collaborated with digital agency MKTG to activate with the inventive speed, innovation and teamwork that the Hitachi Motorsports brand represents.

Hitachi has activated their Indycar racing sponsorship across digital with MKTG since 2014, and this year they created the brand’s new racing handle on Instagram, allowing Hitachi Motorsports to connect with a highly visual audience via inspirational, original visual storytelling – a feed-first essential to inspire in our social media, feed-first world of 2019.

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We knew our microsite for Hitachi Motorsports US, which details the racing partnership and celebrates Josef Newgarden all season long wouldn’t be enough,” said Gavin Blawie, Senior Vice President – Strategy and Digital at MKTG. “We also wanted to push Hitachi Motorsports and Josef’s winning season story on Instagram with original, shareable stories as told by multiple artists working in partnership with the brand.”

When it comes to capturing attention and engagement in the feed, eye-catching, aesthetically awesome content reigns supreme, particularly the visual-first mediums like Instagram. Hitachi Motorsports has created inspiring content for years, but with the new Instagram account the opportunity for break through work led to Hitachi’s Artist of the Race Series – a season-long celebration of Josef, his story, and the sport through visually stunning, original brand content by a recruited roster of talented artists built to stand out in the feed. The agency brought on a group of elite artists to create their interpretations of Newgarden and the ongoing story of his drive to a championship IndyCar season. Each race meant the unveiling of something fans had never seen before, representing Newgarden and the excitement and precision playing out on each of the unique tracks around the continent. The campaign was led at MKTG by Elliot Gerard, Vice President and Creative Director at the agency, and the veteran creative noted the goal wasn’t just about eye-catching art, but visualizing the thrilling IndyCar season. [articles continues below examples + artist comments]

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In-Depth: A closer look at the Artist of the Race Series (Check out Hitachi Motorsports on IG)

MKTG’s Elliot Gerard worked with racer Josef Newgarden to create a piece for the St. Pete race which started the journey of the Artist of the Race Series:

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To celebrate Newgardens success in St. Petersburg we created an illustration that captured the spirit of the race and energy of his winning moment. After starting the artwork, we gave Newgarden himself an opportunity to complete the piece. This collaboration with Newgarden inspired us to develop the Artist of the Race Series. Sparking the journey of working with talented artists all across the world.” -Gerard, United States.

Artist Joseph Alessio’s work represented the Toronto race and explains the thought that went into every detail:

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For the Honda Indy Toronto, I wanted to take a hand-crafted but graphic approach, incorporating a few different scenes. Toronto is a bold and colorful city, so the piece leans into bold colors, drawn from the Hitachi Indycar livery—such as creating a geometric paper craft centerpiece evoking Toronto landmarks, paired with body paint to create a monochrome effect. The tire smoke is just carefully arranged bits of cotton batting, with a blue light from the left to give it some depth—the result is fun but the glamorous process consisted of obsessively pinching and pulling a tiny bit of cotton between frames! While the process was intensive, the materials were simple—a lot can be done with paper, lighting and a bit of tape! Relying on a couple bold colors and flat surfaces worked well to bridge the gap between graphic and handmade. Between paper shapes, a bit of body tape, a couple of backdrops and a whole lot of frames, the handful of scenes came together to create a dynamic stop motion video.” -Alessio, United States.

Dariusz Ejkiewicz had the challenge of illustrating the Indy 500:

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As a part of the general idea that I came up with using torn paper and scratched elements I was tasked with creating a physical piece of artwork. That artwork was done for The Artist of the Race. I wanted to reverse the process, pretty much creating a piece of artwork that was built from pieces of torn paper, stars, framing, stitches and tape.he whole idea was an interesting process that became very satisfying and in the end the piece I have created was something refreshing for my process. I am very happy that I was a part of this special project. -Ejkiewicz, Poland.

Ann Chen created a masterpiece for Portland:

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As a lettering artist, I knew right away I wanted to highlight the driver’s name as the focus of the design while portraying some key elements of Portland, as the location is fairly new for IndyCar. The direction I received called for a celebration of the race in Portland. I started off with a loose sketch showing lush greenery against a cityscape with the iconic white stag from the Portland Oregon sign sitting at the peak of a triangle that represents Mount Hood. With Josef’s name, I went for a bold script lettering with sharp edges and big curves and a finer script for the name of the race. My favorite part of the illustration is how the letter “L” in Portland is extended to become the track for the Hitachi race car. I love working with bright colors and Hitachi’s brand color, red and black were perfect for creating strong contrast in the palette. My personal style includes using shapes to create a feeling of energy and excitement, which is why I chose to include a confetti of curved triangles and circles throughout the piece. The entire illustration was created using an ipad and drawing app, Procreate.” -Chen, United States.

John Boyce celebrated Team Penske at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:

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Working with MKTG on the Hitachi artist of Race series was great. It was a sport I wasn’t to familiar with but while finding elements to be apart of the artwork, it was cool to learn about Josef Newgarden and how he dominates.” -Boyce, United States.

Sabeena Karnik set up the season finale at Laguna Seca:

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The instant idea was to have the Indycar showcased in the artwork made with paper and the win. Creating the letter H was my original goal which was also backed by the agency that I worked with. [MKTG] sent me imagery associated with the event along with suggestions of using some landmark locations at Monterey California espe-cially the corkscrew curve/bend which I tried incorporating in the piece. I wanted to do a time lapse video to showcase something created very fast to go with the idea of speed and racing so that the entire process with paper layers is clearly visible. Hopefully the fast video was someway in sync with the [race]. – Karnik, India.

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“It wasn’t just about creating cool content for the feed,” said Gerard. “It’s about the various creative voices working together to bring Hitachi Motorsports to life, resulting in a powerful message about how each of these artists connected with Hitachi Motorsports, these incredible races, and Josef at the wheel. And then how they translated those feelings into these fantastic pieces that just pop out of the feed. It was exactly what we’d hoped for and it really speaks to Hitachi’s brand mission of Inspiring the Next.”

MKTG recognized the opportunity Hitachi Motorsports was giving them, wanting to collaborate on something extraordinary, a campaign with emotion-infused KPIs with creative placed largely in the hands of talented independent artists. But both sides had the longstanding relationship and the mutual understanding that Newgarden’s success and notoriety presented an opportunity for the Hitachi Motorsports brand to do something special.

“Hitachi is a trusted client who gives us as an agency the trust and opportunity to push the content game, and really play in the area of what is next,” said Blawie, who has worked with Hitachi Motorsports throughout his tenure at MKTG. “Hitachi is a historically important brand and their Indycar sponsorship is a proven driver of relevance and technology showcase. Along with Josef’s rapid ascendance in this sport, this was such an exciting project that everybody wanted to work on.”

Hitachi’s technology powers and enables some of the world’s greatest innovations – including fueling the thrilling IndyCar race – but such high-level tech isn’t readily relatable and necessarily amenable to social media. But spend a minute and browse the Hitachi US Motorsports feed on Instagram, and the inspiring take on tech and winning track record begs to differ. Because marketing and advertising is in a new era, and brand activation means storytelling in ways that haven’t been done before, pressing down on the throttle to speed ahead of the pack to what’s next.

 

Watch the video below to see more of Hitachi Motorsports Artist of the Race Series!

 

Episode 151 Snippets: Chris Grosse on Driving Attendance in College Athletics, Building Fan Experiences, and Creating a Special Game Atmosphere

On episode 151 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Grosse, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing at Penn State Athletics.

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.

Inside the Mind of the Modern Sports Fan: Insights from an Interview with a ‘Normal’ Fan

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LISTEN TO MY FULL INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN HOROWITZ

Episode 147 Snippets: Victoria McBryde Offers Social Media Insights from her time with NC State Football, Green Bay Packers, and the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

On episode 147 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Victoria McBryde, Integrated Marketing Coordinator for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.

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.

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On episode 146 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kinsey Janke, Social Media Manager for Tampa Bay Lightning.

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.