The Power of Tradition and Community Fuels a Fantastic LAFC Game Atmosphere

A lot has changed in sports over the centuries and decades, but a lot of the same principles still remain. I’m reminded of that every time I walk into a live sports event and you just…feel it. That’s what makes sports special.

The sound of a crowd all cheering or gasping in unison, the echoes of passion permeating the air, and the look of deep memories being made by the minute. These are the ingredients to growing and sustaining a fan base, the elements that can turn an outing into an experience, a casual fan into a diehard.

I felt that familiar twang as I attended my very first (and one of their first) LAFC game at Banc of California Stadium. The new Major League Soccer club, which entered the market trying to win over fans in LA who for years have had the Galaxy, is creating fan connections with what feels like a cultural phenomenon. And it starts with creating a live experience that elicits emotion and demonstrates the devotion of the community, makes you feel you can be part of something greater than yourself.

It starts with the player introductions. I’ve seen this at a Galaxy game, too, and I love it – the call and response interplay for player introductions. For LAFC, the PA announcer would say the first name of the player and the crowd would reply with the player’s last name in unison. Sure, not every fan will be part of it, but it’s hard to tell because it sounds like most are and it makes others want to be part of it, too.

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Another favored tradition, which prevails in most of the soccer/futbol world – kid escorts for the players coming on the field. This is not something only LAFC does, but it remains an effective part of the pregame nonetheless, offering a memorable and share-able experience for young fans, while getting them and their families out to a game. The more individual, super-memorable experiences you can create for kids, the better. That’s creating at least a dozen and a half fans for life, with a story to tell at school the next day.

 

 

And after the anthem is played and the pregame ceremonies are complete, the raucous crowd starts up again – the supporters group. If I were a sports team, heck – I’d be willing to pay groups of fans to bring the noise (literally) and the enthusiasm, passion, and pageantry to the game. In the reserved Supporters’ Section behind one of the goals, there are drums going, flags waving, and a handful of chants boisterously recited the entire 90 minutes plus. It makes you feel like you’re at a loud party the entire time, conjuring what we hear (and I’ve experienced) about the European experience, where soccer isn’t just a pastime, but a way of life.

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It inspires others, too. On the other side of the stadium, where I was sitting, there were about a dozen attempts from a dozen sections to get The Wave started. All the while the game on the pitch was going on and the only times it interrupted the fans were known by everyone getting on their feet when LAFC got the ball into the opposing box or had a chance on net. The whole scene reminds one of being at a college game, where the marching band and cheering squad is bringing it all game long and passing that energy onto you, making each opportunity to cheer more enticing.

I try to study each game I attend. To catch something clever with their sponsorship or game presentation, identify something unique or innovative for fan engagement. (You can see a slideshow here!). But the the thing that stuck with me for LAFC was simply that special energy that made me feel like I had gone to a party, where everyone was invited. Where, win or lose, for 90 minutes, you’re part of something great. And that’s what sports fandom is all about.

12 Lessons for College Athletics at PACNet18: Simplicity, Superfans, and Sorting Through Strategy

Think back to your days at college. When weekends meant parties that started at 10 and trips to football games and basketball games with friends. Maybe you snuck in a little booze to pregame. You recognized so many faces there, and nothing beat the feeling of the place going nuts, cheering or chanting in unison as the music or marching band blares.

But then you graduate and get a job. And the allure, and ease, isn’t there anymore. Colleges are seeking to keep the students coming back as alumni and, nowadays, to keep students coming at all. Revenue isn’t as easy as it once was for college athletics departments all around the country, but there is no shortage of ideas and solutions.

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These were among the themes at the annual Paciolan Conference 2018, where thought leaders in college athletics, venues, live events, and digital and tech came together for a few days of learning and mingling. It is put on each year in Newport Beach by the eponymous Paciolan Ticketing company, owned by Learfield. Here are 12 lessons I gleaned from the conference:

Text is tantalizing – 98% open rate, keeping fans within text

It’s the most direct, and intimate, way to reach fans of any age, and it has been for years now — the text message. With the dominance of mobile, and the growth of messaging, those not in WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat, and, and even those in the messaging apps, are still texting. Even your mom and your grandma can text, and the 98% open rate on texts means texts are seen.

There are ticket sales and service happening via text message, and presales, event day alerts, and plenty of ‘dark social’ mentioning your game, team, or event. And the goal is to go from a text message to mobile web and signing in and registering pay info and…we want fewer clicks, so whether it’s a text or elsewhere, the goal is frictionless flow.

Keeping fans in the platform, wherever that is. More versatile technologies

Whether it happens on Facebook, your website, your own app, or somewhere else, keeping fans in that comfortable, consistent environment is increasingly important. Fans don’t want to feel like they’re coming in your place and then bouncing between other partner sites, apps, or even visual identities. Native solutions are the name of the day, and what was once a sea of apps is now a river of solutions evolving to exist and execute in a single app or environment. And whether it was technologies for ticket sales, group sales, upgrades, parking, engagement, payment, and more, it was more about how it could align with what you’re already doing and operating on. API and SDK and dynamic are thrown around more and more, and it’s better for fans. But even the best ticket and engagement flows can’t save a sub-par game day experience.

The power of traditions and creating new traditions

College athletics is notorious, in a good way, for its traditions. Traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, lending a sense of comfort and nationality to alumni of the school. The pageantry they bring to games is a powerful, unmatched tool. But that doesn’t mean new traditions can’t come along.

This salient statement came from a great keynote by Jack Swarbrick, Athletic Director for a little school known as Notre Dame. They have a ton of fabulous history and tradition at Notre Dame. But even Swarbrick knows generations evolve and, with them, new traditions can emerge, too. And tradition is properly rated as a tremendous way to drive emotional investment and a reason to come out to a game. This led to another insight from Swarbrick on the promise, but misrepresentation, of tech to help hold up and bring back attendance at games.

Game day experience has to be ‘fundamentally different’ from at-home – community, interaction; not just tech

It’s well-established that technology solutions like WiFi can be an integral and valuable addition to a venue and to fan experience. But it can’t be the only thing. You can have drones delivering beer to your seat that you ordered via your phone while streaming another game and getting your fantasy alerts while plugged in, charging, but even then you’re still short of the La-Z-Boy at home. Swarbrick used the words “fundamentally different’ to describe how the live attendance experience must vary with the stay-at-home option.

What does that mean? That’s for schools to fill in the blank — an experience that simply can’t be matched at home, an experience that inspires the feeling of togetherness, of being surrounded by thousands of others living it with you. And, yes, being the center of attention for thousands for just a fleeting, lifelong story moment, when you can make a cameo on the video board. What can you deliver that makes it so fundamentally different that not attending feels like a lesser option?

No dead time at games

There are going to be timeouts and media timeouts and intermissions at games and events. But this is the generation of mobile — where there is something stimulating literally every waking minute. So to have times when there is nothing but background noise or ad reads or static logos or commercials on the screens – it’s unthinkable and unacceptable to fans these days. Marketers have acknowledged that and have sought to rectify it — with DJ’s and music, constant contests and cams and content, and on-site and mobile engagements and activations that make the game just a fraction of the full fan experience. Fill any dead time or down time, time when fans could possibly think for a second if there is something better they could be doing at the time. This is constantly on the mind of college athletics folks, I learned.

Omni-channel engagement for millennials – and recognizing activity on each

We’re long past the realization that fans are engaging in many places. But we’ve moved on to more – to what fans are doing and want to be doing in those places and on those platforms. It was interesting to hear the marketers there how they approached each platform, knowing the different intent and best uses of each, aligning it with how fans or students used it. Emails got lots of opens, but didn’t get a lot of clicks for one school, so they focused on visuals to disseminate info. Instagram and Snapchat were also visually driven, but more creatively consistent with the platform. And Facebook and search ads drove clicks and conversions, with messaging and creative structured differently.

It’s important to know the behavior of fans on each touch point,and to define goals, success, and ‘conversions’ on each. Then the strategy and creative can be adapted appropriately. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and it never will be.

Let student athletes be at the forefront of donation efforts

Donations remain a vital part of a healthy college athletics institution. But boosting and giving can’t just live on the egos of rich grads, the mandates for season ticket holders, and the endowments of namesakes. Storytelling is at the forefront more than ever, and when fans know the student athletes they’re supporting, the fiscal and emotional investment is so much stronger. It’s why external relations teams are working more and more with content teams, and why the stories of student athletes are being told in higher volume and with beautiful creativity and skill are being told more than ever. Sure, fans will give to an institution, but it’s more powerful when fans are giving for the sake of other people at that institution.

Scale successes – from Olympic sports to revenue sports and vice-versa, especially for giveaways

There smaller, less ‘mainstream’ sports, where getting triple digits of attendance is a big win. But while college athletics marketers understandably spend more time and resources on the big revenue sports, it doesn’t mean they don’t toil and stress over how to increase support for every other sport on campus, too. And it’s often these smaller sports where they’re able to, and have to, get more experimental and creative.

They can be a testing ground where a good idea that can increase attendance by a few dozen at an Olympic sport may drive a thousand or more increase at a bigger sport. Whether it’s giveaways, themed events, on-site activities, ticket deals, music, contests, or any number of creative ideas — scale the successes to other sports, to derivations of ideas that work that can engage even more fans. Because especially younger fans, alumni, and students are a challenging but coveted group…

Efforts to Win Over Young Alumni

The most successful in this challenging but important endeavor are getting them started early, and making it easy. There were several tactics mentioned throughout the days there that helped increase the likelihood that students who attend games and support their school and teams would continue to do so after graduation.

One of the key principles seems to be to get them started early. Make sure they know how life as an alumnus doesn’t have to mean life without going to games. There are young alumni ticket plans that help gradually increase to life as a full-fledged, full-paying/donating season ticket holder. It was important to make students aware of the great options, and to have physical presence at some tent pole events, especially those leading up to graduation. Mississippi State had a clever tactic, too, with having points from their student loyalty program roll over to an alumni/donor program, essentially creating that use-it-or-lose-it feeling for their recent grads.

The messaging around donation for young alums was also a topic of advanced discussion. Treating recent grads, who may or may not have jobs and may or may not have oodles of student loans to pay off, the same as others decades from getting their diploma, is foolhardy and borderline irresponsible. Being vague about giving ‘what you can’ was similarly put down as a less-than-ideal way to craft the message.

My thought is a good move, therefore, is to make specific ask or offer an instant incentive. Just like getting fans to a game, it is so important to get ’em started early. It’s better to ask for a matched $18 donation to celebrate the class of 2018 than to be vague or present packages in the hundreds or thousands. I like the idea of Clemson’s IPTAY – I Pay Ten A Year ($10/year). It’s better to have 90% contributing a small amount than 9% contributing large amounts. But it’s not just the donor database marketers are interested in growing.

Capturing the anonymous fan

This is a consistent concern across all sports, live events, and venues – anyone that sells a ticket for admission. There are so many fans coming to games and events – with friends, with a free ticket, with a secondary market-purchased ticket – and these fans remain mostly anonymous to marketers, disconnected numbers in a database. There was silence, at first, when this question was posed for a panel, followed by a handful of tactics that all had varying degrees of success.

There is the good old-fashioned,but still mildly effective, enter-to-win sweepstakes; and they’re getting more digital, mobile, and even social and engaging. Gated WiFi, where fans enter an email address and perhaps other info, in order to access WiFi. This is often a good way to collect names and emails, but is not always welcome by fans and prone to throwaway email addresses used only for such convenient purposes.

A third tactic, seen even more so in the pros, are on-site activations with tech and/or partners that allow fans to create memorable, shareable mementos that they can then post to social media or have emailed or texted to themselves. Fans get something cool to share from the event, and marketers get the personal info from fans they want and need to get more and more those heretofore anonymous fans identified into their database.

Digital fan journeys – and optimizing everything

We’re long since past the understanding that fans don’t experience or act in a silo. They are coming into contact with the team and brand a number of ways on a number of different platforms. And the better we imagine and understand the mind of the fan, the context of the activity, and the path of these journeys, the better the results.

In action, this translated into putting ticket buying messages in places where fans’ intent to buy was likely stronger [i.e. Schedule pages] rather than making them jump through hoops and hurdles to get there. Along with context comes customization, too, with messaging and creative that reflect a real-time understanding of information and data. Some of the examples seen at the conference show we’re closer to the right offer and right message at the right place and time than ever before.

Target fans at a granular level, engagement > reach

We’re always trying to get bigger, to reach more, to add more rows to the database. But it can’t be at the expense of not fully engaging and maximizing the fans that are already emotionally bought in. It also means being more strategic with fan engagement strategies, and actually planning and executing different strategies for different fans for whom there are different feasible goals.

While it’s not a perfect connection, one point that stood out to me came from a representative for YouTube Sports, who specifically works with their college sports clients. The expectation is that he would have clients post more — to reach more, get more views, and increase the chances of discovery. But, quite the contrary, the advice was to actually consider posting less, to instead focus on quality content.

It’s less about reaching as many fans as possible every day, and instead favoring cultivation of communities, with fans that come back and feel a relationship with their teams and their schools. To extend the example, fan that stumbles upon a YouTube video one day indeed has some value, but the fan that comes back to visit and watch and engage again and again, well, it’s not an apples to apples numbers comparison game. Engagement is increasingly thought to be superior to reach, as we graduate to a more mature mindset for metrics.

Similarly, a marketing manager for Clemson Athletics detailed how they, among other ways, have broken their fans down into cohorts, most simplistically with ‘current’ vs. ‘potential’ fans, particularly prominent coming off a national championship in football when it was harder, but more important, to discern the bandwagon fans from those that have been, and will be, there all along. The cohorts were identified and messaging and marketing strategy was developed differently, while keeping a cohesive brand of showing what it means to be a Tiger at the center of it all.

This was my second trip to PACnet and it was encouraging to see that true progress has been made from year to year. The challenges that were on the minds of many last year have given way to solutions and ideas (and, yes, new challenges) this year. And just about all of it is evolution and change in a positive direction — more empathy and compassion for fans, more personalization, customization, and fewer tricks and less friction. We can envision the future, even as it seems like we’re in a race against time, battling a war we may lose in favor of live attendance. But it’s resulting truly great, communal, memorable, shareable experiences for fans. And if that’s a side effect of doing better business, that’s a winning recipe for all.

Sports Biz and Fan Engagement Observations from the LA Rams Playoff Game

January 6, 2018 the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Atlanta Falcons in the first NFL playoff game in Los Angeles since…a long time ago. With the Rams losing, it was also the last game of their second season back in Los Angeles, playing the LA Coliseum.

I had the chance to go to the game and, as always, was on the eye for lessons and notables, from a sports business and fan engagement perspective. Here 15 quick observations:

 

  1. Branded hangout areas w/ TV’s 

    Many stadiums nowadays have social areas – a place to have a drink and maybe catch up with your group of friends away from the bleachers, especially at NFL games where most Sundays there are tons of other games happening during the ones fans are attending. The Rams game was no exception with multiple areas with between the concessions with TV”s, bar tables, and other seating. It came in handy as we stopped to watch the end of an earlier game. Easy opportunity to brand these areas and the Coliseum did so with the tent/umbrellas and (maybe?) the TV’s. The main things missing were charging stations and maybe some more loung-ey furniture.
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  2. USC all over 

    The Coliseum has for several years been home to the USC Trojans football team. And it was certainly notable that, despite the importance of this first NFL playoff game in LA in so long, the building concourse was decidedly USC. From the paint colors to the names of hte non-branded concessions stands, the Rams as a renter was readily apparent. I’m not sure what kind of restrictions were in place, but I hope everything possible was attempted to create a venue that screamed Rams that Saturday.
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  3. Pop-up stores 

    Venues used to just have one big store if fans wanted merchandise for the team. Then, mall-like kiosks came for hats and maybe t-shirts. Now you’ll often see more pop-up stores where fans can feel and browse what’s for sale. The Rams had a few, including this one for their ‘premium’ merch brand ’47.rams2

  4. Branding Help Desk 

    Learn the partner’s brand and mission, figure out how it fits into the fan experience. For Southern California Honda, they’re all about being ‘Helpful Honda’ Dealers. Well, the Rams know their info booth is an integral part of game day. So it was branded for Helpful Honda [Helpful Hut]. A great way to inject the brand in a way that reinforces their messaging while providing real value to the fan experience in an entirely organic way. More activations like all over the fan experience.
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  5. Concessions maps / no app 

    The Coliseum is not known as a beaming beacon of modernity and there was a certain ’90’s vibe to their concessions maps up on the walls around the venue. Digital screens or even a venue mobile app would have been a welcome way to navigate the venue than crowding around an old-school wall map.rams5

  6. Cinnabon 

    It’s always good to have venue (and/or team) partners that serve food from their known and loved brands, including national ones like Cinnabon (smells so good), and local loves like Randy’s Donuts and Trejo Tacos.

  7. Clear bagsIt seems like most sports events now in college and pros have a clear bag policy in place, meaning fans can bring in items provided they are stored in a clear bag of a specified size. Messaging around this clear bag policy has taken up multiple pages of social and PR strategy. And, of course, it represents a great opportunity for teams to sell or disseminate clear bags to make it easier for fans, and get their brand out there more. It’s also a valuable opportunity for a helpful sponsor to assist in giving fans a very helpful bag.

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  8. Rally Towels 

    I’m not sure who invented the rally towel, but it is a damn good fan engaement tool, in many ways. Create a communal and fun atmosphere at the game [not to mention, solid Instagram pics], while also creating a valuable place to expose a team partner. The towel may end up lost or trashed after the game, but the cheap giveaways are worth every penny.

  9. A few big brands 

    The Rams no doubt have a large portfolio o corporate partners, but if you were to ask fans to look around the game, there are maybe 4-6 brands that would be can’t-miss. For years now, instead of filling every nook and cranny, teams have looked for more integrated partnerships and more meaningful activations. It seems to be a good trend as teams don’t have to divvy up every impression and effort and content piece, instead identifying the more opportune, relevant ways to integrate partners.

  10. 24 Hour Fitness Flex Cam 

    I saw this same promotion at the LA Galaxy game at StubHub Center, and it’s a fun one and a good one, with an obviously relevant tie-in to the partner.

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  11. Whose House?! 

    Call and response chants are a powerful thing in sports, and every team should have one. They bring together thousands of fans like nothing else, and becomes a way for fans to connect and share their enthusiasm like nothing else. I wasn’t aware of the Rams’ call-and-response of “Whooooose house? Rams’s house!” chant before this game, but you better believe I knew it by the end of the game. Whether it was the PA inciting the crowd, random call outs in the concourse (and, yes, even the bathroom), and banners and shirts, the mantra is ubiquitous and Rams fans can’t get enough of it. It was pretty darn cool to see fans come together as one to take part in chant after chant throughout the game day.

  12. Social media-like overlays 

    Just about everyone is familiar with, and delighted by, graphic overlays, mostly referred to as lenses. And the Rams get creative with their fan cam that adds Ram horns to excited fans. It’s like Snapchat and Instagram on the big screen. The only thing missing is the chance for fans to save and share these pics. The excitement of getting on the video board is timeless, and the Rams are keeping that strong with a 21st century twist that turns fans into Rams. Of course, poor cell and no WiFi made social media-ing tough, limiting my ability to share my experience.rams8


  13. Tagboard / #LARams 

    Social aggregation platforms like Tagboard are all over in sports and entertainment these days. If getting on the video board is goal #1, getting your selfie from IG on the board is perhaps #2 on the excitement chart. While these activations are admirable, they never seem to quite get the participation they would seem to merit. I also noted they didn’t push their official NFL Twitter hashtag, #MobSquad, instead deferring to perhaps the more organic and voluminous, #LARams. Similar to some experiences I’ve had at other events, I saw pics repeated multiple times [perhaps intentional]. UGC will remain an integral part of fan engagement, though the means and medium and presentation will no doubt evolve and improve over time.
    [See Flexcam pic above for an example of the callout; the only place I saw social media pics coming in was on the side of the video board]

  14. Snoop Dogg and other celebs 

    It’s LA. It’s Hollywood. So the game wouldn’t be complete without a celebrity appearance or two. And while they may not have a ritual like the Carolina Panthers pounding of the drum, the Rams do have the aforementioned ‘Whose House?’ chant that is perfect for a cameo to lead. Tone Loc (who just made me think Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) was first to rap and chant for the crowd. Later, Rob Lowe also made an appearance. Meanwhile, all the millennials rejoiced (myself included) for the chance to see LA’s own Snoop Dogg perform at halftime. It wouldn’t be a big game in LA without a little star power.rams9

  15. Metro Cards 

    While my party was considering where best to book an Uber (there is no designated zone at the Coliseum), the Metro made their mark, too, with a prominent tent near the exits/entrances, inviting fans to buy and load cards there. It’s an easy and effective way to activate the partnership in a manner that’s super-helpful for fans. The ATM machines in the stadium were also branded with a banking partner (again, easy enough).

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Overall, it felt like a Rams team doing the best they could in a building in which they’re just a tenant. Connectivity is a limitation, too. The stadium didn’t seem conducive to kids, with plenty of beer gardens and lounge areas, but no attraction for kids – kids area, face painting, photo-ops, etc. The lack of open space also likely accounts for little novel sponsor activation happening. No memory makers, contest, displays, or pop-ups. We went to a football game.
The video board promos were not bad, and the music selection was good. However, there were multiple times when a replay wasn’t shown or a Twitter-like GIF was used when all I wanted was to see video of the play. There were times those with me missed the close coverage one gets on the couch. But that’s the tradeoff for the atmosphere.

It was a great opportunity, if nothing else, to witness the passion the Rams fans have. While the team remains a tenant, for now, their Inglewood palace is coming, and the experience will be much different. In the end, it’s about giving fans the feeling after the game of wanting to come back.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 8

The more I look back on four years and 100+ episodes of the Digital and Social Media Sport Podcast, the more I appreciate how lucky I’ve been to connect with so many incredibly bright, generous, talented individuals that work in this space. It’s an awesome community, and so I hope to give back just a little by continuing to summarize some of the best insights I’ve gleaned over the years and the chats. This is part 8.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 herepart 5 herepart 6 here, part 7 here, and stay tuned for more!

  • Defining fan cohorts can be instrumental to effective strategy

    Many are wise enough now to realize that generalizations about large swaths of people like Millennials are often foolhardy, if not irresponsible. But it doesn’t mean recognizing common traits among your fans to better create and position content and marketing doesn’t matter. Because not all fan or customer bases are created equally. There are different reasons they come to you, different motivations and interests. This was clearly spelled out in an enlightening interview with Kurt Stadelman of EA Sports, who laid out the ideas behind the way they create content and marketing, looking at a few well-defined cohorts the company targets and serves. This is not just a good concept for EA Sports, but can be applied to anyone in social media and sports, evaluating the cohorts amongst their fans.

  • Traditional PR still matters for sports businesses

    As much as we recognize the value of what happens on digital and social media, there is something to traditional media, particularly linear TV, that establishes legitimacy, even if greater reach can be achieved on digital platforms. You know something has made it when it hits a TV broadcast or show, and it’s still a coveted platform to reach fans and consumers. It’s something important to keep in mind, even as it diminishes, and was a key insight from a chat with SportTechie’s Diamond Leung.

  • Driving sales on social is not just posting links and Buy Now CTA’s

    News flash: the majority of ticket sales do not happen on or from social media. But there are a lot of fans on social media that will buy tickets. It has been a motif in many interviews I’ve had over the years, and that is the notion of how social media is used best – as a tool to drive interest in the team and the games – not as a tool to post endless sales messaging and glorified ads. There is something to be said for making ticket sales a single click away, to eliminate friction, but too often the expectation that the path from social media engagement to purchase is linear, and downright irresponsible to think more sales will come from posting more sales messages. Create that makes fans excited about the game and the team and the atmosphere and the giveaways – and they’ll buy tickets, with or without you posting that daily link.

  • Social should be relevant for fans everywhere

    Fitting in the category of good problems to have, several social media and sports pros face the challenge and the opportunity of engaging fans that live within minutes of the stadium or arena or track, and fans that live in another state, country, or continent and who may never attend a game. While social media is becoming more localized, which is another subject altogether, it remains a charge of the pros to create content everyone can enjoy and to make everybody feel like they can be close to the team and part of the community. How are you relevant to fans next door? How are you relevant to the fan miles away? Ones at the game and not at the game? Important questions to consider.

  • Learn from what doesn’t work as much as you learn from what does

    It’s natural to celebrate the social media successes, the posts you circle, screenshot, and showcase. The ones that get engagement rates worth talking about. But not every idea is a winner, nor should it be. Experimenting and failing is part of the game when trying to innovate. And a key insight I’ve picked up over some conversations with smart people is to pick out the failures, and learn from them. Was it the way content or the idea was presented, a player or type of content not getting love, a time of day that never seems to work well, or whatever it may be. It’s often said to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. But the first step is identifying and learning from both sides of the coin.

  • Show up for the moments

    So much of success in social media can be speed, but more importantly it’s about being ready at the right time, when emotions are flying, to deliver. Anticipate the moments and prepare for them – visualize, game plan, imagine the perfect scenario unfolding and what you would have at the ready for it. Consider all angles and goals, all creative and platforms, and all the PR-minded and marketing considerations to take into account. It’s not easy to be ready for the moments, but the best consistently are.

  • There is value in reaching a unique, coveted audience

    We’re all often chasing the highest number in the most efficient manner. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. But it gets more strategic when you think about the actual audience you’re engaging and if it’s right and, therefore, the best use of resources. Not every platform is the next big thing, but any platform that gets an engaged, considerable user base is worth evaluating to determine if the users there right for you. Everyone is chasing the same thing – attention – but not everybody covets the attention of each audience equally. This is a key consideration, I’ve learned from many, when looking at where to spend time and resources in an increasingly crowded social and digital world.

  • Learn from outside sports

    It’s easy to get immersed in sports – the daily routine, the fact that most of your own feed and network is all about sports. But there’s a lot of smart, innovative stuff happening outside sports on social media, as well as a treasure chest of lessons to learn. It may be a new way to use a platform, a clever engagement technique, a marketing campaign that is driving good results, eye-catching creative, and so much more. The best in social media are constantly learning, on the hunt for knowledge and ideas and insight. You can never stop being a student of social media – in and out of sports.

  • Understand the sponsor’s goals when creating sponsored content

    A lot of stories start with sponsor deals that call for “x” number of social media posts. But, thankfully, much has evolved since then, sponsor teams are now working more in tandem with social to assure better content for the fans and, just as importantly, the sponsors. But it’s not just about a creative play on words or a branded top play. The best truly understand what the sponsor is looking to accomplish, what their digital and social strategy and is like, and what success will look like to them. Doing social media sponsorship means being a student and doing the homework of researching and understanding the partner, and then thinking about what their objectives and how to drive metrics to accomplish them.

  • Relationships, relationships, relationships

    It’s no surprise that the topic of relationship building – what networking should be about – has been a common motif over the years on the podcast. I am particularly struck by those that seek relationships an relationship-building opportunities, whether in-person or via social channels, especially for the more timid. The hardest part is just doing it – and you’ll find, much like how I get generous people to come on the podcast, most pros in this space, this community, are open and eager to help. But the best relationships, too, are not about taking. Don’t always network with ulterior motives, meet smart and cool people in your space, learn from them and let them learn from you, and make relationships with people that would call you for coffee if they were in town. You’ll always get further with people than with business cards.

The value of ‘accidental’ exposure

While it’s always important to engage your avid fans, there’s certainly value with those moments or that content, which reach beyond – to the casual fan that may take notice and begin a journey on a spectrum to increasing interest and avidity. It is a goal on the minds of social media pros – not the only goal, but certainly one of them. Some call it virality, but it’s more about finding content that’ll make someone say wow, make someone feel the need to share it or tell a friend about it, and make someone want to come back and sample some more. It can also go to another magnitude when an influencer, or at least someone with a large reach, shares your content. It’s always welcomed, but can’t be expected to achieve great levels of accidental exposure. But you can certainly tip the scales in your favor.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 6

The insights and knowledge kept coming from some generous, smart people I’ve had the privilege of speaking with over four years and 100 episodes of the Digital Social Media Sports Podcast. Therefore, I continue my retrospective, trying to distill some of the key insights gleaned from all these intelligent social media and sports pros.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, and stay tuned for more!

  • Stand out and know what makes you different

    Teams always resonate with their diehard fans. For them, the team is part of their identity. And the job of the social media and sports world is to convey that brand to others, to make them want to be part of the community, too. Teams and brands and universities want to have a well-understood message – so it is through visuals, video, voice, and content that the message can be carried and activated. This comes up again and again, as social channels are oftentimes the front porch.

  • OTT will dramatically alter the monetization structure in sports media

    OTT, over-the-top, is quickly penetrating live sports across the board and, with it, will come evolution in how it’s all monetized. Consumers are willing to pay for content, that is, to pay for it in lieu of sitting through ads – commercials, pre-rolls, mid-rolls, surveys, and pop-ups. Some prefer the ads, and when it’s via OTT, the ads can be increasingly personalized, actionable, targeted, and measurable. And there may be so many hybrids and price points and restrictions and security questions and, well, this world is going to change quickly. It has been interesting to get a taste of it from the podcast over the years, most poignantly when I spoke with EverSport Media’s Wayne Sieve.

  • Be aware of everything going on in the organization

    Social media has never truly ‘fit’ into a single department. That social media touches every part of the organization, and can help it, has been a motif over the years, and one that must not just be appreciated, but acted upon. It means intra-communication is essential, conveying the how and the why and the ‘ROI,’ and the social media person truly understanding the goals and mechanisms of the others. The social media pro may have more knowledge than any of everything the team or organization is doing, when done right. Go to lunches, establish a regular meeting, walk in doors, ask questions, give ideas, and always be listening and sharing.

  • Get messaging across through content

    There’s a lot of messaging organizations want to get across through social media. But the bar for fan attention is high, and it takes strong content. The good news is that quality content and content that resonates with messaging is not mutually exclusive. This came out in several conversations over the year, but really stood out when I spoke with Chris Dion, who heads up social media for the NCAA Championships and Alliances, focusing a lot on March Madness that drives a lot of the content, coupled with the messaging the NCAA wants to get across. When you know what the organization stands for after consuming content you enjoy, that’s a sweet spot for many a social media and sports pro.

  • Build measurable goals

    Social media and sports grows more strategic by the day and for it to get the credibility and investment it merits, goals must be set and reached. There are plenty of less tangible benefits, but it’s key to measure success in some, well, measurable way. Then reverse-engineer the path to getting there, and develop content and campaigns and tactics that’ll fuel those goals. Social media is a series of moments and content pieces that make up a season – when you have a clear destination in mind, it can really increase the precision and purpose of the posts.

  • Content can be marketing and marketing can be content

    There are measurable goals and there are emotions, steps, and pathways that lead fans those goals. Social media is a long game. Sure, last touch can happen on social, but the best, I’ve come to learn, create content that also taps into an emotion that leads fans to want to sign up, to buy, to attend, to share. Content about the team, about the fans, about the game need not contain a direct sales message; it merely gets fans excited about it all, strengthening ties, while leading to revenue-producing results in the end. It’s an evolution, still, but many social media pros now have the trust of the business and marketing and sales team to deliver a meaningful message that’ll ultimately affect the bottom line more.

  • We don’t want to be first, we want to be right

    It can be so tempting to be the early mover. To get noticed and perhaps written about because you were on a new platform or using a new technology before your peers. But a consistent piece of wisdom that the pros have stated in interviews with me is the need to learn about a platform, watch others use it, see what works, and evaluate if it’s a fit for the team or league or brand from a goals and resources perspective. Some take great pride in being first, many others (even if they’re first in sports), are constantly observing, taking notes, and understanding the platform before jumping on it haphazardly.

  • Micro conversions can be just as important as traditional conversions

    The term ‘conversion’ typically stands for the ultimate goal of any campaign, the success in the equation that determines ROI. But while most conversions end with an exchange – of money or information, we can go so much deeper now and track and achieve so many smaller conversions on the way to the big one. The pros that have lived in the social space get it, and it came out quite a bit that the pathways are not leaps from 1 to 2, but from 1 to 1a to 1b and so on. Seek micro-conversions every day and understand the pathways that can lead to the big conversions. This can and does play out in social media every day.

  • The brand and voice of your content affects who wants to work with you

    This was a unique insight that has come up quite a bit, but was particularly prominent in part of my conversation with Jamie O’Grady, then of the Cauldron (which is no longer around), a sports site built on crowd-sourced and professional and even active athlete writers. But, oh boy, does it apply across the board. Every single social media post, every insertion of voice, of personality, of wit and snark, all builds a brand and perception that can not only affect how fans feel about you, but also, not insignificantly, the corporate partners that want to work with you. So while your fire content, engagement-inducing voice, and epic trolling may win on social media, one must always be aware of the bigger picture, for better or worse.

  • Social media can level the playing field

    Take away the handle or the Page name, the logos and the names, and put social media content and creative side-by-side and all of a sudden it becomes much more difficult the big brands from the small ones, the minors from the pros. Whether battling with other college athletics programs or bigger pro teams, one of the best insights that has come out in several conversations has been the idea that anyone can look big-time on social media, with just a little effort into how they present themselves there through their content. A polish on a graphic, a great use of live, a sweet GIF – social media has nothing of a Power Five factor; anybody can win.

  • Nothing you put out should ever be by chance

    These days, the importance and value of social media – the eyeballs and the engagement, among other factors – is well-acknowledged and accepted. And, with this power comes opportunity and responsibility. The top social media and sports pros appreciate and understand this value and know that every detail with their content and presentation can, does, and should matter. Whether it’s making sure a photo or video is grabbed with a sponsor billboard salient in the background, taking a pic from the right angle so no empty seats are visible, or making sure a quote being posted can’t be misconstrued – there are so many intentional decisions made with every post, every day.

Know the goals of your internal clients

Because social media can amplify everything all parts of an organization are doing, it becomes helpful to sometimes think of coworkers leading each department as clients – what will help them achieve what they’re trying to do? This can be a challenge, at times, when social media pros are measured on their raw numbers and engagement rates and reach, but the best are walking in doors and understanding how others envision success in their roles. This not only builds trust, but fosters a more welcomed, trusting relationship, which ultimately ends up in better content, crafted by the social media pro, and better results. I’ve often stated, and heard through interviews, that nobody understands the ins and outs of an organization better than the head of social media. They have to, because social touches everything.