4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 7

As I’ve looked back on over four years and 100 episodes of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I am blown away, myself, shaking my head in amazement as I revisit all the great insights and lessons I have been lucky enough to draw out of these generous pros. My quest to help distill it all continues with part 7.

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

  • Overprepare and be ready for some content to go unused

    A story I’ve heard often, and have lived myself many times, is of the tons of content, carefully crafted, thoughtfully produced, and at the ready, can often end up on the cutting room floor, a folder of tears, if you will. But the best are always ready, knowing this is a necessary reality of being prepared. Social media moves so quickly and real-time is so important to truly capitalize, and therefore it is paramount to have content and a plan for any outcome. Ask any social media pro about their folder of tears, and you’ll no doubt get a story about a sweet graphic, campaign, post, or video that never saw the light of day.

  • Resources follow revenue

    The next social media and sports pro that says they have ample resources and wants of nothing will be the first. (Insert sarcastic joke about the Clemson Athletics department here). There are so many platforms to serve, so much content you want to produce, and so much analytics and analysis to do. And it’s all accelerating faster than organizations can keep up with, and certainly faster than revenue paradigms typically evolve, as well. But just about any request for more – budget, staff, equipment – is going to be met with a demand to show how it’ll lead to more revenue (even if there are multiple steps along the way). The monetization of social media question doesn’t have a single right answer, but the best are taking the time to analyze and model how it can lead to social media, justifying the question of resources. The answer, at the end of the day, is always revenue.

  • If it doesn’t match your brand, you shouldn’t be doing it

    The old saying goes (to paraphrase) that brand is what people say about you when you’re not around. Well, many brands in sports have largely been built over decades, long before Twitter was even a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s and Ev Williams’s eyes. Yet, Twitter has become a place where brands in sports are established, where voices, look, and feel are being cultivated. And many social media and sports pros I’ve spoken to over the years not only recognize this reality, but take the responsibility to be caretakers of that brand quite seriously. More than dropping a tweet to fish for numbers, at the expense of a brand value that is priceless and perpetual.

  • Make an effort to integrate sponsors organically

    The holy grail for social media and sports sponsorship is authenticity, content that both involves sponsors, but doesn’t feel forced. It’s not easy. It takes effort. But while we all recognize the desire to do this, not everybody makes the effort and sticks to it. Many of the top social media and sports pros have developed a sixth sense for it, though, understanding how to identify and how to create organic opportunities for partners to play. There are a lot of opportunities for exposure, for engagement, for content and sponsored content or integration need not be an idea with questionable connotations. Do better.

  • Celebrate the little victories when the big victories aren’t coming

    If there’s one thing every social media and sports pro can agree on, it’s the inability to control what happens in the game or match or race. There will be wins and there will be losses. There will be highs and lows. But it doesn’t change the charge to continue to drive engagement and emotion on social media among the fans. It has been instructive to speak to several sage social media specialists over the years who have helmed teams that have gone through periods of losing. I have learned a ton from them and it starts with still finding ways to celebrate what fans love, to make the smaller victories feel a little bigger (carefully), and to foster fans that care and can still enjoy the team. It’s not always easy, and not recommended, to be the eternal optimist. But it’s paramount to continue to find reasons and ways to celebrate all those moments and reasons every game, every day that fans have to stand and cheer.

  • Align athletics with the greater mission and goals of the university

    I’ve had the opportunity to pick the minds of several sports pros in the college athletics space, from big brands to small schools and many in-between. Athletics is, for many, the front porch for the university to many, so it’s imperative that messaging and brand is aligned. When sports can draw the attention of many potential students and donors all around the world, it’s an opportunity to further promote not just awareness of the school, but more about what it stands for and what they can offer beyond the sports. There is a grand mission for every university to get their values conveyed, and the savvy social media and sports pros in college appreciate it, and communicate with the university to represent it on that front porch.

  • How can you look big-time?

    Everybody wants to be in the cool kid group when it comes to the competitive world of social media and sports. It’s where many fans form their perceptions, so it can be important to stand out from the crowd. And to find a way to stand out. It can be darn near impossible to be on every platform and to do it well, especially at the smaller level, but focusing on what you can do well, and on what will ultimately lead to accomplishing the primary goals – that can be the game changer. On the level playing field of digital and social, anyone can stand out for doing something special.

  • Consistency of quality content is a challenge for social media and sports pros

    This can be tough in the pros, with varying degrees of time to put together content, but even more so in college, with so many handles, so much content, and such disparity in resources across sports and across schools. Conference content conglomerates can suffer if the stream from one school, for example, is far superior to another’s. And while the football team may have sick, graphics and video, the tennis team may not have the resources to create such quality, let alone doing so while maintaining a consistent brand. One of the things many social media and sports pros in college hold dear is that consistency in look, feel, and messaging across all its accounts and every sport. Every team comprises the whole of the university’s athletics, and that institution should have a consistent, powerful message.

  • Your platforms can and should be a dynamic space

    Every day brings something new in sports. That’s the beauty of it. And yet, too often, the presentation remains the same. That is not to say something for consistency, but different scenarios can call for different content, emphases, and visuals. While this emanated from a conversation with West Virginia Athletics’s Grant Dovey about the dynamic nature of the Mountaineers website, the idea can apply across social media and sports. While templates can help and can hold value, sometimes the special situations give cause to deviate from the norm, to surprise and delight.

  • Building trust and buy-in by recognizing goals

    Dovey also brought up the importance of realizing that the goals of some of the most important people when it comes to creating content – the coaches – is paramount. For the coaches, it was about reaching recruits, and reaching recruits, and then reaching recruits. This same principle applies across the board – how do you win trust? By understanding exactly what the goals are of others – driving donations, collecting leads, selling groups, creating sponsor assets, getting sign-ups, and, well you get the picture. It can be easy to get stuck in the KPIs of social media, but every day, it’s important to take stock, talk to others, and think about how you can show there’s something in it for them and it’s worth the time and attention.

  • Focus on building a community, not just a fan base

    Of the stories I’ve heard or lived in social media and sports, some of the best and most heartwarming are when there is such a community, that fans become friends. When Facebook or Twitter or Instagram can lead to meetups at a game or an event, or relationships form from seeing the same faces at each game. Social media should create a community that feels together, that wants to physically and digitally high-five each other when something exciting happens. A community with stronger ties is a more engaged invested fan base, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 2

I continue to look back on four years and 100 episodes of gleaning knowledge from some of the best and most thoughtful social media and sports pros,, doing my best to sum up key points. It is an attempt to give back to the community that continues to give so much to me. See part 1 here and stay tuned for parts 3 and 4!

  • Brand perception can start on social media and then go beyond; articulate your personaIn many ways, social media is the front porch of the organization. Where fans most frequently and consistently encounter the team and engage with it. It is, therefore, the place where a personality is perpetuated, a brand is built, and a look and feel is fostered. The power of the platform must be acknowledged and utilized. The best guests I talked to could clearly and thoughtfully describe the voice and the brand behind who they wanted to be on social media. Can you?
  • Make content easy to consume and digestTake the time. Take the time to eliminate any effort or friction for your fans, when it comes to content consumption. (Well, everything, really) That may mean using the proper specs for images, not squeezing in text that necessitates a pinch and zoom, not making a 5-minute video that would be better as a 45-second video. Those that take the time to consider this with their content are making it easier for fans to engage.
  • Your players are your brand ambassadors – issuing mini press releases dailyThis came from my conversation with Kevin DeShazo, who is thankfully leading the crusade against social media fear tactics, while espousing the need for us all to realize the power of the platforms, for good and bad. Whether it’s the 10-year veteran in the pros or the freshman hotshot in college, everyday players are representing their team, issuing mini press releases, as DeShazo put it in one response on our podcast. This is not something to fear, but to be harnessed.
  • Focus and foster the good on social, don’t use fear and focus on the badThe above very much relates to this concept, as well – the perils of the platforms are vastly outweighed by the good and the value. This idea, in many forms, has come up in my conversations over the years, and oftentimes, like in social media, it comes back to stories and FOMO. Convey to those uneasy about the power of social and win them over with examples – stories of how others are using it (and how you can) and instilling a little FOMO can move the needle in the office, too.
  • Focus on use cases and the path to winsIf there’s one piece of actionable advice for any social/digital and sports pro to take from many of my podcasts, it’s this one. You want to prove social media is worth caring about and investing in? Show it. Because not everybody ‘gets it,’ and not everybody can believe in metrics and reports that are new to them. Celebrate the small wins, showcase the success stories, and boast and brag when something blows up in a good way.
  • Teams are providing content fans seekThis seems so simple now. But it wasn’t that long ago that teams were still mostly glorified PR houses. Then the content improved, but in many ways still remained ‘close to the vest’ [and still does in a lot of places]. But a fascinating trend from teams has been them becoming the primary content destinations for fans. Many realized they were losing engaged eyeballs to other sites that were willing to entertain reports and rumors, and content that wouldn’t typically come from a team. Some hired insiders, others aggregated links. It’s one thing to produce awesome content, another to be a resource for fans, too.
  • Novelty doesn’t last longRemember when Snapchat revolutionized social media with ‘Stories?’ Or when Meerkat made it so easy to go live on mobile? Ever wonder why it feels like nary a month goes by without a new feature being introduced to your favorite platform or app? Fans expect incremental improvements and newness now. They expect ‘updates’ all the time. It’s no longer good enough to bank on a singular innovation, a culture of progress and improvements and breaking things quickly prevails now more than ever.
  • Capture data to provide valuePerhaps no field has grown more in social and digital in sports than data and analytics over the last handful of years. All of a sudden it became feasible to collect all sorts of fan data. But the theme that prevails among the best in the business is that data is not just a source for measurement and quarterly charts – it leads to adding value for the fans and for the organization. It’s important to diagram it out and design the path from data to action to value, and not just ‘doing big data’ just to say you are.
  • Start with objectives and reverse-engineer; empowerIt’s always easier to define social media ROI when you ask the question about the factors that comprise the ‘R.’ A major reason a lot of the pros I spoke with have success in their roles – they talk to their colleagues. They determine the objectives of every department in the organization, they learn what others value, so they can use the social and digital tools at their disposal to help and create and drive that value. Particularly in the college space, where there are several teams and hands in the social media cookie jar, along with coaches that each their idea of objectives, it’s just as important to empower others, teaching them to use the tools.
  • Value the deep connections and engagementEngagement as a catch-all terms has always given me pause. There are so many varying degrees of engagement that it all can’t be captured with just a single word. But it’s easy to recognize a deeper connection with a fan when it happens. Something you know will stick with them and become a part of their identity. Chasing the deep engagements can be just as valuable, if not more so, than trying to maximize that nebulous engagement rate. Cultivate super fans with deep engagements.
  • Social has led to more thirst for content and information, led to 365 nature of sportsI’ve had the chance to speak with folks in the media about how social media crept up on them and then vastly changed and amplified the way media and content producers live and work. When it became easy to get the score, fans wanted stats and play by play and audio. Then headlines came with a click, so fans wanted to know the rumors and the instant reactions and analysis. Then that came about, so fans wanted video and even more details into the dealings of the day and the lives of athletes. If it feels like pro sports are all relevant 365 days/year, that’s because they are. The content firehose of social media has made it such, because fans always want more.
  • Not every team has the same goalAsk three social media managers for sports teams for the list of goals on social media and there’s a good chance each will be different. It should be. The teams that turn the lights on and fill out a stadium or arena have far different needs than the team constantly under pressure to put more butts in seats. It’s so important to realize that, and to operate and learn and emulate appropriately. The key is to appreciate and understand the objectives and to realize that, as one’s career or the team’s status quo grows, the goals will change, too.
  • It’s hard to get an increase from ‘free’ when it comes to sponsored socialIt’s really not that long ago when social media sponsorship meant deals that included ‘x’ number of Facebook posts (yes, that generic) over the course of the contract. Social media was, and for some still is, a throw-in. The icing on the cake for a partner already paying plenty for more traditional inventory. Well, a common theme and lesson is that it’s easy to dilute the value of social media when one treats it as more a bonus than an asset.
  • Leverage social and UGC to amplify the team’s own brandCreating a brand is not just coming up with a catchy slogan and hashtag. It all doesn’t amount to much unless the fans get it and if the fans propagate it. That’s a big reason why user-generated content is so integral. Fans trust real fans, and are affected by them, so much more than brands and the official team account (though that is evolving, too). When you can drive a fan to participate, to proselytize, and to perpetuate, that’s a brand being built.
  • Twitter is a snapshot, not the entire universeWhile it’s so cool to be able to hear from fans, it’s important to realize that the social media sentiment on each and every platform is a subset and a small sample. That doesn’t make it insignificant or not insightful, it just means, you have to remind yourself, that is only a fraction of the whole. Small things can seem like a big deal, generalizations can be made from a couple tweets. It’s important to find the balance of following what active fans are saying and doing on social media, and studying the fan base as a whole on all platforms with which they connect, engage with, and encounter the team or the story or the brand.
  • Social media gives everyone their own distribution channel 

    This thought has obviously come to the forefront over the last few years, in which players and teams and bloggers and personalities have been able to disseminate their content and messages seamlessly, to a worldwide audience. It means there is a lot of incredible content being produced, it also means there is a lot of “absolute shit” content (as Richard Deitsch put it in our chat) being produced, as well. While the crowd is bigger, the best still stand out. Standing out with quality content is a necessity, even as it becomes more difficult every day.

    More to come…See all podcast episodes here.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 1

A labor of love. Building connections. Learning from the best. It has been four incredible years of the doing the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, now up to 100 episodes and counting. It’s hard to put into words the gratitude I have for those willing to speak to me. My goal has always been simply to learn, to have great conversations, and to hopefully help share the insights and lessons with others.

This is part 1 of the lessons and insights that stuck with me over the years of doing the podcast and chatting with some of the most talented people in digital and social media and sports. [Listen to podcast episodes here].

  • Social media ROI goes beyond numbers 

    Social media is the most consistent, authentic way to reach and hear from fans. There is great ROI just from gleaning the insights of listening and of conversations that can inform and improve all aspects of the organization. There is true value there when it’s harnessed and communicated well.

  • Interaction in any form is the name of the game 

    Ever had a celebrity or star athlete or team ‘like’ your post on Instagram or Twitter. Ever felt the rush of having a star you look up to reply directly to you? The smallest engagements and interactions can increase a fan’s avidity from surface-level to emotionally transcendent. And it can happen with a single click.

  • Re-allocate resources based on goals 

    Social media didn’t really exist 20 years ago. For decades, teams had established departments, responsibilities, budgets, and manpower. Then social came along and teams either resisted or adapted. But then some started to realize that what used to feel like obligations years ago weren’t the best use of their resources today. Changing times means evaluating whether your allocation of resources is best suited to get bag for the buck, given how things are today. Fight inertia.

  • Build brand ambassadors – superfans 

    Not all fans are created equally. There are a select few that, while not employed by the team, might as well be. They’re always talking about the team, talking them up, suggesting others go to the game or watch the game. The more super fans you can build, through engagement and empowerment, the biggest your base of brand ambassadors can become. Focus on fangelists and you’ll have voluntary marketers all over talking up your product. And they’re not on the payroll.

  • Collaborate with data folks 

    We all now realize that data can improve decision-making, processes, and outcomes in just about every aspect of the organization (from player performance to your most recent post on social). But it’s not easy. The key is to be willing and ready to welcome those that do analyze the data and be willing to listen, even if it’s not what you expected or wanted to hear. Data don’t lie.

  • Make the team cool 

    This is a goal that was true four years ago and remains true today – you want to build a brand that fans want to be associated with. That fans want to be proud of. You want to be cool. It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to actually execute. Being cool means having confidence, not attacking others, associating with other cool people and things, and creating stuff that fans would describe as ‘cool.’ Then, fans will want to come hang out with you more often!

  • Earn the right to market to fans 

    This sage statement came from James Royer, who now oversees digital and social for the Kansas City Chiefs. Social media is not a marketing channel. It can serve marketing goals, but fans don’t follow you or come to you to be marketed to. That right must be earned by winning trust. Give fans content they want, first and foremost, and don’t undermine the value of their attention with blatant marketing messages. Fans know how to buy and that’s not the first thing on their mind when they’re flicking through your feed.

  • Embed social throughout the organization 

    Remember, it’s not about being good at social media. It’s about being good at business and using social to help do that. Look at every department of the organization, enumerate their goals, and figure out how social media can effectively help serve those goals. Fan development, sales, service, sponsorship, CR, game operations, PR, marketing, and the list goes on. Social isn’t a tactic, it’s a new way of doing business.

  • Partnership = all parties win 

    The word partnership often gets used interchangeably with sponsorship. But there are clear differences. A sports partnership is one in which everybody benefits – the team/organization and their fans, along with the partner. If an activation doesn’t satisfy these criteria, then reevaluate it and adjust it until it does. That’s how you can pile up partnership wins.

  • ROO is just as important as ROI 

    We always focus so much on ROI, return on investment, and not enough on ROO, return on objective. These are two distinct things, yet are often treated as one in the same. It’s not always a tangible, set number and equation. Focus on the ‘goal’ of the partner or the campaign and how you can help accomplish that objective. We are getting increasingly better at quantifying, well, just about everything, but the important thing to be cognizant of is that an objective is not just a number.

  • Identify ownable elements and assets 

    It used to be easier with sports sponsorships. You have so many billboards and media timeouts to fill. But now social has forced us to kind of blow up the rate card. But old habits die hard and most brands and salesmen find it understandably difficult to go out and ‘sell social.’ But there are content and activities taking place every day in sports. The key is to identify and enumerate these things. Then you’ll have something for a salesman to sell and for a sponsor to eye.

  • Go beyond the score 

    It’s always funny to see a score go final or an injury get announced and tons and tons of social media feeds all echo the same news. Information is more accessible than ever, but more transient and diluted in value than ever. The trick for a sports media is to go beyond just the information and give something more – context, fun content, multimedia. It’s so much more than just the stats and scores.

  • Dominate a couple places > stretching thinly everywhere 

    It’s hard for teams and media not to want to chase every channel. The more eyeballs the better, right? The answer is not so black and white. It’s certainly not the case if it means more eyeballs on substandard content. One is better off being known as great or the best on a couple platforms than being seen everywhere, reeking of mediocrity. It sound logical enough, but many still find it hard to resist the siren call of being, well, everywhere.

  • The goal is not to turn every fan into a STHer 

    We know season ticket holders are the most valuable fan to a brand, in the most basic sense. But it’s simply not feasible for every fan, for every sales lead to become a season ticket holder, whether for lack of time, money, or imply being located too far away. It sounds simple, but too often the sales process and sales spectrum still aspires to turn that single game buyer into a season ticket holder. Focus on the optimal outcome for each fan and each lead, informed by data, and not some arbitrary goal that is not appropriate for all.

  • Fan data goes beyond that tied to sales and numbers 

    We’re deluged with data, and that’s a beautiful thing. But that just means the non-quantifiable “fan data” is more valuable than ever. It’s great to know that a fan went to ‘x’ games last month and usually buys beer at every game. But how about knowing their kid is about start playing soccer at college next year or their wife is allergic to gluten? It’s the type of “data” we take for granted in every day relationship with friends and family that can vastly enhance the relationship of fans with the team (and their account reps).

  • Tech as a differentiator and revenue producer – more screens, more integrated techWe’re in the midst of an arms race when it comes to stadium and arenas – more and faster WiFi, more screens, and more apps. A key factor is to consider how tech CAN differentiate your experience from the alternatives, how it can make your team stand out for the better. The difficult maze continues when it comes to not making investments in tech in a silo – make it integrated into more aspects of the fan experience, to add value. More integrated screens and tech can optimize sponsor activations, as well – more extensive and effective takeover, a greater ability to enhance the fan experience, and the chance to reach more eyeballs and leave an effect on fans.
  • Social holds the keys to what fans want the most, it has the most consistent eyeballs – monetize it 

    The revenue pie hasn’t changed as dramatically as the fan attention pie has. But the ones trying to stay ahead are paying attention to this shifting paradigm more and figuring out how to effectively monetize. This was an early insight four years ago and one that is more acknowledged, if not fully realized today.

  • Promoting promotions in an engaging way 

    Marketing/promotional messages and engaging, quality content for fans do not have to be mutually exclusive. All those content:marketing ratios can be thrown out the window when content exists to get fans excited about the players, the teams ,and the games.

  • Understand the platform audience and the culture, across the world 

    It’s easy to click once and cross-post on all social media channels all over the world. But it’s naive to think these audiences are all the same, consume content the same, way, and even get excited about the same memes. The stories and messages can remain consistent, but it’s not just important, but more effective to post the way fans on the platform want to consume the content and how they speak to each other. These principles remain important as teams expand their social media to foreign audiences on Sina Weibo and WeChat.

  • You can crush it between 7pm-2am if you want it bad enough 

    Gosh, this sentiment and line from my chat with Peter Robert Casey (which he was relaying) has stuck with me. While it’s tempting to binge on Netflix and sit back and relax each night, there is nothing stopping you from working toward a passion and a dream.Stay tuned for more parts of lessons I learned in four years of doing the podcast!

    Listen to podcast episodes here.

What Stood Out at the NACDA Vendor Showcase

There are only so many things in which a team or athletics program can invest. And the vendor exhibition at the annual NACDA conference is a visual manifestation of just that – from compelling new products to nice-to-haves to innovations, and enough to stretch the budget of even the boldest behemoths.

I love these things. Because, if nothing else, it is a showcase of what college athletics folks, in this case, want and need; and at what those out there think they want and need. (Except free booze; always free booze).  It is also an opportunity to identify pain points for college athletics programs, because these businesses should, in theory, help solve a pain point or at least enhance or streamline a strength.

With that in mind, here are eight of the most common solutions and types of vendors I saw pitching their services to the college athletics folks (in digital, in marketing, in development/fundraising, in ticket sales, in operations, in media relations, in external relations…all over) at the 2017 NACDA Conference vendor showcase

Branding companies

Everywhere you turn, there is a new and novel way to propagate your brand. While digital is growing more and more, there is still a lot of faith, and a lot of value, in physical, visual branding. From logos on the carpet to branded accessories to wrapping a bus, and just about anything you can imagine, there is a way to find a branded version for anything, a way to make sure the school’s logo is front and center all over. Colleges are getting more and more savvy and self-sufficient with graphic design, but sometimes you need someone that specializes in pool tables, corn hole boards, or gymnasium floors.

Lockers

You may have heard about the University of Texas football program’s new $10,000 lockers. Not sure there any that ostentatious, but there were plenty of locker companies and displays there that could no doubt make them. Lockers aren’t just a utility anymore, they’re an attraction and a sign of brand and grandeur for a college athletics program looking to impress recruits. It is another cog in the arms race and vendors pitching the latest and greatest and most innovative and visually appealing lockers were not in short supply at NACDA.

Digital / Video

With the proliferation of social, mobile, and digital among fans (and, well, everybody), colleges know they need to have the digital and video capability and output of a colossal conglomerate. Content is key to affect all departments in athletics, and video and digital offers the youngest and largest audience, and the best bang for the literal and figurative buck, in many cases. These companies help hook up complex camera and video / video replay systems, offer streaming solutions across platforms, streamline the transfer of content from phone or camera to social or web, allowing any associate SID to provide amazing content, that gets disseminated, at the drop of a dime. The mind is ahead of the body for some athletics departments – they know what they want to do, but may lack the resources, bandwidth, or knowledge to make it happen. That’s where these guys seek to come in.

Architecture

There’s nothing college athletics loves more than scaffolding. Perpetual construction connotes shiny new facilities or additions, a sign of financial health and progress for their athletics programs. And I was struck by the number of architecture firms specializing in sports facilities seeking to catch the eye of attendees to design their next new buildings funded by the next successful campaigns. There is indeed big business here, and a number of firms were there trying their best to stand out as best-in-class, most trusted, or most creative.

Turf

There were also a handful of artificial turf companies, which seemed fairly indistinguishable. There is still demand for the product and therefore an opportunity to win market share (maybe someone has?) and seek to stand out through innovation, creativity, and/or relationships.

Digital Signage

Screens, screens, and more screens. Society has a surfeit of screens, and there are solutions that want to help fill and organize those screens, and other digital signs of all shapes and sizes. There is opportunity to expose more fans to more content, more marketing, and more sponsors. It’s not easy to serve and organize all the content across those screens, and measure it; let alone come up with the physical signs and screens themselves. Another case of knowing what one can and should be doing, and seeking a solution to make it happen.

Fundraising

Digital has certainly penetrated content, ticketing, marketing, media relations, and operations. But fundraising, a major part of college athletics, have yet, it seems to reach full digital maturation. There weren’t a ton of solutions targeting this space, but there were some. Solutions helping to marry technology, data, and digital with fundraising and donations. This is a unique space that no doubt catches the eye of the development folks there, as these businesses seem to have things streamlined and figured out to make donation via digital both optimized and in compliance with the oh-so-many regulations.

Ticketing

While many can name the major players in ticketing for college athletics, there remains opportunity for a number of smaller players to get a small piece of the pie. Almost every program needs a ticketing solution and there is increasing demand for digital, for mobile, and for data among every one of those programs, of any size.

 

In the end, industries will evolve by seeking to make things better, easier, more successful. The vendors that win the value prop equation and have feasible, actionable solutions will capture college.