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.

Content Takeaways of Sampling Sports Illustrated’s Everest VR Series

Virtual reality content seeks to transport users to another place. Put on a VR headset and the world is transformed around you and, at least for me, stimulates a desire to look around. It’s part FOMO and part exploration. As with most video content, one is, well, watching it. But it can be powerful to feel a part of it all, an active participant, too, in VR or with any content.

The Everest Series on the Life VR app (part of Sports Illustrated) is a VR documentary, first and foremost. Between watching that, amid other VR experiences, there are a couple key things I learned about content, in general: The periphery can be cool and treat users like they’re there with you.

Immersion means taking in the surroundings

While the mountain climbing, the high suspension bridges, the ice and waterfalls, were all cool, one part of Everest that stood out to me more than anything was so simple. It was walking down the streets of Nepal. The chance to see average people walking down the street, the shops and traffic; the overall scene of a foreign place.

It was the little things that mattered most – experienced only by actively looking around. What are fans missing out on, what can you show them that they’ve never seen before? Maybe it’s a unique knick-knack in a player’s locker, the hustle-bustle of players and staff and equipment managers for a hurried trip to the airport, the lunch being served after practice and the music playing in the locker room during lunch.

Give a first person perspective of the second-hand content typically being produced. And share the details, little by little.

Make Fans Feel There and Present

One of the most valuable takeaways I’ve had with VR is the power of eye contact. Of the subject looking at you like you’re there and part of it all. It was one thing to be a fly on the wall for some of the conversations on the climb at Everest, but I know it would’ve taken things to another level if the climber was talking to me, the Nepalese Sherpa looking me right in the eye, telling a story or giving a tip.

Everywhere in social and digital media, there is increasing proliferation of live video, and the opportunity for it to be and feel interactive is great. Invite fans into the content with you – show them around, talk to them, enhance the feeling of being there.

The bar for content is constantly being raised and fans these days value deeper engagement with content. Whether it’s VR or not, transporting fans to the surroundings and making them part of the story can deliver amazing experiences with content.

Sports Media Adapting to the Modern Fan

Sports media outlets used to be just about content. The games on the channels were more important than the networks broadcasting them. It’s not like consumers had a plethora of choices from which to get their sports content in the past.

But that has all changed. It’s no longer just ESPN and the local paper. Or even a half dozen sports content websites. It’s thousands upon thousands. So how do the big guys maintain their place at the top of the mountain, particularly in the free-for-all world of digital and social?

They build brand.

Cultivating a brand, and having an active brand presence on every platform on which fans are consuming is an increasingly important concern for players in the social media game. These notions were recently elucidated at the annual Sports Business Journal World Congress of Sports, held April 20-21, 2017 in Dana Point, CA. (Check out a recap)

“SportsCenter is not a show, it’s a brand,” said ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling. “It lives online, social, mobile, our OTT [over-the-top] apps.”

ESPN has long been more than just a set of TV channels, and nowadays they recognize the need to be that omni-channel brand that fans know and trust. As the cable paradigm continues to diminish, too, sports media brands like ESPN know it may be a direct-to-consumer play, not protected by the bundle.

President of Turner David Levy emphasized the need to ‘control platforms’ and not to dice up the distribution, especially in sports. Appreciating the shift in the ways fans are consuming content was a central motif of the conference’s opening panel. Michael Neuman, Executive Vice President, Managing Partner, Scout Sports and Entertainment – ‎Horizon Media, noted in a tweet: “[The] Biggest theme of opening panel is “decentralization” of media consumption and inability of youth to embrace current delivery.”

So how are sports media businesses seeking to combat this conundrum? Build a unique brand, of course.

For Turner and Levy, it means serving a cross-section of the interests of their fans, earning more of their attention every day. “The definition of a network is changing,” stated Levy, specifically speaking about Turner’s brand now including Bleacher Report. “The future of B/R is a cross between sports and culture (music, fashion) and maybe live games.”

Perhaps the best manifestation of finding success with a unique brand in sports media is Barstool Sports. Their irreverent, authentic, informed, unfiltered take on sports stories and content has found some startup success in an increasingly crowded sports marketplace. They’ve done it by letting the punch line that are Internet takes and memes drive much of their hyperbolic content.

“We are SNL [Saturday Night Live] if it were born out of the Internet,” said Erika Nardini, CEO Barstool of Sports:  We have the fan base and loyalty…

“Brand has to be part of the conversation.”

The lesson lies in the fact that fans are no longer coming straight to you in droves. Consumer have so many choices for content and their attention must be earned; you’ve got to make yourself easy to reach and then you’ve got to them want to come to you.

A List of Sports Biz Insights and Stats from the Sloan Conference

The leaders in the sports business world are constantly on a quest to get bigger and better. They’re studying, predicting, measuring, analyzing, evolving. And many of them came together for the 2017 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. While the conference is very much about athlete and team performance, there is also a wealth of sports business stats and insights shared.

Here are 29 quick sports biz bytes from the conference, shared via Twitter from #SSAC17:
[See full recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 here. Lots more.]
*Leagues are evolving in their relationships with sponsors. The NFL talked about actively collaborating with corporate partners on all facets of the business of the league and he game. The success with Microsoft Surface was highlighted as a win.

*Fanatics has become such a dominant player in the sports merchandise space because of its robust digital offering that can act upon demand in an instant. An example cited was that after just five games into his breakout career, with his name hotter than ever, Joel Embiid’s jersey was one of the top-selling in the NBA, thanks to the speed of Fanatics.

*While this principle was stated from the NFL and MLB, it was a theme (and has been) for thought leaders for a while – content must be disseminated to reach fans at the places and on the platforms on which fans are consuming their content. Simple enough, right?

*Also from the NFL and MLB [and another recurring lesson] – a major key to the growth of any sport is youth participation. Get them playing, make them a fan while they’re, and there’s a better chance they’ll be fans for life.

*It’s great if you can collect data, but it’s all about what you do with it. Casey Wasserman clearly shared a lot of wisdom to SSAC attendees and this one resonated, as it should.

*Teams and leagues are now seeking to serve every fan, regardless of where or how they’re consuming and engaging. That means focusing during games on digital engagement, on the in-venue experience, and on the TV broadcast. Each offers an opportunity to engage, and treats every fan of the team with care.

*The FOMO acronym seemed to be another common consideration. It’s still about making others want to be there, at the game.

*Lots of talk about personalization. Ticketmaster envisioned reaching a place, soon, where every experience for fans is personalized – discovery, purchase, amenities. Team execs are similarly focused on personalization, particularly with fan messaging and in-venue experiences. The new norm is personalization, and it’s only going to get better.

*A stat that certainly stood out – 50-70% of Fanatics listings on Amazon are counterfeit. Bad news for consumers, perhaps fodder for teams to convince fans to buy from their stores. Or maybe teams should sell directly on Amazon.

*Every league is worried about the waning attention spans, and desire for ‘content snacks,’ of Millennials and Generation Z. The objective is not so much focused on shaving minutes off games, but more so about reducing dead time in games [NFL, MLB, NBA]. Less time between action. The NFL also noted adjusting their commercial ad structure, for something more fan-friendly.

*Some interesting findings from stats around Los Angeles Dodgers concessions – alcohol comprises 49% of concessions revenue. Perhaps not surprising, but interesting. Also from the Dodgers – fan cart size increased with self-serve kiosks, and the Dodgers saw concessions revenue and sales decrease when Clayton Kershaw pitch, because his starts were so much shorter. (And fans likely want to be in their seats to see the ace in action)

*Stats to consider from WWE – While we focus on so much on mobile TV viewing, just 15-20% of WWE Network viewing is on mobile devices. Even on the digital-only WWE Network, fans still seek out the big TV for their sports. Another eye-popping stat from WWE – 70% of their content consumption comes from outside the US.

*Wasserman Managing Partner Elizabeth Lindsey noted the need for sports leagues to focus on international growth, despite so much attention at home paid to driving youth, female, and minority viewership growth. The NBA has their eyes on India (looking for India’s version of Yao Ming), while the NFL is hoping to crack China. The NBA, in discussing their success growing the game and the league in China, noted that content was provided for free to a Chinese network to show on TV, building in exposure for the NBA and the game.
*Pretty impressive user and user engagement stats from Twitch. The esports and video game streaming platform boasts 100 million monthly active users, and their users average  a mind-blowing 140 minutes per day on Twitch.

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*The aspects of personalization are also of increasing concern when it comes to content and digital marketing. As more data is collected and put into action, greater degrees of custom experiences with content is a goal for the sports business industry, as well.

*Virtual reality and augmented reality were not surprisingly popular topics. A stat that stood out that either means future growth or stuck in the rut for VR is that the Consumer headset market for VR in the US is currently around six to ten million. One definite positive was the news from sports VR company STRVIR, which reported that it has been profitable the last two years.
*NBA Commissioner Adam Silver talked about how lucky they are to have players that market the league themselves, with all their activity on social media and in the media. The league also focuses on social media education and empowerment, which, along with willing and already social media-savvy players, makes for great success there.

*170+ million fans watched March Madness games in 2016. That’s a helluva number, and is certainly happening on an ever more diverse array of platforms now.

*Uninterrupted, the player-driven and video-focused content network co-founded by LeBron James, is not trying to displace journalism outlets like ESPN. Instead, explained Maverick Carter, their competition is more premium content producers, like HBO.

* This stat just stood out to me a bit…Which sport would you guess has the fifth most estimated fans in the world? I’ll give you a second…

It’s volleyball. I wouldn’t have guessed correctly.

*Good gambling stats to heed, as legalization expands in the US –> In Europe, sports gambling via mobile comprises 80% of the market and in-play [during the game/match] gambling makes up over 50% of total handle. Lots of $$ to come in this space for the US. That said, one limiting factor for such real-time gambling, it was noted, is the slowness/lag of data feeds delivering the stats.

*The CTO of Ticketmaster provided some fascinating insights on a panel at the conference. One that stood out to poder was that 68% of all tickets on Ticketmaster are sold after the original on-sale and presale. This could mean a lot of things, but mainly that most tickets are not bought early, which aligns with notion that fans are waiting to buy tickets.
Another ticket sales stat, that ws quite mind-blowing, was that there is an estimated $7 BILLION worth of arbitrage in the ticket sales market. You think teams want some of that/

*Another stat that opens some eyes for teams (via Ticketmaster) is that the names captured to tickets sold ratio is 1:2.8. Yep, nearly 3 of every 4 tickets are sold without teams knowing the identity of the buyer.

*The point was raised that there are two main cohorts of fans attending games. There are those fans that are there because they’re fans of the team and feel invested in them. And there are those who are there for the experience of attending the event, the spectacle (and, yeah, probably the social media fodder).

* A great insight from the San Francisco 49ers VP of Sales & Serivce Jamie Brandt, as he noted that, for Millennial fans, share-able experiences are valued far more than expensive things/items. Something to keep in mind for memorable fan experiences.

*An interesting stat from the panel on gambling was a study estimating that legalization of gambling would result in an average 10% increase in viewership for pro sports. Fans that are invested, literally, are engaged and don’t miss the game.

*In the ever-evolving world of tickets, paper and paperless, the 49es talked about everything from all-mobile ticketing to even a ‘biometric’ solution for fans of the future to gain entry into the game.

*As teams, leagues, and brands continue to try and do social media the right way, a statement that permeated and penetrated was that ‘Social media is for consuming content, not [conducting] transactions.’ (Though, Facebook Ads do work pretty well). Don’t forget why fans are there in their Feeds in the first place.

*There was a fascinating panel on sports journalism with Adrian Wojnarowski, Adam Schefter, and Ken Rosenthal that was full of good nuggets, some of which you can see in the SSAC recap. The powerhouse reporters talked about the nature of breaking news and how it’s not always so simple when you want to balance confirming vs. getting beat, and throwing in promises to sources to hold info until a certain time. They also spoke about the importance of building relationships and getting to know a lot of people in the industry, as well as getting to know the athletes as people. Other tips included a warning against burning bridges  (because word spreads quickly) and when reporting news answer and bring out the why and the how, not just the what.

*It’s a dialogue, not a monologue on social media. This is paraphrased from VP of Wasserman Mike Bernstein, which succinctly reinforces the need to remember the social in social media. If you’re the only one talking, that’s broadcasting, not relationship building. Creating conversation through content is powerful.

 

I’m always thirsty to learn more and greatly enjoyed picking up on some insights via #SSAC17. Be sure to check out the recaps.

 

Episode 87: Katlyn Gambill Helps the Minnesota Wild Provide Valuable Content for their Fans

Listen to episode 87 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Katlyn Gambill ,Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Minnesota Wild.


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54 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

Review of Los Angeles Lakers Game Sponsorship and Content

The LA Lakers have one of the strongest, most storied teams in professional sports. With a brand that transcends their sport, brand association is no doubt a valuable proposition for corporate partners. While the Lakers have their share of activations on game night, it is clear this partnership association holds the most value, thereby lending credibility to more traditional, less active approaches.

I attended a game on January 31, 2017, and here is a brief look around at marketing, engagement, and sponsorship elements that caught my eye.

Upon arriving at Staples Center, walking through LA Live, one can see Lakers wraps to show that, tonight, Staples (also the home of the LA Clippers, LA Sparks, and LA Kings) is home to the Lakers. Lines to get in through security were slow and long (~ 25 minute wait; issues with ingress is real. Egress would be far easier). Like the wraps, the ‘Team LA’ store is full of Lakers merchandise, while ticket tables are peppered throughout the concourse and the floor and dasherboards are adjusted to Lakers. Notably, Lakers.com was the main digital property promoted, as opposed to any social media, in addition.

 

Throughout the game and between game play, the eyes are constantly drawn to the Staples Center video board, and the Lakers content and eye-catching graphics. The Lakers know where much of the attention is going and show their sponsor messages in that line of vision. It’s not a lot of ‘presented by’ elements or integration, but organic content and graphics to attract/earn the attention, while also borrowing some attention for sponsor messaging.

This is not to say there isn’t room for more active sponsorships and more elements that can organically tie in a partner, while providing value for fans. But instead of the Toyota Halftime Highlights, it’s just Halftime Highlights. Similarly with other on-screen elements and fan engagement features like the ‘Bubble Cam,’ Kiss Cam, Dance Cam, and more.

 

While there were fewer booths and activations of any sort overall at the Lakers game version of Staples Center than the Clippers’s version I attended weeks earlier, there were will some effective sponsor activations around. These were all, notably, on the first floor, whereas the Clippers had some on the upper levels, as well. There was a Verizon-branded activity (shooting for basketball games, changes for hockey games and concerts) that was popular, even during the game. The Los Angeles Times was also giving away t-shirts to market their newspaper subscriptions.

The most memorable and unique activation was the StubHub memento maker. Fans could sign up with name/phone number/email, get their photo taken, and then customize an image to be printed on the spot and shared digitally. A fun and creative way to get some shareable content and a commemorative ticket lanyard to wear it around. An excellent and effective activation.

The Lakers also had their own data capture activation, with an enter-to-win VIP tickets to a game/event. These digital sweepstakes are active for every Staples Center event. There were also a few ticket sales tables peppered throughout.

While there were not a lot of directly sponsored elements in-game, there was one late in the game as the Lakers sought to close out their victory. In the fourth quarter, the scoreboard exhorted fans to Make Some Noise. Jack In The Box is a fixture late in Lakers home games, as fans get free tacos if the team holds their opponent under 90 points.

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Overall, the Lakers are not overly blatant, nor overly novel or engaging with many of their sponsor activations and in-game entertainment elements. The traditional brand has a handful of major corporate partners and hammers home these relationships with repeat impressions and positioning as true partners, as opposed to just sponsors.

NFL Wild Card Weekend Social Media Wows

It’s playoff season in the NFL, which means 17 weeks of regular season games have passed. The social media teams behind each club have had weeks to experiment, study, hone, and create. The playoffs began this weekend and not only was it a chance for the league’s better teams to take the field (sorta), it was a chance for their social media squads to shine on a grander scale.

Read on and take a look at some of the standout social media content and strategy that came from the eight NFL teams in action over Wild Card weekend.

(Also check out Social Media Team Reviews from every week of the NFL season)

360-degree content

While some content can get tired and stale, 360-degree content is far from that description and a few teams busted out some 360-degree content, specifically on Facebook, over Wild Card weekend. First, 360-degree content is by no means easy, but Facebook has made it easier than ever. The trick, too, is to make it worthwhile for the user to want to look around. I was particularly impressed by the Miami Dolphins producing 360-degree video, including going to suggested angles while also allowing personal navigation.

Captions

The Seahawks put out a pregame hype video, full of emotion and visuals, on all platforms. Al the other teams did something similar, but the Seahawks’s video on Facebook including captions. This helps enhance engagement, with lots of video views occurring with the sound off, which would’ve made the narration useless.

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Making the most of Instagram Stories

A few of the teams stood out with their use of Instagram Stories on this Wild Card weekend. The Detroit Lions took full advantage of all the features, including @ mentioning players in their posts and utilizing the Swipe Up. They also effectively integrated a sponsor. Meanwhile, the Packers and Seahawks had some excellent graphics, with the Packers providing a game preview and the Seahawks killing it with some real-time content.

Fun with Emojis on Snapchat

So, yeah, teams have used emoji on Snapchat before. But the time the Packers took to add emoji to a couple of Snaps in their pregame story made the ‘usual’ locker room pics that much more fun.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Just like players and coaches game plan, so do social media teams. After 16 weeks of games, they know where to be or how to find out where to be and when. The result is capturing some unique, awesome content. Making sure to be in the right position is half the battle. Check out the Raiders’ Snapchat knowing to be there to let fans watch players tap the win sign on their way out. The Seahawks were able to make sure someone cut through the crowd to capture opposing players exchanging pleasantries after the win. Fans of the Steelers were treated to an emotional pregame embrace between Big Ben and LeVeon Bell, while Packers fans saw a pregame routine of ball spinning. The social media teams were executing the game plans all day long.

Personally addressing fans

It has been great to see this ‘trend’ grow across the NFL on social media, and this Wild Card weekend brought some excellent examples of personal messages via social. We got a thoughtful pregame message from the Giants, some real-time talk from the Raiders and Seahawks, a Steelers player heating up fans in the cold, and, coolest of all, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio exhorting fans via the team’s Snapchat. There is a lot of emotion, focus, and routine on game day, so good on these social media teams to be there and to have developed the relationship to have that access and serve as that trusted conduit to share it all with the fans.

Working with Influencers

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans were able to activate influencers on their social media platforms, while the Raiders made the most of a message from former star player Charles Woodson (there for ESPN) and they also retweeted some ‘celebs.’ (The MC Hammer retweet is a weekly occurrence for the Black n Silver).

 

Capturing Attention on Twitter

Twitter is a fast-moving medium during the game, especially when big plays occur. The Pittsburgh Steelers did a great job (and usually do) at engaging fans on Twitter using the game with thumb-stopping visual tweets and good use of the scratch-reel GIF (content with which it made sense to utilize). They also threw out a funny ‘Touchdown’ dictionary.com graphic, inserting star WR Antonio Brown. When you have a stud like Brown, using the same GIF over celebration routine can get stale – the Steelers step it up.

 Thoughtful Content

Every week is a chance for teams to give their fans something unique, something new. Especially in the playoffs. The Houston Texans (though they have done this before) slapped Snapchat Spectacles on the flag bearer and fans got to experience the spirited sprint into the stadium. The Steelers also used Spectacles to give fans a look at the field and a feel for the elements. The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, planned and produced a shoot at famed Pike’s Place in Seattle, tossing a Lions helmet instead of a fish. Finally, I was struck by the overhead view of the Green Bay Packers pregame huddle jumping around that the team shared on Facebook and Twitter. While we may be accustomed to such unique angles on professional  broadcasts, it was cool to see this coming straight from a team. Finally, a nod to the Seahawks who minded their copy to turn an Instagram post from good to great.

Featuring Fans

In the midst of preparing so much (fire) content for fans to consume, it can be easy to forget about showcasing the fans there to cheer on the team on game day. The Houston Texans, in particular, did a good job of showing off some of their fans on Saturday, as well as all week, across digital and social. They also made sure to get a shot of a couple celeb fans there for the game.

The Texans also had a sweet ‘frame’ for their Instagram photos, with players posing in the locker room before the game.

Lots of Video

Video is king right now and its reign appears to be a lasting one. Every team had at least one hype video and there was also a lot of quick video, especially Snapchat and even Twitter (in the case of the Texans). Meanwhile, the Dolphins got major views with a handful of produced, emotion-infused videos on Faebook (and repurposed elsewhere). Kudos, too, to the Raiders for showing the post game locker room from head coach Jack Del Rio, not so easy after a loss. The Seahawks turned around some produced, but real-time content effectively, as well. A few of the teams also cut to live or taped reports from on the field with team reporters, content which always seems to do well for teams.

And a quick nod to the always awesome visual work from the Dolphins photography and graphic team. This is just a couple posts. All their platforms showcase the photos effectively and beautifully.

 

Facebook CTA button

You know that little button under your Facebook header photo – that often says Contact Us, Get App, Shop Now, etc. Well, the New York Giants took the time to change their CTA button to ‘Watch Video’ and link to a game preview on their website for their matchup against the Packers. Quite the attention to detail to leave no stone unturned for content.

 

There is little doubt that social media is an inherent part of the fan experience on game day. More eyeballs than ever are on the platforms of teams with national attention on them in the NFL postseason. Every media outlet, reporter, and fan is more engaged and putting out more content, and the competition for attention and love is fierce. It’s also a great time to learn!

As the road to the Super Bowl continues, keep your eyes open and your ears peeled because new social media tactics, ideas, and innovations are playing out on a national scale in real time.

There Is A Sweet Spot In Sports Marketing And It’s Glorious

There’s nothing like a good marketing campaign or partner activation. When done well, fans enjoy it, it delivers on objectives, and it’s measurable. It takes creativity and it takes analytical thinking. Oh, and passion. I possess all three, and you will find no better candidate, no one that will work harder, care more, and bring more energy and excitement every day. Turner Sports and me can be a magical match.

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Auburn Athletics and SnapLaces – branded content that engaged fans and effectively activated SnapLaces

TL;DR: SnapLaces makes tieless shoelaces, with ‘snaps’ on them that can be branded. They work with several colleges, including Hopscotch’s customer – Auburn (War Eagle!). The goal was to attract engagement and eyeballs for them using Auburn’s app and social platforms. This was a new deal that my team and I found, pitched, sold, and executed.

The campaign: In addition to display ads (in the app and on the website) and ‘Tigers Trivia’ [in which fans shared their info and played trivia for a chance to win free SnapLaces], we created a fun ‘Break The Tie’ promotion, where fans guessed which was more likely or higher/lower on a series of quick poll questions previewing a big game.

Why? It provided information about the game, an opportunity to engage and see what others were saying, and effectively got the message to fans that SnapLaces is about not having to tie one’s shoes. After completing it and seeing the voting results, fans were given a discount offer with SnapLaces.

BreakTie

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University of Central Florida (UCF) Athletics and Jasper Construction

TL;DR: Jasper Construction came to UCF Athletics looking to recruit students to apply to their career and intern programs. UCF gave them right to me and, after learning of their objectives, I devised a creative, relevant way to engage fans and provide effective activation for Jasper – a personality quiz tied to a pastime of many college students – a tailgate.

The campaign: We invited fans to take a ‘personality quiz’ that would identify the role they’re best suited for at the tailgate. We built a quiz that revealed which type of tailgater they are and then also recommended a potential career path at Jasper, based on their result.

Why? Full transparency – the UCF sales manager originally pitched simple display ads, but Jasper wasn’t feeling it, they’d been there done that. We didn’t want something fans had trained themselves to tune out and ignore, we want something native, more like the content they come to the platforms for in the first place. And it was also about making sure Jasper’s message was getting across. This was that intersection that could delight in all directions.

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[this was a rough draft in one size, I do not have the other files still]

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Formula DRIFT and Black Magic

TL;DR: Formula DRIFT is a pretty cool sport and is probably what you think it is – drifting. Competitive drifting. Its fans are into extreme sports and many of them are passionate car buffs. Black Magic is a car care brand you’re likely to see, but not really notice, in an Auto Zone or O’Reilly Auto Parts. So how could we drive awareness and positive attention to Black Magic without it feeling, well, like a catalogue, coupon, or banner ad?

The campaign: We knew these fans were highly engaged; they enjoyed interacting with content. We also knew they loved going inside the garage / under the hood, and liked hearing from the athletes/drivers. We invited them to ‘Ask The Expert’. They could submit questions about the sport, cars, and, really, anything. In a weekly video segment, an expert from Black Magic joins a star driver to answer questions fans submitted.

Why? This was able to accomplish several goals – giving fans valuable and engaging content, drive two-way communication, and activate Black Magic’s brand while positioning them as a trusted thought leader in the industry. It has been fun seeing what fans are interested in and helping Black Magic execute a campaign that fans welcome.

AskTheExpert

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If I still have your attention, that’s great! Thanks for your time and consideration.

I also invite you to:

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