Father’s Day, Empty Stands in 2020, and Building the Next Generation of Sports Fans

It’s Father’s Day and virtually no fathers in the US will be taking their sons and daughters to a sports event.

And while society is gradually reopening and more sports – youth and pro – are hoping to get games going, 2020 will be a year that kids all over the US miss out on opportunities to become bigger sports fans, if fans at all. It’s a scary proposition for sports business. Many leagues are already coping with a rising average fan age and a generation of kids growing up not idolizing the star athletes on the field or court, but instead their favorite YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok follows.

So, as a Father’s Day and a summer arrive, what can the sports industry do to ensure kids in both in the 21st century will fall in love with a favorite team, athlete, and the experience of going to a game or watching it with friends or family?

As is the case with many of the most difficult challenges, it’s instructive to think about the underlying emotions, behaviors, wants, and needs that lead kids to become sports fans in the first place. There are no clear answers to solve this challenge, but there are clues as to where and how to begin trying.

Memorable experiences

I think back to my own experience, falling in love with my first and favorite sport – baseball. I was an avid player, thanks to a pops that never said no to catch or a trip to the ballpark for some batting practice, but not every baseball fan grew up playing. But what made me a MLB fan, a lifelong fanatic for the game and the league?

It’s the unique experiences that stick with me the most. There was a magical World Series run for the hometown team at age 10 – but, remember, sports marketers can’t rely on wins and losses. But that’s not what sticks most today — it was the trips to Spring Training to see the players up close, a pilgrimage to ballparks on the east coast, and going to baseball camp to work with MLB players.

We always say that every game is a chance to create a memorable experience. That applies even more so to the youngest fans in attendance, whose hearts are open and passions still developing. Right now, a lot of sports organizations are trying to create that memory for every kid in attendance. They’re also straddling the line between giving kids memories and giving parents something with which to entertain and distract their kids.

There’s value to creating a memorable experience, something kids will post about on their social media, message their friends about, and talk about the next day at school. But what about the experiences that seep into the soul, latching on with emotion for eternity? Those experiences aren’t easy to create and execute, but that’s what makes them special. Those may not be as scalable, but they’re worth thinking about if it each means creating a lifelong fan, with lifetime value.

Develop a kids arm

During the pandemic sports teams all over the world produced a plethora of activities for kids to help parents entertain their children with families stuck at home 24/7 — coloring books, word searches, mazes, Where’s Waldo adaptations, crossword puzzles, and more. Many co-created these with corporate partners, taking sponsors along for the ride.

But kids still spent most of their time with phones and tablets in hand, watching YouTube, TikTok, and children’s shows on-demand. If parents can stick some headphones or air pods on their kids and get some time to sleep or relax, especially during this quasi-quarantine, you can bet they’ll take it.

What role can the sports industry play? For years now, sports teams and have started to resemble media, entertainment, and content companies. What does Peppa the Pig look with NHL Flyers mascot Gritty instead of the animated British pig? What if my generation didn’t grow up watching Recess and Rocket Power, but also a cartoon about a well-known athlete, team, mascot, or youth sport? Or maybe it’s partnering with the influencers and entertainers already capturing attention of kids more intentionally.

For decades of sports marketing, the straightest path to fostering youth fans was through their parents. But today kids of all ages are consuming more media per day that generations past consumed in a week or a month. And therein lies a potential opportunity for organic infiltration.

Creating influencers

A common staple for sports teams nowadays are kids clubs. They vary in size and sophistication, and typically involve tickets to a game, some swag and merch, an event or two, and maybe a sponsor gift or experience. But with so many kids becoming creators and some fancying themselves as influencers, is there an opportunity to turn those kids clubs members (or via a new initiative) into ambassadors for the team?

Every avid youth fan, from an avid fan family, is a potential ambassador; most importantly, an active ambassador and changes are there a few talented or aspiring creators among them. There is a partnership there, with mutual benefits for both sides. Now is the time to explore it.

parents-cheering-sports-game

Millennials are the parents now

The notions behind millennial marketing became so ubiquitous over the past decade they, ironically, started to become memes. But there is something to be said that millennials, the first generation to have the Internet in its adolescence, are the ones raising their kids now. And that means something.

At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, it’s worth considering what millennials value. Experiences are an important component, in contrast to ‘things’ that may have held more importance in the past. But now they have kids. How can teams create experiences, while accommodating the parents — group experiences that are designed for families? VIP experiences that include separate activities for kids? Millennials are growing up, so can the marketing and experience tactics to engage them.

What kids want

What else can we learn from this generation? Their lean-back experience still involves engaging, messaging, chatting, listening, participating, sharing. Trying to win 100% of their attention is a fool’s errand and trying to win 100% of their attention split between their screens and IRL experiences isn’t any easier. Instead, fulfill the need to connect without trying to dictate it. The younger generations are complex, but they’re more socially connected than preceding generations, just in different ways.

 

***************

Plenty of dads will pass down the passion of their teams and their favorite sports to their kids. But that love is not as hereditary as it once was, there are too many other outlets and options competing for attention. And it’s certainly not any easier with a pandemic sweeping the world and the sports world for much of 2020.

Hopefully more than a few fathers out there are playing catch with their sons and daughters today and a love for sports will be kindled, ensuring the generations to come will keep the power and passion of sports alive.

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

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

Which social media network comes to mind?

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

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

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

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

Come into the ‘Venue’ along with me:

Getting Started

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

venu1

IMG_1331

Home Screen

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

venu2

 

Inside the Venue

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

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

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

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

venu3

 

venu5

 

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

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

IMG_1330

 

Other Notes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Check out the app yourself on iOS and Android.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(PS: Learn more about Leaders Week)

.”

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

family-phones-1280

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A couple great examples here from from Bleacher Report

 

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

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

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Episode 169: How Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas Has Engaged a Community around Sports Uniforms

Listen to episode 169 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Paul Lukas, Founder and Writer, Uni Watch.

Episode 169.001

38 minute duration. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

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

 

 

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

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

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.