As a sports franchise, your #1 priority is to connect with your fans -- to cultivate an aura of excitement that overtakes every fan the moment they step foot in the stadium. A higher degree of fan engagement means more loyalty to the team, a more passionate and competitive environment, and a winning culture. Maintaining an ongoing relationship with fans, especially outside the walls of the stadium, can be difficult at times, but here are some tips that can help keep them engaged:
1. Create emotional connection
According to Dolphins social media manager Vince Pannozzo, the team’s new content strategy is to “Tell the Dolphins story through emotional connection.” Tribute videos like the one below that capture the feelings of the players, fans, coaches, and staff are more likely to engage a sports brand’s fan-base because they connect with people on a personal level.
For example, 72% of sports fans are most engaged by exciting pre-game content. For this reason, inspirational pregame videos, emotional halftime shows, or underdog stories can be good ways to successfully reach the emotions of fans. All people, including non-sports fans, can relate to a good story. The top 10 storylines in sports this year included “#HoustonStrong,” “the spectacle of Mayweather-McGregor,” and “The Ball Family Circus.” Building a sports narrative with the brand as a whole and throughout the course of each individual event is arguably the most important strategy to actively engage an audience. At the end of the day, Maya Angelou’s sentiments extend deep into the world of marketing:
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
2. Give the inside scoop and use the right platform
Provide a perspective and analysis through social media that cannot be captured by sportscasters and live television. The Boston Celtics marketing team prides itself on showing exclusive pregame and postgame locker room shots that consistently become must-watch rituals for their fans. Additionally, each platform should have its own angle and type of content. Eric DeSalvo, social media director for UCF, was able to grow his team’s accounts to a following of 163,000 on Twitter and 189,000 on Facebook. His perspective is that “No one is following you on multiple accounts just so they can see the same piece of content.” Content on each platform needs to be catered to the type of people using the platform. For example, Facebook content is now filled with live video, getting over 8 billion average daily video views. 20% of videos are live streams and 85% of users watch videos without the sound turned on.
3. Analyze data about fan interactions and act on it
Each fan base is different, so getting the most amount of information possible about unique fan interactions with the brand will help marketing teams spend their time and money in the right place to most effectively hit the target audience. With such in-depth data analytics tools out there, sports franchises have the ability to dig deep, and do things like mining past attendance data to precisely target customers with personalized discounts on events similar to the ones they have already attended. But many times, a sports brand only knows about a customer’s interactions within their own walls. Konnecto enables brands to analyze customer data at every touchpoint, including the 98% of customer interactions that a brand knows nothing about. The fan journey includes a number of steps: purchasing the tickets (usually online), accessing the tickets, traveling to and from the game, watching the game, eating and drinking before and during the game, and reflecting on their experience once its over. Tracking customer insights at every step along the way and then keeping up-to-date with their day-to-day lives outside of the stadium will allow the brand to interact with customers in the most effective way possible.
4. Have a plan and expect the unexpected
No matter what happens in the stadium, being prepared for any and all scenarios is important. According to the Content Marketing Institute, the marketing teams with documented plans are much more likely to consider themselves effective at what they do. Establishing tangible, achievable goals before the event, such as in-game twitter photo contests or rewards for recurring concession trips will engage the fans and make for a smooth game flow. But as important as the pre-event planning is, teams should prepare their social media staff for the big moments to capitalize on the spontaneous events that characterize sports. Richard Deitsch at Sports Illustrated says they plan months in advance for mega-events like the Olympics and World Cup so they can have the content, logistics, and infrastructure concerns taken care of, allowing them to react to news as it comes.
5. Distribution is just as important as the content
Jodain Massad, Executive Producer for Notre Dame Athletics told the crowd at SFEC “Content is king, but without distribution you’re the king of nothing. You’re the king of an empty empire.” Notre Dame exemplified this themselves as they planned a surprise visit from one of the player’s brothers who had been serving abroad for years. They were prepared to capture the moment from all angles and distribute the powerful video in ways that suited each of their media platforms.
Credit: Fighting Irish Media
6. Make it easy
77% of fans use a laptop or mobile device to access sports content during a game, a number that is up 25% in the past 3 yrs. This is called the “second-screen experience.” Since fans want to interact with the brand while watching live, make sure it’s extremely easy for them to do so with funny hashtags and easy access to social sharing/discussion. This will make it so fans continue to engage with the brand between events.
7. Have an identity
The Yankees thumbs-down symbol unified all fans during their magical postseason run last fall. Started by a man giving a thumbs down at one of the games, the Yankees pounced on the opportunity to give a signature celebration and identity to all Yankee fans. From dugout celebrations to photobombs, tweets and even a Facebook thumbs down button, the entire Yankee community was unified through this gesture during the most important stretch of the season.
8. Live game engagement
Let fans make their own mark on the game with interactive engagement by using contests, challenges, or pollings. In motor racing, the Formula E Championship recently introduced an app called FanBoost that allows fans to vote for their favorite driver to get a power boost in the race. Some other examples of this type of engagement include the Land Rover-drive of the game or the man of the match poll.
9. Create memories
2 seasons ago, the Atlanta Braves had a day to celebrate the Turner Field’s farewell where they allowed fans to go on the field and take selfies with the players. Of course, all the fans had their cameras out, ready to tell their friends about the experience right away.
But teams that facilitate connection between members of their fan base off the field can most effectively engage them. The Vancouver Canucks brings its community together offline by holding viewing parties, offering prizes for trivia contests, hosting a Facebook timeline with fan memories, and mingling with the team mascot.
10. Reward fan loyalty
Rewards programs can go a long way. Prioritizing intangible rewards and behavior, rather than dollars can make rewards more desirable for fans. For example, a team can give season ticket holders the ability to earn points based on the actions they take like referrals or social media shares to receive cool game-day experiences. In order to do this, brands must have the ability to identify, measure, and optimize the actions of their fan base.