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Sports fans can make for some of the best fans.

But as you’re probably well aware, a fan-team relationship is a two-way street. Sometimes it takes an extra nudge for a passive fan to convert into an active brand ambassador and a lifelong fan.

While there isn’t a single three-step recipe for engaging your fans, here are some quick-win digital marketing strategies that you can put into play immediately.

 

1. Riff off the free traffic to your online scoreboard

Your online scoreboards are essentially gold mines for free traffic.

As a marketer, it’s a great starting point for attracting attention where there’s already eyeballs.

The 5th Annual Catalyst Sport Fan Engagement Study also reports: “Fans engage with content that is more than just the scoreboard, avid sports fans can be found engaging with post-game (77%) and pre-game excitement (73%), bloopers (68%), historic video (65%), game debate/banter (65%), and Q&A with coaches and players (62%) as the most popular.”

The Washington Redskins chose to harp on this opportunity by building Redskins Gametime – a microsite that replaces and enriches their homepage every game day.

The project was rooted in a vision to create all-in-one digital experience for tracking game stats, team updates, and live social activity.

With content ranging from game highlights and original team coverage, the site is directly catered to the mobile or “double screening” fan who craves extra context behind the score.

 

With Gametime, the Redskins simultaneously drives attention to their social channels by streaming live conversations between fans, news outlets, and all of the team’s social handles.

 

2. Build connections between fans  

It’s no secret that sports fans cherish the comradery of watching games, and social media could be an obvious turning key for enhancing that social experience.

“Sports fans enjoy watching games with strangers on account of the shared group identity associated with specific teams,” reported the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) last year. “Frequent chat interactions enable users to develop interpersonal relationships with other co-viewers.”

Your social strategy, therefore, shouldn’t be entirely focused on the interactions between your team and fans. It should also include a way to foster community between your fans.

By creating the first introduction between fans or encouraging conversations, you plant the seed for a more unified, invested audience—not to mention free word-of-mouth marketing by fans who might become collectively more vocal about their pride in your team and fan community.

Consider these ways for nurturing personal interactions among your fans:

  • Post questions or polls attracting opinions, votes, and more, and moderate deeper conversations between those who respond
  • Launch branded hashtag campaigns encouraging fans to collectively root for your team (e.g., New Orleans Saints’ #whodat, or the Redskins’ #HTTR)
  • Create geo-specific hangouts, chat groups, or online events connecting local fans
  • Leverage social hubs to showcase your fans’ photos, opinions, and social posts; build a custom space for your fans to discover and interact with their online community

 

3. Create momentum before games

The buzz you inspire before a game can set the stage for the engagement you earn at game time.

My company has personally witnessed the impact that a well-planned digital campaign can have on fan turnout, both online and in the stadium.

The Washington Capitals, a client of ours, saw major success with their recent #CapsElectionNight campaign, which married together a very topical event with their hockey game.

Through a series of satirical Facebook Live announcements, promo tweets, and an online social poll, the Caps ramped up excitement around a team bobblehead election that would be held at same time as the 2016 presidential election.

Embed for announcement video:
<blockquote class=”twitter-video” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>ICYMI – Revealing the candidates for <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CapsElectionNight?src=hash”>#CapsElectionNight</a> presented by <a href=”https://twitter.com/CapitalOne”>@CapitalOne</a>. <a href=”https://t.co/LEHLr7m9fB”>https://t.co/LEHLr7m9fB</a> <a href=”https://t.co/I70aeXyPWV”>pic.twitter.com/I70aeXyPWV</a></p>&mdash; Washington Capitals (@Capitals) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Capitals/status/793460671698657280″>November 1, 2016</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Nov. 8, fans could vote on a bobblehead that would be given away at the Caps versus Flames game on March 21.

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram served as polling sites, and fan could vote using hashtags specific to one of three Caps players.

The team announced the final results at the end of their game on election night—throughout which they continued to spotlight the poll via their jumbotrons and pop-up stands (plus a 24-second special edition of “The Situation Room” in which CNN’s Wolf Blitzer announced the winner).

The result? Well, #ICYMI, Braden Holtby won the elections.

The Caps also received a total of 10,302 votes—5,000 more votes than initially expected.

 

(link: https://www.nhl.com/capitals/fans/election-night)

Behind the scenes, the Caps partnered with my team to set up social listening streams that monitored every hashtag and social channel for #CapsElectionNight votes. They also harnessed our visual tools to create their online and in-stadium experiences.

 

4. Personalize your promotions

As a marketer, one of your greatest assets is knowing where your fans are—whether they be season ticket holders or sofa spuds, in state or out of state, mobile versus TV viewers.

It’s equally important to know the affinities and demographics that characterize your audience.

Luckily, social data can be rich with these details. By following social conversations involving your team, players, and/or seasonal campaigns, you can hone into fan communities near or far, and analyze the varying degrees of sentiment or points of interests.

You can additionally get a good feel for your fans’ social identities—or the distinct identities they create for themselves online and the interests they express across channels.

 

With this data, consider segmenting offerings by geography (e.g., mobilize an ad that offers branded umbrellas to your fans who are tuning in from your stadium or city on a rainy day, versus promoting warm-weather merchandise to fans tuning in from sunny California) or interest (e.g., delight fans with discounts to their favorite stores and restaurants).

I’ve also seen teams use this data to better connect with VIP ticket holders on a one-to-one basis.

By offering personalized rewards and warmer messaging, you can use the intelligence that’s readily available to you to inspire more renewals, easier sells—and ultimately, better fan experiences.