Social Media in Sports - The Complete Guide To Content Marketing
Social media in sports is a hot topic in 2020, which has been of even greater importance due to world events. According to a recent study performed by Capgemini, 74% of fans under the age 35 consume sports content on smart devices such as smart TVs, laptops, desktops, iPads, compared to 55% of fans over 35. This probably should not come as a surprise given how much time most of us spend on our phones and other devices. Social media in sports is more important than ever and teams need to have a strategy.
With news now coming in that more countries are looking to open or loosen some of the restrictions, we are still far from going back to normal. Be sure to check out our latest blog post on the effect the coronavirus has had on the sports industry.
As most of professional sports continues to be in a state of limbo at the moment (yes, the Bundesliga has returned and more leagues have designated starting dates, I know…), it’s no secret that many organisations have started to look at different ways to improve their social media marketing and communication strategies. Let’s look at social media and content marketing in the sports industry.
We hope that this post acts as a great resource to help you come up with content marketing ideas and leverage your sports social media accounts.
Let’s remember that while social media in sports has enabled fans to more easily participate and engage with their favourite teams and players, the same can be said for sport teams. The ease of participation goes both ways as social media has changed the way most teams communicate and market themselves.
So before we jump into the content a sports organisation should focus on, let’s start with the fundamentals. The first thing an organisation must do is to establish its social media communication style or voice.
Knowing Your Voice
To start building your social media marketing strategy, let’s ask ourselves a simple question, who are you? And no, the answer to this question should not be “a football club”, but something which describes one’s sports club and its personality, for example, “a competitive yet inclusive football club”. It is probably possible to take it one step further… so let’s go with “A competitive and inclusive football club which values hard-work without taking itself too seriously”. Now you have something to build your social media strategy around.
If you have a club branding handbook/manual, you can definitely make it easier for yourself by using it to help you create your voice. Whether it only has a couple of brand related words, such as “competitive, inclusive, or fun” or a larger well-thought out branding manual, have some idea of who you are before you start.
Without knowing what your own voice sounds like or your personality, it’s difficult to have consistent communication on your social media channels.
Also, don’t overextend yourself from a social media channel perspective. Figure out what works for you (from both a time and effort perspective) and where your fans usually follow your sport. Speaking of which…
Know Your Audience
Once you have figured out your voice, it’s time to think about who you are communicating with. The obvious answer is of course your fans and stakeholders - but how well do you actually know them? Information such as where your fans typically live, what they like and what makes them like you should be information you have if you want to make it easier for yourself in communication and marketing.
In the best-case scenario, you have an idea of how your sports organisation delivers additional value to fans, regardless of when and where they are. For example, Facebook has a nice “When Your Followers Are Online” feature, which will tell you when the best time to post is. Leverage this data to increase your reach. Naturally, the more diverse content you publish and the more tracking tools you use, the more effective you will be in terms of understanding your audience.
Tracking what works and how certain types of sports social media content might do better is something to keep your eye on. Key metrics such as growth and engagement should be your primary focus. In addition, why don’t you ask for ideas or feedback from your fans? The easiest way to understand your audience is to ask questions.
Connecting with Your Followers
People tend to like talking and engaging with other people. In times like these, this should be front and centre. Being there for and communicating with your fans is extremely valuable and probably more important now than ever before.
The need for community and belonging has been put front and centre during this pandemic, as social media channels have in many cases, functioned as the only outlet for people to engage with each other. This also means that for sport teams, the pandemic will eventually force sports organisations to, if not change then improve, the ways in which they communicate. Teams might perhaps offer new, safe ways for fans to cheer for their sports team while simultaneously adhering to social distancing.
The question you should be asking yourself is how much you lose by not adhering to a set strategy on your sports social media channels. If you know what you are doing, great. If not, think about how everything is set up – are you currently maximising your efforts?
By knowing more about your followers, you will help yourself by tailoring your content towards your fan bases’ preferences. Doing this will enable you to add value in whichever way that suits them best.
Now that you understand the basic approach, let’s move on to the different types of sports social media content that you can produce to keep followers engaged. You should think about sports social media content as building blocks. Yes, it goes without saying, but the more of these building blocks you use, the more comprehensive and professional your social media feeds will be.
Remember, not all sports social media content has to be done for social media either. In many cases, your own website is your “go-to” channel and you can use your social media channels as additional (yet crucial) outlets to push your content.
Think about the evolution of sports teams and their websites (any website actually). Most websites from the entertainment industry (of which sports are definitely a part), were once platforms featuring mostly brief information on the people (rosters), upcoming events (games) and news (pre- and post-game reports). Sports team websites have since developed into something completely different, designated fan zones of sorts. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Building Block: Pre-game Content
The most obvious piece of content and the bulk of what traditionally makes up most of a sports team’s content on its social media channels is of course content related to games/events.
Maybe it is highlighting an upcoming matchup on game day or a series of posts set over several days. Pre-game content can be anything between a single pre-game report on the matchup to several articles, pictures, posts, interviews or infographics highlighting the upcoming matchup.
Before looking at real life examples, let’s take a look at a fictional pre-game post, which could have been used on social media to promote a game. The game, in this example, is a fictional handball game between Batman and the Joker, a true rivalry if there ever was one.
Notice that on the post, I’ve branded the game as the “Battle of Gotham”, creating a special name for the game, giving it a heightened feel of importance as well as a slogan. The poster obviously also has basic info of when & where, as well as how to buy tickets. If this were a real game, I would use this post on my social media channels to help promote the game (in addition to other content).
On a more serious note, I find that the best type of pre-game sports social media content isn’t a single post, but a mix of several pieces of content, which highlight an upcoming matchup with some statistics and history between the two teams, but also basic posts and pictures. I personally prefer pre-game reports that focus on the matchup’s history with some additional story to make the game “bigger” in the eyes of the fans adding fuel to the fire. As pictures and posts go, less is usually more (nobody likes zooming in to read the text on a picture).
Good pre-game content can help drive ticket sales and pay-per-view buys as it not only serves as a reminder for the upcoming game, but also gives an avid fan more information on the game and matchup. Great pre-game content, however, not only drives ticket sales, but also builds hype and plays with fan emotion and evokes a sense of “FOMO”.
Building Block: Live Reporting (Mid-game)
This is straightforward. Sports social media has enabled sports teams to produce content, which helps a team’s followers stay up to date on what’s happening on game day.
Remember, not all fans are at the stadium or arena, some might be unable to attend or can only follow the game on their phone. Also, keep in mind that many fans are fine with only casually following a team online, so it’s important to cater to that audience as well.
Posting highlights, interviews and live commentary on your social media feeds keep your audience engaged during the game and in some cases might improve the in-arena experience for fans. Another great idea is to have the team repost a picture taken by a fan.
Building Block: Post-game
Much like the previous two examples, having post-game content is crucially important from a branding perspective. Be it interviews, post-game analysis or a post-game report – these building blocks are essential pieces of a sports team’s marketing whether you want to admit it or not. You can tell a lot about a sports club’s professionalism just by studying a team’s social media feed after a game has ended.
Obviously, it is easier and more fun to create content after a win. One might even think that only wins should be celebrated and that losses should be quickly be swept under the rug and not be reported on at all or kept as a quick mention. That being said, don’t stay silent in defeat, produce content anyway and keep the story of your team rolling!
Building Block: Players & Staff
Sports are entertainment and your players are your stars. Neglecting or limiting players in sports social media marketing is like forgetting a crucial piece of equipment before a match. Remember, your content doesn’t always have to be game-related. The idea here is to bring the players closer to the fans and provide a sort of “behind the scenes” access and what better way than to provide fans with both on- and off the pitch content?
The ways to use your players in your marketing and social media feed are almost endless. As most people have social media accounts of their own, sport clubs can even choose to repost a player’s interesting tweets and pictures on their own feeds. A popular way of using a player or coach in one’s social media feeds is holding a Q&A session in which fans can ask questions to a team’s player live.
Regardless of the type of content, using your players and staff is crucial from a branding perspective.
Building Block: History
From a branding and communications perspective, one should not forget the teams that have come before. It’s never a bad idea to remember past players and teams and by that highlighting a team’s rich history.
This type of content can range from longer pieces, highlighting key plays from an important game or a “where are they now” post. What matters here is highlighting the history of a club and sharing one’s appreciation for a club’s past stars.
If a longer piece sounds exhausting, you can use old pictures and post them on your social media channels from time to time when the time is right, for example, “XX years ago we beat XX with a winning goal by…”.
If you need inspiration as to how to tell a story (or even a reason to tell one), look at the reception and viewership numbers for ESPN’s documentary of the 90’s Chicago Bulls, which has been trending on Netflix for the past month or so.
Yes, your sports club might not have Michael Jordan, but surely, there have been memorable players along the way. There are always many interesting stories from the past to tell and revisit, so why not take a stroll down memory lane? It tends to work and fans love it.
Building Block: Community Outreach and the “Good”
I’ve previously written a blog post on the use of CSR in sports so be sure to check it out for some more in-depth examples. I highly recommend highlighting your CSR work in your social media feed.
Show what your club does to make itself more valuable to its community and city! The use of CSR can help bring the local community together at the same time as the work can be used as an innovative tool to create value on social media. As clubs compete for viewership and potential fans, it is essential that a club’s image is stellar in the eyes of its fans and the public.
Building Block: Polls and Surveys
Most social media platforms enable its users to create polls. With polls, sports teams have the ability to engage its users and in some cases, gain valuable insight into the preferences of its fans (like voting on fan-favourite jerseys or all-time favourite line-ups). Examples of easy social media content, which can be used to enhance the game-day experience is to have fans choose the “player of the game” or a particular play of the game.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the fundamentals as well as the basic building blocks, you are ready to create and produce entertaining content which, if done consistently (and correctly), should cater to a wide audience.
Overall Tips and a Story
According to Capgemini's report, 91% of fans tend to increase their spending on team/brand merchandise following a good experience. This shows that having a well-functioning sports social media communication approach will most likely have a positive impact on your bottom line.
People in charge of sports social media and marketing must manage the team’s public image across these fast-moving platforms. Not to sound dramatic, but with so much at stake, here is the biggest challenge of them all. If you don’t already have one, you should consider implementing a clear and realistic communications strategy.
While much of this text is centred on using sports social media to drive revenue, there is reason to pump the brakes a bit. Instead of focusing on driving revenue, use your sports social media channels to nurture, maintain, and develop the relationship between your team and fans. While they don’t exclude one another, only focusing on ticket sales, for example, likely won’t work in the long run. That said, having a sound structure and clear sports social media strategy, you can simultaneously build your brand, drive ticket- and merchandise sales as well.
Remember that despite the many benefits that social media enables, it’s good to keep in mind that bad content or content produced with a lack of judgement will always run the risk of spreading like wildfire (and not in a good way). That being said, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Be Nimble – The Carolina Hurricanes Example
Sports moves fast and so should you. Be ready to react in real time. Opportunities for “online greatness” present themselves often, but the window to move is usually small and requires a sports marketer to be almost as fast as an athlete. Much like the play on the field, timing is everything.
A great example of reacting is how the Carolina Hurricanes reacted to the unbelievable story of emergency back-up goalie David Ayres (an emergency back-up goalie is a neutral goalie on site every game who is tasked to jump in in the unlikely event that two!!! goalies from the same team get injured in the same game). As it happened this season in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes, Ayres, a 42-year old youth coach and sporadic practice goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, watched the game from the locker room and watched as the unthinkable happened. With both of Carolina’s goalies suddenly injured, Ayres got substituted in for Carolina and had all eyes on him. With all odds stacked against him and the Hurricanes, they actually pulled off the unthinkable and won 6-3!
The aftermath was a thing of beauty. The story of a 42-year old unheralded goalie that stepped in and won a game made headlines all over the world and the marketing team at the Carolina Hurricanes were quick to capitalise on it. Ayres was made available to talk shows and sports networks. Obviously, it didn’t hurt that he was an all-out likeable guy.
With the perfect story in place, The Hurricanes were quick to print David Ayres T-shirts. With the story fresh on peoples’ minds, thousands of T-shirts were sold with part of the proceeds from the sales being donated to the National Kidney Foundation.
The Hurricanes marketing department adhere to three principles in building brand identity: Fun, Regional and Bold. Be entertaining. Have a connection to the community. Be edgy, think differently, take risks, be proactive.
The Hurricanes handling of David Ayres made it so that the overall story basically touched each principle and as such, was in completely in line with the Hurricanes overall communication and brand strategy. For more on the Hurricanes and David Ayres, be sure to check out Newsobservers' article.
Keep it Real
As a final tip, I’ll leave you with this – keep it real. Much like in real life, don’t try to be something you’re not. Fans can spot a fraud a mile away and it makes no sense whatsoever to make up memorable moments to help you with your sports social media. Let them happen organically and you’ll be fine!
Finally, as stated in the beginning of this post, don’t overextend yourself from a social media channels perspective. If you don’t have time to focus on several different platforms, focus on the ones you have time for. Less is definitely more if the alternative is bad/mediocre content on a wide front. Figure out what works for you (from both a time and efforts perspective) and go all in!
I hope that this blog post has helped you gain insight and maybe some tips and tricks to help you and your organisation improve in your sports social media marketing and communication.
Anchor is a boutique sports business advisory firm focused on increasing the organisational competitiveness of sport clubs, organisations, and federations in the Nordic markets. Contact us today to take your first step towards a more competitive future.