Sports have always been associated with emotional exchanges. Whether you’re a player, fan, or just know someone who is, you know how it goes: conversations about a certain player's intensity, a sour illegal play and even about what piece of equipment works best in a particular setting can go from friendly discussion to heated banter in a matter of minutes. Today, these locker room conversations (and no, we’re not talking about election-related locker room talk) have shifted towards the Web in a very grassroots manner: specialized niche forums, ad-hoc Facebook groups and of course in the comments sections of certain YouTube videos and news platforms.
Mimicking the rush: the social shift
When crafting marketing campaigns, sports marketers and brands must never forget that, in a way, they have it easy: fans and players are extremely sticky users who can quickly become hooked on new sources of content or new platforms to share and discover stories. The challenge is making sure these conversations happen naturally and organically on platforms where brands can moderate the discussion, learn from it and even join in. Players and fans are already turning to the omnipresent social gathering spots such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. However, as it stands today, sports marketers have a tendency to either be passive or simply reactive on these platforms.
From passive/reactive to over-aggressive: the fine balance
It’s interesting to note that some Web sports marketing seems to have evolved extremely quickly whereas some still have a hard time keeping up with the pace of change. We’re in an online purgatory, where some marketers are still adjusting to the social realities by posting bland and what marketers call “maintenance” posts, while others attempt to create a branded, fenced-up, complicated online community with utopian hopes of 100% user engagement. Brands and teams need to work with platforms and experiences that feel natural and frictionless for their customers and fans, and not force-fed. The social Web has the power to make an apparel brand’s customer feel like he’s on the same team as the brand he is purchasing from - and that’s powerful. Owning these direct unmediated relationships means brands will have more control over the way their fans and customers engage with them. The saying goes that “content is king”, and today, owned relationships are growing up to be its youthful and up-and-coming prince.
Hitting its stride: an example
One of the world’s leading hockey equipment and apparel manufacturers has gone above and beyond in harnessing the power of their crowd in a traditionally puritan sport community such as ice hockey. This can be seen in their decision to harness communities of users around their direct-to-consumer flagship experiential stores. More recently, they have begun actively collaborating with their most die-hard fans in the development of new products by means of branded and social surveys. Moving fans and loyal customers from one-dimensional, low-frequency social media interactions to more organic dialogues lets them understand and, more importantly, serve their loyal clients like never before. Selective power users are granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to upcoming products while repeat buyers can be sent promotions and asked for feedback.
It’s time to step up and go for it
Sports brands and teams need to continually strive to be on the forefront of digital trends. In a lucrative and passion-filled domain like sports, conversations about brands, teams, players and management are going to happen often, and in many different ways. With emotion being a large lever, brands must be mindful that fans, with little options, often turn to content platforms like Barstool Sports to express themselves, which can spur a flurry of uncontrollable consequences. Brands need to move quickly and extend their presence in new ways to meet their fans in that exciting moment where lifetime brand loyalty can be won… and sometimes lost.