Thursday, May 16, 2013

What We Can Learn from the Social Side of Sports

I have always believed that listening to and watching what others are saying and doing often influences what I might say or do.  And the listening and watching may not always be among those in my ordinary milieu.  I try to be especially attentive and observant in areas in which I otherwise would not be:  on the subway, in the theatre, in foreign countries.   Even among other generations (like the ever-fascinating millennials).

So take this one step further.  Corporations generally research their customers and customer prospects.  And they often look at competitors.  But do they look at sports teams and their fans? 

The answer is more complicated than you might think.   According to sponsorship consulting firm IEG, sports is ranked number one among sponsorship opportunities in North America—with $13.8 billion projected to be spent in 2013 (up 6% over last year).  But beyond the obvious benefits to corporate sponsors, are there other lessons for us to learn from sports marketers about building awareness, support and brand loyalty among customers?

The answer is “yes!” 

I recently attended a seminar on social media that featured the heads of marketing and digital  from the New York Rangers (hockey) and the Brooklyn Nets (basketball).  Here are some relevant points that were made:

·         Michigan football fans can chat with each other as they watch the game itself. They also can connect to people of like ages, marital status, etc.  Might companies do that with their customers, thereby promoting conversations that may stimulate sales?

·         The NBA Game Locator allows fans to map their location against the locations and schedules of where the NBA is playing nearby. Business should have this one mastered.  For example,  Google Maps can do that for any customer who wishes to locate a company branch or other relevant location, or companies should have their upcoming events on their mobile version of their website.  70% of companies don’t even have a mobile site, according to a recent survey by Econsultancy’s Conversion Rate Optimization Report, produced in association with RedEye.

·         During the NHL lockout, the league reduced its Facebook postings from 5 to 2.  “We turned everything down until everything calmed down a little.  We needed to reengage with fans after the blackout.”  Following a crisis---sometimes corporations need to take a pause before rushing into doing something that may be regrettable. That said, the CEO generally needs to pick up the bar immediately and address all the stakeholders, whether the corrections are in process or not.

·         After the NHL lockout, the Rangers were asking themselves how to reach their angry, alienated fans who simply wanted their hockey back.  Once the lockout was over, users were offered coverage through Facebook.  They could select images to create for their own cover photos (“Here’s My Own Blue Shirt Pride!”).  Fans seemed to enjoy it.  They were excited that hockey was back!  Corporations can also manage their triumphs with the same sense of humor — involving their customers.

·         A team blog can be “private” — just for the team and the fans — with no sponsors.  Featuring raw footage and access to the players can bring the fans closer to the team.  Within regulatory constraints, the advent of the internet means that customers can be offered the opportunity to dialogue with a company’s leadership, thereby strengthening the relationship.

·         Increasingly, stadiums are getting wired.  Fans’ smartphones can connect to the Jumbotron, using a simple app, and the huge screen reflects the fans’ “likes.”  Recently there were a million likes.  Reviews are nothing new (e.g., Yelp and Amazon have been around for years and at the Consumer Electronics Show, attendees regularly vote for the winners of the People’s Voice Awards); but what if there were the equivalent of a jumbotron in every large venue in which their customers gather.

All of these ideas are designed to create value for the client, and all of them are employing social media as a tool which fascinates and captures fan and customer attention.  

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