The immersion of sport and social media continues with Sports Illustrated recently publishing an article recently regarding sports stars using Twitter. Whilst it’s interesting to watch a tool like Twitter being used by sports stars like Cadel Evans, Eli Manning, Lance, and the Shaq etc; I’ve had this nagging thought that the bigger opportunity is being missed by the players, clubs, and sporting leagues. Are they doing the right thing?
Wanting to kick this around further, I took the opportunity to sit down and chat social media with former AFL premiership winning player – David Thorpe. David is an astute businessman, a legend salesman and a guy who can see the big picture quickly. I was explaining the basics of social media and to help David I put it into a sports context – how could his former team in the AFL – the Bulldogs use social media to grow membership and game day attendance.
Two things emerged from my conversation with David that would help crystallise my view of the missing link.
Firstly David made the comment:
AFL clubs have the best membership base of any code in the country. They’re very good at getting and keeping members. It’s a very tribal sport.
This is an interesting point. They have a strong base of customers; they don’t need another tool to market to their members/customers.
David made a further comment that has proved crucial
In my day (the late 60’s and early 70’s) we would be out on school visits conducting clinics with the kids. The club would give us tickets to give away to the kids at the clinic. These weren’t just single tickets – they were family tickets as our goal was to get the family to the game and get everyone into the sport.
Our goal was to NOT give away the tickets to just the kids in our teams jerseys. We were under instructions to target kids in opposition jerseys along with girls – giving them tickets to the game.
This was when the light bulb came on for me (and is in fact the key second point). Their unstated aim at the time was to attract “non-customers” – this bit is important, as examining how you can attract non-customers is a core premise of Blue Ocean Strategy. This link explains non-customers.
So now I was thinking about how a team could use social media as an innovation tool so as to break down the barriers for non-customers?
So I took this defining thought and got the team together – this wasn’t just one idea but two:
- Create an integrated social media strategy that connects to the broader community; and
- Utilise this platform to engage with non-customers
We know a lot of clubs are publishing newsletters, have their key players writing blog-type articles. Many of the teams in our national competitions have multi-media rich sites – but they still follow the monologue model of communication. We wanted to go beyond this and develop a strategy that would give a club or league a clear sustainable advantage in how they connect with the community.
In most cases where a sports star is using a tool like Twitter (or Facebook), the model looks like this:
The intersection of sports stars and community via Twitter
If we look at the major leagues and teams around Australia, the model looks like this:
The Sports Club intersection with their communities
A good example being the Brisbane Bronco’s website – rich in multi-media and information but engagement is limited to signing up for an email newsletter. This is a monologue. Dialogue is left to the community via the numerous sports forums and communities.
The real potential for clubs and players is where they bring everything together and use social media to develop a dialogue with the community. In simple terms the model might look like this:
Social media will allow the club and players to connect to the community and have a dialogue
The intersection points (all 4 of them) is where social media delivers for everyone. Using tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, the club can deliver a consistent message and provide the opportunity for the community to contribute and engage at a much deeper level than we’ve seen so far. The goal is to move beyond the monologue and the use of canned blogs.
Objective #1 – A practical example
The first thing we need to do is have a high level strategy that makes sense and could be executed by a team or league. As a test case we looked at Brisbane based sports team – Logan Thunder. Logan Thunder participates in the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia. They’re new to the competition having been admitted in 2008. They already have a reasonably strong following and are located in the middle of large pool of prospective customers. What was interesting for us is that women’s basketball generates a lot of forum traffic as followers dissect games, players, and coaching performances so it seems we have a community that has some level of familiarity with social media tools.
The tools that I can see as being relevant for Logan Thunder include:
- Creating a blog or blogs and using these as the first point of information distribution
- Using a Twitter account to further distribute information about games, clinics, player updates, sponsor mentions, and community announcements
- Using Facebook for the team, players, and coaching staff; creating fan pages, distributing team, player, and competition information. Facebook could also be used to allow fans to vote for their favourite player post-game
Because these tools can all be integrated, it becomes relatively simple to deliver consistent information for the community to absorb and engage with. This is the dialogue bit.
How would Logan Thunder put this into action? The ideas that we noted aren’t exhaustive by any means but we could see real value in such activities as
- Any time a player is in the community or at a school running a clinic they encourage the participants to follow them on Facebook and Twitter
- Newsletters, game information, community activities originate from Facebook and are then cross populated into Twitter, the team blog, and into the forums
- Involve the sponsors within these tools – for example a sponsor focused Facebook app that allows fans to vote for their favourite player – a fan who votes gets a prize along with the most popular player
- Get the coach involved in blogging with pre and post game reports, coaching tips, and mentor sessions for up and coming coaches
- Allow fans to Tweet from the games and feed these tweets into Facebook, and the team blog – this is already happening in Super 14 rugby
- Promote the teams social media footprint into the forums – encouraging the active contributors to engage with the team – Remember: make them love you or dislike you – just don’t leave them indifferent
These are our early thoughts and ideas and they’re by no means exhaustive. We can see some really interesting benefits coming out of this approach and given the cost is so low, we’d like to see teams and leagues get on the social media train because it’s not going away.
As I noted way back at the beginning of this post, we identified two key objectives in terms of how sports teams and players can take social media participation to the next level.
Objective 1 – Develop and execute a social media strategy – we’ve covered that here
Objective 2 – Utilising Blue Ocean Strategy and Social Media to attract non-customers – So we’ve connected to our members/fans, now what? How do we attract the non-customers? What does research on Facebook show? What groups of non-customers use social media tools and how could we reach out to them?
Workload permitting I’ll publish part 2 around the middle of June. Ideally we’d like to workshop some of the Blue Ocean Strategy ideas with a team – we’ll have to see if anyone’s interested.