SXSW Recap: Sports Marketing When Fan is King

Shortly before SXSW Sports, Umbel co-hosted our first event with MVPindex, whom we merged with earlier this month. #rePower featured a roundtable on the challenges of sports marketing when fan is king—and how leading teams and brands are thriving. The panelists from Circuit of the Americas, FloSports, MVPindex and Umbel confronted the topics of lagging OTA ratings, how to sift through incredible amounts of fan data, and the evolving social media landscape.

Facing the triple threat

“It’s not that fans aren’t consuming a game, it’s they’re consuming it in a different way,” said Lauren Allison of MVPindex. Nick Schenck of FloSports summarized it as the “triple threat”: when fans watch a game at home, they’ve got the TV, computer, and phone all vying for their attention. Any time there’s a break in the action, fans go elsewhere.

One of the reasons fans seek the second (and third) screen? Ads and slow game play. Contrasted with longer NFL games with more commercial breaks, Schenck is interested to see how the return of the XFL (along with the newly announced AAF) will play out when games have been promised to be under two hours.

It’s not just fans though that don’t like ad breaks; Formula One, which Circuit of the Americas (COTA) plays host to in Austin, TX, doesn’t like them because they happen in the middle of a race. This is one reason, Harlow Yaeger of COTA says, why Formula One is launching its own digital service. Yaeger pointed this out as just one way Formula One strives to reach more fans under the new ownership of Liberty Media. That includes F1’s first global marketing campaign and partnering with ESPN to make races easier to find.

But the triple threat isn’t going anywhere, so brands face it head-on with content and data.

Creating—and measuring—successful content

FloSports is a perfect example of data-driven content as a 100% digital sports company, livestreaming thousands of live events a year, and owning the data to understand the content people engage with before and after an event. “Your events aren’t living in a vacuum,” Schenck said, and rights holders want to know how their event performed on social media, as well as comparative data.

Watch the on-demand panel on finding who cares most about your brand

Schenck described FloSports’ strategy as creating content for the “top one percent,” pulling up the fans instead of dumbing the content down, and helping tap into the curiosity of new fans. With over 20 verticals, FloSports’ network identifies overlapping audiences, customer lifetime value, churn, and retention, and then leveraging over 100 members on the content team. Those 20+ sites have created a “marketing laboratory” where FloSports can test performance on their different channels.

“You’ll hear rules or people write articles like ‘10 things that don’t work on Facebook’, but you have to test them out yourself to find out,” Schenck said.

Lauren Allison of MVPindex said that social has previously been a black box, but MVPindex empowers brands to immediately know the value of a campaign, not only for owned accounts, but also across what partners, athletes, other brand ambassadors, or competitors are doing.

COTA is a perfect example of a brand that has leveraged social, and they’ve done it with a “grassroots, rabid following.” Yaeger stated that he has learned a number of things about the F1 and MotoGP audience, and demographics and behavioral data have not only informed targeting for higher return on ad spend, but “seeing what comedians and what TV shows people like informs” tone of voice and has made the “creative element stronger.”

Umbel’s Mike Malo moderated the panel, and noted how that how far those insights can take teams. With Umbel’s platform, COTA found that there is a high affinity for Godiva Chocolate among F1 fans. From there, they could find other signals among people with a Godiva affinity to target for races—even if they’ve never interacted with F1 or COTA.

Brands like COTA, Adidas, and Bose are getting more and more data, and getting smarter about who those audiences are, including using micro-influencers to run small scale, but high impact campaigns. “When you target niche audiences,” Yaeger said, “They feel like you’re connecting on an innate level.”

Looking toward the future of sports fan marketing

In their predictions for 2018 and beyond (see what they, and some of our attendees, had to say in the recap video), the panel focused on extending and enhancing the fan experience. Allison discussed how sports teams and leagues will further their transformation as content companies and allocate more focus on social—along with more spending there by their sponsors. She also predicted that sponsorships would be more organically woven into content, such as Dwayne Johnson’s promotion of brands like Under Armour: “Everything The Rock touches on social turns to gold.”

How teams approach multiple channels would also change, Allison said, since shorter attention spans and shifting algorithms would require more and more attention to creating unique content instead of repurposing as teams once did.

For F1, Yaeger said that the “shackles are off” and social will continue to be how new fans consume a previously unapproachable brand. For COTA, that includes interacting with international fans who may never attend an event, but create awareness and positive sentiment for the circuit.

Finally, as teams and leagues invest more in social and tech, so will more social media platforms and streaming platforms like Amazon will bid on sports rights, but that won’t just be putting content on there. “You have to create an experience online that lends itself to how people consume online.”

Click here to watch the full panel featuring MVPindex, FloSports, Umbel, and COTA or hit play on the video below. For the latest panels, webinars, and sports marketing best practices, subscribe to our newsletter.

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