Sports Brands: Your Fans Are Talking, But Are You Listening?

Like most Americans, we love sports. And we love feeling like a part of our favorite teams, to the tune of billions spent each year on attending our favorite sporting events, and ensuring that we are decked out in the latest jerseys, kits, banners, and hats. For me, there is no greater time of year than the start of the college football season and the NFL Kickoff—a mere 48 hours away!

So naturally, as sports fans, we love it when professional and collegiate sports organizations utilize social media to give fans increased access to the team, the athletes, and the game-day experience.  The proliferation of social media has given rise to the  “Participation Age” where consumers have an incredibly loud voice, and the voice of the 12th-Man (the passionate sports fan), even louder than the Seattle Seahawks’  CenturyLink Field on gameday. The lean towards an always on, participatory communication channel with fans has brands thinking about what trends, topics and content will resonate with their audiences.

In fact, in an industry where you could argue that the consumers of your product are the most passionate ambassadors for your brand, it is a huge missed opportunity if you aren’t mining for these trends, topics, and content ideas across your fans, and finding real moments to engage with your fans and followers.

For any marketer in any industry, the importance of listening to your customers and consumers cannot be overstated. And while studies are finding that marketers are increasing their social media efforts, there seems to be a disconnect with this vital component of any social media campaign or digital engagement.

Why is it so important for brands in the sports industry (and every other industry) to listen to their consumers?

  • It keeps a finger on the pulse. Social listening helps marketers have a finger on the pulse of their fans and target audiences. It provides a window into the fan’s wants, and their expressed and unmet needs.
  • It builds relationships. One of the most powerful ways of building relationships with fans is by inviting them in to experience the brand and more important, by showing them that the brand is listening to them.
  • It helps you understand shifts in fan sentiment. The sports industry and athletes specifically, know all too well that a “hero” one day can turn into the “heel” the next day. Understanding the shift in online sentiment around a team, an athlete, a spokesperson, or an app will enable the brand to quickly and efficiently course correct.
  • It helps you discover new fans. New developments and improvements in technology allow fans access to their favorite sports team from anywhere in the world. So while you may not see the need to have localized content in Beijing, you could be missing out on a huge and untapped fan base.
  • It helps you develop new products. With thousands of sports apps, and millions of sports related merchandise on the market, how are brands able to differentiate their products and stand out? By listening to your fans and audiences. Think of them as a digital focus group.

With sports brands especially, there is a lot of noise on social—from your fans, your opponent’s fans, and media outlets covering everything from your athletes to your program to specific matches or games. It is important to listen on a broad scale, but it’s also important to listen to each individual audience segment to understand their different needs and desires. I think I’ve made my opinion clear, that the most important voices among these belong to your fans. They follow your every move and root for your success. How can you return the favor?

So let’s take a look at an example now, where we tap into what the Followers of the Washington Redskins are discussing on social, right now. (Note: The Washington Redskins are a Spredfast Customer)

Spredfast Spark - Washington Redskins

In the above dashboard, pulled from the Spredfast Spark product, we can see that followers of the @Redskins Twitter handle have:

  • Sent close to a half a million Tweets, in the last 24-hours alone
  • Retweeted a photo wishing former Redskins running back, Clinton Portis, happy birthday 324 times—the top performing tweet from @Redskins
  • Shared content from news outlets including @BleacherReport and @Sportscenter; and
  • Utilized hashtags and terms including #RAW, #LaborDay, #MUFC and Manchester United over a thousand times each

So what can we derive from this dashboard?

  1. Fans and followers of the @Redskins are a highly engaged and influential group with diverse interests
  2. Photos and videos related to the Redskins are not the only drivers of engagement—content related to other professional leagues and teams (WWE, Manchester United, Washington Nationals) are also being shared
  3. Conversation among followers of the Redskins peaked during the @WWE’s Monday Night Raw broadcast last night
  4. Digging in one level deeper, we can see that a tweet announcing that recently released NFL Defensive End Michael Sam, will be joining the RAW broadcast next week, received the highest number of shares

Michael Sam WWE

As a digital strategist and content marketer, there are a few opportunities that are immediately evident to me:

  1. Fans and followers of the Washington Redskins look to be highly engaged during WWE broadcasts, so serving up relevant and related content during those broadcasts could provide a significant engagement opportunity. Perhaps a tug-of-war poll inviting followers to tweet their vote for who would win in a match, Redskins Defensive End Brian Arakpo or 15-time world wrestling champion @JohnCena? A photo-shopped image of Redskins quarterback @RGIII putting WWE great @the_ironsheik in his signature Camel-Clutch?
  2. Both the WWE and the Washington Redskins have two of the most visible and successful owners within the sports industry in Vince McMahon and Dan Snyder. Posting a Q&A blog post or video with the two owners discussing their keys to professional success could be something that would span audiences and reach into mainstream media… Getting the two of them to agree to a cage-match on live TV would likely break the Internet!
  3. Fans of the Redskins also look to be passionate fans of the Manchester United. So working with the Manchester United to cross-promote content, or at a broader scale, bring the Premier League team to FedEx field in Washington for a friendly, could be a massive business opportunity—in fact, FedEx field recently played host to Manchester United for a friendly against Inter Milan, a match that drew a packed stadium. Whether the increased ManU conversation was a result of the recent match or not isn’t clear from this quick glance. What is clear is an opportunity to create unique cross promotional campaigns from one football team to another.

With millions of pieces of content being shared each second on gameday, consumers and sports fans are tuning out marginally relevant content. They are looking for unique takes, things they have never seen, content that speaks directly to them, and entertainment. Fans will welcome brands that join the conversation, but it has to be timely and it has to be relevant. Tapping into the wisdom and the needs of the crowd and your target market can have resounding effects on the success (or failure) of your content strategy, your next mobile app, live-stream event or digital activation.

What are the other benefits of social listening for sports brands? For other brands?

Ray Rahmati's picture

Ray Rahmati

Ray Rahmati is Spredfast’s lead social business consultant in the Mid-Atlantic region, serving our customers’ needs with everything from strategic guidance to planning and training. He is also a professional and college sports fanatic and second-screener who can be found tailgating on any given Saturday or Sunday.