The Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle surpassed my high expectations. I knew this was going to be a very powerful and informative conference just by looking at the huddle leaders: people like Stuart Drew from the Miami Dolphins, Eric DeSalvo from the UCF Knights, Amie Kiehn from the Carolina Panthers and Shahbaz Khan from the Timberwolves, to name a few. What took me by surprise were some of the big names who were attending the conference like Jen Tulicki from the Chicago Bears, Bailey Knecht from the Bruins, Morgyn Seigfried from Temple and Jay Reider from UConn.
The biggest takeaways I had were how to identify and create better content, how to best leverage that content to our fan base, best practices for a symbiotic relationship with our partners and best practices on paid social campaigns.
Identify and Create Better Content
In the opening keynote, Jason Stein of Stein’s honed in on owning what is truly original and unique to us as a team account. He went on to stress that teams have more access than anyone other than the individual players and we need to take advantage of it. He challenged us as brands to consider the quality what we post and ask ourselves, is it really worth it to post this? Stephanie Rapp, SVP of Revenue Strategy at Bleacher/Report said, “It’s one thing to fill a feed with content, but another to create content that entices comments, likes, and shares.” Adam Figman of Slam Media echoed that when he said, “If you start a feed, give the fans exactly what they want, and it will be successful. Don’t give them anything other than what they came there for.”
Aime Kiehn went on to explain how her team ensures they are producing content the fans are excited for. The Panthers focus on three content pillars: fashion, football, and community. Keith Hernandez, formerly of Bleacher/Report, shared with us their standard for sharable content from a fan’s perspective: Did it appeal to a fan's identity, emotion, or was it valuable information? The successful sports social teams are focusing on quality rather than quantity. If you post 15 things a day on Facebook, not every person is going to see all 15 of those posts. It’s more impactful to have a few posts that are more on brand and engaging that will populate higher on fans’ feeds.
“A unique product will market itself.” I know this, but something about the way Stein said this really struck me. He encouraged us to “focus on our product and what we can ‘hack’ into it to make it viral versus focusing on the messaging to get it out there.” Our unique product is our players and the access we have while still at the Triple-A level. We can reach these guys and most of them haven’t quite gotten the tastes of “The Bigs” yet so they are willing to interact with us. In order to leverage this unique content, we need to create platforms that “amplify the persona of the players,” like Kiehn said. We need to create platforms that they want to be involved in. One of my favorite references, for obvious reasons, was when Kiehn referenced “Field of Dreams,” “If you make good content, they will come.”
Sponsorship Best Practices
Hernandez shared with us the process his team took potential social sponsors through to help them decide what they really wanted. If sponsors wanted to have a seat at the table and work together on something, they called it “branded content” and it cost more. If the sponsor merely wanted to provide the team with their assets and let the team handle it, they labeled it as “sponsorship” and it was a cheaper option. He found that often the sponsor would want to pay for the sponsorship but wanted the collaboration of branded content and that gave their sales team an opportunity. Figman said, “I don’t lose sleep over posting sponsored posts that aren’t on brand. The other seven posts we send out that day will be awesome because that is directly within our control.”
Paid Social Best Practices
Stuart Drew of the Miami Dolphins shared a lot of the “why” and “how” behind their paid social strategy and how it ties into the overarching marketing plan. The Dolphins don’t focus much on traditional marketing, but they do have a hero image on a few billboards around town with simple copy like “2019 season.” That hero image is then utilized in their digital marketing assets so fans will see it repeatedly. Their digital ads focus on game experiences and moments. Drew connects with players after a win to record shoutout videos that she can use immediately on social and then re-purpose for single-game ticket ads leading up to the next game. I’m a big believer in repurposing content so I loved that simple, yet effective idea. During the paid social conversation, Jen Tulicki of the Bears said, “Don’t run an A/B test just to run it. Ask yourself who is going to take the time to go back and analyze the success of this?” Angela Welchert from IBM echoed that saying, “If you don’t have the staff to measure metrics, then why do it? If you can’t actually optimize your posts then you’re wasting time and money.”
I’ve noticed more and more teams hiring paid social specific positions, or social analytics positions and think those are smart moves, but for a small team such as ourselves, maybe we just don’t have the resources to dive deep into that. Bryan Graham of Bleacher/Report said, “Analytics is only part of how I view our success. I was, was it creatively ambitious? Did we push the boundary in some way?” When I heard this later it helped me overcome the FOMO of potentially not relying too much on analytics.
I believe conferences are important for staff to attend. The opportunity to network and build connections with others in the industry creates a learning environment that extends beyond the timeframe of the conference. Getting in front of people and having conversations in person about what works, what doesn’t, what’s coming up, etc., is more impactful than a phone call or webinar. Being there, in a separate environment where you are focused on learning, helps to absorb information versus multi-tasking on a phone call for an hour and then getting straight back into your day. In an industry as ever-changing as social and digital, these conferences are essential to attend.