Fans can get access to sport when and whenever they want; the four-year wait between watching the world’s biggest tournaments on the family TV is a thing of the past. And as consumers there are platforms coming out of our ears, from owned to social, by rights-holders or brands. Sport is everywhere, and that is only brilliant. But when choice is in the hands of the fan, how do you keep their attention on you, continually feeding the demand for entertainment, and reminding them to stay with you once the floodlights are switched off, asks Steve Jones, Head of Editorial at 50 Sport?
Editorially-led storytelling through social media, that’s how. Social content is not a nice-to-have, but an essential and commercially-significant part of the media mix. And how do we know? We’ve had front row (and behind-the-scenes) seats covering some of the world’s biggest sporting events over the last few years, so we’ve seen some enduring strategies hold true when it comes to what is needed to grow a sport, no matter what algorithm changes, or increasing audience demands we encounter.
In all our learnings there are three things your editorially-led social content approach should never be without…
Focus on the athlete and the team
It’s well known that following individual athletes is the entry point to fandom, and most rights-holders now have a deep understanding of the need to do it. This approach was well-documented by Sarina Wiegman and her Lionesses, who were openly encouraged to bring the fans with them before, during, and after the FIFA Women’s World Cup, by offering unprecedented insight into the narratives behind their sporting and personal lives.
The effect this has on fandom is that their sport has a face, a face they feel they know, have an emotional stake in, and are willing to succeed. And we all know that an increased emotional connection means they are more invested, no matter the outcome.
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The impact on the athlete cannot be underestimated either. Deep personal connections to athletes means support continues through good and bad times, becoming an essential aspect athletes’ and teams’ sporting and commercial success.
The concept of home advantage is real, and anyone who’s watched Netflix’s ‘Beckham’ knows that each one percent marginal gain counts at those big moments. And the good news is that as human beings, we have the capacity to root for both individuals and teams at the same time, even if they aren’t on the same side. Sam Kerr fan, anyone?
Getting the best out of athletes is an art in and of itself. You can see the impact that embedding content creators who have a deep understanding of the environment has on the output – it’s one thing getting a performance out of an athlete on an orchestrated shoot, it’s quite another capturing those raw moments in the tunnels and changing rooms that are the life blood of Netflix docuseries’.
Content is nothing if it sits in a vacuum
You need to use storytelling to provide context. A narrative that helps new audiences place what they’re watching and make sense of it no matter how much they think they already know. These truths can also transcend social content really successfully, as demonstrated in the ‘All the way from…’ campaign for England Football that saw each Lionness’ origin story celebrated through both art and social storytelling throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup, shining a light on where it all started for them at club level, and who they are today.
It might have taken its inspiration from social media, but content with depth travels, laddering up to the much higher England Football objective of being the voice for the nation’s game. This kind of context doesn’t just see success through fan engagement and audience growth, being one of their most successful campaigns ever, but it can create social impact, with increased interest in English grassroots clubs as a demonstrable, material outcome.
Creativity wins when you have a plan
Here’s where we use the word ‘marketing’ so deliberately. Great social media content is the confluence of brand, cultural context and audience understanding. Especially if you are a rights-holder, this isn’t just hygiene sports reporting; this is most likely the only place where some people will ever have any interaction with your brand.
The importance of centering what you stand for, your beliefs and bigger, overarching thoughts as the red thread through your social content shouldn’t be underestimated. Strategic planning doesn’t hamper agility, even in live sport environments. Instead, it’s your best weapon, allowing you to be creative, even when being responsive.
A solid strategic foundation is your guiding light to support decision-making under pressure, allowing you to be flexible within the guardrails of your brand. So, when you’re fighting for consumer attention amidst the always-on and always-loud world of sport, make sure you commit time and budget to prioritise the storytelling aspect of your output as part of your marketing mix.