Sports brands are unlike consumer product brands. The sports product changes regularly as teams win or lose. A key to keeping core fans engaged is storytelling: the team’s mythology, its heroes, and villains, its highs and lows are all part of an ongoing tale that, when told well, will keep core fans coming back for more.
But what about casual fans who aren’t emotionally invested in the team?
An urban, female Millennial told me that she recently attended her first NHL hockey game. Neither she nor her partner care much about hockey and they only know the basics of the game, but they still enjoyed themselves. “There was so much going on in the arena that even if the game got boring, it was still an entertaining night out,” she said. “And there were lots of fights, which was exciting.”
Just like core fans, the casual sports attendee wants a good story. But the stories that resonate with casual attendees are very different. They’re not interested in the nuances of the game. They’re looking for immediate gratification and quick sensory blasts: passing a giant flag over the heads of fans before the start of the game, the antics of the team mascot, player fights, etc. These are the images and stories that will stay with them after the game ends and that they’ll recount the next day to friends or via social media.
For years now, teams and leagues have been constantly upping the ante with their in-game entertainment: non-stop music, contests and activities during every stop in play, larger and larger HD video screens.
Casual attendees enjoy the sensory experience and will generally talk, tweet or post about it. But will they come back? How can teams convert first-time attendees to regular single ticket buyers – or better yet, to mini or flex pack buyers?
“I don’t really know enough about the game,” the female Millennial told me. “If I knew what was happening on the ice, I might go more.”
Teams understand that it’s important to engage kids during their formative years when they’re making choices in their interests and tastes that will often endure for a lifetime.
The task of building deep loyalty is more difficult as consumers age because tastes and interests become more ingrained. But the education and engagement process can begin at any age.
Education and engagement: those are the keys.
Engage and educate consumers at every possible touchpoint: in the arena, in the community, at retail, online, via mobile apps, etc. Every time a consumer is reminded about your brand, they will further engage with you. They will also begin to form an opinion of you, so make sure that your brand personality is consistent and clear. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and above all, make sure that you are as entertaining with your marketing as you are during a game.
Form unexpected and inventive partnerships that surprise consumers: the basketball team and the local ballet company, for example. The team’s players could appear in the holiday Nutcracker production, and members of the ballet company could perform during half time of a game. Both brands gain exposure to new audiences. It also reinforces with consumers that you are a forward-thinking and inclusive brand.
Build educational elements into your marketing initiatives so that casual fans begin to gain an understanding of the game, its rules, and its nuances.
The ultimate goal is to form positive and enduring opinions about your team with the casual fan. Consumers have more choice than ever for their live entertainment, so the more familiar and engaged they are with your team outside the arena, the more likely they are to have you top of mind when they make their entertainment choices.
Andrew Arntfield, President, Field Day Inc.