With 24/7 sports channels, dedicated sports radio, and no shortage of fan-focused podcasts, fan-run websites and social media accounts, there is no “true” off-season for a sports fan. In reality, it’s just an exceptionally long break between games. But just because there are other sources out there for fans to share and celebrate their teams, doesn’t mean a sports organization can completely go radio silent in the offseason. In fact, there have never been as many opportunities for teams to stay connected with fans all year long, and there’s no excuse not to.
According to a survey by Deloitte, 60% of sports fans that are engaged year-round would take a greater interest in the upcoming season, compared to supporters that don’t hear from their team when there is no season. As many as 55% would be inclined to purchase a ticket and move up the ranks of fandom - from watching at home to actively participating in the stadium experience.
Pace Your Fan Engagement
It’s only natural that fan interest tends to disengage once the season ends unless you’re supporting the championship team. That celebration tends to run throughout the offseason and into the next. But for those that find their interest waning, there is an appetite for some form of content or information on a regular basis. Whether it’s monthly for the casual fans, or weekly for the die-hard ones, you can’t stay quiet. When there are no live games to follow, this is when fans need you the most.
Identifying where to focus your engagement requires a deep dive of all the data you have collected throughout the season about where fans are engaging and what they want to see. Except now, you’ll dial it down a little. According to the same Deloitte study above, the first step is to decide who you want to target. If you’re looking to bring casual fans into the fold, then doing something weekly, perhaps on game day, is the ideal timing. If you want to satisfy your hardcore supporters alone, then daily is the way to go. But to do an optimal job is to aim to push some kind of content 2-3x/week, and pay attention to the conversations around it. If it’s too much, or too little, fans will let you know.
But also, remember this: from a purely commercial perspective, an increased frequency in off-season consumption has been proven to correlate with a higher fan spend all year round via game tickets, concessions, merchandise and broadcast/OTT options. But, to muddy the waters a little bit, if you post too often and with too much content, you run the risk of annoying and alienating your supporters.
Create a Connection With Your Content
During the season, the live game action is the most important content you have. In the offseason, however, you need to get creative with your media and content production. While there is an appetite for general team updates, roster changes, and rehashing the best moments of the season, these don’t move the needle. You have to move beyond what your organic content machine offers (aka, the live games), and take the opportunity to differentiate your team through off-season experiences that keep fans in the loop, start a dialogue, and enhance their support.
This means moving beyond basic Facebook posts or Tweets a few times a week. You need to offer fans content they can’t miss and give them a reason for coming back. You need to remind them that just because the stands are empty and the crowd isn’t roaring, that the beautiful experience of supporting your team is still ongoing. Some ideas could include:
Creating “A Day in the Life” videos: The appeal of behind-the-scenes videos and vlogs can’t be overlooked, and are some of the most popular forms of content on YouTube and TikTok. Not to mention that reality TV has taken over as one of the most lucrative genres on television today. This is an excellent and opportunity to get the players involved, to show off the life of a star footballer, when they’re not on the pitch. Even if it’s a routine day of errands, family time, and workouts, fans will love the peek. Then leverage this across your social media, website, and official team app.
Host a Live Chat: The key to fan engagement isn’t just pushing out content; it’s about starting a dialogue. This means you need to listen to fans, and actively reply. Hence, a live chat or Q&A via Twitter, Instagram Live, Discord, Reddit AMAs, or a chat feature within a team app is a great way to help fans stay engaged and connected to their team.
Reward Your Biggest Fans: Social media and your official team app are an ideal platform contests and sweepstakes. You could go with something basic like a trivia contest to something large-scale and user-generated, such as a video submission contest that is voted on by other fans. Fans will happily jump on board for a chance to win a pair of tickets, season tickets, a full kit, or a meet-and-greet. They’d also love to interact with other fans and your franchise’s stars.
Move Beyond Traditional Media Channels
By now, you know what works for fan outreach and what channels serve you best. Continue to use those for your offseason activities. But also, try to broaden your reach. The off-season presents prime opportunities for teams and players to get face-to-face time with their fans, both within the community and nationally. This will earn you a special place in the hearts and minds and when the season gears back up again, there’ll be a newly engaged and revived fanbase in the stands. For example:
Visit schools or camps: If the country is passionate about watching football, then odds are, there are soccer camps for kids. Shaking hands with the next generation of athletes and students is a great way to inspire future fans and give back to the community. Then, you can leverage the content across your channels.
Open up practices: Once training starts for the new season, invite fans to come to join the players for a behind-the-scenes look at pre-season prep. Make it into and event, with meet-and-greets, get a food truck and make it an all-day event. Make sure to have team gear available, so fans can get their kit for the upcoming season.
Think globally: Whether you’re a bigger club, or somewhere in the lower tiers, there are markets out there waiting to be introduced to you. Back in 2012, for example, Chelsea, Sunderland, Manchester United, and Liverpool went on a US tour in their preseason to engage some of their global fans. But you can also think smaller. There are ex-pats all over the world who would enjoy content or even a visit from their home club. Then, use the resulting content in your off-season marketing mix.
Ultimately, the goal is to keep everyone excited about your club for 365 days straight and get them geared up for the next season to support you with their enthusiasm and their desire to participate The challenge, however, is finding the right mix of content and marketing strategies that will bridge the gap between frequency, channel, and content, to engage and amplify your fanbase’s excitement levels.
That is something, we at Belong can help with.