The way sports brands communicate with fans is continuously evolving. The emergence of new apps like TikTok and Threads has made it vital for sports brands to understand where fans are engaging, and to evolve alongside those channels.
In this article, we discuss four ways sports brands can keep on top of trends to grow their fanbase, keep fans engaged and engender loyalty.
1 – Research and go where your fans are
Fans aren’t fickle when it comes to their preferred sports publication or social media channel. Whereas the channels that fans use to purchase from may vary, studies show that fans with strong loyalties use specific social networks to express that identity and consume content.
Doing your research and following the data is the best way to discover where and how your fans are interacting. Don’t assume that just because you’ve built all your content in vertical format you’ll actually reach as many engaged people on vertical video channels, like Instagram Stories or TikTok (even though current industry data tends to indicate this).
Test and research all possible avenues until you find the right mix of channels to reach and engage your core fanbase.
2 – Create unique video content that appeals to your fans
The next generation of sports fans are growing up surrounded by digital and social content. Therefore, marketeers need to work harder to ensure their content is unique, engaging, and stands out amongst the rest.
We tend to find that video content is the most effective format for sports companies to convey the brand message and generate excitement around events, new product launches, and other news. When the video is mainly original, it performs even better. Video also has a higher share rate compared to static image or text, which could explain why over 80% of online marketers use video content.
Video content might take the shape of exercise tutorials, “top 10” countdowns, “best moment” sizzles, workout tip videos, player interviews, product and service videos, live streams, fan testimonials, competition announcements, and more.
Test lots of different content formats, length and sizes to discover what works best for you.
Expert Tip: Consider creating video content for different online browsing moods/modes. Create short 6-second intro clips for people in fast scroll (e.g. when commuting); a 30-60 second video for people looking to lean in and engage for longer; a 5-minute video for users ready to sit back and watch for longer.
3 – Consider brand partnerships and competitions
Growing your fanbase online is all about making connections, and that can come about through brand collaborations (or “Branded Content” on Facebook). These partnerships should build credibility and trust for your brand by partnering with a similarly reputable company, and should also present an opportunity to reach fans of the partner you might not typically have access to.
In addition to brand collaborations, partnering with athletes is a similarly-effective way to improve engagement and brand sentiment. Nike, for example, has collaborated with numerous athletes from LeBron James to Olympic gold medallist, Mo Farah. These collaborations have allowed Nike to reach global consumers that they may have not reached without these partnerships.
Sir Mo Farah also teamed up with healthy vegetarian protein supplier Quorn for an advertising campaign in 2014. More recently, the yogurt and dessert brand Müller has collaborated with Team GB in support of this year’s Olympics (see the ad from Quorn below).
4 – Offer something interactive to get fans engaged – quizzes, polls and competitions
Brands who forget to put the “social” in “social networking” rarely reap the full benefits of those platforms. When there is an opportunity, always make your posts interactive.
There are many ways to build fan engagement on social media such as asking followers for feedback, creating quizzes, polls, and competitions.
However, as AI continues to bridge the gap between what we see on social media and physical experiences, VR and immersive forms of communication are becoming ever more popular.
For a recent client project, we collaborated with Drone Champions League to build fan engagement through a live stream YouTube video of the competition – this allowed us to reach worldwide fans no matter where they were based. What made this successful was that YouTube allowed us to create a live stream of conversation between DCL and the fans who were watching.
Which platforms drive the most sports fan engagement?
Identifying which social platforms appeal to your targeted audience is the first step towards creating a social media strategy that caters to each audience.
YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, Facebook, and Instagram are great platforms for streaming live video during an event, and highlights – either following or during an event – and to announce new events and merchandise. Whilst platforms like Twitter (X.com) and TikTok are generally good for joining in and fostering conversations with fans.
Here is some information on how platforms vary in terms of options for advertisers:
Here is an example of how The Welsh Rugby Union have built their own public business page on Facebook, allowing them to use Facebook Business Manager to target both the followers of the page and lookalikes of their existing followers.
On this page, they share updates of games and players as well as building anticipation around big events. As you can see below, the header image shows the details of an upcoming event, so immediately it’s clear what the page is primarily used for.
It’s tremendous growth over the past couple of years have made TikTok a must-have for sports brands. Younger fans gravitate towards TikTok far more than any other platform in the US, UK, and Europe. The app offers live video, short-form video, and more recently even longer-form video (up to 10 minutes).
Content on TikTok is markedly different from other platforms. In fact, sports brands that simply cross-post Instagram Stories on TikTok struggle to gain traction, whereas those who embrace the spirit of the platform and create TikToks that are more entertaining find greater organic reach on the network than anywhere else.
Our client, UFC’s TikTok channel has seen great success. They were the first sports body to collaborate with TikTok, forming a multi-year partnership to carry live, weekly short-form content.
Facebook Messenger, albeit a stand-alone app has the same access to Facebook’s large database. The app itself can be used to generate more meaningful connections with users via personal messaging. Using chatbots you can produce engaging automated messaging between business to customer, to improve engagement, lead quality, and product sales.
Content creators have been particularly successful on this channel, and the same applies to sports organisations, their staff and players.
Arsenal, for example, fill their Instagram page with snippets of games, player images and pictures of their new stadium. They have also used their players as individual highlights – in these they have gym workout tutorials, dietary plans and interviews with each player.
With over 122 million daily active users in the U.S. alone, and over 2.56 billion monthly users globally, YouTube is an essential channel for sports brands who want to get eyes on their content – both recorded and live broadcasts.
Another one of our clients, DCL (Drone Champions League) regularly post live videos on their YouTube channel and stream all their events live for free.
Originally published: July 14, 2020
Updated: July 25, 2023