Bringing Fans Into the Fold

During Hashtag Sports several weeks ago, I listened in on a panel about B/R’s House of Highlights. And, there was one point made that stuck out to me:

We have to meet fans where they are. It’s not about control, but making content accessible. See the big picture and don’t operate in fear.

Bleacher Report’s acquisition of House of Highlights was a smart move because they understood their audience was there. Instead of trying to shift where fans are consuming (which is hard to do) they went to them. For B/R, House of Highlights was a strong touch point to reach their core consumer.

This idea got me thinking. Teams, leagues, etc. spend a lot of time focusing on their own social channels, distribution and growth. These things are important, but there’s another layer to ALSO think about. And, it’s how can we lift conversation around our brand and get more eyes on our content?

Instead of trying to shift how and where people consume our content, we need to start thinking about how to make our content accessible. We need to start asking some hard questions and think about distribution differently, especially with the rise of algorithms and clutter online.

Athletes are an obvious choice to help distribute content. Most teams and leagues understand they should be thinking about that, but we don’t really talk about the fan’s role in content distribution. And I wonder, is this something we should consider?

Think about it. PGC brands pay a lot of money for influencers and even micro-influencers to share on behalf of the brand. They lean on them for product launches, brand campaigns and pulling in a new audience.

In sports, we don’t have to find people to pay to share on behalf of our brand. In sports thousands, even millions,of fans, would consider it an honor to be share something from the brand. We’re extremely lucky in that respect. And, it’s something we should not take for granted. Fans can help us reach a new audience while also adding a level of credibility. Yes, word of mouth still matters.

“Wallpaper Wednesday” is a small example of an appetite to align themselves with their favorite team. Fans love them, ask for them, expect them. And, it’s a small example of how teams have thought about catering to their fans and their own channels (or devices).

Let’s take it a step further though. Is there an opportunity for teams to create a bigger mechanism for fans to spread the word about games, initiatives, milestones, etc. on a consistent basis? I keep going back to the idea of creating a “VIP virtual fan club” where fans are granted access to an exclusive group. This would be about making fans active participants vs passive participants, encouraging and empowering them to share their passion for the team.

What could this “VIP, virtual fan club” be about or include? While this is in no way a flushed out plan or concept, here are some general ideas (simply to get the wheels turning).

What’s the general idea of a VIP virtual fan club?
It’s a virtual group of people who love the team and want to advocate on behalf of the brand. The team should help empower (and thank) this group to share their passion for the team, and also, help generate conversation and community.

What it needs to be successful.
The virtual fan club needs to feel exclusive enough where people feel part of something special, but also, large enough to make an impact.

The group needs a community manager from the team and a “meeting” channel for them to feel part of something bigger. For example, a closed Facebook group could work for this or even a Slack channel. The channel should feel community driven. It’s a place where the team can help curate conversation and also distribute content for the fans to use on their own channels easily.

What could the “virtual club” provide to teams?
From a digital perspective, these people become another avenue to distribute content. The content can range from video series to things like All-Star Vote or reminders about tickets going on sale. Teams would have to focus on content that people actually want to share — like hype graphics — that connects on an emotional level and gets people excited. By empowering and encouraging fans to share content created by the team on their own channels, you’ll reach a new audience and add a level of credibility (people still trust peers more than brands).

Additionally, this group can become a focus group for your team. They can give insight into what they look for in content, feedback on the game experience, etc. It’s an opportunity for the organization to connect with fans on a personal level outside of season ticket holders.

What do they get it in return?
Exclusivity and community can go a long way when executed right. Showing appreciation and giving fans a voice is often a reward in itself. Additionally, the group can be surprised with swag throughout the year, discounts and even group meetups hosted by the team.

What’s the evolution?
Maybe, this becomes a larger membership play where teams open it up to anyone who asks to join. This would allow teams to get first-hand data of their fans vs relying so much on social channels (owned vs borrowed). I realize to scale would take a large commitment, but maybe fans feeling like active participants could pay large dividends (and again, you would actually own this data).

And yes, there are things to think through.
As mentioned, this is not a complete plan or even a concept. Teams would need to understand the resources that this would take, how to exactly track results and understand the risks and rewards.

That said, we shouldn’t underestimate how much our fans want to be part of our organizations. There’s something powerful and interesting about the idea of a community where fans feel part of the journey and teams actually own the data. Let’s work on making our fans active participants vs passive participants. If we can crack that code, it could be a really powerful thing.

I would love to hear any ideas you have about bringing fans more into the fold? And, have you seen any teams that have done this particulary well?

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