Things To Consider In Digital + Sport In 2019

It’s a new year, which means the annual list of things to consider in the industry. This past year I spent a lot of time thinking about the state of digital. How does the changing social climate, from declining organic reach to passive consumption, impact our work? How can we set digital teams up for success? And, how do we get back to the basics of a strong brand foundation? Hopefully, you’ll see this list reflects a lot of these themes.

As always, this isn’t meant to be a forecast of what’s to come, but a list of things to consider focusing on as we head into 2019. Everyone’s goals and objectives are different, but hopefully, there is something in here that will spark a new idea, approach or thinking.

So, here’s a list of what to consider in 2019 with some help from Twitter and friends in the industry (note – these are not ranked by importance):

1- Own your fan relationship.

Isn’t it a little ironic that we invest so much into a channel (social media) where we have little control? Algorithms change. Organic reach declines. Engagement rates are dismal. We have very little ownership of our fan relationship within platforms, yet we continue to invest more into them. What happens if one day these platforms disappear and/or consumers go elsewhere?

Yes, it’s unlikely that the channels will simply disappear anytime soon. It is likely though that consumer behavior and platform priorities and reach will continue to change. So as my friend Cristian says, it’s time as marketers to own our relationship with our fans again:

We’ve shifted so much focus to social platforms that we’ve lost sight of a really important key: owned channels and first-party data. Social media is a shiny, public-facing and fun tool that’s a huge and important part of your digital strategy. But, social is a piece of a larger digital ecosystem. In 2019, it’s time to stop putting your eggs in one basket.

First-party data allows us to build smarter and more personalized marketing campaigns. And, more importantly, it allows us to drive long-term loyalty with our fans. It’s time to take back our relationship with our fans and focus on our owned channels and lead gen strategies as much as social.  Your relationship with your fans is the most important thing you have. Own it.

2 – Fewer, bigger, better.

How do we make the biggest impact? By doing fewer things, much better. This philosophy from Kellyn Smith Kenny, the CMO of Hilton, should be one that every digital marketer considers adopting in 2019.

So often it seems like digital teams in sports are a wheel that keep on churning. The focus is on the output instead of quality. There’s a mentality to push out a  bunch of “stuff” whether it aligns with the organization’s priorities or adds values to our fans.

The digital industry, and specifically in sports, has created this frenzy. There’s an addiction to the output and we have put an insane amount of pressure on ourselves to produce. The reality is that volume doesn’t speak to the work. Marketing has never been measured by the volume of output. It’s been measured by the quality of the work.

In 2019, it’s time to actually buy into the idea that quality truly is better than quantity:

Imagine the work that could be done if the team had permission to do less and focus on what actually drives an impact. When teams have a strategy in place and permission to not be everything to everyone, incredible work can be done. Instead of focusing on the daily churn, it’s time for teams to focus on the moments where the biggest impact can be made for the brand.

It’s time to take the pressure off the volume and put the pressure on doing good work. The teams and brands that stand out — and will continue to shine — are the ones that are focused on doing the most impactful work. Define your why and stick to it.

Note: I heard the fewer, bigger, better piece on the CMO Moves podcast with Kelly. If you’re looking for a good industry podcast with some of the brightest marketing minds in the business I highly recommend giving it a listen.

3 – Accountability & advocacy.

This is a little tough love talk. Digital is no longer the tool handed over to the intern. Thanks to the maturation of ad tools, targeting and analytics, social media has become a lot more visible within organizations. There’s still a lot of work to do as far as getting buy-in within organizations, but I also believe we (in the industry) need to be accountable for how social media maps back to the larger business goals.

If you stood in front of your president or CEO to pitch more resources and touted engagement rate as your shining metric, would that win the case? My guess, for the most part, is no. If you work in digital, it’s your responsibility to understand the larger organization’s goals and then figure out the role that digital/social can play in them. We can no longer complain about buy-in, advancement and investments if we are using the platforms just to play. Focus on the actual business case:

In 2019, spend your time developing a strategy that matters to the organization, evangelize it and execute on it. Advocate for the work so people understand how digital is helping to drive organizational success across the board. Our jobs are about a lot more than likes and retweets. Prove that.

4 – Highlights 2.0.

Highlights were a hot commodity in the glory days of social. Today though, leagues and partners have loosened the reins on rights (all at various degrees) and there are a lot more highlights surrounding games.

We waited for access to highlights for so long, that once we got them, we stopped thinking about what’s next. The reality is highlights don’t stand out in-feed anymore.  The access has stopped us from innovating and has caused a sea of sameness across social media.

Anyone that works in social knows being stagnant is not an option. So now the question is, how can we make highlights more original? It’s time for teams, leagues, etc. to put their own spin on them. We have to evolve to highlights 2.0.

Making highlights more original adds to the second screen experience. It provides something different from the broadcast experience. It separates the content from all the clutter by providing a unique angle. And, it pushes creativity by demanding teams do something different than clip and share.

The good news is there are so many ways to evolve highlights today, whether teams film their own footage or add some flair through original effects. Below are a few examples of highlights 2.0 that have stood out:

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186 total yards… AND HE CAN PASS!!!

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5 – Take GIPHY seriously.

GIPHY is a powerful tool for brands that’s rarely talked about. In 2018, GIPHY served 7 billion GIFs and stickers to 500 million people every single day. The NFL’s channel has seen nearly 17 billion views, while the NBA has close to 15 billion. FC Bayern hit 1 billion views this year.  Long story short, GIPHY is a huge opportunity for teams and leagues.

We all know GIFS have won over the hearts of everyone. And, thanks to smart integrations by GIPHY, they’ve found their way into iMessages, tweets, slack conversations, IG Stories, etc. GIPHY has become a powerful search engine that allows brands to be part of everyday conversations. As Alex Chung, CEO of GIPHY said, “the triumph of he GIF was its ability to turn advertising into content”.

In 2019, it’s time to invest in GIPHY. Teams should spend a little less time focusing on how to broadcast on their channels and more time thinking about how to empower fans to share on their behalf. Dark social isn’t nearly as sexy as the public-facing metrics, but it’s just as important (if not more, really). It’s time to put more energy into the interactions we can’t see.

6 – Go bold with game coverage.

As much as the industry has evolved, it seems like gamedays are an area where teams and leagues are afraid to do things differently. Scroll through any league’s Twitter list during a game and there is a good chance you’ll see a lot of the same things: Pass is incomplete, we got a first down, there’s 3:41 left in the 3rd, we still lead, etc. Dry play-by-play and updates.

We live in a world of excessive information where fans have the option to consume game updates in multiple ways and from multiple sources. There’s a good chance if a fan isn’t in front of a TV that they’re having updates sent to their phone. And as such, the weight of every play does not rest on a team or league’s Twitter account. It’s time to stop treating it like that.

There is a ton of clutter on social media during games today. If you want content to stand out and capture attention, you have to completely rethink what has been done in the past. Today, #smsports is less about informing and more about entertaining, engaging and telling your brand story well.

In 2019, it’s time to go bold with game coverage. How can accounts be more raw, show personality and make fans feel like the account is a friend sitting next to them on the couch? How can teams take fans places they typically can’t go, providing unique access that no one else can own? How can we use the captive audience we have during games to develop a stronger 1:1 connection with fans? The approach during games should be less about the actual scores and more about the storylines that surround it and the emotion of the game.

The opportunity to stand out and build a deeper relationship with your fans is huge during a game. After all, that’s when the audience is most captive. Whether teams stop so much pushing and focus on a 1:1 connection or stop reporting and focus on color commentary, don’t be afraid to take a risk and do things differently for games.

7 – Less covering, more curating.

Too often content feels like deja vu in sports. Batting practice, pregame warmups, the huddle. There’s a sense from teams that they have to cover everything, all the time, week after week. And so many times, it leads to redundancy.

The mindset of covering in sports leads to dumping content without understanding why. Think about Instagram on game days. Too often teams post 20 times a day and garner less than a 2% engagement rate. That’s a serious flag that we need to give thought to why we cover everything. A less than 2 percent engagement rate should show a serious need to pivot (and no, don’t blame it on the algorithm).

In 2019, instead of “covering” everything, it’s time think about how to “curate” everything. Look at the totality of the season and curate a plan that shows every moment, every angle, every storyline over time. The *over time* is key here.

Curating vs covering will take effort. It will require defining the content buckets and priorities for the team, and then, brainstorming the potential shot list. It will require patience to know that it’s okay to not share everything. It will require looking back at what you did last week to not be redundundant, while also looking ahead. The goal is to bring your fans interesting moments, unique angles and variety throughout the entire season and not in one day.

In 2019, it’s time to strive for more curating and less covering. We don’t have to dump everything on fans all at once. We should consider what has already been covered and offer up something different week after week. If we plan and curate smartly, we can unfold the story in a natural and organic way *over time* without being intrusive to fans’ feeds.

8 – Brand over everything.

The internet has made us impatient as marketers. Too often we turn to the flavor of the day instead of the work that really matters. In this wild, wild west of digital the notion of a true brand identity has gone out the window. We resort to gimmicks versus what actually moves the needle.

It’s important to remember that not all engagement is created equal. Hop on a pop culture meme, share a random animal video or throw snark someone’s way and you’re probably going to generate attention. Does that mean it’s right for the brand or is helping a team reach its goals? Not necessarily. This image sums it up perfectly:

Our jobs aren’t to win the internet. Our jobs are bring the brand to life while capturing attention. Your brand is stronger than the flavor of the day.  It trumps pop culture GIFS, the meme of the week and every other vanity play. Seth Godin said it best in his latest book This Is Marketing:

Your tactics can make a different, but your strategy – your commitment to a way of being and a story to be told and a promise to be made – can change everything.

In this sea of sameness, the foundational things matter more than ever. Values, vision, focus, storytelling and connection. A brand’s why. These things build and come to life over time. In 2019, it’s time to buy into the notion that your brand is the most important thing you can focus on.

What does your brand stand for? Why do fans gravitate to your team? What’s the emotional connection? What’s the unique story you have to tell? Every team has scores. Every team has highlights. Every team has ups and downs. It’s the emotional connection beyond the field that teams need to own.

I’ll leave you with one more Seth Godin quote from his book: Specific is a kind of bravery.  In a world where our work is public and we’re all competitive, it’s easy to get caught up in the vanity plays and tactics. As marketers, we shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone. We should focus on the audience and the work that moves the needle. Define your North Star and stick to it.

Below are a few examples of teams who owned their brand well in 2018 beyond the scores. While these are one-off moments, they bring to life the DNA of the brand and their values in a powerful way:

9 – Small is the new big.

There’s a unique challenge going on in our industry today. It’s declining organic reach and passive consumption. Think about how most people around you consume. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Tap, tap, tap. We’ve spent so much time over the years building up these large audiences across social media, but is anyone really paying attention?

The numbers speak to this challenge. According to CrowdTangle, across all NBA teams the average interaction rate for each platform the past year was: 1.082% on Instagram, .033% on Twitter and  .033% on Facebook. With these low interaction rates, the value isn’t in the masses anymore. The value is in the audience that’s actually paying attention. Josh said it best when he said “small is the new big”:

In 2019, consider narrowing your focus on the audience that is active and eager to engage instead of focusing on a volume play. How can we strategically make our most passionate fans advocates and active participants?

There are so many ways to focus on creating meaningful action with an engaged audience. Teams can leverage fans as micro-influencers to distribute content and drive deeper relationships. Or, teams can create content that encourages active participation. Either way, keep in mind that small is the new big and focus on creative meaningful interaction versus broadcasting to the masses.

Below are a few content examples that encourage active participation:

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Which pair suits you? 🧐👟

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10 – Crack the code on 1:1.

In a similar vein to small is the new big, one-to-one communication is an area where teams and brands need to spend serious time cracking the code. As people get access to more information, more people and more content, they will continue to crave more personal interactions. Facebook’s VP of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky explained the human need perfectly:

“One-to-one private sharing trumps everything. If you think about it, forget about the Internet. Think about us as humans. That’s actually a basic human need. That stayed with us for as long we’ve existed as humans. Stories like Robinson Crusoe are wonderful, but you know they’re not true because any psychologist will tell you a person on their own on an uninhabited island will go crazy in about six months. If you’re very strong, maybe eight. You have to have other humans to interact with, or you stop being human. So, one-to-one conversation is a very basic need we cannot survive without.”

In 2019, it’s time for teams and brands to focus on driving these one-to-one interactions with fans. And, there are two main areas of focus for this: Community management and technology to scale with messenger apps.

First, social media is not just about pushing content. It’s about building a community and relationships with fans. Working in sport is a powerful platform because fans want to connect on an emotional level with teams. It’s time for teams to invest in true community management as a means to do this. We need to hire community managers whose main job is to cultivate relationships with fans. A reply or the opportunity to surprise and delight someone can leave a lasting impression. Simple gestures of appreciation for fans go a long way to building lifelong customers.

Second, messaging apps present a huge opportunity for teams and brands. WhatsApp has more 1.5B monthly active users; Facebook messenger has 1.3B monthly active users. That’s more than Instagram’s 1B monthly active users. Yes, it’s time that teams and brands take messaging and chatbots seriously to scale personal interactions. It’s no longer about checking the box with these tools. Teams and brands need to find ways to innovate. Whether chatbots are used to deliver highlights or let fans subscribe to content of their favorite player, they give teams the ability to deliver to fans content they want, the minute they request it.

Long story short, 2019 is the year teams and brands should finally take 1:1 seriously and invest in it (even though we’ve been saying this for years).

11 – Mature vision for digital teams.

When I started in digital nine years ago there was little pressure. Organizations didn’t quite understand what the landscape meant for their business, but they knew they had to be there. So, for the most part, young people got the keys to the platforms with little vision, oversight and pressure to produce ROI.

This is no longer the case today. Organizations understand that these tools aren’t a place to play. They are an opportunity to build brand love, engage with fans and drive revenue. As a result, the pressure and focus on digital is ever-increasing (as it should) across organizations.

Too often though, organizations expect success in digital without knowing what that means for infrastructure, investment, culture and growth.  Teams are understaffed. Hires are made without thinking strategically about the actual needs. Leadership lacks a digital background. Organizations cannot articulate what growth looks like for someone in a social role. Digital needs to mature within organizations to set teams and people up for long-term success and growth.

In 2019, it’s time to get serious about setting up digital teams and people to not just survive but to thrive. This means hiring leadership with a digital background. It means hiring and building out teams intently and with a vision for the future. It’s about providing growth for people in social roles. And, it’s about giving teams the resources and autonomy to do good work.

When expectations increase, investments should increase too. It’s time for digital teams to get their due within organizations by providing the right structure, resources and opportunity for growth.

12 – Continued emphasis on creative + design.

Teams can’t invest in digital today without investing in creative power. Period. An investment in creative means an investment in your brand. Creative isn’t just a flowery thing today. It’s critical to stand out from the crowd.

The sports world has made incredible strides as far as investing in creative and content. In 2019, it’s time to put a continued emphasis on this. Teams, leagues and brands must commit to creating a visual identity and pushing the envelope with creative if they want to capture attention.

From a visual identity perspective, it should be clear which team, brand or league the content is from with or without a logo. And that’s where a strong graphics package that reflects the brand comes into play. When teams put in the work to define their visual identity and actually see it through, the result is work that instantly connects with fans.

Once the visual identity is set, teams must continue to push the envelope with creative executions to stand out from all the noise. From illustrations to moving image, below are just a few examples of strong creative executions this past year:

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And let the city celebrate! #Celebrate08

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🍿🍿🍿 #LARvsCHI

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13 – Consider the social ad boom.

Here’s the good news: Brands aren’t only driving awareness and engagement through social media. They’re also driving revenue. Thanks to the maturation of ad tools and first-party data use, teams and brands are able to focus on the full funnel. Not only can we drive awareness, but we can also get fans to convert.

Here’s the bad news though: We’re experiencing a social ad boom. The secret is out about social advertising, especially as it relates to Facebook. One out of every four Facebook pages now use paid media. This means more competition and potentially higher costs.

In 2019, it’s time to expand and test a team’s digital advertising portfolio. From Instagram’s ad sets to venturing into podcasts and OTT, there’s a whole slew of opportunity. The brands that will continue to be successful in the space will look ahead and test new ways to drive ROI beyond the Facebook feed.

14 – Focus on distribution.  

With the way engagement rates are trending today, teams and brand need to think critically about distribution. What’s the purpose of spending hours and weeks planning and creating content if you aren’t going to maximize its impact?

In 2019, it’s time to buy into the idea that a distribution strategy is just as important as a creative strategy. Declining organic reach is a very real thing. This means that posting your season hype video once across three platforms doesn’t do it justice. Teams must spend time understanding how content can be repurposed. And, teams must invest in paid media to boost organic content to make the creative efforts truly worth it.

Too often we spend valuable time creating content to post it once and walk away. Give the creative its due by putting in the time to create a plan that will elevate the work to the audience it deserves.

15 – Experimentation with AR.

AR is one technology I’m not bullish on. Why? Because fans can access the activation as long as they have their phone in their hands. Because of the accessibility, it’s something teams and brands should have on their radar in the coming year:

AR is something everyday people have adopted (in a large part thanks to Snapchat). This willingness to adopt it, along with its ease of use, makes AR a worthwhile and immersive fan experience for teams, brands and leagues to explore.  In 2019, it’s important to continue to experiment with AR has a way to drive immersive storytelling and reward fans on owned platforms such as apps.

Below are a few interesting activations from 2018. You’ll see that the opportunities are endless from in-venue to season tickets:

17 – Go beyond the weekly recap.

Week after week so many teams look ahead with the same highlight reel. The reels often involve big plays and hype music with no story or life to them.  Teams are missing a huge opportunity to chronicle the team’s journey throughout a season beyond the stats and scores.

In 2019, it’s time for teams to go beyond the recap and tap into the journey of the season week after week. People are invested in the emotion that comes with sport. Capitalize on it.

If teams can go beyond the stats and talk about what it takes to get from here to there (the highs, the lows, the emotion, the work) then recaps become an actual story that taps into a brand’s DNA. Fans feel a stronger connection when emotion is tied to content and are more likely to share it. That’s a win for everyone.

UGA, Clemson and the Ravens have created episodic series that go beyond the scores. Check them out below for inspiration:

I know sometimes this feels like a broken record, but it’s our job as marketers to own our brand. These episodic series from the teams above are a great exammple of going beyond the weekly recap to own your brand and the story. More of this in 2019, please.

18 – True strategy for Instagram Stories.

Instagram Stories is growing like crazy. Today, it boasts 400M daily users compared to Snapchat’s 191 million. According to Recode, it is arguably the fastest-growing media format ever. Some 31 percent of Instagram users post a Story every month, according to a recent survey from RBC Capital, up from 21 percent a year prior. And 47 percent of users watch them at least weekly, up from 32 percent a year ago.

But just like everything, marketers are out to ruin Stories. Week after week the platform is cluttered with the same thing. And, teams and leagues are inundating fans with 20+ frames a day.

In 2019, it’s time for teams to define their purpose on Stories. To get creative and do something different. Instead of focusing on the daily churn (again), how can teams get creative and tell a story? The best example of this was the Chicago Bull’s Beauty and the Bull musical (was on Snapchat, but would obviously work for Instagram Stories):

We need to stop abusing and taking advantage of the captive audience we currently have on the platform and start delivering entertainment and value before it’s too late. If we aren’t careful, we’re going to lose our audience there.

19 – More from the #smsports community.

Now it’s your turn to sound off! What would you like to see in social media + sports in 2019?

Leadership Huddle With Christi Bedan, Tampa Bay Bucs

It’s time for the fifth installment of Leadership Huddle, a series on the blog where leaders in sport and beyond offer perspective on digital today. Some of the guests work directly in digital while others are leaders outside of the space (but get the work and advocate for it).

This installment of the Leadership Huddle features Christi Bedan, VP of Digital & Media at the Tampa Bay Bucs. Christi joined the organization a year ago.  In her role, she is responsible for all digital & content departments (digital, social, radio, TV, gameday video).  Prior to joining the Bucs, she spent 12 years in Chicago at Stadium (a multi-platform sports network) and NBC Sports’ action sports venture in various leadership roles managing media partnerships, digital product and distribution.  She started her career in sponsorship consulting at an Atlanta agency. 

If you follow the Tampa Bay Bucs on social, you’ve probably noticed they stepped up their game this season. From strong brand storytelling to unique game day illustrations, their digital presence is fun, engaging and ownable. It’s most certainly a testament to the work of Christi and the team she has built. Below is the Q&A. I hope you enjoy the perspective and insights.

When you joined the Bucs, I imagine you spent quite a bit of time laying a foundation and getting buy-in. For others trying to get digial buy-in across their own organizations, what are three pieces of advice you can share from your own experience? 

The entire offseason was spent understanding our market, our fans, and what we want the brand to stand for.  This project was led from the marketing team, but once that foundation is laid out, it becomes quite apparent that one of the, if not the primary opportunities to bring that to life is on digital platforms.  For example, part of our mission is that we want to be a brand that provides a year-round fan experience.  Digital is critical to achieving that, for obvious reasons. So to specifically answer your question, three pieces of advice:

Collect consumer data.  We did a number of focus groups and interviews in the market to understand the current perceptions and sentiment of the brand.  There were some clear ways to combat some of that feedback in the marketplace that we were able to use to support buy-in for digital.

Know the value. Measure the value delivered to corporate partners, at the very least as an internal benchmark.  Most sponsorships do not carve out dedicated media plans, but if you’re able to show the value you are delivering as a team (both production and exposure) you can start to justify additional resources as you grow that number. 

Look at budgets. Understand where dollars are being spent within budgets; yours and cross-functionally.  Often times, the justification of a resource is as simple as moving dollars from outsourced work to in-house.  

Generally speaking, what do you see as digital’s role within the team landscape today? And, how do you think its role will change in the future (5+ years from now)? 

The importance of the digital role has just scratched the surface.  Today, it is a central component for branding and becoming more critical for sponsors.  But, we are just beginning to see the impact on the marketing and gameday/stadium side.  Five years from now,  the customer experience is going to be transformed.  From mobile ticketing/ordering to supplemental AR content that provides real-time stats to bots.   Further, the data teams will have access to as a result will continue to evolve where as a team, you can have a very direct 1:1 conversation with someone after they leave the venue.    

Digital/social has matured a great deal in the last few years as it relates to paid and sponsorship, but there still seems to be a disconnect between organic and its ROI. How can we in the industry demonstrate the value of social and content, especially the plays that don’t have a hard tie to revenue? 

I think there are a few things here that can be primarily addressed by what are you trying to achieve as a brand.  At your core, what do you want your fans to take away from the experience with your team or organization?  For those plays that aren’t directly tied to revenue, it is important to build that case for the indirect ties.

Digital/social is essentially an additional marketing platform that didn’t exist years ago.  If you build your audience, you don’t have to outsource all marketing, and dollars can be reallocated.  And you are investing in future fans.  Further, you are collecting the data and building consumer profiles that can ultimately be leveraged for more direct ROI.  Test and provide data. 

What are the biggest keys for setting digital/content teams up for success?

The key is to setup an infrastructure that allows for cross-functional collaboration.  Silos have to be broken down because digital is only successful when working hand in hand with partnerships, marketing, ticketing, community relations, football, stadium ops, etc. 

Additionally, team members need to understand the importance of taking ownership of every project and thinking beyond just clicks and views but how all stakeholders can be affected, and ultimately, working towards a common end goal.  The more people you have looking at the whole picture, the more impactful a digital team can be. 

Lastly, set an environment that allows for trial and error, and in the end, more creativity. 

And finally, switching gears to professional growth. For anyone who aspires to one day be in a position similar to yours, what advice do you have on gaining the right experience and skills?

Stay curious and self-aware.  Challenge yourself to understand not just the task at hand but three steps prior and three steps ahead.  If you put in the work, with every task or project, to fully think through and anticipate what you may be asked by managers, colleagues, sponsors or other stakeholders, you will be forced to grow beyond your individual role.  Make sure you know the ‘why’.

A big thank you to Christi Bedan for her time and perspective. Connect with her here: LinkedIn and Twitter. And, be sure to follow the Bucs across digital for some great inspiration: Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to read the others from this series: Harry ArnettEric SanInocencioGraham Neff and Brendan Hannan.

Purpose, Planning, Programming, Packaging

There’s a monster in this industry. One that makes us feel exhausted, frantic and like we can’t keep up. It’s a serious threat to our sanity and work. This monster is content. And not only did we create this monster, but we continue to feed it.

Content has become a buzzword. A buzzword so vague someone will say “we need content!” and you can interpret it a million different ways. We measure total engagements over meaningful interactions. We push, publish, spray and pray for a glimmer of hope that someone will see this “content” we created.

The idea that content is king has to go away (gasp).

It’s easy to understand why the industry invented the phrase “content is king”. Early on, social media needed little resources except for someone who could write good copy. Almost overnight though, the platforms turned visual. Suddenly, brands, teams and leagues needed dedicated creators to digital. “Content is king” was a cry for leadership to understand how important an investment in creative is.

Fast forward to now and organizations, for the most part, understand that digital is an investment in creative too. Yes, we still have work to do when it comes to structuring teams and getting proper resources, but very few would argue that content isn’t important. We have come a long way. 

And in this quest to build up content to others outside of digital, it seems that we also built up content in our own heads. It’s become the “everything”. We overproduce, over-publish, oversaturate the feeds. And, we’ve prioritized content at the expense of other things. 

We’ve forgotten to breathe, pause and think. 

It’s time to stop the content madness. We have to shake off the internal pressure to be everywhere, all the time. We have to rid the pressure of publishing and publishing often. We have to ignore the voices that say volume matters. It’s time to stop doing just for the sake of doing.

Why does this matter so much? First of all, social media has evolved. Long gone are the days where you can spray and pray. Thanks to algorithms, every decision made can impact impressions and reach. Additionally, consumers are smart, in control and inundated with a ton of “content”. They’ve become immune to anything that doesn’t entertain and engage them.

Everything is nuanced now.  And because of that, when we “do for the sake of doing” we hurt our own reach. We dilute the quality of work. And, we make fans tune out.

With all the nuances today, the solution to success is a lot more than just “content is king”. Along with great creative and ideas, it takes purpose, planning, programming and packaging.


Social media has become cluttered thanks to the content revolution. And in sports, it’s often the sea of sameness. Very few teams actually own their brand narrative beyond the scores and pop culture memes.

It’s so important for teams to take the time to define their purpose. What is your brand strategy and how does that translate to social? If you can define this purpose, it will set your team apart from the rest.

A brand strategy becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t, long gone will be the days of posting just to post. You’ll have a clear vision for what needs to be produced.


Too often in social, we throw things at the wall. We test and we try, without understanding the why. But this fly-by approach makes it hard to map the work back to meaningful goals.

The best work comes with planning. Yes, we work in sports and have to react and be nimble, but there’s actually a lot we can plan and anticipate.

Once teams have a solid understanding of their brand strategy, it’s important to dive deeper into the content strategy. This is all about leveraging content for a purpose. Map back to the goals of the brand and find a way to bring to life the brand in a way that matters. It’s about setting parameters for what is worth the team’s time and what is not.

With purpose and planning, comes focus. And with focus, come quality work that matters. Take the time to pause and plan.


It seems like teams sometimes suffer from the fear of missing out. There’s a sense that we have to cover everything, all the time.

Batting practice and pregame warmups are a good example of this. Before every game, across every league, you are guaranteed to see the same exact pregame pictures and video over and over and over again. It becomes a tired story very quickly.

When we get in the mindset of covering, we start doing and dumping without understanding why. Think about Instagram on game days. So many times I see teams post upwards of 20 times and garner less than a 2% engagement rate. To me, that’s a serious flag that we need to give thought to content volume and distribution. A less than 2 percent engagement rate should show a serious need to pivot (and no, don’t blame it on the algorithm).

Instead of “covering” everything, think about how to “program” everything. Look at the totality of the season and curate a plan that shows every moment, every angle, every storyline over time. The *over time* is key here.

We don’t have to dump everything on fans all at once. We should consider what has already been covered, and offer up something different. If we plan, and curate smartly, we can unfold the story in a natural and organic fashion over time– without being intrusive to fans’ feeds.


How teams package their content has become as critical as the content itself. And, the approach to how content is packaged can play into the volume you produce and publish.

For example, let’s talk highlights on IG. So many times I see teams sharing more than five highlights from one single game. At some point, all the highlights look the same as I scroll through my feed. And forget the fact they’re often showing up days later thanks to the algorithm.

Instead of publishing five individual highlight posts, what if it could be packaged differently? What if after every game a team leveraged the Instagram carousel? By creative a “five plays of the game” carousel, teams can include design elements to make it unique to the brand. Sure, packaging content means that publishing might have to wait until after the game, but the product would be stronger, unique to your brand and less intrusive to your fans.

These are the things we have to think about.

If you want some inspiration, here are a few examples of how teams have packaged content:

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Finishing strong. 💪 #TrueToTheBlue

A post shared by Seattle Mariners (@mariners) on

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Game 4 Recap presented by @honda

A post shared by Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) on

I am by no means saying content doesn’t matter. It matters. And it matters a lot. There’s no such thing as a strong social presence without a strong creative arm today. But, we can no longer just post and pray. We have to be thoughtful, deliberate and strategic about our work. We have to define our purpose then plan, program and package.

Yes, content is still king in a lot of ways. The problem is your content won’t be seen if you don’t focus on the big picture and all the ins and outs. It’s about the totality of all the work — the strategy, the planning, the ideas, the execution. 

Let’s Talk Humor, GIFS and Memes

There’s a philosophical debate among those who work in social. And, it’s a debate that’s fiercely divided. To pop culture GIF or not?

GIFS, humor and memes have taken over the internet. Everywhere you look there’s a cat meme or GIF from The Office that’s already been used a million times. People use them. Brands use them. Teams use them. You get the point … everyone uses them.  And, it’s time to pause and ask a serious question. Should we be leaning so much into content and moments that are not our own?

I understand the case for teams or brands to use pop culture GIFS and memes. They are funny, relatable and often engaging. But every time I put on my brand hat I go back this: They aren’t ownable or related to most brands in any way.
And because I firmly believe in “wearing the brand hat” (yes, sometimes too much), I’m not a huge fan of leaning heavily into pop culture GIFS and memes. Here’s why: 

Brand > winning the internet.
If you work in social, your job isn’t just to “win the internet”. Your job is to bring the brand to life AND capture the attention of the internet. Literally, any brand can share a pop culture GIF and generate engagement.  It’s our jobs to figure out how we can engage fans in a way that’s relevant AND right for our brand. 

It’s unoriginal.
In a similar vein, a brand isn’t built by joining a sea of sameness. Great brands are built through a unique value proposition, a sharp point and original thinking.  The brands that win are original, authentic and true to their core. They deliver content that is fresh, new & something only they can own.

Pop culture memes and GIFS aren’t unique; they’re accessible for all to use. As @CodySharrett eloquently put it, “they are the antithesis of creativity”. Teams and brands, be original. 

Opportunity lost.
If you’re promoting Michael Scott GIFS then you are most likely losing an opportunity to promote a player or the brand. 

Social media is the front door to brands today. We should do everything we can to leverage moments to elevate it (the brand or our players). Why waste an opportunity to promote your team and brand with something that literally anyone has access to, like a pop culture meme?

Alienates your audience.
Pop culture GIFS/memes can alienate your audience. They also lend themselves to personal biases (as we are more likely to share what we think is funny and clever). If you didn’t grow up in the 90s or aren’t a Stars Wars fan, then you won’t care about that content even if it’s from your favorite team. It’s all relative.

You don’t know for sure if your fans relate to Seinfeld, but you DO know that they relate to your team. Why push out content that is unoriginal and has nothing to do with your team when you can invest energy in building your own content and unique voice?

So, what’s the solution? How can teams be relatable on the internet while still putting their brand first?

Always remember the big picture.
Humor, GIFS and memes that are relevant to the brand can be a great way to build a relationship with fans. There’s a place for it, but just remember, it’s part of a much larger picture. Our success is not defined by one or two tweets; it’s the totality of everything. At the end of the day, it’s our job to drive back to business goals. 

Put the brand strategy to paper.
To figure out where humor, GIFS and memes fit into the overall picture, but your brand strategy to paper. Too often social media is a wild, wild west and the brand voice does not actually reflect the organization. If your brand voice on social doesn’t match what you would put on a billboard, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

A strong brand strategy will set your team apart from the rest.  And, it helps combat the wild, wild, west. It becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t. Stick to what was defined. Make sure you focus on your own, unique thing. Humor, GIFS and memes can be a part of our presence but it’s not the only thing.

Every team and league should put their brand strategy to paper. Define your values. Stat the goals. Understand what makes the brand unique. Know your consumer. Create a personae. Once the brand architecture is in place, that’s your guiding light. All the work, whether it’s social or a more traditional marketing channel, should ladder back up to it.

Think about the sweet spot.
Putting the brand strategy to paper helps teams understand what the right tone of voice is on social channels. And, once you know what your brand stands for, it’s time for the fun work.

Social media is supposed to be fun. It does not need to be serious all the time. I’m not saying brands and teams shouldn’t activate pop culture GIFS because they can’t let loose a little bit. The problem is they are completely unoriginal and unrelated to most brands/teams.

It’s our jobs to figure out how accounts can be relatable, funny, engaging (or whatever the tone is) while making sure the content is still relevant to the brand.  Great creative work is able to stay in a box while getting the tone and message across. It’s the sweet spot.

The best work connects all the dots between your brand, your fans and what’s relatable. It’s also about the right content, right context and right delivery.  Take the time to understand what this means for your brand/team.

Plan, plan, plan.
Teams and brands can be relatable, funny, quirky, intense and evoke all sorts of emotion while still being original. It simply takes planning. And, lots of it.

Let’s take reaction GIFS. A lot of teams leverage pop culture GIFS in moments when they want to evoke a certain emotion. Well, you can still do that in a way that’s ownable. When you’re planning your content before each season, write down a list of all the emotions you might tap into. Think about your favorite pop culture/reaction GIFS. Storyboard out how you can bring those emotions to life in your own unique way.  Then, recruit players or content creators (if you are doing something like illustrations) to make them happen.

With planning and focus, you can create original content that reflects the brand and still very much resonates with fans. Put in the extra effort. It’s worth it.

Let creators work their magic.  
Creating content that evokes an emotion or plays into a pop culture moment, while staying in the brand box, is hard. That’s okay. It should be.

Put in the effort to plan ahead. Hire creative people and let them work their magic. You won’t always hit a home run and you won’t always be able to activate during every moment. But, the more the team flexes its creative muscles the easier it will be to find the sweet spot.

If you need some inspiration, here are some GIFS, pop culture moments and unique ideas that evoke emotion from teams and leagues:

Funny, relatable and ownable. 
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Which LUUUUKE describes your mood today?

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Unique, original and something only the Panthers can own. 
Original comedy, brought to you by B/R.
This is pop culture that heroes players. So, even if fans don’t like the Office it at least puts their players in a more personal & humorous light.
Sports provides plenty of opportunities to create your own memes. 
Oregon owning a pop culture moment in a way that only they can.
PGA Tour asked artists and fans to help them create a meme. 
Yes, this piece of content includes footage that the Browns don’t own. For teams really looking to push the envelope though, this is a good example of how you can pair pop culture footage with your own footage to make it more original. I would use this tactic sparingly, but for certain cases like this example, it can be golden (depending on the brand voice of course).

When you work in sports, you have more access to content than most brands. There’s no need to rely on others for content, even in humorous moments. Tap into existing content, leverage your designers and create epic GIFS, memes and content that not only resonate with your entire audience but also help build your own, unique team voice.

At the end of the day, creating relatable GIFS and moments that seep into pop culture is a creative exercise. It’s a challenge that will be hard but also rewarding. The key is to connect the pulse of the internet with your brand. Remember, original content wins.

To Note: I understand that strategies are not a one-size-fits all. What works for one brand might not work for another. Expectations, leadership, brand voice and  vision are all extremely different.  This is especially true with humor and pop culture. There are no hard-fast rules. This is merely food for thought.

Let’s Talk Taglines In Sports

The start of every season is full of newness in the marketing world. Teams have new communication priorities. Hype videos are rolled out. Hashtag emojis are unveiled. And in general, there’s a slew of amazing new creative and concepts.

One thing that always comes up at the start of every new season is the idea of  taglines for teams. To slogan or not to slogan, that is the question?

It’s an interesting debate. And while many seem to like the idea of taglines for teams (as the poll above shows), it can be hard to execute on them. All too often taglines are used, abused and aimless. When so many taglines serve little purpose or change every year, the message becomes muddled.

I believe though, that taglines for teams can be extremely impactful. We’re lucky to work in an industry where people have a deep emotional connection with our brands. Teams have the ability to tell a story, evoke emotion and have people take action. If a message is done right, it matters a lot to the consumer (yes, meaning fans will actually use them).

Taglines have the ability to provide more purpose and focus to a team’s content and creative. They help tie a bow around the story. They can rally a community. But, they need more depth than “just a tagline”.  Taglines must be rooted in insight, strategy and a concept. And, that concept needs to be brought to life across multiple channels and executions. 

The key for taglines to work is to nix the idea that a slogan is just a slogan. If your slogan is only used for your hashtag emoji and nothing else, it serves no purpose. In order for a tagline/slogan to be successful, it needs to have several key ingredients:

A tagline must have a purpose.
The best taglines are deeply rooted in the team’s character, their values, their brand message. It should be ownable. Essentially, your tagline must be rooted in insight on your brand, your fans and what makes you unique.

It  should be simple (and catchy).
We all know attention spans today are short. A strong tagline is simple, easy to understand and something with potential to catch on. 

A tagline should be evergreen.
The best taglines are ones that can stand the test of time. And in order for taglines to stand the test of time, they must be multi-dimensional so the story can evolve. Just Do It is a perfect example of this; it’s broad-reaching enough to evolve with the narrative of Nike over the years.

And, connected to the larger work.
More than anything, a tagline is less about the actual tagline and more about the work that surrounds it. A great tagline is only as great as the work that is done to bring it to life. The execution matters, a lot. 

A tagline must be more than something fans see in one hype video at the start of a season. It must be part of brand messaging, creative and the design aesthetic. It’s about all channels, working together, on all cylinders. It’s about an integrated marketing plan.

Brand narrative > tagline. 
What we’re talking about is a larger campaign and brand narrative. A slogan is the simple external-facing message. The sharp point. What makes a tagline impactful for teams is when everything ladders back to that broader idea. Think more than a slogan, checking a box and walking away. Think holistically and give them a reason for being.

If your team is looking to rally around a tagline, a campaign, a big idea, it’s important to put the work to paper. Integrated marketing campaigns don’t magically come together. They take a lot of focus and disciplined work. 

If your looking to embark on this journey, below is a high-level look at how an outline might come together. Please note this is a high-level outline that will vary based on the exact work, the team, etc. And, of course, it needs a lot more detail:

Chapter 1 – The Foundation

The foundation outlines what the campaign is set out to do, keeping the broader organization in mind. This is where you give a sense of purpose to the work. Below are a few things to think about including as you work through the foundation:

The Vision.
A simple, hard-hitting statement on what the vision is for the campaign.

The Goals
What are the goals of this campaign? Are you trying to tell a stronger brand story? Do you want to rally your community of fans? Typically, the goals outlined are more broad-based.

This is the statement of what you want to accomplish — and it is measurable. So, for example, at the end of the day you want to increase engagement with your fan base. Make this statement to the point and measurable.

A campaign without key performance indicators is an aimless plan. It’s imperative to put to paper what success looks like. Period.

You can’t build a plan without understanding who you’re talking to. As part of the foundation, it’s important to put to paper your target consumer. And remember, this isn’t demographics alone. It’s also psychographic. Define their attitude, lifestyle and interests – beyond sport.

Chapter 2 – The Concept

Now that the foundation has been laid, the second chapter is all about the concept. This should set the tone for how you got to the concept (so, essentially pulling key information from your brief and insights) before laying out the actual concept.

The Stake
The stake is really owning what this campaign is set out to do. It’s essentially another reminder for the group on what you are setting out to accomplish. For example, are you setting out to reclaim the relationship with your fans? Or, are you ready to own the story around your team?

The Insights + Landscape
Every good campaign is rooted in insights around the brand, the mission, the competitive landscape, etc. And, it all starts with a brief. Before jumping into the actual campaign concept, take the time to lay out the insights leveraged to come up with the concept. Essentially, what inspired this campaign?

The Opportunity / White Space
Out of all the insights, what is the biggest opportunity to own? What can your team own that is unique? This should be a quick overview of the white space discovered throughout the process. 

The Big Idea
This is the campaign idea in 90 seconds or less. Simple and to the point (and yes, the tagline is often included in this).

The Concept Manifesto
The manifesto is the more in-depth idea around the campaign. It sets the mood and the tone for what the campaign is and gives a strong visual the concept.

Voice + Tone
Voice and tone are so important in a brand campaign. What emotions are you trying to convey? Set guidelines for what the campaign is and is not so the right message and emotions are evoked.

Communications Hierarchy
Less art, more instruction. The communications hierarchy should identify the external communications points of the campaign. Yes, this would include how the tagline fits into the overall picture. It’s a guide for how the campaign is articulated in real life.

Visual Identity
Your visual language is important. This is the place where swipes of inspiration set the mood for the look and feel. It’s an important piece that can impact the entire tone of the work. Make sure the visual identity is rooted in insights around the campaign.

Chapter 3 – The Ideas + Tactics

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. The ideas! The final chapter lays out how you’ll actually bring the campaign to life. Here is an example of what might be included (and yes, you’ll need a lot of details):

Guiding Principles 
It’s always helpful to have a guide that level sets how the campaign should come to life. This isn’t a set of hard fast rules per say, but it does help reiterate the philosophies and ideas of the campaign. For example, a guiding principle could be to “lead with emotion”.

Hero Content Pieces
All good campaigns (or taglines) need hero pieces that set the foundation for what the campaign is all about. These are developed early on with the campaign concept.

Ancillary Creative
From there, it’s important to think about how the ethos of the campaign can come to life through other content. A strong concept with be multi-dimensional and should have the ability to be infused throughout messaging and creative concepts well beyond the hero pieces. Make sure creative is molded for the platform; this shouldn’t be a one-size-fits all.

Channel Tactics + Executions
In addition to creative and concepts, it’s important to think about other tactics that can help bring the campaign (and tagline) to life. Whether it’sa Snapchat filter, hashtag emoji or a fan-engagement play, these tactics play an important role in hammering the message home.

Distribution + Media Plan
You can’t have a content strategy without a distribution strategy. Make sure you think about your distribution plan, well beyond the organic piece.

Always, Map Back 
And, as a reminder, make sure the everything maps back to the larger picture: The campaign concept.

Long story short, I think taglines have their place in sports as long as there is a purpose. They aren’t necessary or mandatory. It’s up to every team to understand their objectives and priorities:

Christi makes a great point. Every team’s approach and strategy is different. It’s important to understand your why. 

If you do decide that a tagline is the right route for your team, make sure you do the foundational work. What are you trying to convey? How does the work map back to the larger picture?  A tagline is only as good as the concept and the work that surrounds it. But if done right, it can be extremely powerful.

What are your thoughts about taglines for teams? Yay or nay? I would love to hear your thoughts below!