Lessons On Creating With Limits From The Pause In Sports

While sports were on pause, social teams experienced extreme constraints around content creation. No games. No in-person access. No traditional sport storylines. No ability to capture new footage directly.

Creating under such limits can be a daunting task. Even more daunting, though, is the expectations to produce at a high volume despite the changing landscape. And for the sports industry, one that rarely sleeps in the social space, there is no slowing down even if the games are on pause.

When we have limits, though, we innovate. We find solutions to things because there is no other choice. And throughout the pause in sports, teams found ways to tell their story and connect with fans. 

Yes, sports are back and games to fuel teams, leagues and brands with new content again, but I believe there are critical lessons to learn from the pause in sports that we can take away or the future. Here are a few of those lessons on social and social:

Obsess Over Creative Execution 

Zoom and iPhone footage were the few vehicles of access teams and leagues had to players throughout the pause in sports. And while any access is fantastic, Zoom and talking head fatigue is a very real thing.

It didn’t take me long to realize months of Zoom interviews wasn’t going to work. Audiences were going to disengage quickly. You have about three seconds (if you’re lucky) to convince people to stop and view your video. In those three seconds, your video needs to set the tone and get people interested. And once you have them watching, you have to keep them engaged. Two minutes of someone sitting and talking directly into a camera is rarely going to keep people around.ย 

What’s a social team to do when they have excellent access to video interviews but don’t want them to fall flat? You focus on taking creative to the next level.ย 

Sometimes, as in the case of Zoom interviews, the creative execution and details matter a lot. We have to obsess over taking pieces to the next level through dynamic intros, b-roll, graphics, etc.ย 

Creative execution is what separates the best from the rest. When teams focus on the details of how to bring a piece to life, they are more likely to create something that captures attention, fits the platform and is the best reflection of the brand.

Obsessing over execution does not mean that production value has to be high or overproduced. It merely means that you’ve taken the time to make sure the idea comes to life right. Do your Zoom interviews and everything else right: Focus on packaging the content to make it as compelling as possible. 

Here’s an example of taking a Zoom interview and thinking critically about how it’s packaged to elevate the series:

Let Design Work Hard For You 

One of the toughest things about sports being on pause with no new and natural storylines was making the old feel fresh. Teams, leagues and brands had to dip into the vault of existing content and repackage it in a way that made it feel new, fun and unique. This is where great graphic design can come in. 

Graphic design can play a crucial role when you’re looking to create content with limited access, slow news days or no new assets (like photo or video). First, graphics can make existing photos and videos that you might have already used to feel unique. 

Second, design can help your team create something engaging from moments that don’t have a strong visual attached – a radio interview, media availability, etc. 

Below are a few examples of how teams leveraged design to make the old feel new or take a small audio snippet/quote and make it feel much more elevated and packaged:

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A match made in heaven. ๐Ÿž๐Ÿ—ฝ

A post shared by New York Rangers (@nyrangers) on

Ex of taking a quote from Town Hall on Zoom and turning it into a more dynamic asset.
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KD likes what he's seeing ๐Ÿ—ฃ

A post shared by Brooklyn Nets (@brooklynnets) on

Ex of taking audio from a podcast and packaging it through design for an elevated asset.
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๐Ÿ˜ (Via @bleacherreport)

A post shared by Baltimore Ravens (@ravens) on

The Ravens used design to package commentary from Bleacher Report.

Makes Fans Active Participants

One of the best trends to come out of the sports pause was the focus on fans. With no games to cover and no original storylines, all of a sudden, fans become a central focus for keeping social channel’s lights on. 

Throughout the pause, teams and leagues emphasized content that brought their fans into the fold. All of a sudden, content wasn’t just a mechanism to push something out; it was a mechanism to pull fans into the brand. 

Simple community tactics go a long way. Fans want to be active participants. It’s the ability to engage that makes social media different from any other channel. When fans feel part of the community, teams build stronger advocates. Focus on the fans. 

Test, Learn & Pivot 

Social media is often the ultimate balancing act. You have to plan, but also be willing to pivot. And in unusual times, there was no better reminder that so much of social media is about leaning testing, learning and pivoting. 

Creating content and publishing during the pause in sports was the ultimate lesson on planning while remaining flexible. With no natural storylines, teams had to plan way ahead to make sure calendars filled up. But how were we supposed to know what was going to resonate with people during a pandemic? We didn’t, so we had to test, try and pivot. 

Sometimes in social, we create things that don’t resonate โ€” and sometimes we hit unexpected home runs. That was the story during the pause in sports. If you work in this space, it’s your job to continually have a pulse on what performs and what doesn’t and push for necessary changes and tweaks. 

While there are a lot of lessons to take away on creating content during the pause, these are the ones that stuck with me the most. So much of working in social media is about getting resourceful, finding ways to look at things differently and never falling into the trap of doing the “same old thing”.

So often limits are looked at as a negative. But when we push ourselves to create in new ways, we innovate. My hope is that we’ll always push to look at things in a fresh and different way and seek to innovate, limits or not.

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