The NFL Schedule Release: From Social Splash to Strategic Win

The NFL schedule release has become a holiday for social and content teams across the league. It’s when marketing teams flex their creative muscles, generating wild and wacky ideas to outdo their peers, win the internet, and generate excitement about the upcoming season.

As an outsider, I’ve been fascinated with this day since it started becoming its own holiday. The creative process, the production value, the resources, the competitive nature, and the sheer creativity— all of it captivates anyone interested in social media and sports.

It’s hard not to admire and be in awe of what these teams produce, and I genuinely enjoy the day. The creative energy poured into what could be a mundane, informational push is impressive. I appreciate the energy and effort it takes to make this happen. And I want to be clear: My intention is not to detract from that.

But as the schedule release has grown larger than life within the NFL, it’s left me with questions:

— Have teams rallied around schedule release because of the creative arms race?

— With so many resources poured into it, how are teams driving it back to revenue? Partners can play a role, but what other touchpoints matter?

—Do teams consider this a brand moment, or is it about engagement above all else?

My challenge from the outside looking in is that much of what is done around the schedule release is about making a social media splash alone. There seems to be an immense amount of stress and pressure on teams to produce all in hopes of “being the best” that day. If teams are going to go “all in” on schedule releases, why not use it strategically to engage fans, drive revenue, and reinforce the team’s brand identity?

I also want to be clear that I don’t think teams need to go all in on schedule release, but they do need to define its importance for their organization.

Is this a moment important to our larger business or just a fun, social moment? Based on the answer to that question, resources — including creative resources — should align with the objectives, period.

If it’s a fun social moment, teams will still support it, but it doesn’t need to be a blowout production. Have fun, keep it simple, and don’t put immense pressure on the team. The Titans’ schedule release video from last year is an excellent example of owning the moment without overextending resources. Let the team have fun, but ensure resources match the moment.

If the organization believes this moment is bigger than social and wants to pour significant resources and some pressure into it, then why not treat the schedule release more like mini marketing platforms and campaigns rather than one hero video?

And this is my question: If a team is going to go “all in” on schedule release and pour all their creative energy into it, how do they truly maximize the moment?

How do we extend this clever idea beyond one hero video on social media? If resources and energy are poured into this, it should be a platform that pulls different levers for the organization under one cohesive moment/theme.

So, let’s get into the weeds. Let’s say an organization has deemed this moment necessary. Great! What are the different levers we need to consider to ensure we’re making the most of this moment? Here are the various touchpoints I would look at solving:

Alignment with Brand Identity: How does the schedule release theme/content fit seamlessly within the broader brand identity and messaging?

Player Personalities: Can we incorporate players and their unique personalities into the content to build a deeper connection with fans?

Merchandise Touchpoints: Does the big idea have any touchpoints to merchandise?

Ticket Messaging: What can we do to cascade the overall big idea into messaging for individual tickets (if applicable) or for season ticket holders? While the content should be molded for performance marketing channels or for season ticket members, it should still be in the same vein/theme as the big idea brought to life through social content.

Audience Retargeting: If individual tickets are applicable to the organization, how can we leverage the engaged audiences from the schedule release to retarget them for tickets or data capture for interest in season/group tickets?

Sponsorship Opportunities: Are there sponsors that align well with the big idea to become official partners of the schedule release?

Maximizing Hero Content: How do we milk the most out of this production? Create teasers, cutdowns, and ancillary pieces and repurpose to maximize hero content and idea.

Multi-Platform Presence: Ensure the big idea appears across all digital platforms, like email and the website, beyond social media.

Balancing Brand and Fun: Can we balance brand messaging with fun elements to hit on all cylinders for fans?

Data Collection: Is there an opportunity for the schedule release to capture fan data for future marketing and engagement efforts?

Okay, now let’s take it a step further. What does this look like in action? I’m going to take the Eagles concept for this year’s schedule release and build it out more. 

This year, the Eagles video focused on psyche evaluations for their most diehard fans to see if they are ready for the season. I loved the concept because it’s rooted in an insight about their fans’ deep passion and felt highly ownale to the Eagles. Here’s the video:

This concept has so much potential to be more than a hero video. How could the Eagles take it a step further to build a complete platform focused on brand, social, data capture, and revenue? Here are a few ideas across a variety of touchpoints:

Interactive Psyche Evaluations: To create a data capture moment, the Eagles could launch a microsite where fans can undergo virtual “psyche evaluations” to assess their readiness for the upcoming season. The quiz could feature humorous questions about their fandom to see if they are cleared for the season. Fans who finish the evaluation could receive a personalized digital certificate of readiness saying they’ve “been cleared by the Eagles” for the season to share on social. This idea produces a moment of fan engagement for fans, but more importantly, a data capture moment for the Eagles. 

Deep Dive into Fan Psyches: The Eagles’ video featured some fantastic characters, and it left me wanting more! They could expand the hero video by creating detailed profiles for each character, showcasing their unique traits and fanatical love for the Eagles with tips for other Eagles fans on how to be ready for the season.

Opponent Psyche Profiles: The Eagles could release weekly “psyche evaluations” on their upcoming opponents to extend the theme into the season. The video series could humorously dissect the opponent’s weaknesses and strengths from an Eagles fan or player perspective, similar to the schedule release video but more of a deep dive, creating a fun and engaging way to build anticipation for each game.

Themed Merchandise: On the schedule release day, the Eagles could drop limited-edition merchandise that plays into the theme. For example, shirts could play into “Certified Eagle Maniac” and “Cleared By The Eagles” for their fans to show their readiness.

Season-Ticket Holder Engagement: To include a touchpoint for select season-ticket holders, the Eagles could create an exclusive “Get Cleared” pack. This pack would feature a custom video box player that automatically plays the schedule release video with a personalized message from a player asking if they’ve been cleared for the season. Other items included could include a themed checklist on how to get Eagles ready, a frameable fan certificate declaring the recipient officially “cleared,” unique merch, etc. 

The above are just a few, quick examples of how teams can think about extending the moment arond schedule release and maximzing their big idea — again, if they really feel like the moment warrants a big prodcution.

And realizing I’ve already rambled a ton in this blog post, I’ll leave you all with this. The purpose of this post is not to knock the creativity or devalue what schedule release brings to the table if teams do in fact deem it important. My point in all of this is to simply push to ask the hard questions — does it really matter in the big picture or does it not? And if it doesn’t matter to our org in the long run, then can we invest resources elsewhere. And if it does matter, how to we make the most of it?

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What To Consider In #SMSports In 2024

After a long hiatus (yes, I’m talking years), I’m finally bringing back the annual list of things for sports social and content teams to consider in 2024.

This list is not a forecast of trends or a prediction of the future. Our industry is way too unpredictable to play that game. Instead, it’s a list of things to consider focusing on in the year ahead based on observations, lessons learned and insights from others. 

While there were some themes from previous years’ lists I wanted to bring back because they’re still as relevant as ever, I tried very hard to keep the things to consider new topics of conversation. I also understand everyone’s goals and objectives differ, but hopefully, something here will spark a new idea, approach, or thinking.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of what to consider in 2024 with some help from Twitter and friends in the industry in no order or importance.

Focusing On Getting Rid Martyr Syndrome.

Too often, I see people in our industry, especially young professionals, talking about missing big life moments to work in sports. We aren’t curing cancer, though, and to me, there is no reason to miss out on the milestone moments of those closest to you.

The reality is that too few organizations keep a perspective on what we do. We encourage people to make sacrifices, chalk it up to being part of the business, and then create a vicious cycle of martyr syndrome because people who grew up in sports have zero ideas of what some semblance of balance looks like. And in the end, we create burned-out, jaded people in what should be an incredibly fun industry to be part of.

Yes, I understand you can’t take 75% off game weekends. There are times when we in sports will have to RSVP “no,” but sports shouldn’t be at the cost of everything else. In 2024, we need leaders in sports orgs who champion a culture with a perspective on what we do. A culture that allows a give and take between employees and the org and encourages people to show up in the personal moments that really matter to them.

Sports will always require some long hours and sacrifices, but I don’t think we’ve worked hard enough to help people in the industry find some semblance of balance and ensure that they can RSVP “yes” (and not feel guilty) to the moments that really matter. Leaders need to step up and figure out how to eliminate martyr syndrome in their organizations — whether they need to structure their teams differently, show up differently, change their perspective, and champion balance.

Redundancy in Tactical Roles. 

As mentioned above, working in sports will always be a different beast from other industries, but every leader should think about how they can find solutions to create balance for employees. One of the key ways to ensure that employees have balance is to set up an organization with enough redundancy in tactical roles. 

I want to be clear that redundancy in tactical roles isn’t about employees not having individual ownership or creating a bloated organization. Instead, it’s about hiring and structuring teams to amplify collaboration and support within the team. Ideal team structures are set up to have employees still “own” specific responsibilities with the ability to step in, assist and collaborate seamlessly with their respective counterparts. 

Long gone “should” be the days of most sports organizations having one person dedicated to social, one person dedicated to brand strategy, one person dedicated to video, etc. And because we have multiple people contributing, we should be able to set up teams to allow them to flex different schedules. The idea that everyone must be at every game is an outdated idealogy — so take advantage of where and when it makes sense of the redundancy we have in tactical areas. 

Working in sports is fun. And it should be. But if we don’t find a way to let people RSVP “yes” to those important life moments and not feel guilty about it, our industry will not keep the best and the brightest. In 2024, let’s take advantage of our teams’ more robust digital & content structures to help everyone find some balance.

Teams Having Fun.

In 2024, sports teams need to loosen up a button (or two) on social media and not be afraid to have some fun. This is one where my perspective has evolved and lightened up quite a bit, and others in our space agree.

 Here’s what I’ve come to believe firmly: People like sports because they allow them to connect with others & disconnect from the rest. People need fierce competition and a FUN fan experience. Teams, like people, can and should flex. Yes, for most sports orgs, there’s a time and a place. You must know the nuances, but people connect with personality, emotion and humor.

There’s no better example of why fun matters in sports than the Savannah Bananas. I know for me, seeing their approach has been humbling because it’s the ultimate proof of thinking about the fan above all else. I mean, the numbers on these videos speak for themselves:

I know the Savannah Bananas are an extreme example, but they are a massive reminder that social is fun and sports are entertainment. As long as teams care about the foundation – partner, brand moments, etc. – there should be space for fun. 

I do want to emphasize that taking care of the brand foundation is key. The strongest social teams understand that social should be fun but not with disregard for the business. Why? Because fun without purpose is just aimless.

So, in 2024, encourage your social and content team to have fun and take risks. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to try to say yes more than you say no, even if some of the yeses make you uncomfortable. Of course, ideas must fit within the brand box, but let your team push even if it’s outside your comfort zone. 

Encourage ideas vs. deflate, and magic will help. And I’ll leave this thought with some of the “fun” I stumbled across this year in sports: 

No More “What’s Always Been Done”.

Because sports is a small community and we often constantly follow other teams and our peers in the industry, it is easy to get caught up in mirroring the approach of others. But in 2024, the teams that stand out and maximize resources will stop doing what’s always been done, focus less on mirroring other teams and being bullish on the bold things, maximize resources, and genuinely connect with fans.

Standard game coverage and play-by-play. Over-the-top all-star campaigns. A ton of creative resources on holiday graphics. Insane schedule release moments. I’m not saying these things are wrong for all teams, but do we do them because that’s always been done or because we have to keep up with everyone versus doing what’s best for our brand and business?

Want to win? Double down on an approach that’s right for your organization and your fans, regardless of the status quo in sports. There is no sports organization, no matter how big or premiere, that has unlimited resources, so every single team has to prioritize what’s important to them. We can either prioritize the “same old same old” or prioritize the big, bold, meaningful and sometimes scary work. 

In today’s age of endless options and competition, the cookie-cutter approach to content and social channels will no longer work. Sports teams must break away from the formulaic tendencies that often result in generic, easily forgettable content. You don’t have to play by old rules. You don’t have to play by the rules of other teams. You don’t have to play it safe. In 2024 the teams that will win will stop doing what’s always been done and write their own rules.

Flexing YouTube’s Full Ecosystem.

If you are investing in video content, you should invest in YouTube. While the platform is slower to build than other social platforms, I would argue that YouTube has one of the strongest and most stable audiences out of any social network.

The numbers speak for themselves. YouTube has 2.70 billion monthly active users based all around the world and approximately 122 million users per day. More than that, though, they reach every age demographic. Every marketer’s dream, right?

What I find most interesting about YouTube heading into this New Year is that they’re building a robust ecosystem. Thanks to YouTube Shorts, this platform is no longer just for long-form video; it’s a platform that will support an entire video ecosystem. 

The teams that invest in YouTube and follow best practices will find a video ecosystem that works hard and delivers for them. In 2024 if video is on your radar, YouTube should also be.

Building Out Internal Capabilities.

You can’t compete today online if you don’t have a strong creative team. And the teams that win in 2024 and beyond will be committed to building out their internal capabilities. Capabilities that don’t just include the execution part of creative, but also the strategy and concept part. 

What’s the benefit of this? A strong internal creative team will allow your org to work quickly and nimbly (as long as you don’t have a cumbersome process in place, which, trust me, you don’t want). But it’s more than just speed. Your internal team knows the brand best and has relationships with internal stakeholders and sports operations. You don’t have to be educated on how to get to x, y, and z; your team already knows this and has built trust.

This isn’t just about having more hands on deck and adding more people. It’s about having the right people with the right skillsets deeply embedded in your brand. In 2024, organizations that focus on building the right creative capabilities with enough breadth and depth to tackle any project will win.

Brand Intentionally Beyond Season Start.

We all know the blueprint for the start of the season. Countdown hype. Tagline push. Season hype video. Too often, teams kick off the season epically and intentionally, only for that to fizzle the minute we get into the gameday routine. The one-and-done approach to a team’s brand has to stop.

In 2024, it’s time to consider a more consistent drumbeat of intentionality around your team’s brand. It’s time for teams to resist the fade into a rhythm of score updates, player statistics, and game results that so often happen as we get into the swing of the season. The game action is undeniably essential, but so is building, protecting, and fostering your brand foundation (if you want to know why, I’ve written some about that here). Building an emotional connection with your fans helps through the highs and the lows, and it’s not just a nice to have today. It’s essential. 

Looking for an example of this? While it’s only one tactical example, the Ravens do an excellent job of reinforcing their brand DNA in their weekly trailers. They aren’t just hype videos. They reinforce their identity and scream Baltimore in their look, vibe, and tone.

Not Being Too Precious With Production.

I believe one of the biggest challenges for digital and content teams moving forward is figuring out the balance between quality versus quality, imperfect versus perfect, and nimble versus work that requires editors to dive deep. We live in a space where creative capabilities have become next-level, the world moves fast, and sports, more than most industries, require more volume.

But I think we have gotten caught up in the wrong things in the creative arms race in many ways. Teams don’t need SportsCenter-level studio sets or 20-person production shoots to do great work. We don’t have to sweat the tiny details, fuss over edits that don’t matter, and try to perfect everything about a video. The reality is that to get our audience’s attention truly, we have to evoke something in them — and that doesn’t come from an elaborate production. It comes from a strong idea, narrative, and solid execution. It’s a realization that the most compelling content—the ideas that stir emotions and forge connections—transcends the obsession with perfection and broadcast-level production. 

So, in 2024, let’s realize production doesn’t have to be so precious. I genuinely believe the teams that understand they can be more agile and resourceful with production and laser-focus on strong concepts will be able to produce great work and do it in scale.  

Understanding The Power of Access. 

The best social and creative team’s job in sports is to tell the story/narrative of the team, bring fans inside, and build an emotional connection (through the highs and lows). All of this is done through access and buy-in from the competition side. 

The other day I watched this long-form piece from the Detriot Lions, though, and it made me think about how the power of access goes far beyond the week-to-week content churn of a team’s channels. 

Yes, access helps bring fans closer to the team during the highs and lows. I’ll argue that value all day, but the impact runs deeper than fostering a closer fan-team relationship. Access holds historical significance. It can provide a window into the past, offering valuable historical footage that encapsulates the journey and legacy of an organization. We’re fortunate to live in an era where we can preserve the moments that define the team’s history forever in an intimate and personal way. And here’s the kicker: access becomes an invaluable asset when a team embarks on a magical run (hence how the Lions inspired this thought). Those behind-the-scenes glimpses, the candid shots, and exclusive footage? They transform into cherished keepsakes, documenting the magical journey for fans and becoming a part of the team’s storied legacy. 

So, while access humanizes and brings fans closer, in 2024, I think teams must understand and pitch its broader significance. Access is not just about the now. It’s about preserving the past and potentially capturing the extraordinary moments that become the stuff of our team’s histories. 

Drive Awe Through Creative.

This one is purely driven by my love and admiration for the Aston Martin F1 Team’s creative flair and captivating creativity. As someone who works in the industry, I typically do not become a fan of social accounts, but their work has pulled me in. They have a style; they push the boundaries and truly awe people through creativity. I will not harp much on this one, but I believe the teams that will win in 2024 will continue pushing the envelope in the creative space and surprise and delight fans with exciting concepts and fun, creative flair. 

Here are a few of their recent examples:

That ends my list of things to consider in #smsports in 2024. As always, there are no hard, fast rules here, and every team has to do what’s right for them, but hopefully, something inspired you here. And before we wrap, I’ll leave you with a few other great points from others in the #smsports community.

Now it’s your turn to sound off. What do you think teams should be considering in 2024?

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Six Things The Best Social Teams in Sports Do Differently

Working in the social and content space in sports is a different beast from other industries. You can’t predict the final product. The volume of content and information flow is high and constant. And the passion for the product is unmatched. 

Despite our industry’s uniqueness, marketing in our space often feels the same. There’s a lot of rinsing and repeating year over year— many of the same on-the-field or on-the-ice moments, game highlights, etc. 

It’s not easy, I get it. But the teams that can get away from the rinse and the repeat are the teams that will win and build a brand fans have an affinity for for years to come. So, what separates the best social and content teams from the rest? While this list could be even more exhaustive, here are the top things that stand out to me:

1. Understand moments are a platform for the brand.

Significant moments in sports — season start, player signings, milestones, important wins, etc. — are more than big moments. They’re a platform for your brand. At a time when fan emotions are high and their attention undivided, this is a team’s chance to reinforce who they are and shine a light on why fans root for them.

Too often, though, content created in these moments is so generic it could be interchangeable across teams. How many player signing announcement graphics or videos have you seen that all feel the same? If the creative pieces are so generic they could work across any team, then the moment has not been done justice. 

Owning big moments as a platform for our brand is something we have worked hard to do at Stewart-Haas Racing. And while I often avoid talking about any of our team’s work, what we did when we announced Josh Berry to the No. 4 car is an easy way for me to showcase what it means to use big moments to reinforce your DNA. Here is our announcement video:

For those less familiar with NASCAR, Berry is replacing Kevin Harvick. Harvick is a future hall-of-fame racer who elevated the expectations for SHR and will go down as one of the greatest drivers in our sport. With the announcement, we needed a strong passing of the torch moment that would emotionally connect with fans, solidify Berry as the right racer for the moment and reinforce WHY he is the guy for the No. 4 ride and fits our mold at SHR.

Everything we did, we created with those goals in mind. Having Harvick be our voice for the announcement wasn’t just a nice to have; it was a strategic play to give validity to the passing of the torch. The language in the script was written to reinforce our expectations of the No. 4 and our racers at SHR. The theme of #4WARD was to showcase our excitement for this next chapter and give fans an anchor to rally around. 

Additionally, we were strategic about our ancillary content leveraging assets that would help reinforce Josh being the right guy for the ride and the fact that he’ll fit in with our “bunch of racers” mold at SHR. Everything from copy to image selection plays a part. 

There are so many moments in sports that you can’t control. When teams have these big moments, they must capitalize on them to reinforce their DNA and maximize fan attention. It’s one thing to execute against big moments — it’s another thing to maximize them. And the best social teams in sports leverage the heck out of them. 

2. Don’t rely solely on game and practice coverage.

One of the biggest challenges I see for content teams in sports is the reliance on games and practice for content. You might wonder what the issue is. After all, games and practices are the key components of our product. 

The issue is that relying solely on games and practices for content creates a sea of sameness. How many times can we see the same touchdown play from 20 different accounts?

Getting buy-in well outside of games and practice was an area the industry was shifting toward, and for some reason, most teams never got there. Now I scroll, and it feels like there’s less “newness” and lots of “sameness” in the sports and content space. In reality, game and practice coverage is rarely ownable as so many people have access to highlights. 

If teams can get buy-in for content out of games and practice, they’ll win big. It puts less reliance on performance and more emphasis on personalities. Yep, it’s challenging. That’s why it’s a big win. 

I’m not devaluing the challenges that come with getting this buy-in. I understand it’s a tall task. But, leaders in the sports marketing space have to push their teams to find creative solutions to make this happen. And the leaders need to advocate for its importance to those who push back. 

But what’s the pitch to advocate for it?

The pitch is that getting buy-in beyond the games allows our team to control our narrative. It helps our team humanize our players — and people connect with people. It builds a long-term play with our fans so that they can build a connection with the team regardless of the on-the-field product. And it helps us build a stronger brand presence, which makes us more valuable to current and future partners. 

Teams that figure it out will separate themselves.

3. Take care of the business.

We sometimes see griping and moaning in the #smsports space about wanting more credibility, appreciation, and understanding of what the work brings. But the reality is social and content teams need to care about and execute against the business needs to get credit where credit is due. It’s our job to show the value we bring.

Here’s the truth: Sponsored content isn’t a burden. It’s a blessing. And the best social teams in sports understand this — and work hard against it. 

Years ago, it took a lot of work to advocate for resources on the social and content side because we were still learning the value it brought to the business overall. Today, the business case for social and content is easy — thanks to a rise in sponsor interest and paid media for ticket sales — as long as you’re committed to executing against it.

The best social sports teams focus on serving their partners and ensuring their sponsored content is authentic, interesting and engaging. Gone are the days of slapping a logo on something or pushing content that doesn’t belong on a team’s channels. It’s all about integration and providing value. 

Instead of looking at sponsored content and ticket initiatives as a burden, consider them an opportunity. An opportunity to get more resources, test new things, and showcase the team’s value to the business.  

4. Tap into the emotion of sports. 

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools we have as marketers, in and out of sports. Whether it’s thrill, awe, empathy or humor, content that evokes emotions connects with the fan in a way that compels them to pay attention. It’s the most critical component in creating valuable content.

And lucky for us, sports are full of emotion.

The best social teams in sports know how to harness, curate and spot the emotion of sports to create strong content. They have an eye for human moments beyond the scores and understand innately the type of content that resonates with the fanbase. They tug at the heartstrings because, let’s be honest, people gravitate towards sports because of how they make us feel. 

Here are a few examples of strong emotional content I’ve seen recently in sports + a link to a post on X with more examples from the sports community:

Jonah Berger said it best. When people care, they share. So, unlock the power of emotion and sports to connect with people and capture their attention. If you want people to stop, care and share, evoke a feeling. 

5. Execute like a human but within their brand box.

Passion runs high in sports, and fans seek an authentic connection to feel closer to their team. And the best way to connect with fans while ensuring you are driving towards business goals is to think like a brand but execute like a human. Let me explain what I mean by this. 

Let’s talk about “think like a brand”. When building their strategy and plans, strong social media teams wear their brand hat first. They think through what it will take to reach their goals, all while playing in the box that’s been defined. They also understand that a brand’s voice, tone, and personality should feel consistent across channels regardless of admin.

 But, while everything teams do should ladder back to the brand and business, we must also remember why people like sports. We can serve our brand and business and still have fun.

This is where “execute like a human” comes in. The best social media teams in sports unbutton a button on social. They don’t reach for a stiff presence that is overthought, overprocessed, too polished, too overdone, built-for-awards, and not built for the audience. Instead of being corporate when they execute, they execute like a human and understand the nuances of social, which require a more casual tone, approachable manner and attention to fans

The reality is people don’t want to be sold to, preached to, or talked at. They want to connect, and the best way for sports teams to do that is through a personable tone, engaging in conversations, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses, showing empathy, and being honest.

So, if you want to foster a sense of community, trust, and loyalty among fans, make sure your team thinks like a brand but executes like a human.

6. They don’t overthink the creative process.

The best social teams in sports don’t overthink the creative process. Now, I realize this probably sounds contradictory to someone who believes in over-investing in “brand” and ensuring teams are incredibly intentional, but hear me out. 

Too often in the creative process, we obsess about the things that don’t matter and aren’t intentional about the things that do. I’ve been part of a variety of organizations and organizational structures. The biggest mistake I see is how organizations set up creativity and content to “happen” in organizations.  

A lot of organizations want to treat creative as a precious commodity. They want to separate the strategy from the creative and vice versa. It’s like some sacred entity that only a few can contribute to. It’s a thing where risks are avoided and overanalyzed so much it’s water-downed. When creativity becomes so precious that no one outside of creative can contribute to an idea or create, organizations don’t maximize it. 

Orgs need to stop overthinking and overprocessing creative and content. Instead of making it difficult to execute, marketing in sports orgs should be built to:

– Allow people to flex different muscles
– Build natural collaboration
– Create an environment of yes
– Move quickly
– Fail & learn
– Freedom

Creative and content is too important in social today to let ego get in the way. Organizations need to be intentional about building an environment that maximizes creativity and let’s team execute freely.

Bonus: They have an evergreen content strategy.

One of the critical pieces to moving beyond the scores and on-field action is to define an evergreen content strategy, and the strongest teams take the time to develop and execute one. An evergreen content helps provide year-round relevance by focusing on timeless content that is relevant regardless of where you are in the season or how the team is performing. Don’t let the highs and lows of a season define your social presence. Invest in an evergreen content strategy!

As mentioned, this list isn’t exhaustive of everything that separates the strongest social media teams in sports from the rest. To get an outside perspective on what the strongest social media teams do, I sourced some answers on X, and I’ll leave you with them. You’ll see some overlap from the ones above and some new ones as well:

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Measuring What Matters In Social

So often sports organizations don’t measure what matters in social media. And when you measure what doesn’t matter, your team will chase work that’s not very impactful to the overall business.  

But what metrics are sports teams looking at in social that don’t matter? Let me give a few examples.  

Example 1. Leagues often circulate official rankings comparing teams by total impressions, engagements and follower growth to executives — and then these reports are looked at as the gold standard. This results in teams trying to chase a higher ranking and constantly looking to one-up their peers across the league. Sports organizations attract naturally competitive people, so we should all chase that No. 1 spot, right?

Example 2. Internal marketing teams set up goals around year-over-year growth. If the social media team hit 300M impressions last season, they’ll need to grow that by 3% more in the coming season. This exercise is implemented across “key” metrics, including engagements and follower growth. 

Both of these scenarios sound reasonable. Why wouldn’t a team want to be No. 1 in the league or see a 3% YoY increase in all their metrics? These numbers and rankings are good to keep a “pulse” on, but living and breathing by these metrics and thinking they are a key indicator of good work is a miss.

Here’s why these metrics don’t matter as much as sports organizations often believe:

First, in sports, there are so many variables you cannot control, especially as the marketing team. From winning and losing to big player signings, many different things can impact the interest in your team and, therefore, the performance on social. If a team has a stellar year with many wins, they should be higher in rankings. If a team went from a winning to a losing season, can you really expect them to see an uptick YoY?

Second, team rankings and YoY numbers measured by totals are an incredibly slippery slope. Output doesn’t count the quality of work. A team can post hundreds of times to get to a total number, but it doesn’t mean it’s moving anything for your business. When you measure a number that can be influenced by volume, it holds very little value.

Output for the sake of output is one of the most detrimental things in the digital and sports space today. Marketing has never been measured by the volume of content or activations. It’s measured by the quality and effectiveness of the work. Impact > output. 

And finally, how does the team ranking or YoY increase really add impact to the business? If there’s an actual business case, then great, but too often, these metrics are tracked for ego and nothing else. 

So, if we aren’t measuring a team’s social media success by these metrics, what do we measure? There are two big keys to think about when setting goals for your social team:

First, any goal-setting initiative should start with the overall organizational goals. What is the business trying to achieve, and how can social and content support those? 

Second, how do we go beyond the standard superficial numbers to ensure our work is laddering up the overall organizational goals? Most of the time, we need to peel more layers back when setting social media goals instead of going for the low-hanging fruit of total impressions, engagement rate and follower growth.

Let’s consider what objective-setting could look like for a social and content — one that goes beyond the standard numbers and digs into the heart of what actually matters. 

If increasing revenue is a goal for the organization (which of course it is), how can the social and content team contribute? Objectives can look something like this:

– Create a digital playbook for the sponsorship team by Q1 that features sellable assets to assist sales efforts. 

– Set specific goals for partners with digital assets; the key here is if impressions are a goal for a partner, include a paid media plan in tactics to ensure the team can hit that goal. 

– Increase the overall performance of partner branded content YoY, excluding the content tied to on-field/court/ice/track performance (again, because you have zero control over that).

– Work with the performance marketing team to identify and create creative assets that drive up the ROI of individual ticket sales campaigns. One note: My assumption with this is there’s a separate team working on the individual ticket strategy but that the social & content team can and should be helping them with creative that works. 

How can the social and content team contribute if the goal is to champion the brand and increase fan affinity? Objectives can look something like this:

– Define and create [x number] of videos that help drive home the brand positioning, DNA, etc. The ideas behind the series should ladder back up to your content pillars. While you want to make these as engaging as possible, the key here is that it’s not about performance; it’s about setting an objective to develop meaningful content for the brand. 

– If your social team has content pillars that map back to the brand vision, then you can look at increasing the performance of those YoY. My assumption is that your content pillars are not tied to scores and wins, so your team has more control over making these more engaging — PLUS, you’ve identified these themes as important to the brand. The team will need a tool to tag content and get granular with content series, buckets, etc. 

– Players can play a significant role in fan affinity, so if an organization has identified a couple of franchise players who are critical to the team’s success, objectives can be around creating x number of videos that showcase who they are and increasing the engagement rate of off-the-field/court/ice/track content around them. 

If part of driving fan affinity is growing a younger fanbase, then an objective could be doubling down on platforms like YouTube (shorts) and TikTok. While I wouldn’t recommend volume to measure across the board, with these two new platforms, I would recommend increasing posting to “x times a week” to test and learn.

These examples scratch the surface of the various ways to measure social and content more effectively. But if we’re looking at success through this lens, does that mean we’re entirely abandoning tracking impressions, engagements, engagement rate, and rankings among teams? 

No, we don’t abandon those metrics completely. Those numbers are important for social teams to track to understand the landscape, the trends and how and where they can improve. They’re a guide, not the ultimate indicator of success. 

For example, at Stewart-Haas Racing, our team creates quarterly reports where we dig into our social numbers and rankings among teams. These reports are meant to help us unearth things that worked and didn’t and make recommendations on what we should keep doing and what we shouldn’t. These reports aren’t considered our barometer for success but a tool to ensure we keep pushing and are constantly analyzing. 

So, if you want to set up your social media team for success, focus on measuring what matters. Don’t get caught up in the rat race of trying to reach x number of total impressions in a season. Anyone can play that game, but the strongest social teams play the game of achieving goals and objectives that actually map back to the business. 

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No, You Can’t Just Stick Content Anywhere in the Org

The other day I stumbled upon a job description at an NBA team that intrigued me. It was for a “Director of Basketball Content,” which was intriguing because why would you need to label it “basketball content” when working for an NBA team? It led me to so many questions about what the role does and where it sits within the org. 

After digging into the job more, I came to the conclusion that the job sits within the basketball operations side versus the business operations side of the organization. At first glance, this could sound like the perfect setup for anyone who works in social media. Why? Because the assumption is if you sit within basketball operations, you’ll have more access because that’s part of the organization that controls that. 

This isn’t the first role that has ever put a social and content person under team operations vs. business operations. College athletics, particularly in football, have started hiring content personnel for individual teams and putting them under the head coach/operations vs. marketing. Recruiting has primarily been the driving force of this in college athletics. 

Forget the fact that you shouldn’t have to work under the competition side of the business to get access — there are a lot of issues siloing creatives from the rest of business operations. Let’s break them down:

It can lead to burnout. 

Having content or social people report into team operations can lead to a fast track to burnout. Why? Because their managers have no idea what it takes to get to point A to point B in their roles. And when you report to people who have zero idea what it takes to do the work, it’s hard to manage the expectations.

You mean, you can’t just make that video happen? 🙄

I cannot imagine putting a creative, especially a young creative, in a position where they have to respond to the head coach or someone high up in basketball/hockey/football operations. You are putting them in a situation where it feels nearly impossible to say no — creatives need a buffer who can protect them and advocate for them. 

Setups like this can lead to dysfunction.

Having one part of content under team operations and another part under business operations could lead to dysfunction and hostility within working groups. I’ve been at this for nearly 14 years, been a part of a lot of different team setups and led teams — the reality is that people are human and if you create literal divides within the content and marketing group, you will feel it.  

Additionally, the NBA job I came across read like there were two sets of social teams — one under basketball operations and one under business operations. You’re telling me you will have one group that gets all the access to players? That will not go well.

Leaders should strive to create an environment where collaboration is natural, roles are defined, and everyone is rowing in the same direction. Organizational structural plays a big role in this and matters a lot.

It puts people in a box. 

One of the perks of being part of a larger marketing organization is that you are exposed to projects beyond social and content. When you are part of a broader marketing org, you are going to be part of conversations and assignments that allow you to flex and stretch your muscles. You will have a boss and peers who have been in marketing in some capacity and can help guide, coach, and offer growth. 

If you put social and content people under team operations, they will not get the same exposure to the larger marketing function. And in the long run, that puts people in a box and could stunt their long-term growth. 

It doesn’t maximize resources.

If you have your social and content team spread out within the organization and reporting to different people, there’s no way you will have a process in place to maximize resources. It could lead to redundancy, confusion and inefficiencies. You also won’t be able to let people flex on different projects either. Organizations that want to maximize their content resources will take a holistic view of input and output and have a fluid team, flexing into team operation content one day and brand the next. 

If I’m being honest, I think content becomes a power play within a lot of organizations, but it’s not productive. It should not require content to sit under team operations to get access — or team operations to get serviced what they need. The leaders in team and business operations need to come together and create a process that works for all — as adults should do — but don’t create dysfunction within your organization and for your people because you are grasping at control.

But for all these reasons and more, there’s no excuse to keep separating brand, digital, social, and creative and content teams into siloed and completely different functions that don’t ladder up to a cohesive marketing org — in any situation. Organizations need to hire a CMO with brand, marketing, digital, content, creative and comms all under one umbrella because everyone should have the same goals.

Let’s stop the experiment of shuffling social and content teams from one department to another once and for all.

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