Sports franchises changing the marketing game

Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado

The Super Bowl is the one weekend each year where more than 100 million people engage with the sports industry on some level.

 While not everyone is a sports fan, they’re usually tuning in for some mixture of the game, the commercials, or just because the Super Bowl is a major American cultural event. (Did you know seven of the eight most-watched TV broadcasts in history are Super Bowls? The outlier was the 1983 series finale of M.A.S.H.).

However, if you’re in the marketing communications industry and you’re only paying attention to sports once a year, you’re missing some great value. The high level of competition in sports, both on and off the field, results in wins, losses and some really creative marketing activations, fan engagement efforts and great social, video and photo content.

I may be biased – I spent nearly 10 years working in the sports industry for a variety of professional and collegiate organizations and have a great appreciation for how cutting-edge the industry is. While win-loss records are undoubtedly important, sports are essentially just a consumer-driven company propelled by how engaged their audience is.

Maybe you’re looking for new ways to engage, interact with and grow your audience or maybe you’re trying to figure out a unique way to launch a new product or maybe you just want to be better engaged with the surrounding community – it’s worth checking out what professional teams are doing.

Marketing for a cause

For branded content that furthers your marketing strategy – the Jacksonville Jaguars serve as a great example. They introduced team-specific video game content in 2015 that was accessible via the Jaguars’ team app. Partnering with sponsors like Bud Light, the games feature achievement levels that allow fans to receive free team GIF files and even redeem a free Bud Light and Jaguars branded koozie in the online team shop. Additionally, fans who reach in-game achievement levels opt-in to receive the free prizes, allowing the team to capture data that allows them to better understand their fan demographics.

The Denver Broncos delved into community engagement in 2016 by partnering with a pair of locally-based technology companies to host a hackathon. They three-day event at Mile High Field brought students from Colorado universities and code schools together to complete a project. The event featured demonstrations, guest appearances, mentorship opportunities and more with Broncos player Russell Okung serving as a special guest judge.

Did you know that sports organizations are launching their own startup labs? Multiple teams – including the Philadelphia 76ers and the Dallas Cowboys – are working on finding the next best thing by helping to create it. The 76ers recently dedicated 10,000-square feet of their new training complex to an innovation lab and sought out startup companies focused on consumer products and sports to participate. Companies selected participated in core curriculum programs, including a speaker series and leadership training and had the opportunity to pick the brains of those within the 76ers organization.

Athletes for conservation

The Boston Red Sox are one of several teams leaning into conservation and sustainability, planting a rooftop garden on the roof of Fenway Park that generates crops for use in food items sold at ballpark concession stands. The 5,000-square foot garden, dubbed “Fenway Farms,” generates an estimated 4,000 lbs. of produce annually.

Sure, most sports teams have budgets most organizations could only dream of and 3D projection technology (awesome example from the Atlanta Hawks here) to introduce a product isn’t within the realm of possibility for everybody. For me, it’s a thought starter – how do I take that concept and employ it in a way that fits my budget? (Hiring a chalk artist who can make something look 3D sounds a lot more reasonable.) So if the game or the commercials aren’t what you’re into, then dig a little deeper. There is certainly no lack of best practice learning, ideas and inspiration in sports that will definitely get you thinking outside the box and may just expand the realm of possibility for your organization.

For cause-related marketing, Spurs Sports & Entertainment’s minor league hockey franchise – the San Antonio Rampage – hosts an annual “Pink in the Rink” game in support of breast health awareness. The game itself lives up to its name – they dye the ice pink and players wear pink uniforms, which are auctioned off following the game with proceeds benefitting a breast cancer charity. While the novelty of the game itself is pretty cool, the organization does an even better job of creating programming that extends beyond the game – engaging media, sponsors, community partners and even their internal audience to create a “Pink Week” leading up to the game.

“Pink Week” programming typically includes a free event exclusively for breast cancer survivors – helping to dye the ice pink, skating on the pink ice with their family members and even a special brunch at the AT&T Center complete with a locker room tour and photos on the pink ice. They’ve engaged partners to provide discounts on pink items – like sno cones and ice cream – during “Pink Week” with a portion of the proceeds from those sales combined into the total amount raised by the team for breast cancer charities. They’ve distributed pink items – like ties and t-shirts – to local media members to wear on the air and encourage staff members to wear pink, awarding prizes for the best pink outfits.

In 2018 they produced one of my favorite survivor events dubbed “a special kind of cattle drive” where Rampage players and breast cancer survivors painted a bull statue pink. The statue was then emblazoned with the hashtag #IPinkFor and made its rounds throughout the city allowing San Antonians to write the names of breast cancer fighters and survivors on it. Fans could also take pictures with the pink bull and post on social for the chance to win tickets to the “Pink in the Rink” game.21st century marketing

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