As we all come to grips with the COVID-19 coronavirus and its spread around the world, sports leagues and teams are now facing the reality of how the effects of cancelled games and events will impact their relationship with their fans. No doubt the immediate focus of professional organizations is on the safety and well-being of players, staff and the communities in which they operate; however, teams have been forced into a unique time in history and must now flip the script and take on the challenge of keeping their fans engaged during this major, unplanned disruption.

Dust off those rally caps

While there is little teams could have done to plan for this predicament, there’s plenty the industry has going for it. We live in the digital age. We are resilient. We have hyper-engaged fan communities. And, we have a unique shared experience galvanizing people together. Teams, players and fans all have the luxury of easily connecting on social media and other digital mediums, despite being held up in their homes. So, now is not the time to throw in the towel, rather a time to put on the rally cap and quickly plan and activate a robust digital engagement strategy. We must, now more than ever before, ensure fans feel connected, supported and closer to the teams and the brands that they love.

Food for thought

We have put together a few tips and tricks to help teams get the creative juices flowing and thinking about interesting ways to continue engaging fans during this stoppage:

1. Create a social conversation

Use social media platforms to drive fan engagement, not just by sharing team updates with fans, but turn to these tools to run your regularly scheduled in-venue activations. Use Enter to Win campaigns to fulfill your regular in-arena giveaways, or use Facebook and Instagram Live functionality to bring fans closer to their favourite players.

If you can create a space online for fans and athletes to engage, they will feel less disconnected, and may even carry this new habit into future games - even after leagues start back up and arenas have reopened. Other suggestions include hosting Reddit AMAs for team staff that the fans might not have otherwise known about, a behind-the-scenes content series, or a Photo Contest encouraging fans to show off their at-home sports’ den. Work with F&B partners to provide fans with snack packages through Coupon campaigns, or share recipes for their favourite in-venue food through a Download campaign or video series.

2. SMS engagement

We all know the number of hours fans spend on their phones at the best of times. Clearly, with self-isolation and quarantine, a stark reality for many, device time is going to soar. Connect your athletes and fans and market direct-to-fan with an SMS engagement strategy.

Research shows that 90% of SMS messages are opened and read within three seconds, so now's the time to make significant strides to grow your SMS database and take advantage of this effective method of reaching your audience. Don’t have a database of phone subscribed fans? Start building one. You can easily add an SMS opt-in to your next fan engagement campaign, add a form to your website, or add a checkbox to your eCommerce checkout page. Before you run your next campaign, make the most of your efforts and check out our SMS best practices.

3. Be smart about driving TV and streaming content

With the entire fanbase now at home, it presents a unique opportunity to drive TV viewership and replays with your most loyal audiences. Use tools to ensure fans are aware of when, where and how they can watch traditional TV and streamed content. Take a new approach to your digital ad strategy, and focus on driving at-home viewership and streaming - where appropriate.

If you want to take a more radical approach, now’s a great time to consider the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (AR) to enhance at-home viewing for your fans. Look for a natural fit with your corporate partners to launch at-home VR for season ticket holders during game replays, virtual venue tours, memorable moment features or player interactive live streams. Show fans the story-behind-story and bring them into the locker room.

4. Take risks and try new things

If you have ever had an out-of-the box digital engagement idea, now’s the time to try it. Have you been waiting to launch a team TikTok account? Now may be the best time to launch a new channel, as the fan base will be craving more team content to consume. Check out our list of sports accounts to follow on TikTok for some inspiring content ideas.

Capture the moment

While the reality of this disruption is upon us, the opportunities to capture the attention of a larger-than-normal online audience and build brand affinity and interest are exciting. It’s about keeping calm and activating new creative strategies; finding meaningful ways of connecting players to fans online; and working with sponsors and partners on new TV and digital steaming campaigns. We’re only days into this major disruption and we’re beginning to see a new era in raising awareness and huge support for worthy social causes. The future is uncertain, but the future is bright. And we’re looking forward to seeing the great work that’s yet to come.

Contact us to see how we can help with your fan engagement.

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