Time for Sports Content to get Back to Basics

Getting back to basics with sports content

We’re calling time on the building of businesses on the ‘rented land’ of social media and external platforms.

by Andy Roberts

In recent years, the focus of digital marketing - and customer or audience development - has seen an inexorable move away from the owned and operated and towards external platforms, particularly social media. 

 The humble website became more of a hub and secondary click than a first-stop destination as more and more content was created for shiny and exciting external platforms, especially when production budgets were used as enticement. 

 With increasing focus on the ownership and control of customer data and the ways it is used, we think we are now very much ready for a change.

The old days of outsourcing

There was a point in the recent past when some organisations had stopped seeing the need to have their own website at all. Social media was the only game in town.

This included many amateur and lower league sports clubs that had either moved their online presence entirely onto Facebook or built their site on a specialist provider such as Pitchero and MyClubPro. 

It’s not a new trend and it’s something we’ve seen at higher levels in the past, such as when almost all EFL websites were operated by Perform Group and its predecessor, Premium TV.

For larger clubs, leagues and federations, there were major implications for farming out your website or focusing on your social media presence, both in terms of utilising existing fan data and acquiring information on new followers. 

Seeing the value of sports audience data 

In an age when data is paramount, it’s as much about the ownership of, and access to, that audience as it is about the audience data itself. Many social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram in particular, are very reluctant to share information even when the user has given permission to do so and are only going to guard that data more closely.

Sports teams and federations in particular are now seeing their fan, audience or customer data as a major bankable asset and also pay closer attention to how they work with partners. 

Fan databases provide invaluable insight and the more supporters interact and spend money with the club, federation or rightsholder - the more it’s possible to learn about them. 

All of this data has a value, either as a single package or broken up into smaller chunks and, if you lose control of your data, there’s now a realisation that you’re effectively selling off the family silver. 

Moreover, social media platforms play fast and loose with changes to algorithms and the launch of new products that organisations need to understand and create content for. It’s taken away the power of the content owner.

US sport leads audience data ownership

It’s interesting to look at developments in the USA, where the value of data has skyrocketed since the legalisation of online sports betting in 2018. 

Organisations such as the NBA are looking to capitalise on the data they already hold by entering into complex deals with specialist companies in both the media and sports betting industries. This allows them to leverage their fan data and offer exclusivity over certain channels, without surrendering full control of this key asset. They are also making audience data a key tenet of partnership deals.

Taking the lead of these major leagues, franchises and clubs are using their fan data not only as a revenue-generating asset, but also to revolutionise every other aspect of their operations from marketing to stadium operations, retail, kit deal and brand partnerships. 

For example, the demographics of a club’s fans might dictate the best brand to partner with and the optimum price point for shirts and other kit. 

Have sports organisations missed a trick?

Now the lightbulbs are starting to go off in the sports industry and executives are appreciating the importance of fan data and are now starting to assert control of it. Whilst that in itself is good, we would argue that one area that sports organisations have been slow in wresting control back though is with their own online presences.

It clearly makes sense for a club to do as much as it can on its own website in order to generate data and revenue, but the bigger question is how to bring people there and keep them coming back without needing to hand everything over to external platforms to drive that audience? The answer is – and has always been – great content.

Sports fans are not customers in the normal sense. They have an emotional link to their club or team that most consumer brands can only dream of, so give them a reason and they’ll come back time after time. 

This is about more than just developing a good website. You need to create an online experience (that you own!) that appeals to fans, with high quality, emotive content that they can really engage with. You need an overall strategy. You need to refocus efforts on less shiny things like SEO. You need to the right people with the right skills to enact it – all within the right business structures.

As part of the strategy, you also need to think about the nuances that will make your content authentic. For example, you fans to believe that you’re all together on the same side or else a club’s website will come to be viewed as the mouthpiece of the enemy within, as Mike Ashley is currently finding at Newcastle United. 

Creative, engaging content plus clear strategy will always drive audiences

In modern media parlance it’s all about integration strategy. Taking all the different strands of multimedia presentation and combining them in one place to deliver creative, engaging and thought-provoking content that is updated regularly. 

It doesn’t need to be all about promotion, in fact a mix of news and sales-focused content will help to generate trust in the website as a source of reliable information, thereby driving confidence in products and services marketed via your owned platforms. 

Of course, share this content via social media channels, but the focus should always be on driving traffic to your own website, gathering data and getting permission to interact with the user as much as possible. That may mean keeping the exclusives back or re-cutting content to ensure your owned and operated platforms hold the aces.

So, to borrow a phrase from the Brexit debate, an in-house content-led online strategy is all about ‘taking back control’ over your platforms, your audience, your data and your overall marketing.  

Social media remains an excellent way to raise awareness, but only your 100% owned digital properties will give you 100% control over fans engagement and interaction, if you get it right. 

We’ve been busy solving problems for clients that have invested too much in platforms they couldn’t own. Reliance on ‘rented land’ was starting to harm their businesses as the rules of the game change at the whims of the platforms. We’ve helped those businesses out before it was too late, refocusing the strategy before it did them some serious damage.

Organisations of all types in all fields - not least sport - need to start re-thinking their strategy if they want to remain in business and ahead of the game.