Lessons From the Sports World: How All Marketers Can Drive “Fanatic” Brand Engagement

Digital Marketing Trends


I’m often asked which industries are experiencing the most growth within their marketing departments, or even which sectors are most open to adopting marketing technology. Surprisingly, in the last few years, the world of sports and entertainment marketing has emerged as an industry of rapid adoption, with franchises looking for new and inventive ways to connect with their fans.

This is an important shift: Promoting sports has long been a quintessential traditional marketing exercise, with glossy magazine spreads and television advertisements winning the day.

It’s such an emotive world. While fan enthusiasm might wax and wane with a team’s win-loss record, the understanding is that well-established teams like the Detroit Pistons or Portland Trail Blazers—both Marketo customers—will always have support. You could forgive them for just doing the same marketing things they have always done.

But instead, what we’ve seen is that franchises across nearly every sport—NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, even cricket and rugby teams abroad—are flocking to tools that will help them deepen their interactions with fans.

We’re seeing them embrace a greater marketing shift and rotate toward digital engagement in nearly every way possible. They are doing this in an effort to drive fan loyalty, ticket sales and repeat engagement in an increasingly noisy world for consumers.

My point is, if the sports world is rotating so dramatically toward digital, what greater imperative is there for marketers in other industries to rethink their marketing approach and embrace the new, more effective way of engaging with prospects, customers, and even employees?

For the next few days, I’ll find myself in Austin, Texas, for SXSW Interactive, where I’ll be sitting down with executives from the Pistons, Trail Blazers and sports and analytics agency E15 to discuss the latest ways the sports world is leading the pack in terms of innovation. Of course, we’ll also detail what other industries can take away from this. If you won’t be joining me in the great state of Texas, here is a preview of some high-level insights that can be valuable for every marketer.

There are fans, and then there are FANATICS

We live in an age where consumers have transformed how they interact with brands and, therefore, how brands must interact with consumers. Marketing is no longer a one-way stream of messages; it’s a two-way conversation in which what the customer has to say carries even more credibility than the brand itself.

Your brand is what the customers—or fans—say it is. With this huge emphasis on trust and the value of referrals, marketers must drive engagement and advocacy—something that is de rigueur in sports marketing today.

The sports world should be considered the ideal model for brand loyalty. All sports teams have fans, and fans will always attend games and support their teams, right?
Wrong. Even sports have had to respond and innovate in order to capture fan attention. There are just too many ways to spend time in today’s world, not to mention the fact that technology and television have made the stay-at-home-watching experience more enjoyable than ever before.

For franchises, the challenge is how to convert casual fans who might attend one game into people who are repeat ticket buyers and who invest even more in other ways, be it through merchandise sales or attending additional events at a venue.

Imagine if you could take this expanded approach and apply it to your industry!

Sports marketing is multi-faceted

Sports marketers teach us that there is much more to a brand-customer relationship than a single point of purchase; it’s about a greater customer relationship with multiple touch points across multiple channels.

With all of these variables, it’s important to be able to engage with people in all the ways and places that they would like to interact with your brand. This maximizes the value of the relationship both for your business and the customer.

For franchises, this involves curating a fan’s first interaction with a team—be that buying a piece of merchandise in-store or online or attending a game—and then understanding how this relationship can be maintained and developed over time.

There’s a huge listening component there: If Bob consistently buys tickets every time the team plays a specific competitor, the franchise should know to market accordingly and include complementary offerings. This could be better seats, specific gear, in-stadium food deals or suggestions of other ticket packages that Bob also might find interesting.

This connection to both in- and out-of-stadium is huge. This treats a fan as a whole person—not a series of different entities interacting with a brand in isolated channels.
If Sharon buys an ice cream cone in the last half of every game, why not send her an offer for a two-for-one deal next time she’s at the stadium? In fact, you can then suggest some other events for her to attend where she can make use of this coupon.

The possibilities are truly endless.

The sports approach works

When brands adjust their approach to marketing and adopt the right tools—marketing automation being one such tool—the benefits and results are palpable. In the case of the Detroit Pistons parent brand, Palace Sports and Entertainment, the organization saw a 90-percent renewal in membership rates—the best in their history—and a 30-percent increase in season ticket sales.

And in the case of the Trail Blazers, the team was able to increase season ticket renewals by eight percent (a 96-percent renewal rate), up single-game ticket sales by 30 percent and improve email open rates by 45 percent. Wow.

If this isn’t enough motivation, I don’t know what is. Take a page out of the sports playbook, and see your customers converted to brand FANATICS.

This post originally appeared on Marketing Land on March 11, 2016.

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