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Join Our Research Team at DMA 2014
Jan 20, 2009
Interview

How to Win Over Sports Fans: 6 Insights from Online Gurus

SUMMARY: Sports fans are passionate, engaged, and active online more than ever. Getting them to link your brand with their team can turn your game plan into a victory.

Discover six insights on gathering fans from marketers for three of the biggest sports websites. Includes tips on when and how best to deliver your message.
More sports fans than ever gather online. They stream games, blog about their favorite teams, and get involved in fantasy sports leagues. So, marketers have plenty of opportunities to reach sports buffs without costly TV and radio ads.

Three marketers of the top sports websites share tips on how to reach fans online:
o Patrick Herde, VP of Marketing and Product Management, CBS Sports
o Perry Cooper, SVP, Digital Marketing and Fan Analytics, NHL Direct
o Hal Trencher, VP National Sales, Sports and Music, Yahoo!

They’ll tell you why sports fans are such a desirable audience, and how and when to get your message in front of them for the highest impact.

Their six key insights:

Insight #1: Characteristics of the “typical” online sports fan, according to the marketers we interviewed:

o Male
o Married
o Children in household
o Suburban lifestyle
o Average to high income
o Multiple computers in household
o High affinity for technology

Two of the marketers emphasized that they target “wired” sports fans – those who are more likely to consume sports content through the latest televisions, computers and mobile devices.

The typical sports fan is a generalization that does not represent every fan online. So, you need to segment and customize rather than use general messages.

Insight #2: Offer fans plenty of content

Sports fans go online primarily to consume content. It can come in text or video formats. The more content the better. “Sports fandom is a lifestyle,” says Herde. “The real team fanatic has a thirst for content seven days a week.”

Types of content fans crave:
o Scores
o Updates on fantasy teams (more on fantasy sports later)
o Highlight videos
o Streaming game video
o Stats on favorite teams
o League news
o Preview, review and analysis of games

Sports are a visual hobby, which makes video content extremely popular. “Video is one of the top reasons that users come to our site,” Herde says. “I’d say, primarily, they come to our site for information about their favorite teams, and scores, and to play fantasy [sports]. After those things, I think video is a top draw.”

Sponsorships are a popular way to get in front of a sports audience without disrupting content consumption. Special event coverage, weekly updates, and tools for fantasy sports analysis are often sponsored. If you sponsor content, make sure your brand is prominent and is only one of a few brands mentioned. You do not want to have to fight for attention.

Insight #3: Sports fans love fantasy

Another reason fans go online is to interact. Writing comments, blogging and sharing content is popular, but fantasy sports trumps all other reasons for interacting – by a long shot.

Fantasy sports fans build teams of professional athletes to compete against one another. A fantasy team’s performance depends on how well each athlete performs in real games. Fans that organize teams are called “owners” and can cut, trade, and sign players at will.

Fantasy leagues for professional football, baseball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, and other sports prosper. There are free leagues and paid leagues across a range of sites. The most popular sites receive tens of millions of visitors each month. Almost 27 million adult Americans participate in fantasy sports, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Fantasy sports offer a range of ways for fans to interact – from live chats during player drafts to messaging during the season.

Insight #4: Sports fans love technology

The marketers we interviewed deal with tech-savvy audiences. More than half of their fans are comfortable getting content through TVs, personal computers and mobile devices. Many have a high-quality television and multiple computers in their households.

CBS Sports.com launched their first mobile strategy about six years ago and have been refining it ever since, Herde says. Through testing, his team designed the CBS Sports WAP site (see creative samples below) to give fans what they want most at the top of the page.

From top to bottom, the fans want:
o Scores from various leagues
o Fantasy sports scores
o Headlines

“What we know, and what some of my colleagues at competitive sites have also confirmed, is that the top handsets for fans getting content are primarily smartphones. For us, it’s the iPhone and a couple of BlackBerry devices,” Herde says.

Tech-savvy fans get content three ways: television, computers and mobile devices. Each platform holds a special place in their habits, Herde says. (See research charts below)

During football season, CBS Sports sees the highest spike in visitors and viewers on Sundays, Herde says. “It’s very clear that the work week is the prime time for the desktop. The weekend is the prime time for the broadcast, and that’s also the prime time for mobile. Because people are at a bar, at a friend’s house, or basically away from their laptop, and they want to immediately get the scores and real time stats and updates. The pattern of those three platforms is consistent.”

Insight #5: Favorite teams matter

An overwhelming majority of sports fans have favorite teams. Your marketing campaigns will have a greater impact if they relate to favorite teams. You can determine fan allegiance during registration, or by making assumptions based on a site visitor’s browsing and purchasing history.

Do not be too quick to assume a site visitor’s fan allegiance is based on their location (determined through an IP address). Many fans love their hometown teams, even though they now live in a different region. Other fans jump on a team’s bandwagon – they like a team that’s winning, regardless of region.

Displaced fans are prime targets for the NHL’s live streaming games, Cooper says. “You communicate to a displaced fan very differently than how you communicate to a new market fan. The displaced fan is highly attractive. They don’t have access to their favorite team,” Cooper says.

Cooper has the most success when considering team affiliation, along with the rest of his audience’s data points. He has found that standards, such as number of purchases, lifetime value, time of last purchase, and demographics, are useful additions to team affiliation, when segmenting.

Insight #6: Events are critical

Sports are event-based hobbies. Every game and match can be considered an event, but some of the biggest ones include:
- Games between rivals
- Tournaments, playoffs, and any game where elimination for the season is possible
- Finals: the best of each league facing off to end the season

Sports fans live for big games. If you can incorporate major upcoming events into your marketing messages, you’re sure to capture more attention. Event-based marketing plans have to be well-timed and planned long before you know which teams are facing off in the big game.

Cooper uses a “heavily integrated” effort when ramping up for a major hockey event, he says. “We’re using every single touch point, every single channel we have to make sure that events like the Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup, the All-Star game, even the Race for the Cup…that it is a thread through all our media, all of our touch points, all that we own, or through all of our extended partnerships,” he says.

Some sports, such as football and hockey, have schedules that fit well into the winter holiday season (unlike baseball). That makes the holiday a great opportunity to market in some leagues. “Being able to really capitalize and invest strongly in the holidays is really important for us,” Cooper says.

Useful links related to this article:

CBS Sports Traffic Research and WAP Site: Creative Samples
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/cbssports/study.html


Marketing Charts: Top 10 Sports Websites
http://www.marketingcharts.com/interactive/top-10-sport
-websites-october-2008-6947/?camp=newsletter&src=mc&type=thumbnail


Fantasy Sports Trade Association
http://www.fsta.org/


CBSSports.com
http://www.sportsline.com/


NHL.com
http://www.nhl.com/


Yahoo! Sports
http://sports.yahoo.com/



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