Social media is a powerful tool used by many marketing, public relations and communications departments to convey organizational information, highlight company achievements, and engage constituents. When used properly, social media can be a tremendous asset. Conversely, social media can be the source of major headaches to athletic departments when student-athletes are involved. In 2012 Cardale Jones, then third-string quarterback for the Ohio State University Buckeyes, sent a tweet indicating his displeasure with having to attend classes. The tweet caught up with him in 2015 when the Buckeyes were contending for the first College Football Playoff National Championship. Although in April of the same year, Jones walked back the comment, this situation is a great example of how social media can forever follow posters. The students presenting in the OSU Sport Media video reported on different stories of how social media has impacted various departments in college athletics, namely the areas of compliance student-athlete communication allowances.
Ben Dyson of the OSU compliance department discussed the challenges he faces when dealing with social media and maintaining compliance with NCAA policies; namely, monitoring communication between prospective student-athletes and boosters and program donors. Dyson indicated the need to reach out to donors and even Facebook and Twitter to request the removal of social media communication directed to prospects. Although the NCAA rule is nearly impossible to enforce, it is up to Dyson and his staff to make honest efforts to protect their department, programs and prospective student-athletes from any inappropriate interaction.
Additionally, athletic departments also have to determine their stance on student-athlete social media usage. Although some schools have banned social media use by student-athletes, several state legislation policies have set a precedent for disallowing social media bans. Regardless of bans, athletic departments should devote resources to establishing social media usage expectations for student-athletes and educating them on those expectations.
When used properly, social media can lead to unique and effective communication opportunities with constituents. Fans can be galvanized to attend an event, support a cause or donate to a campaign. Unlike email, the reach of social media is immediate and more cost effective than traditional mailings. Social media has been firmly established as an effective communication tool in athletic departments across the country. The importance of establishing policies for social media practices is a great way for athletic departments to stay ahead of the curve.
When considering the logistics involved with getting between 50,000 to 100,000 people interested enough in a football game to purchase tickets, then consider the work necessary to get them to come back, sometimes over and over again, the task seems quite daunting.
Fortunately for sport marketers, there is a wide assortment of automated solutions that can capture first time purchasers, incentivize established purchasers and continuously and creatively engage season-ticket holders in an attentive and effective manner. The four-phase process includes building a roster, communicating, establishing behaviors during the event and establishing behaviors before and after the event.
Before a ball is bounced on a court, or a racket hits a ball over a net, ticket marketers are updating their pre-existing information and establishing strategies to collect real-time data during their sport contests. Collecting new user information can be as simple as establishing an enter-to-win contest that requires the submission of personal information by fans in order to bolster the database. The NCAA Women’s Final Four marketing staff employs this tactic at the beginning of every championship selling season (day 1 after the women’s final four). Pre-sale purchasers have access to purchase prime seating as well as enter to win free tickets. Presale opportunities and contests are simple yet effective ways to collect new customer information, thereby building a database.
Once information is collected and databases are updated, the process for communicating with purchasers will begin. For the newbies, automated programs that send specific messages depending on the activity of the purchaser will allow for a soup to nuts communication experience. New users are welcomed, educated on the benefits of the ticket purchasing programs (AKA nurtured), provided with ordering notices to provide details on how and when to order products and finally given proof of purchase or transactional emails. Immediately after purchasing tickets for the Mavericks game in February, my transaction report and electronic access to game tickets were emailed to me. I also received details about the bobble-head night promotion that occurred and received a follow-up call one week later asking about my experience and my interest in buying additional tickets. Marketers must walk the fine line of providing thorough correspondence versus overwhelming a customer with information.
Once tickets are in-hand, or in-phone, opportunities to engage fans during the game will present themselves. Again, knowing when to engage is crucial, during dead balls and/or stoppage in play are the most ideal times. If the resources are available, utilizing videoboard graphics and interactives are effective and relatively easy ways to reach consumers.
Phase four entails communication plans before and after the games. The end goal with engagement is not simply placing a butt in a seat. The end goal is continuous engagement, spectator loyalty and return visits. Continuous, well-timed, automated communications help marketers achieve those goals. Social media is a tremendously helpful tool for engaging fans in new and creative ways. Content is an important driver of engagement and the ability to use resources such as athletes, coaches and recognizable team personnel are great ways to build a strong, engaged fan base.
The event marketer is an important cog in the success of teams around the globe. Ensuring that success is the establishment and implementation of an effective and efficient communications plan that contains content that is engaging and informative. Ensuring that all resources that are available to the marketer are utilized and establishing a welcoming relationship with purchasers so they feel “taken care of” are all aspects of the four phases to drive fan engagement.