Sporting organisations need to adapt their engagement strategy or risk losing the next generation of fans.
That will be an obvious theme running through next week’s FECD18 Conference in which Sport for Business is involved.
We sat down in advance of the event with one of the keynote speakers, Scott McLeod, Head of Engagement at Everton FC.
Where does the split lie at a Premier League club like Everton between Engagement with fans and revenue generation?
Historically social platforms have been nurtured and developed with the primary aim of increasing engagement and extending the club’s relationship with fans.
Direct relationships and opportunities to communicate with fans is a huge benefit of social channels.
Inevitably that engagement provides monetisation opportunities – for ticketing and retail primarily. But the core focus has always been on increasing engagement and delivery of informative and interesting content is key to doing that.
With increased audience engagement comes increased monetisation potential.
As social media audiences have grown, so has the interest in those platforms from a commercial perspective. An engaged social media audience is a key benefit not only for the club’s marketing channels but also the club’s partners and sponsors.
But the key to maintaining a high level of engagement is ensuring monetisation doesn’t come at the expense of engaging and informing the fans. Getting the balance right is the key, which is why regular and considered analysis and modification of the social strategy is required.
How do you choose the weight you apply to each of the different channels?
Each platform has its own idiosyncrasies. Everton’s strategy is constantly evolving based on a cyclical process of analysing, benchmarking, evaluating and implementing activity on each platform.
There are constant changes to algorithms, habits and engagement. In order to maintain a positive upward curve in terms of engagement metrics, we work on a monthly cycle to gauge impact and patterns.
That means testing our output and our levels of engagement against our sporting rivals. And with each platform the learnings and evaluation are different.
Which of the elements is king at the moment?
Video drives higher levels of engagement than static imagery.
Tailoring video to each specific platform maximises reach and encourages sharing and interaction. That may mean square format on certain channels or subtitles, animated graphics and other creativity from the editing team.
One piece of video may work well on the official club website but not well at all on other platforms such as YouTube.
How do you approach needing to always stay on top of your game?
Everton is constantly benchmarking against other clubs to see what is gaining traction. There are examples of great, innovative ideas and there is no shame in thinking about ways in which they could be tailored to best suit your own audience.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of clubs adopting signing videos in the last 18 months.
Everton was one of the early clubs to acknowledge that announcing a signing needed to be done in a different. Very few signings now come as a surprise, but the one thing that will never change is the fact that until a club confirms it on its own channels, nothing is certain.
Taking ownership of that moment is something we’ve worked hard on in recent years, and the wider footballing landscape has acknowledged collectively with signing videos.
How important is having the players front and centre stage?
Player access is incredibly useful but it needs to be done in the right way.
Clubs have the luxury of being able to deliver content using players in a way no other media outlet can.
The recent Bristol City FC gifs where players created their own unique goal celebrations are a great example of traditional media being used in a creative and different way that both catches the attention but also humanises the players.
It offers a glimpse into their real personality that a two-minute post-match interview will rarely do. And that is the key to really strong engagement, providing a glimpse into the personalities of the players, rather than just using access time to do a straight-talking head interview or some flat, scripted piece of content.
Are clubs moving more towards becoming broadcasters in their own right?
There are those that suggest long-form content is obsolete. That clearly isn’t the case as average viewing time on platforms such as YouTube demonstrates. Our audience is sophisticated and wants content to digest in the way that suits their circumstances.
Sixty seconds without sound on a social channel may suit one situation, commuting for instance, but a 30-minute magazine show still has a place, which may be traditional television channels or it may be a club owned over the top platform (OTT) to view on an iPad when you’re lying in bed at night.
Delivering content across a variety of platforms in a variety of formats is something that always needs to be considered.
The move to OTT by Juventus, Manchester City and other clubs and organisations is a reflection of that. It adds to the narrative – but the core narrative will always be the live match action. And that is why the broadcast rights deals domestically and internationally remain so valuable. In that respect, the live match will remain the centre point of any club’s story.
To finish, how important is fan engagement in the modern sports world?
Engagement is essential to retain existing fans and capture new markets, but how that is achieved is a process which needs to be constantly tested, evaluated and adapted to find what works.
This is a brave new world, with massive potential for those organisations who are fastest to react to the opportunities and challenges it presents.