Thursday, May 20, 2010

Social Media Sports Marketing and Branding

Traditional sports marketing and brand management is in transition. For years, the professional sports leagues have relied on radio and print newspapers to provide them free marketing. The leagues provided journalists open access to their games and in return sports writers would report on the games, the players, and the teams to their audience. This basic model worked for many years. When television became popular in the 1950's, the model was tweaked and the television networks started to pay handsomely for sports content. In the 1970's, Ted Turner once again tweaked the model via cable television.

Over the past several years, we have watched the beginning of the end of print media, a changing radio landscape and a transformation from watching television via cable to the Internet. This media transformation has changed the sports marketing and branding paradigm. Consumers have become extremely sophisticated and are tuning out traditional advertising. People do not want to be sold to. They want to engage in a conversation with a brand. Passion is the name of the game and the best medium to harness this passion is social media. Social media is not just the Internet. Social media is about interacting with a brand and feeling connected to it.

The top consumer cult brand is Apple. The unquestioned American sports cult brand is the NFL. Each of these organizations have spent years connecting with their followers. The NFL's cult brand has been forged by the "Greatest Game Ever Played," "The Ice Bowl," and players like the Baltimore Colts' Johnny Unitas and the Cleveland Browns' Jim Brown. Games and players come and go. However, the experiences that fans have with these events and the players is what keeps fans excited and interested in the NFL.

Social media is all about passion. When a Facebook user is excited or upset he posts to his Facebook wall. In response, the Facebook user's friends may engage in a conversation about the post. An excellent example of this interaction occurred on the Facebook page "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!" Even though Betty White has been in the entertainment business for more than 60 years, she may end up being best remembered for how she became the host of an episode of Saturday Night Live.

Several months ago, a Betty White fan created a Facebook page requesting that Betty White host Saturday Night Live. The Facebook page's popularity grew to a point where Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live could not ignore it so he invited Betty White to host the show. NBC knew or should have known that the Betty White episode would have a built in audience that would enable them to sell the advertising for the episode at a premium. Betty White was hilarious on the show and it was a ratings success.

Brands need to learn how to engage with their customers. If companies understand how to properly utilize social media they will be able to better predict the success of their marketing campaigns. In addition, they will be able to fully leverage the value of their brands to others who want to be connected to them.

Unfortunately, too many companies think the answer to engaging social media users is to focus their strategy on posting on their Facebook wall, or tweeting about new product lines and sales, and building applications that capture a customer's private information. Congress is in the process of drafting new online privacy regulations that may limit or change how personal information is collected and utilized. Therefore, the current preferred method of obtaining a customer or a potential customer's data via an application when a customer visits a Facebook wall or clicks on a link may soon be obsolete.

In the Social Media Age, there is no substitute for interactive customer engagement. Building a cult following is achievable if your company is ready, willing, and able to create and follow a detailed strategy. To learn how to design and implement a successful social media sports marketing and branding campaign that will abide by the soon to be enacted Social Media Privacy Protection Act you may contact me at

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.