Director and Co-Founder at Sport Acuity, Andy Roberts writes on why developing an owned content plan, deepening engagement and capitalising on your own data is a recipe for success in sports business.

When it comes to fan engagement, sports teams and federations kick off with an inherent advantage. The Holy Grail of loyalty and passion is an asset that most brands take years or even decades to build, whereas in sport it’s often handed down the generations. The trick is to capitalise on this unique devotion day after day, and that’s where great content comes in.

Fan loyalty is not without its limits, however. so clubs need to think smart if they want to exploit it. A culture of openness and transparency is a good start, but it will only get you so far. Cadence is important too. Communication with your fans needs to be daily to make your owned assets (i.e. website/app) regular destinations for your fanbase.

Keeping control of the message

Clubs and federations who maintain control of their own digital assets and drive traffic to them have far more ability to control and fine-tune the message as part of an integrated communications strategy. 

You can certainly achieve that through a trusted outsourced approach as European Professional Club Rugby do with our own content team here at Sport Acuity, but it’s dangerous to rely too much on social media platforms, where your messaging is governed by third-party business objectives and you’re never completely in control.

Unlike the mainstream marketing world, sports fans don’t really need persuasion to visit their club website or get the official take from a federation, but they do need a good reason to visit regularly, so planned high-quality content is essential to keep them coming back. 

Planning the right content 

The digital world embraces variety so your content strategy should encompass the whole spectrum of content types – written articles, graphics, data and video. 

There are so many formats to consider throwing into the mix for a content plan: news, analysis, features, interviews, profiles, thought leadership pieces, games, polls, comedy, curation, data investigations, retrospectives and historical look-backs, Q&As, forward views, explainers, hot takes, SEO-targeted articles or even scholarly research. 

All of these can then be mixed up with advertising, promotions, competitions, data capture  or recirculation tactics to give the most effective and best-suited recipe for every scenario. There will be an optimal output plan to find, but that’s only going to be found by testing and learning.

Data is essential for deeper fan engagement

In order to leverage and capitalise on ongoing fan loyalty, you need the ability to collect, manage, make sense of and utilise first-party data. The best place to do this, if you want to retain full control of the asset, is via your own website or app. 

That’s why it makes sense to mix news, analysis and other content with the promotional elements and a range of content engagement tactics. 

If fans feel you are giving something to them, they’re likely to expend more time consuming content on your platform, or indeed spend money on tickets, kit or merchandise. All are going to be rich sources of data which can that be used to further optimise future engagement.

None of this is to say that social media and third-party platforms don’t have a role, especially as a signpost to your owned and operated platforms, but it should be as part of a network that maintains your own online assets as the central point of focus. 

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc not only make and regularly change the rules about how your content is used or promoted on their platforms, they also jealously guard their user data because it is their single most valuable asset. Even more reason why, when it comes to your audience, you need to secure your own relationships with your fans.

Owned content and future strategy

In the future, I predict a renewed focus on the club website (or at least fully controlled platforms) as a core asset, aimed at driving sales, advertising or partnerships and gathering fan data. 

OTT content and live streaming of matches will be supplemented by exclusive content, not available via TV deals or social media, perhaps including interactive engagement with talent, coaches, sponsors and partners. Looking further forward, we can also expect to see AR used to augment live action and VR to allow for online games and interaction. 

Sports fans crave input – both online and in the stadium – and only the club or federation itself is perfectly placed to provide both. They want to feel like an integral part of the quest for success and, if you fulfil this need, they are far more likely to spend their hard-earned cash, so it’s a wholly worthwhile investment. 

Effective digital engagement is a necessity 

We live in a constantly evolving digital age and only organisations who keep control of their own fan data and digital assets, adapting and developing them to meet changing technologies, will be able to fully capitalise on the opportunities out there. 

It may be that clubs and federations have the in-house resources to manage this process themselves, or they may need expert support to make it happen. Either way, fan engagement is no longer a luxury, but a necessity clubs cannot afford to do without.