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Engaging sports fans during lockdown

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We’re halfway through June, and March seems like a very distant memory at this point. Football leagues and sports events were officially halted a few months ago with the start of lockdown and fans were left with a matchday-sized hole in their weekends. This was very quickly filled by some very creative sports brands adapting to the change – and it has paid off.

The role that social media played on a typical weekend matchday was one of a second screen – to provide information and build excitement ahead of a fixture as well as provide fans with stats and expert analysis during or after a game. In this period without live sport, fans have naturally turned to social media to fill that void but in a very different way. Since lockdown began, social media usage in the UK has increased by 40% and has forced sports brands to think creatively to bring the emotion of sport to an audience that’s so hungry to engage – but without actual new sport to talk about. While keeping audiences informed about updates and the return of sport was crucial, entertaining audiences to keep them engaged with your brands has arguably been an even bigger priority. Several brands have adapted incredibly quickly to this need to engage, through approaches such as gamification and reflection.

With the gamification approach, sports brands ensured engagement was their key goal. The approach here was to think about what content would stand out in a very busy space, and that sports fans would want to naturally play along with, without having to work too hard to figure it out. The Premier League’s approach has been particularly noteworthy, especially on Twitter. They started a new content strand here where the audience was asked to guess what team was shown. What was particularly strong here was that the Premier League used Twitter’s own features in a creative way. Twitter isn’t a media rich platform, rather it’s a platform for discussion and naturally text-based content delivers here.

Remote engagement

While managing Quest’s social channels (which hosts EFL on Quest, an EFL highlights and analysis show) we realised we had the opportunity to engage lower league football fans. We ran a ‘Goal Of The Season So Far’ campaign looking back at the best goals so far and asking fans to vote for their favourite. We ensured we were also engaging football clubs and players by tagging them and showcasing their goals - which really helped our own impressions and engagement. What fans got was the opportunity to get behind their clubs once more as they used to, and also reflect on the season so far.

At the core of this campaign and other similar initiatives on social is the user behaviour – sports fans want to engage with something that makes them feel. Whether this is humour or excitement, content will only break through the noise if it sparks genuine meaningful emotion. Community management was also a key factor to keep in mind here. We were hot on the pulse and engaged with players and fans alike to keep the momentum going throughout the campaign. This was another simple but effective way to sustain engagement.

There are some really crucial takeaways for brands looking to engage sports fans even as we move out of lockdown. Social has of course changed the way audiences behave and consume sport, more so now. Fans have become closer to the clubs, brands and the athletes. Brands who have actively been engaging their audiences during lockdown will have a head start once sport starts up behind closed doors. Fans will need to get close to the game from behind a screen and will naturally turn to the brands that have built consistent engagement with them over the last few months.

Zahra Hasan, strategist, Wilderness

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