Business Of Athletics
By Jennifer Reibel, Contributing Editor
Editor's Note: A video about the remarkable impact of social media on our everyday lives appears at the end of this article.
The Texas Christian University women’s volleyball team had an amazing season last fall.
The Horned Frogs achieved numerous team records, including its first-ever NCAA bid. After winning its first-round match, TCU went on to play the No. 2-ranked University of Texas but ultimately lost the match, 3-0.
While the team battled for its success on the court, something equally amazing happened — attendance more than doubled during the second half of the season.
It didn’t hurt that the team was having an exciting ride. But behind the scenes, another important change took place midway through the season — a social media campaign was added to the team’s marketing program.
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New Ways To Connect
Social media uses web-based technologies that allow people to interact on a far more personal level, through two-way dialogue and highly engaging content. And because the technology allows for social interaction, social media solutions can be highly effective at promoting brand awareness and loyalty.
For athletic programs, social media solutions can add up to more fans, more summer camp enrollments — and more revenue.
“Three years ago, everybody interacted with athletic teams through their websites,” notes Mark Drosos, president of Lodestone Social Media, a social media consulting firm in Austin, Tex. “A team’s home page was where everybody got their information. They visited the website, signed up for the e-newsletters and communication stopped right there.
“Now, new tools have come along that allow fans to interact wherever whenever they want. People begin sharing information and connecting through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”
By strategically adding social media components to your athletic program’s existing marketing strategy, “it’s like suddenly having thousands of marketing people at your fingertips,” he says.
With all the social networking sites that exist today, millions of people are now connected. Today’s challenge becomes finding ways to add your team’s content to those sites, so people will consume it and return to your team’s website. For those teams who are taking advantage of the newest social media technologies, the results are impressive.
Sports Media Solutions
According to Drosos, social media has the capability to draw fans into a wide range of sports groups, ranging from Olympic teams through collegiate squads and even high school groups. And while the challenges vary according to the type of sport and athletic group, any team can benefit from a robust and well-executed social media program.
With the TCU volleyball team, for example, attendance at games doubled from 800 to 1,600 fans just weeks after the social media program went live. “The percentage increase was incredible for them,” notes Drosos. “They doubled their revenues from ticket sales.”
Teams like TCU volleyball stand to benefit a lot from social media programs, in part because teams often times have limited internal marketing support. With the additional of social media, “they can now market to their fans easily, giving them another reason to come to the game,” says Drosos.
Take, by contrast, a popular football team that’s backed by solid attendance and strong marketing support. While the additional ticket sales generated from a social media program may be significant, as a percentage of the total it’s not as dramatic.
For these teams, social media can extend a team’s promotional efforts and the brand’s ability to generate revenue through combined sales of team-related products and merchandise. “Their fan base is usually the largest of any other sport that the school has, so they can extend their reach and earn more money for the programs.”
For non-revenue generating teams, their challenge is to continually build support for their programs. Social media channels help these teams by engaging fans, who then provide additional support and sponsorship dollars.
Another important goal for sports teams is to encourage local and national sports reporters to write about their programs. TCU, for instance, is surrounded by many popular athletic programs, and sits right in the middle of Big XII country, which means that local media coverage is always a challenge. But with so much buzz coming in from a variety of social media, TCU has landed several prominent news placements within the last year.
“Many teams are afraid of negative media exposure that’s uncontrolled, but for our clients, media exposure is all about driving promotional advertising and revenue,” says Drosos. “Sports coverage is competitive, so the more a team is talked about, the more they can keep their names in the local papers.”
Social Media Programming
Drosos recommends adding links from your team’s website to prominent social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. “I call it three things anybody can do to make more money for their team,” he says.
Too busy to be bothered? That’s where consulting firms like Lodestone come into play. They can affordably design and integrate social media so they’re appropriately branded and connected to a team’s website.
“We make the connections from a team’s website to social media that is the most relevant, so that a team can easily distribute content, get feedback from their fans and promote their website,” he says. “It’s all in an effort to drive fans back to the school. Our job is to connect the dots between the schools, the teams, websites and the social media.”
The integrated approach starts with a custom-designed program that’s easy to administer. “The sites are all connected and can all be managed from one central location,” notes Drosos. “An athletic director or a coach doesn’t need to be involved if they don’t want to be, they don’t have to log-on every day and they can manage it off their cell phone or email. It’s so simple, that most of our clients choose to participate, even though they don’t have to.”
The firm also serves as moderator for the team’s sites, posting tweets (updates from Twitter), editing video and directing a flow of content between sites. “We act as their voice and create a customized program,” says Drosos. “We’ll also add things such as blogs, photo albums and the coach’s camp site.”
The firm also applies its expertise in helping teams develop a fan base. “You’ve got to know where the target demographic is located and give back to them a little,” he says. “A lot of schools don’t have the time or understanding to do this. That’s where firms such as ours can help. We currently do this for 27 teams now and we know how to grow fans on the sites.”
Once a team’s fan base becomes accessible, the program takes the next step to create revenue opportunities. “We create marketing programs like special promotions for ticket sales, advertising and sponsorship packages.”
Ongoing services that companies such as Lodestone provide include monthly summaries of program results, and ongoing technical support and updates, which can change daily.
The TCU volleyball team clearly illustrates how social media can support revenue growth through attendance. For the last three years, the team averaged 700 to 800 fans per game. They didn’t change anything in their marketing strategy except to launch a dedicated social media program mid-season last year.
“Within four weeks attendance shot up to 1,300 fans on average,” says Drosos. “For the last four games of the season, they reached 1,600 fans on average, and one game topped 1,800 fans. They broke into the top 50 rankings for NCAA volleyball for the first time ever.”
By effectively using social media, the team was able to attract local people who liked volleyball and achieve the team’s top four attendance records in half a season. Today, the team has more than 5,200 Facebook fans, all within a 50-mile driving radius of Fort Worth.
“We can attribute more than 40 percent of the revenue increase directly to social media, because of the tracking and coupons,” says Drosos. “When you study what changed from previous years, they now had a social media program; all their other marketing programs were the same. Plus tthe team was winning that season and that definitely helped.”
Local and national media took notice, too. Within a short period of time, ESPN had tweeted about the games, and a television station in Dallas/Fort Worth (News 8) had run a story. The team subsequently saw a 26 percent increase in summer-camp enrollment.
Across campus, the TCU women’s basketball team was seeing equally dramatic results from its social media program. Within seven weeks, game attendance had increased 24 percent, and ESPN Dallas and a local affiliate (Fox 4) were running news stories.
The TCU women’s basketball team’s season finale was a NCAA “Pack the House” promotion designed to drive attendance to new heights. “It was a promotion for senior night,” recalls Drosos. “So, in addition to getting the media exposure, we had all these people posting and tweeting about the program and that game.”
During the season, the team had been averaging more than 2,000 fans per game. On March 2, that final game topped 4,000 fans, thanks primarily to social media. Accordingly, this summer’s team camp registrations also increased.