SBJ/March 27-April 2, 2017/Media

Dolphins plow marketing budget into content and get results

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The Miami Dolphins have moved nearly 80 percent of the team’s marketing budget to social media, using a strategy that looks more like a programming push than a marketing plan.

The Dolphins use their Facebook posts and videos to better target people who are more likely to become season-ticket holders, based on the likes, comments and shares that the posts and videos receive, said Jeremy Walls, the team’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Facebook pitched the Dolphins’ story to me as a case study of how teams can use their ad products: Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences and lead ads. It was not a surprise when they pointed me to Walls, a top team executive who evangelized about the experience. But the numbers cited by Walls, combined with the shift in the Dolphins’ marketing spend over the past two years, were too big to ignore.

“Overnight, Facebook has become our largest lead-generation source for season tickets,” Walls said.

The reason I wrote this season-ticket sales “marketing” story for the media page is because of the way the Dolphins approach social media marketing. Rather than using tired marketing messages inviting fans to buy season tickets, the team has created popular programming and provided insider access for fans that appear to have no marketing messages at all. It’s as much a “programming” story as a “marketing” one.

The Dolphins’ strategy makes the traditional coach’s show on local television look antiquated and out of touch. Last season, the team used its marketing budget to create 11 online shows, from a two-minute green-screen show called “Dolphins Daily” to a two-minute “Hard Knocks” knockoff called “The Grind.” Other shows include a three-day-a-week podcast called “The Audible,” and “Fin Story,” a show that highlights avid Dolphins fans.

The most popular videos last season were part of a series that the team quickly put together pairing music with highlights, for instance an Ella Fitzgerald song with one highlight and the Johnny Cash song “Get Rhythm” following a loss. These videos attracted about 1 million views and proved to be some of the most popular content on the team’s Facebook page.

A three-day-a-week podcast called “The Audible” is one of 11 online shows the team created.


“Instead of buying a TV commercial or radio ad last season, for example, we bought music rights for social media for a week or two weeks at a time,” Walls said. “Millions of people would watch that, then we would retarget them with an ad to generate a lead for us. … That was a big shift for us on the marketing side. We were reaching a lot more people doing that versus making a 30-second TV commercial that was outdated a week after we started airing it.”

Walls credited the team’s Facebook strategy for 30 percent of the team’s season-ticket sales in 2016. But because the programming has become so well received, the strategy provided sponsor opportunities, as well.

“Out of thin air, these 11 franchises have resulted in somewhere around $10 million in sellable new sponsor assets,” Walls said. “What’s unique is that we’ve been very careful about selling our franchises. We wanted to build really good content franchises first — build them up, build up the audience and then assign a brand to it, not the other way around.”

The Dolphins hired Walls in 2013, and he soon became disenchanted with the team’s marketing efforts, which consisted of using a well-worn email list and simplistic social media marketing messages. His team traveled to Facebook a couple of times a year and worked with the company’s social media executives to develop a new strategy.

“Let’s not focus on trying to sell season tickets right over Facebook. Let’s focus on generating leads,” he said, referring to Facebook’s ad products. “The first time we tested it, we got 1,000 leads over the weekend. That was the ‘aha’ moment. We have millions of people that follow us socially, and we can target millions of people socially. Facebook makes it so easy to say ‘raise your hand.’”

The sales team closed the social media leads at a much higher rate than Walls expected, causing him to shift the team’s overall strategy.

“We did an audit of some of our internal radio shows, and we realized that more people were watching and listening to ‘Dolphins Daily’ over a two-week period than over an entire year were watching and listening to our in-house radio show that we had been spending all this time and money on over the years.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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