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Volume 24 No. 176
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Political, Cultural Issues Are Making It Harder For Marketers To Reach Fans

With sports in the middle of a nationwide debate over political and cultural issues, marketers say that finding a way to reach fans has become a more difficult task. During the first panel discussion on Day 2 of the ’17 Sports Marketing Symposium, 76ers CMO Katie O’Reilly said, “The conversations that have come out of it have really created some meaningful change.” She added, “We can’t control our product, so for us the challenge is always how to maintain our brand integrity and identity with all of the noise.” Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman said, “We had really two unfortunate and sad incidents at Fenway back to back. One with Adam Jones and one with a fan. They were very hard days early on in the process. The one thing it allowed us to do was to have meaningful conversations not only with the head of the NAACP in Boston, but it also let us put together teams.” He added, “As challenging as it is, you have to be so much more nimble. Recognize that there are opportunities to define organizations in a different way that’s never been thought of before.” NFL Giants Senior VP & CMO Mike Stevens: “We have to be more like real brands. We have to be story tellers. We have to get our message out because the truth is, negative stories get a lot of coverage.” He added, “When the negative stories come along, that noise is so much bigger that it’s hard to kind of make sure you get the good stories out. That’s why we need to be more like brands and storytellers.” NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Jill Gregory said, “You need to do all of the basics, but now you need to be digital and social experts. You have to help your athletes build their brands. You have to make sure you’re aware of social issues and how your fan base feels about that.”

ADAPTING FOR A YOUNGER AUDIENCE: When it comes to the next generation of fans, viewing habits and the way they consume sports has changed. Gregory said, “One of the biggest challenges is, How do you maintain and deliver against your core fans, the ones that have been with you for a hundred years, the traditionalists, the purists, but also get that younger fan. For us, we have to get younger. We have to get more diverse.” She added, “It’s telling stories, that’s how you get the younger fan. Through digital and social offerings.” Gregory: “We still do the television because it’s a great foundation, but if we don’t provide digital and social content that is customized for each of the platforms then we’re not going to reach those new fans.” Aside from the digital experience of a young generation, teams and leagues are also focusing on the live, in-person experience. Stevens said, “The younger generations love events, they love experiences. So, we have to make sure that we provide them the kind of experience that they’re seeking so they want to come back. For the demographic groups that live for events over things, our industry is poised to service them. We just have to be smart.” He added, “Just the way people experience the venue has so dramatically changed. We literally have to double our wi-fi compacity every two years because of the amount of data from videos and pictures. People are letting their networks know what they’re doing.”

GAME ON! The panel also looked at the esports phenomenon and where they can see it going. Big East CMO Ann Wells Crandall said, “It’s a whole new audience. For organizations that own their arena or place, it’s phenomenal to have other competitions in there. I think it’s here to stay.” Crandall also noted her own hesitation on esports from a monetization standpoint. She said, “I’m interested in the monetization of it. I’m a little bit cynical because I think it’s going to be very narrow from an advertiser’s standpoint.” Stevens said of esports, “There are more questions than answers, but you really do wonder about the fan aspect of it. I understand the gamers, the active participants, but the real phenomena is the people that are following it as we would define fans that are not participants. And will that piece of the puzzle continue to grow.” Grossman said, “It’s here to stay. You think about where baseball was a hundred years ago and thinking that there would be thirty ballparks around the country … no one would have believed it. There’s an ability in society for today to have these new stars. The opportunity for esports games to be the next generation of stars is absolutely valid.” Gregory: “If we’re not paying attention to what the next thing is we’re not doing our jobs. So, if its esports, that’s our responsibility.”