Pre-Season Playbook

In the age of digital, is there really such a thing as an off-season? Sure the stadiums are cleared and athletes are training for next year, but for the marketing, data and partnership teams, it's looking like business as usual. With rising expectations from both fans and brands, your team will have plenty to do during pre-season in preparation to get the most out of the regular season. This may sound like a grind, but we've got you covered.

Here are some ideas to help launch your next year’s approach to fan engagement & ultimately, closing more hardcore fans.

If you’re short on time, here’s what you need to know:

  • Mobile is a mindset: Adopt it.
  • Sponsorship: add some new steps to your playbook
  • Every day is an opportunity for engagement
  • The future favours the bold

Mobile is a mindset: Adopt it. 

When was the last time you went somewhere without your phone? It’s a strategic blunder not to take advantage of something we all know and emulate - the fact that our phones can never be more than an arm's reach away from us.

With such a direct root to fans, your underlying assumption for every way you reach fans is that they’ll view your message, mobile-first. What does this mean in practice? 

Your tactics should include SMS opt-ins. Include opt-ins for SMS in your engagement campaigns, as part of a “fan-club” sign-up, in wifi-portals, and through ticketing. You should be collecting SMS opt-ins so you can start experimenting with SMS comms in addition to your regular newsletters.

Make your SMS campaigns actionable. If you send an SMS to fans, it better be worth their time. For fans, it can feel invasive if the message is nothing more than “fluff.” You want to capture their attention with news that is valuable to them.  Season ticket sales, big promotions, or “exclusive” access are what fans tend to expect when they give up their number.

Design for Mobile Optimization. Whether it’s an engagement campaign or email, your designers, writers & marketers should be looking through the lens of a mobile canvas. This means deeper images, less text, more emphasis, and no need to “zoom” to see things. Our tip? Try it yourself before you publish.

Blend Mobile & Live Engagement. Take advantage of the fact that phones are always present to heighten live engagement. Get fans to whip out their phones to follow along with an athlete playing a game, or to give their input on a “tug of war” style question. Then display the results live. Make it easy for every fan to participate.

Sponsorship 2.0. It’s time to add new steps to your sponsorship playbook.

We’ve moved beyond the “slap a logo on it” mantra. Digital sponsorship is here, and both brand and consumer expectations are higher.

For this reason, attracting that perfect sponsor for your next season will take more than offering up a crowd of general fans, you need metrics and proven audiences.

Segmentation - your key to higher-value sponsorships.

Your audiences are a lucrative asset. Treat them as such. Analyze your known audience to slice and dice different segments of fans, then build “models” for each segment. These models will help you determine what each fan is worth to prospective sponsors. When you speak to the types of audiences that are attractive to your sponsors, then say, “We have those exact fans here,” it becomes easier to find strategic partners. It also becomes easier to create virtuous cycles between the value your sponsors get, and the value your fans get because they are very clearly aligned.

Going the extra mile. Data in sponsorships is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a need. Make it easy for your sponsors to “breadcrumb” specific information from your fans, with their consent. For example, you can add custom fields as part of the entry requirements to co-branded campaigns or contests you run. Beyond sourcing data, you can help sponsors get more strategic with who they’re reaching. Using tools like exclusion audiences will give your partners the option to only put content in front of key segments of fans, saving costs. For 2024 and beyond, digital engagement can be your key to the perfect partnership.

Build a portfolio 

Be prepared. When a sponsorship opportunity strikes, a simple way to get that relationship over the line is through a “sponsorship portfolio.” Create a bundle campaign with your team’s previous digital fulfilment pieces, so brands can visualize what’s possible with your team (and themselves as your partner). If you don’t have much to showcase yet, get started with mocks! The more examples and use cases you can share with sponsors, the easier it will be to convince and land them.

Design campaigns for the metrics your sponsors are looking for. Focus your execution of sponsorship campaigns around their hard objectives. 

Let’s look at three different examples. 

  1. Driving Direct Revenue through a promotion. If your partner has offered your fans a particular promotion to expose more of them to their brand, design your campaign around driving fans to that final CTA, and talk to your sponsor about how you want to track redemptions.
  2. Uncovering “in-market” fans for your sponsors for future retargeting. If you’re hoping to help your sponsors retarget fans on the back of a campaign, lay out the strategic data points that you’d like to collect to get more targeted. For example, if your partner is an auto company, it would be helpful to target based on geo-location, and since vehicles are infrequent purchases, it would also be good to know who is coming up for a new purchase.
  3. Awareness + Positive Recall. If your partner is looking more towards building positive sentiment with your fanbase, focus on campaign types that extend fans’ dwell time, and that are interactive (either as a fun digital game or as a community initiative). 

Building hype during the off-season.

The bleachers might be empty, but there’s still plenty to do. The off-season is a (seriously) crucial time to build momentum and to ensure your team doesn’t leave the minds of your fans.

Today, an easy way to maintain a connection with fans across the offseason is by staying active and dynamic across your socials and other marketing channels. Instead of just posting updates, make sure you involve some level of participation from your fans. 

Engagement campaigns like Lineup, Vote, and Memory Games are a great first step. Then, experiential incentives like ‘work-out with the team,’ or ‘a one-to-one coaching experience’ are great ways to continue generating buzz. Alternatively, you can always let fans show their spirit, and give input by letting them “build” the starting lineup for next season. Whatever it is, just get your fans involved before the season starts.

Here are some other inspirations for off-season engagements:
  • Sweepstakes - new jersey designs etc.
  • Building your starting lineup
  • Create your warmup playlist

The Future Favours the Bold

“Summer” league is a time to test out rookies, new lineups and to see how fans react to certain players. The same goes for your fan engagement strategy. Pre-season is a great time to experiment, test and gauge which campaigns work best with your fans. Try out new social initiatives. Come up with more themed contests. Test out your UGC grassroots movements. Not only will you draw in more eyes during the off-season (and potentially more opt-ins), you can prepare a winning strategy for when playoff season rolls around.

This off-season is an opportunity for you to hit the “reset” button and differentiate from similar teams. Fans’ experience as they interact with your club is the best way to influence how they perceive it.

For a full Pre-Season Playbook filled with examples from our partners, fill out the form below! 



To find out more ways you can be proactive in the off-season sign up for a chat or join our newsletter to stay up-to-date on the newest fan engagement strategies.


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