Winning Sports Social Media Marketing: 21 Ways to Engage Fans Online

When it comes to sports, there are always two games: the one on the field and the one in social media feeds where fans consume stats, recaps, and battle it out with other diehards online. College and professional sports marketing teams have long leveraged the power of visual media to bring the action on the field to the small screen in order to inspire fandom, fill seats at games, and even help ramp up the crowd’s energy that in turn inspire athletes on the field. As any team will tell you, a devoted, engaged fanbase is integral to the success of the organization as a whole. And a social media manager is basically the quarterback of online fandom. But in a crowded, noisy space what content stands out?

It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly high-tech: In 2015, the Golden State Warriors used simple GIFs and emojis to troll the LA Clippers. The Denver Broncos used Twitter as a live feed to spotlight the plays that brought down the New England Patriots. And the Atlanta Hawks created a Spotify playlist for their fans. Below are more ideas about how you can use social media to bring attention to your team whether you’re trying to rally support for a club sport or designing multimedia campaigns for the NFL. And even if you’re rallying fandom for something else, like a business or a cause, there’s still something to learn from a sports team’s social media playbook. We turned to our own social feeds to find creative ways to take an offensive approach to engaging fans where they consume sports content the most—on their phones.

1. Share pre-season training

Don’t make die-hards endure more football-less Sundays more than they have to and treat fans to behind-the-scenes pre-season training sessions. The UCLA Bruins football team started the effort six months early in spring 2016 with vivid photo journals documenting their off-season training, called “Embrace the Challenge.”

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Even if you’re not in the college sports field, if your topic has a particular high season, it’s important to find ways to maintain the conversation even during the downtime. Behind-the-scenes glimpses has the potential to satiate your most engaged audiences, while raising awareness even during the off-season.

2. Post pre-game excitement and remind people of the important details.

Sometimes your content just needs to support the objective of selling tickets. Seth Butler, a sports editor at a small weekly in Tennessee, is responsible for keeping his community informed about the sporting events in his rural town. He uses Spark Post to create on-the-fly graphics that instantly communicates the most important information in a visual way.

3.Post highlights throughout the game.

Butler also shares graphics throughout the game for fans following along on social media. Using just his iPhone, he’s able to capture a compelling image, share the quick stats of the game, and brand the image with his handle to help raise awareness about his news organization.

4. Highlight a member of your organization.

The official Twitter account of University of Oregon Athletics pays homage to the football team’s coach, which was shared widely on Twitter. These mini-profiles of players, coaches, and lesser-known front office position helps you create community around your organization, whether it’s sports-related or not. Instead of focusing purely on the games, try finding the human stories that make the game much more than a series of plays

5. Create visual recaps of games.

What’s the match that got everyone talking? Give your fans all the details with visual recaps of games.

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Catch up on the weekend’s football games through recaps in our inspiration gallery.

6. Let star athletes shine

Not only do stories profiling athletes help fans learn about their favorite players, but portfolios featuring a player’s season highlights and stats can help the player stand out to talent scouts. Check out the 2015-2016 year-in-review for talented point guard Tiara Murphy, a women’s basketball player for Purdue University as an example.

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7. Create polls to get feedback

It never hurts to ask explicitly ask what your fans want to see via interactive polls on Facebook and Twitter. This goes for all industries and goals. Your most engaged audience will give you insight into your community that both offers immediate, interactive content and informs future strategy.

8. Let the cheer be part of the story

Honor cheer and dance teams that drive up fans’ energy and make games a day to remember. North Carolina State University cheerleading team’s “The Road to Nationals” is a good example.

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9. Post positive game attitudes

The Miami Dolphins haven’t been shy about posting players’ thoughts on games and practices. Let the opposing team and your fans know how the athletes and coaches feel on the days, hours, and minutes right before the game starts. It lends a human element to the conversation that will inspire greater connection between fans and players.

10. Take fans to the game.

Bring your college sports fans home with tailgating photos of the campus and stadium. Check out the Clemson Tigers show off their spirit with “College Gameday in Clemson.”

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11. Show players off the field.

Even little league athletes have the potential to become town heroes. And certainly student and pro athletes become well-known members of the community. Show their personalities and good deeds off the field to encourage fandom from the spectators and community involvement from the players.

12. Recall the past.

A school’s athletic history and achievements has the power to attract new recruits. The best thing about this story is that its evergreen nature means it can work for your social feeds over and over again.

13. Showcase contributions to the community.

Way more than just a game, sports organizations can be powerful forces for change and North Stars in the community. Let those contributions be known with power The Philadelphia Eagles, for instance, have used Spark Page to document the considerable support that the Eagles Charitable Foundation has made to individuals with autism.

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14. Celebrate birthdays.

Help your fans get to know the players by recognizing every athlete on their big day. Boom. Easiest Tweet of the day!

15. Inform fans of injuries and roster moves

The Seattle Seahawks uses Facebook to bring fans up to speed on rapid changes.

16. Get behind the scenes.

The University of Alabama gymnastics team uses Twitter to show fans how team-building exercises and wilderness retreats help student athletes bond and relax.

17. Exploit the rivalry.

Capitalizing on intense rivalries encourages fans to create most of the content for you, making your job way easier. Retweet impassioned rally cries or good-natured trolling of rival teams by fans. Just as any good content strategy requires deep understanding of the competitive space, a sports social team should know what its rivals are sharing. Consider setting up Google alerts or Twitter searches for your top rivals in order to stay on top of the latest and capitalize on unexpected tweet-able moments in real time.

18. Use private photos and videos to make it personal.

Allow audiences to customize their fan experience and share it with their closest friends. This year, the NFL will be working with Snapchat to broaden its marketing campaign, highlighting the intense appetite fans have for intimate connection with their favorite players.

19. Bridge the connection between fashion and sports.

Sports and fashion might not seem like natural complements to each other but when you consider the sporting goods industry, including jerseys and other apparel, made up an estimated $65 billion dollars in 2015, the sports apparel industry should definitely have a place in your social media strategy. Whether you’re showcasing limited edition uniforms like the Miami Dolphins did above or unveiling new fan gear, marketing sports goods can help the bottomline as well as your social media feeds.

20. Let athletes and their families do the tweeting.

According to the NBA , “87 percent of players are on at least one social media platform,” and most estimate that at least 70 percent of NBA players are on Twitter. So harness those unfiltered opinions to let the impassioned characters in your organization do the talking for you. Retweet clever tweets and elevate important conversations without getting into the fray yourself; just be careful you’re not dangerously courting controversy.

21. Let players say goodbye.

Unlike pro teams that rely on player participation on social media, Florida State University football players have an unofficial policy of not posting after the season starts. If your athletes plan to sign off social media, give them a place to say their goodbyes and get in their last words.

Have any winning social media moments in your team’s online history? Share it with us by tagging your Spark-made content with #AdobeSpark.

Featured image by Nathan Shively.