How three Professional Sports activities Groups Are Maintaining Followers Engaged Through the Pandemic
While the shutdown of live sports caused by the pandemic wasn’t what professional teams expected in 2020, the innovations that have emerged from this year have created an entirely new playbook for fan engagement.
For the San Francisco 49ers, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers, each team faced different complicated circumstances when Covid-19 halted their season in the spring. On the virtual stage of today’s Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit from Adweek, executives from each of the teams discussed how they supported and engaged fans in a year that has proven anything but predictable for the sport.
For the Devils, an NHL team that has not yet returned to the ice, the shutdown came mid-season. The team decided to end the season with simulated games that covered just like real games – with live pre- and post-game coverage, as well as live tweeting and game calling.
“We had a lot of fun with it and brought our partners with us,” said Jillian Frechette, director of marketing for the New Jersey Devils. “We really pushed fan engagement at a moment when our fans – like the rest of the world – felt they were a little out of place in the early stages of this global pandemic.”
The Philadelphia 76ers faced different challenges in the spring and summer. First, the NBA team worked with the city’s other professional sports teams, including Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, to create a PSA-style campaign that promotes community and lifts residents’ spirits in the early days of the pandemic.
“We wanted to show the city of Philadelphia that we are united and that we have their backs and that we must unite if we are to survive this pandemic and we must do it together,” said 76ers svp of marketing Brittanie Boyd. “It featured and highlighted local fans – ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the Philadelphia market and the communities.”
After that, the 76ers had to quickly switch gears and prepare to head to the Orlando bubble. While the team was there, Boyd said she worked on giving fans at home different ways to feel part of that bubble, whether it be by accessing the players’ daily blogs or catching t-shirts that started from a double decker bus in downtown Philadelphia.
During the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers saw a partial return to normal. But with no fans in the stadium, the team had to find new ways to reach out and engage them at home, much like the 76s and Devils did.
Alex Chang, chief marketing officer for the 49ers, said the team has been working to build more behind-the-scenes content so fans can virtually enter the locker room, exercises, and other gaming experiences that are generally not visible.
“We developed new digital assets as well as a live pregame show that fans are involved in,” said Chang, noting that many of the new innovations are things the team could have done before the pandemic. “The reality is that in a normal season we have over 70,000 fans at Levi’s Stadium, but we have tens of millions of fans who will never enter Levi’s Stadium and it’s our job to keep everyone involved.”