Note: This article was written for inclusion in the April newsletter for FundSport.com. FundSport.com is an online grassroots sport community providing sport clubs and athletes from around the world with professional, easy-to-understand advice and articles on all aspects of grassroots sport. We cover a range of topics including sponsorship, fundraising, the Internet and social media, club management, PR and marketing.
We have all heard stories of how professional sports teams are using social media to build their fan base, promote events and create new revenue opportunities. And, you might be asking yourself “Can an amateur or semi-professional sports team benefit from social media?”. After all, these professional sports teams already have a large loyal fan base and a marketing budget to put towards their efforts, right?
The fact is, social media does not require a big budget and you don’t need millions of fans to see a positive return from your social media efforts. If you could put a few more people in the stands at your games or sell more merchandise at your team store without it costing you anything, wouldn’t that be worth your time?
Every team has fans. Some are more loyal and engaging than others, but every team has a fan base that wants to see your program succeed. What social media does is give you the tools to engage with your fan base and turn them into advocates that will help you achieve your goals. The only thing you have to do is provide value. And, yes, value can be defined in a number of ways. It doesn’t mean you have to give away something that costs a lot of money. Value can simply be providing your fan base with something that they normally wouldn’t experience such as access to behind the scenes action, exclusive offers on tickets and merchandise and creative online contests that encourage participation.
The same tools that professional sports teams are using to engage with their fans are also available to amateur and semi-pro sports teams. The challenge is knowing which ones to focus your efforts on and how to use the tools in a way that provides value for your fans. For many teams, the first step is knowing where to begin. Here’s a good place to start:
1. Own Your Name
It’s likely that most amateur and semi-professional teams have some presence online in the form of a website. If not, you need to secure your team domain name now! And, for only a few hundred dollars (hosting and domain cost), you can setup a simple WordPress blog, display all of your social accounts on your blog and push content out to your social accounts using simple tools.
A service that I recommend is Dreamhost. With Dreamhost, you can easily register a domain, sign up for a hosting account and install your website using WordPress with only a few clicks.
There are over 400 Million people on Facebook. Now, of course, they are not all going to be fans of your amateur or semi-professional team, but I guarantee that many of your fans are already on Facebook. These fans would happily “Fan” your team on Facebook if you ask them. One of the many benefits of a Facebook Fan Page is that it provides you with a platform that encourages “sharing” and “liking” of your content, which can make your message can spread very quickly through Facebook.
3. Create a Twitter account
Although the number of people on Twitter is nowhere close to those on Facebook, it is still a tool that can’t be ignored. It is more of an instant communication tool that allows you to provide up to the minute information about your team as well as engage in direct conversations with your fans. At the very least, you should be on Twitter to follow other sports teams to see how they are using the tool to engage with their fans.
A good place to start to follow other teams on Twitter is at http://www.sportsin140.com/
4. Create a YouTube channel
Many people do not know that YouTube is the #2 search engine behind Google. By creating video content, you can give your fans a perspective that can’t be communicated through text or photos. YouTube is also a great platform to run simple contests that encourage fans to voice their loyalty to your team.
5. Create a Flickr account
Flickr is a photo sharing website that allows you to tag your photos and create albums that can be pulled into your website. Flickr is also a great way to share photos with people that blog about your team? By providing high quality photos to your fans that have the appropriate Creative Commons licensing, you will generate goodwill with the bloggers that will then hopefully link back to your website and help you promote your team.
Here are a couple of real life examples of how amateur and semi-professional sports teams are using social media.
Iowa State Cyclones
The Iowa State Cyclones are a college hockey team that competes in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The program is completely funded by donations, fund-raising and revenues generated through advertising, merchandise and ticket sales. Iowa is a mid-western state that is predominantly known for it’s football, basketball and wrestling programs. So, it goes without saying that hockey is not an easy sell in this market.
The team first began using social media back in July 2009 prior to the 2009-2010 season. They wanted to figure out ways to generate more interest in the team in order to put more people in the stands, sell more merchandise and create more interest in their fund-raising efforts.
Cyclones Social Accounts
Facebook Fan Page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cyclone-Hockey/121262733317?ref=ts
- Started August 2009
- October 16, 2009 – 710 Fans
- March 30, 2009 – 1420 Fans
For more information on how the Iowa State Cyclones use social media, check out the ongoing case study on Sport Fan Connect (http://sportfanconnect.com/category/case-studies/iowa-state-cyclone-hockey/social-accounts)
South Carolina Stingrays
The South Carolina Stingrays are a semi-professional hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League. Located in the deep southern US, hockey is a tough sell in this market. However, despite that fact, the South Carolina Stingrays continue to excel as a premier team in the ECHL and we’re crowned the Kelly Cup Champions in the 2008-2009 season.
The Stingrays dove into social media back in September 2009 when their newly hired “Media Specialist”, Joseph Zakrzewski, wanted to find ways to further engage with the Stingrays fan base.
Stingrays Social Accounts
Facebook Fan Page – http://www.facebook.com/SCStingraysHockey
- Started September 2009
- October 16, 2009 – 1368 Fans
- March 30, 2010 – 5414 Fans
For more information on how the South Carolina Stingrays use social media, check out a series of interviews on the Sport Fan Connect YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/sportfanconnect#p/u/21/uyPcJCnKrMk)
Sports Media Challenge Interview
Check out my interview with Kathleen Hessert (President – Sports Media Challenge) as she talks about how and why amateur and semi-professional teams should use social media. Kathleen’s company works with many professional, semi-professional and collegiate programs in helping them understand how to use social media effectively.