Sports marketing strategies: how to keep fans engaged all year round?

crowd of fans having fun at a sport event

As marketers, we understand why engagement is paramount. Engagement is about empowering the customer to connect with your brand and enhance the overall customer journey, across every touchpoint. The more engaged they are, the longer they’ll be a loyal customer.

But how critical is engagement for sports marketing?

A Deloitte survey indicates that more than 60% of fans are more likely to engage with the team in the upcoming season if they’ve had a great “year-round experience,” and 55% said they’re more likely to purchase a ticket in the future.

Unsurprisingly, off-season engagement is directly related to higher spending. Fans who engage once a month, spend 40% more than the fans who have no engagement in the off-season, and this is spanning across different sports.

The data shows just how important it is to keep fans engaged during the off-season and all year round. Here are my key strategies to help you keep these fans interacting with your marketing while leveraging this engagement to acquire new fans and keep current fans loyal and happy.

1. Make a good first impression

Making a good first impression on your fans is vital. It has the power to make or break a new relationship. It usually begins with a welcome email following a sign-up. Implementing an automated welcome journey is an absolute must-have for any brand looking to drive customer engagement. In our benchmarking report, Hitting the Mark, we revealed that:

  • Welcome emails are 86% more effective than standard email marketing.
  • Click rates are 5x higher than standard campaigns.
  • Welcome programs generate up to 320% more revenue than other promotional emails (Try including an offer in your welcome email – it can boost your revenue by another 30%!).
  • Contacts who receive a welcome program are 33% more engaged with your brand.

If these statistics aren’t enough to convince you of the importance of perfecting an automated welcome program, check out the case study from  Atomic Group, which is home to Homyped and the sporting goods brand Sportsco.

Example of emails used by sports marketing brandsTriggered by new fans entering the database, Atomic Group implemented an improved welcome series that soon emerged as the highest performing campaign they ran. This was a major contributor to a 326% increase in revenue in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year.

In short, it’s vital to nail your automated welcome journey. First impressions matter to consumers, and with the super-high engagement rates compared to other email campaigns, it’s arguably one of the most important as well.

2. Segment your fans and hyper-personalize your messaging

Sporting clubs, just like many other businesses, have a vast range of customers with different preferences, needs, wants, and buying propensities. We are now well past the days of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to marketing. It’s imperative to understand your customer base and send the most relevant and personal content possible that they want to see.

It’s an obvious but necessary focus within a marketing strategy: the more segmented, targeted, and personalized your messaging, the more chance your fans will resonate and interact with the content. It is always great to start with primary data fields such as first and last name, location, etc. However, the next step to hyper-personalize your messaging is to begin tracking consumer web session behavior and utilize customer abandoned cart and page browses data to send dynamic content specifically targeted to the individual fan.

A prime example of this in action is separating your customers based on their propensity to purchase with your brand, for example, a loyal and recent customer, to new, inactive ‘non-customer’. Integrating eRFM persona modeling can help achieve something like this. Look to keep your loyal season ticket holders engaged with access to unique and exclusive merchandise releases, and if an engaged customer hasn’t made an initial purchase just yet – sending an automated email with a discount code could help nudge the fan to make the first purchase. This way, segmenting the audience can get super detailed and ultimately outperform a “batch-and-blast” strategy out of the water.

USA Rugby tackles member engagement

USA Rugby example email of sports marketing

With more than 200,000 active members, fans, and donors, USA Rugby had difficulty with very low open rates – sitting at an average of 8.4%.

From high-school and pro players to ticket buyers and philanthropic donors, it became apparent that segmenting these audiences is a key factor in increasing engagement within their email marketing strategy.

USA Rugby adopted powerful email preference centers to update their customers’ marketing preferences. They also looked to leverage their customer data to create personalized content for these segments. These efforts lead to a 205% increase in open rates.

3. Leverage cross-channel

Buzzword or not – implementing a cross-channel strategy works.

We all know how crucial social media is for sporting clubs with content like updates, reports, and announcements, but don’t forget about other channels that still increase overall engagement with your brand.

Whether transactional or promotional, SMS is a great way to cut through the noise and reach your fans with no barriers or obstacles. The near-perfect read rate of 98% tops the charts in comparison to other channels. Matchday reminders, event updates, and promotions are a good way to remain on top of mind, but you can also use SMS in direct collaboration with an email campaign (such as a welcome program) to bolster email engagement rates and skyrocket ROI in the process.

Benefits of incorporating an SMS marketing strategy:

  • 95% of SMS messages are read within the first five minutes.
  • The average consumer checks their phone around 150 times per day. As a result, 70% of shoppers would like their favorite brands to send offers directly to their mobile.
  • 22% of text messages are forwarded to friends and family when considered valuable by the reader.

To summarize

Here are key strategies to help you increase engagement and create meaningful connections with your fan base:

  • Understand that off-season engagement is paramount – not only for future engagement but directly impacting revenue and future ticket sales.
  • Make an excellent first impression – make the most out of the sky-high engagement rates within a welcome program.
  • Segment and personalize content – throw away your one-size-fits-all model and capitalize on targeting your key fan segments with personalized content. Deliver that ultra-personal experience with the data you capture to drive engagement.
  • Leverage cross-channel – connect with your fans on multiple channels – one touchpoint isn’t enough. To improve ROI, look to incorporate multiple channels within your campaigns.
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