Engaging fans throughout the season is not much of a challenge for professional sports teams. Without games, in-season storylines, and all other forms of entertainment that a season provides, teams and leagues should suffer a massive hit in fan engagement in the off-season, right? Wrong -- although there is naturally a small drop-off without live games, there are a plethora of ways for teams and leagues to stay relevant with their fans.
Offseason Events that Drive Fan Engagement
A Deloitte survey found that “95% of fans today have some form of interaction with their favorite team or league in the off-season,” and that “more than 60% of fans say a great ‘year-round experience’ would make them more likely to be more engaged with the team in the coming season.” Whether you realize it or not, the off-season for most leagues is packed with events and stories that teams utilize to connect with their fans and keep the sport relevant year-round.
The two most major events that occur in the off-season that leagues like the NFL puts on that draw the most traction and online buzz are the Draft and Training Camps. Training Camps and Preseason activities such as Hard Knocks are great for teams and the league as whole as fans and players eagerly prepare for the upcoming season.
The Draft, however, is the pinnacle of off-season excitement for everyone who loves the sport. The event itself and the national media coverage that comes with it are huge, but additional steps that each team takes to promote their team and new players are where each organization can build and foster fan loyalty, excitement, and engagement. Each team has its own unique approach to engaging its fans in the lead-up to, during, and after the draft. Some common and effective modes of engaging fans include, free and exclusive draft-viewing parties, predicting teams’ draft picks, and allowing select fans the chance to announce a team’s draft pick. These types of events help build fan engagement while also providing fans with a fun and unique fan experience that creates added excitement for the upcoming season.
Free agency is another major facet of the off-season, for all sports, that keeps fans connected with their teams and with news and updates around the league. General news and developing storylines keep leagues and teams in prominence throughout the off-season; free agency is a tool that teams use to promote their own fan engagement and keep the spotlight on themselves. When teams leverage a popular free agent signing or a fan-favorite player returning in a way that fosters excitement for the upcoming season will successfully drive fan relationships and connection.
Each of these events and aspects during the off-season act as a great channel for both the league and its teams to generate revenue and excitement amongst their fanbases.
Different Forms of Content Produced
In today’s digital age, filled with non-stop content, one of the best ways to connect with fans is through social media. The off-season provides teams with the opportunity to promote and release different styles of content to their fanbase, rather than typical in-season content such as game recaps and highlights. During the season teams tend to produce more materialistic content to engage fans, whereas off-season content and engagement is more intimate and highlights the individuality of athletes, updates, and even mascots. Fans like to see a different side of their team and its players during the off-season as it feels more personal and provides a refreshing variety to their content consumption.
One of the best forms of connecting with fans during the off-season is volunteering and being active in the community. Highlighting the team and its players working to better their community and doing other charitable acts is a phenomenal way to engage fans, generate positive PR, and show dedication to the community and those within it. This builds a strong tie of loyalty and respect between the team and its fan base, which in turn leads to an overwhelming amount of support for the team, popularity, and revenue generation in the future.
Actions such as volunteering and efforts to improve the community in which they play are a great way for teams and players to engage and connect with all types of fans. To more casual fans of the team, seeing them work in their “free time” to give back to the community creates an emotional connection. For example, Dodgers’ star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, has been very active in the Los Angeles community with his various charitable efforts, such as his annual “Ping Pong 4 Purpose” event. Charity and helping those in the community are the main goal, but by doing such amazing work in the community, both Kershaw and the Dodgers have gained substantial positive support and growing followings. All a residual effect of the good they’re doing and providing for fans and others in the area.
In addition to this more personalized format of content creation, the off-season allows teams the ability to produce different types of content for fans that are more difficult to manufacture or squeeze in during the season. One notable way that most teams connect with their fans while generating excitement for the upcoming season is fan giveaways and contests for fans to enter. These giveaways and contests are a great way to fill the void of not having games and matches to watch. Of course, being able to attend games and support a team is preferable, but this form of promotion and content creation is the next best thing to generate interest and excitement for the upcoming season. Additionally, teams can use this format of fan engagement to uncover their anonymous fans; with access to first-party data, teams can essentially identify which fans want to attend games or just learn more about what aspects of the sport and team interest them as a way to more effectively market to each fan. Similarly, posting themed and timely activations is another way to just engage, connect with, and entertain fans year-round. For instance, an NFL team can post themed digital activations for their fans to play on the 4th of July; this is an effective way to remain engaged with the fanbase while ensuring that the team does not fade from relevancy in the minds of some of their fans. One other form of content creation utilized by teams to connect with fans and enhance anticipation is posting hype or highlight videos to excite fans for the upcoming season. When executed properly, these videos can be immensely effective in augmenting enthusiasm in fans for the season and are often so popular that they spread all across social and national media.
All in all, off-season content across sports offers unique benefits to leagues, individual organizations, players, and fans. In a way, teams and their governing bodies work in tandem during the off-season to put on events and put out content to remain relevant and intriguing to their fanbases. Because there are no active games or matches, teams are driven to produce more unique and personal content to connect with their fans. As society and consumer expectations have evolved, teams and leagues have risen to the challenge of generating engaging and unique content for their die-hard and casual fanbases.