Your sports team is doing well as the regular season winds down, with a chance to get into the playoffs. Your star player is making the highlight reels, drawing crowds and selling tickets.
Life is good.
But what if you’re having a bad season? What happens when your team is on a losing streak and your star player is injured? Can you still increase your ticket sales while the team is in a slump? Can you still meet your sponsorship goals during an off season?
But the answer doesn’t lie with your team. The answer lies in the fan experience.
Teams that deliver the best fan experiences consistently drive ticket, merchandise and content sales, because satisfied fans invest more time and money into the team and are more likely to become brand ambassadors or advocates.
In this article, I’ll explain why your sports team needs a proactive strategy for turning casual fans into advocates, and then explain how to mobilize those advocates to achieve strategic goals.
Why sports teams need to turn casual fans into advocates
1. Advocates stabilize revenue in good times and bad
Sports fans are fickle. They love the team when they win, and ignore them when they lose.
The diehards, however, are the ones who stick it out whether the team wins or loses. These are the ones with the season tickets; the group buyers, and the ones who keep buying year after year.
You can’t control the team’s win record, but you can influence how many fans buy season tickets and group purchases. This is good, because your ticket and merchandising revenue targets remain the same whether the team wins or loses.
In order to control how many season tickets are sold, teams need to control the purchasing experience. The better it is, the more season tickets you sell.
Therefore, teams must reward season ticket holders with more than just a reserved seat. You must provide exclusive experiences like VIP access, insider information and special perks. Run special events just for season-ticket holders and give them limited access to summer training camps. Season ticket holders that attend off-season events are far more engaged in the team, and spend 2X as much as season ticket holders who do not.
By making these super-fans feel special and a closer part of your team, they’re more likely to purchase season passes year after year, regardless of the team’s standings.
2. Engaged advocates spend considerably more—and bring in new revenue
One of the best ways for sports marketers to hit their goals is to mobilize their team’s advocates—the diehards. These super-fans will see your team as more than just one-note entertainment. They’ll see it as a lifestyle worth investing in.
An engaged advocate is more likely to be upsold into purchasing more tickets or more expensive ticket locations. Self-described advocates spend six times more on merchandise and tickets than casual fans. Fans who are treated as valued stakeholders spend five times more than the average ticket holder, not including tickets.
Engaged advocates also do more than just purchase. 83% of engaged fans would take actions that benefit the team’s performance and business objectives. Such actions include:
- Referring new season ticket holders or group buyers
- Providing user-generated content such as social sharing or testimonials
- Driving alternate revenue such as merch & content by advocating it to their personal and professional networks
3. Other sports teams are already ahead of the curve
The athletes aren’t the only ones who need to stay ahead of the competition. Sports marketers need to do so as well.
Many sports teams have already realized the value of treating their season ticket holders and group buyers as advocates, and are innovating by creating exclusive programs and communities for these groups.
The San Jose Sharks have started a “Sharks365” Program where season ticket holders get access to exclusive benefits like access to arena lounges, discounts on suite purchases and at the arena store, plus a free copy of Sharks Magazine every game.
The New York Red Bulls instituted a “Red Member” program that offers season ticket holders invitations to private practices, members-only merchandise and an exclusive Red Bull jacket that, previously, was only worn by players.
The bar is being raised on what fans expect from their team in return for being passionate advocates. You can’t afford to stand idly by while other teams knock it out of the park.
4. Creating formal advocate communities drives huge team and fan value
Fan communities have historically been self-organized and, as a result, dispersed into multiple small groups.
But sports teams that create organized “official” communities, that allow fans to interact with the team without getting harassed by telemarketers or spammed by email, can offer much greater value to fans and reap greater rewards as a result.
Teams that provide an advocate community for their fans create a place where the most relevant information and offerings can be accessed when and how it’s most convenient to the individual fan. Here, like-minded, passionate fans can connect with each other or directly with the organization, further establishing that feeling that they are an extension of the team.
Sports organizations that employ a cloud-based, gamified community to facilitate and reward these valuable fan activities will be able to scale the relationship-building process with each of their fanatical advocates. Best of all, sports marketers will have a better method of tracking season ticket holder and group buyer activity and will then be able to adjust their strategy accordingly.
How to turn fans into diehard advocates
Your fans want a deeper connection with you. They’re ready and willing to support the team. You just need to give them the means.
Here’s the basics you need to start mobilizing your fans and turning them into raving advocates:
1. Start an advocate community
One of the easiest ways to create advocates is to create a community for them to grow in. By creating an “official” group, you give members legitimacy and make them feel like an extension of the team.
An advocate community will allow them to:
- Connect with other fans
- Get insider information on team updates
- Immerse themselves in team content
- Organize other fan-driven events
Sports marketers will need community managers to maintain engagement and ensure a friendly fan environment, but these don’t have to all be employees. Teams can elect dedicated fans to serve as community liaisons or moderators.
2. Provide special perks and access
Season ticket holders and group buyers invest more into your brand than casual fans, so it makes sense to reward them for their commitment. Perks make them feel special and help immerse them more into the team’s culture.
Offer special rewards such as:
- Discounts on purchases
- VIP seating
- Access to behind-the-scenes events
- Participation in exclusive contests or events
- Limited-run merchandise
3. Track and report on advocate activity
Like any marketing activity, you’ll need data and statistics on what the advocates are doing. Put systems and processes in place so that you can track any and all instances of sports fan advocacy.
Keep a record of all of your advocates so that you’ll be able to track what they buy, who they refer and what they share on social media. As you introduce campaigns or special events, track attendance numbers and solicit community feedback so you know which events and initiatives engage fans and which don’t.
You don’t have to rely on increasing ticket prices to meet revenue targets. Engaging fans and providing tangible value to season ticket holders and group buyers has a far greater and more sustainable financial impact. And the best part? You’re instilling team spirit that will spread like wildfire.