Top Menu

2 Ways to Enhance Marketing for Unpopular Sports

soccerThere’s two co-workers in my office who love soccer. “That’s cute,” I like to tell them and accuse them of being unpatriotic for not liking football or America’s pastime more. But that poses the question. What if you’re trying to market soccer in America? Hockey in Texas? The WBNA anywhere?

1.  Educate People About the Game

Fans often don’t appreciate what they don’t understand, and while most of us play soccer when we’re younger (Our Dad’s just sign us up so they can stare at the soccer mom’s when our mom’s aren’t looking?) we often quit before high school and play the sports all our friends are playing.

Casual sports fans probably like wheeling bicycle kicks, headers, penalty kicks and other exciting shots, but could careless during the other hour and twenty minutes that ‘nothing is going on.’ It’s because they don’t understand the nuances of the game. If someone can’t tell the difference in Lionel Messi and Charlie Davies that means they ‘don’t get it.’

Not understanding the nuances of the game usually equates to not being able to appreciate anything aside from the goals. People in Michigan and Minnesota like hockey because they grew up playing it, but in Texas, they group up playing football. There’s no reason Texan’s should like hockey except that they haven’t been exposed to it the same way people from the north have.

Use time outs (maybe flops in soccer?) to explain basic rules, host online campaigns on the US Men’s soccer page showing good non-scoring plays (and explaining why they’re good.) If a fan understands what he’s watching he’s more prone to enjoying it.

2.  Provide Access to the Personalities

The NBA is exceptional and marketing individual players so it’s probably no coincidence they’ve been the quickest league in adopting social media. Lewis wrote a great post about some of the things he’d do if he were still playing today to increase visibility.

Have players to post game interviews that are live on Ustream (instead of hours later on sports center or a sound byte in the news paper the next morning). Have players answer 2 questions each on a platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. Host tweet-ups with your athletes and fans that bought special packages, etc.

The bottom line is that if fans aren’t a huge fan of the sport it doesn’t mean that they won’t become a big fan of a particular player that resonates with them. Personally, I love the scrappy guy that doesn’t have Adrian Peterson or Carl Crawford’s tool set but finds a way to make plays, to win games, to orchestrate come backs on sheer heart and grit alone. If those guys are giving me access you can bet your ass I’m tuning in.

In Conclusion

Often times make marketing out to be a lot harder than it has to be.  Tell compelling stories, find compelling stories and then share them (or give your fans a way to share them for you.) It starts with education, people have to understand what they’re watching. But they also have to know why, why they should care. It’s the stories (and the personalities that make up those stories) that entice people to flip to that channel.

Sometimes people make that story easy. See: Usain Bolt. But other times the people doing the marketing (YOU!) have to dig a little deeper. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Oh, and who are we kidding, NOBODY can market the WBNA.

What do you think? How would you sell soccer in America? Hockey in Texas? Cricket in Canada?

Post inspired by Anita Lobo

, , ,

13 Responses to 2 Ways to Enhance Marketing for Unpopular Sports

  1. David Fuller October 8, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    While I agree with your sentiments – soccer is a strange sport to call 'unpopular'. While the MLS might not have a huge fan base in the USA (relative to the 'N' sports), it would be wrong to say that soccer is unpopular. Having worked with clubs like Manchester United on digital media projects, I know that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who follow soccer, but they follow the UK Premier League and the Italian and Spanish Leagues – just as an Australian into basketball will follow the NBA rather than the Australian equivalent.

    I'm not a soccer fan. I grew up in a country where Football means Australian Rules. Now I spend most of my time in a country where Football = Soccer to the detriment of almost all other sports. I understand it, but at the end of the day, explaining the nuances just won't make me a fan. There are other (unpopular) sports that I find much more interesting – like sailing or cricket or surfing…

    I do however agree with the ways in which new media, including social media can help more niche sports. Being able to broadcast video and other content without the support of network tv or big media brands is something that niche sports can really use to their advantage. Many of these sports have a supporter base that is ignored by the mainstream – and tapping into that unmet demand is easier than ever.

  2. Anita Lobo October 8, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    Ryan,

    I am pleasantly surprised, honored and delighted!

    While popular sport helps us learn the ropes [because fan/ sponsor interest is already built]; unpopular sports make us recognise how much we've really learnt!

    Its an opportunity to make a significant difference to the sport and community.

    Interacting with top Indian players across shooting, golf, badminton, tennis has been a hugely interesting experience – these are a new breed of young players are top global rankings/ reaching there soon.

    It's made me realise the power of good story-telling to jump-start marketing and public relations; and renewed by belief that there's a huge change coming in the way sport are traditionally marketed.

    The skewed TV led/ large-event format shows diminishing returns and brands are questioning the community-connect like never before.

    Here's to change and to bringing alive new sport experiences!

    Cheers,

    Anita Lobo

  3. atrain714 October 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    “Oh, and who are we kidding, NOBODY can market the WBNA.”

    so you don't even believe your own advice.

  4. ryanstephens October 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    @Alan

    Thanks for your response. The line you've quoted was meant to poke fun at the WBNA and interject a little humor at the end of the piece. I apologize if that wasn't clear. Do I think these two things alone could 'save' the WBNA? Absolutely not. There are a lot more things and a lot more patience that would have to go into helping that brand, but my advice would certainly be a good starting point.

    Best,
    Ryan

  5. Todd October 10, 2009 at 8:30 am #

    I was hoping for more comprehensive advice. Of course, each “unpopular” sport has its own unique situation. I cover the news of semi pro football in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Cowboys dominate the football market with high school a close second. The day in between, Saturday, belongs to college football. Hockey and soccer might even be more popular than semi pro football. I think it would help our teams if either the Dallas Morning News or the Star-Telegram would pick up at least one story on a local team.

  6. Anita Lobo October 12, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    Todd, many of us are discovering solutions as we go along.
    Today, I came across another possible solution: pay per view TV
    Squash to launch online ppv platform http://bit.ly/uRnfE –>> how to beat the TV roadblock around niche & popular [EngvsUkr] sport?

    And I agree that local media support is a good place to start receiving more!
    Cheers,
    Anita

  7. Striding Man October 12, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    To your point about soccer, lacrosse is in a similar place. Although it may be less popular now, the growth numbers for the sport are tremendous at the grassroots level. Much of this can be attributed to US Lacrosse's mission to grow the sport from the ground up. The belief is that if you set a sturdy foundation, it's easy to build upwards from there.

    To your second point about getting personalities involved, this is another area in which lacrosse is progressing – perhaps more successfully that soccer. Over the past few months, pro lacrosse players have taken to social media like it's their job – tweeting at fans, sharing photos and favorite songs, and having real-time conversations with one another. (A list of pros can be seen here: http://bit.ly/19ALNr) It's been great see and it's my belief that things will only more forward from here.

    As a 3rd way, I think fans of the lesser known game (whether it be lacrosse, soccer or even the WNBA) could be more willing to provide their own coverage of the sport. Now obviously this may not be possible for the average fan, but I think we are going to start seeing more of it. From sites like Bleacher Report and Yardbarker, which allow fans to blog what's on their mind and get published in a larger network, to sports-specific fan commentary and news sites. Fans who want to see these sports grow will be more open to creating content when they are given the necessary tools and/or presented with an opportunity to have their voice heard.

    Great piece. Thanks for the insight.

  8. rafagoncalves October 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm #

    That is a really good piece Ryan!
    As a Brazilian, I find the subject of marketing soccer (or football) in the US really attractive. Since the first attempt to introduce pro soccer in the US – when sports legend Pele was brought to the NY Cosmos during the early 70s – I think that the approach used is a little out. Just bringing big soccer stars to play in the US (and we’re watching it again w/ David Beckham’s LA season) won’t make people get interested in the sport.
    In my humble opinion, they should take full advantage of the fact that soccer (despite the fact that you even have a different name for football in the US…) is a very popular early age sport. Building a youth fan base is always a smart play, and will be a lot easier to build an 'educated' soccer fan base from the youth than trying to teach a basketball fan why he/she should watch a game in which a match can actually finish in a tie w/ absolutely no score!
    Nowadays MLS seem to focus their work too much in the Latin US audience instead of grassroots, obviously hoping to captivate the 'already lectured' consumer niche. But in the long run, this won't take them to the next level, since they will always be competing against the European multi-billion national championships/leagues (almost a soccer version of the 'N' leagues).
    US Soccer, on the other hand, seems to be doing pretty fine. They’re putting together really competitive pro squads. The American ladies are probably the top team in the world (grabbing gold again in the last Olympics in Beijing) and the men's squad had a terrific performance during the last FIFA Confederations Cup (giving us a real run for our money in the process…!). This is the type of action that can actually captivate the attention in the American sports market. Top results attract sponsorship, revenues, and help create an audience.
    In order to proper market soccer in the US, I truly believe that a combination of grassroots investment (and that includes massive social media work), serious PR work (in order to raise the profile of the sport) and good results from the national squads in multiple categories (in order to have soccer in the America sports agenda) are required, thus attracting the highly competitive American audience.
    Of course, those are just a few insights, but I really believe that marketing soccer (or football) in the US is feasible!
    Cheers,
    Rafael Gonçalves.

  9. rafagoncalves October 20, 2009 at 7:59 pm #

    That is a really good piece Ryan!
    As a Brazilian, I find the subject of marketing soccer (or football) in the US really attractive. Since the first attempt to introduce pro soccer in the US – when sports legend Pele was brought to the NY Cosmos during the early 70s – I think that the approach used is a little out. Just bringing big soccer stars to play in the US (and we’re watching it again w/ David Beckham’s LA season) won’t make people get interested in the sport.
    In my humble opinion, they should take full advantage of the fact that soccer (despite the fact that you even have a different name for football in the US…) is a very popular early age sport. Building a youth fan base is always a smart play, and will be a lot easier to build an 'educated' soccer fan base from the youth than trying to teach a basketball fan why he/she should watch a game in which a match can actually finish in a tie w/ absolutely no score!
    Nowadays MLS seem to focus their work too much in the Latin US audience instead of grassroots, obviously hoping to captivate the 'already lectured' consumer niche. But in the long run, this won't take them to the next level, since they will always be competing against the European multi-billion national championships/leagues (almost a soccer version of the 'N' leagues).
    US Soccer, on the other hand, seems to be doing pretty fine. They’re putting together really competitive pro squads. The American ladies are probably the top team in the world (grabbing gold again in the last Olympics in Beijing) and the men's squad had a terrific performance during the last FIFA Confederations Cup (giving us a real run for our money in the process…!). This is the type of action that can actually captivate the attention in the American sports market. Top results attract sponsorship, revenues, and help create an audience.
    In order to proper market soccer in the US, I truly believe that a combination of grassroots investment (and that includes massive social media work), serious PR work (in order to raise the profile of the sport) and good results from the national squads in multiple categories (in order to have soccer in the America sports agenda) are required, thus attracting the highly competitive American audience.
    Of course, those are just a few insights, but I really believe that marketing soccer (or football) in the US is feasible!
    Cheers,
    Rafael Gonçalves.

  10. SEO Guide February 20, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    Hey I clicked on your page by luck on msn while hunting for something completely unrelated but I am truly glad that I did, You have just captured yourself another subscriber. 🙂

  11. flex Belt reviews October 18, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Make certain your ab belts have a diverse toning program.

  12. étudiante June 20, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Hum êtes vous certain de ce que vous nous avancez ??

  13. racoleuse dessous fins July 7, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Un poste vraiment plein de vérité

Leave a Reply