Sports and Social Media – Part 2
sports and social media

Sports and Social Media – Part 2

By MP&F Staff
July 8, 2019

In our sports and social media blog series, which Sandy Weaver kicked off a couple of weeks ago (here), Senior Account Executive Brandon Barca says preparation will help you “win the moment.”

As did Weaver, Barca worked in sports prior to joining MP&F. He spent 18 years in college sports marketing and communications, most recently as a digital and social media strategist for the University of Oregon in the Pac-12 and before that at Vanderbilt University.

Barca created nationally recognized all-access videos documenting Vanderbilt’s football and baseball programs, and developed innovative ways to unveil Oregon’s trend-setting uniforms to a global audience. He has been at the center of the sports social world since it took off in the early 2000s.

By Brandon Barca

In sports, big moments can happen at any time of the day. I’ve seen it all during my career in athletics, from the jubilation of a national championship to the chilling goosebumps of a walk-on being surprised with a full scholarship.

As a social media manager and strategist, I find that sometimes these moments are perfectly scripted and planned out in advance. Other times, they happen when you least expect them, leaving you scrambling to create the perfect content to match the electricity of the occasion. When you do catch lightning in a bottle, you need to be prepared to win the moment on social media. Here are a few tips from my playbook.

Be prepared. And then some. Obviously, you can’t fully plan for the unknown, but you can prepare yourself for the moment. First, start with a plan and consider framing it as its own mini-marketing campaign, even if it’s only a one-off event or announcement. Brainstorm all potential opportunities and outcomes, then define the purpose, objectives and plan of attack in advance. When the bell sounds, strike fast with tactics designed to ensure you hit your goals. With a strategic plan in place, you’ll jump out of the gates with a big lead, rather than hoping to pull off a miraculous last-second comeback.

At Oregon, the football uniforms are iconic, and one of the major tasks was unveiling what the team would be wearing at the next game. We had to be innovative with the unveilings to best represent the strengths of the Oregon and Nike brands.

During the 2016 season, we had the opportunity to make a big splash when we learned that one of Oregon’s uniforms was designed to look like the beloved mascot, The Duck. Our marketing team came up with an idea to insert the mascot into our flashy 360 uniform GIF, placing The Duck back-to-back against a player wearing the new gear. In one spinning visual, fans would be able to see just how similar the team’s uniforms were to that of their web-footed friend.

When we unveiled the uniform on game week, it instantly created a buzz nationally by dominating news headlines and social media feeds. The GIF alone produced over 2,500 retweets on Oregon’s main Twitter account.

Take that for data. To be successful in social media, you must first know the pulse of your audience and understand the data. Dissect what’s worked in the past and determine why it’s been successful. Use the analytics to your advantage.

Storytelling is a differentiator. Social media feeds are cluttered more than ever with viral clips like game-winning shots at the buzzer. Separate your content from the pack. Identify and deliver your main storylines succinctly. Focus on quality over quantity to stand out from the crowd. Be true to your brand.

One of my favorite moments at Vanderbilt was getting to tell the story of walk-on football player Marc Panu. In 2012, head coach James Franklin surprised Panu with a full scholarship in front of the entire team during a preseason meeting. Still to this day, the moment sends chills down my spine.

We had it on video, so we knew instantly that we had captured social media gold. How could we make it go viral? After tightening up the social media copy, writing the blog and targeting key sports media members to pitch, the clip went up and caught fire, generating more than 500,000 views on YouTube.

Not only did the story make it on all of the top sports media outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report, it crossed over to mainstream media by being featured on “Good Morning America.”

Looking back, Panu’s story was the first of its kind to be delivered on social media. Now, scholarship surprise videos have become an annual trend in college football.

Expect the unexpected. Yes, you’ve been laying the groundwork for success by creating a solid plan, but don’t be afraid to pull a 180 and shift direction when an even bigger unexpected moment happens. If you’re too caught-up in your content script, you might miss your opportunity to strike gold. It’s OK to drop what you’re doing and shuffle or scrap preplanned content, no matter how many hours of work were put into it. Don’t let that get in the way. Process the moment and prioritize what’s most important for your brand. Time is of the essence. And in sports, every second counts. Don’t wait too long or the moment will be long gone like a Mickey Mantle round-tripper.

One thing we didn’t expect to happen at Oregon was to enter the fray of a heated SEC rivalry, between Florida and Tennessee, in the middle of football season. The opportunity presented itself during the same week we were slated to release the Ducks’ uniforms that matched the look of their mascot (mentioned earlier).

While we had been spending most of our strategic efforts on the uniform release, we were suddenly presented with another big moment where we could seize the national stage. And it was all because of a simple question posed by a Florida football player in the media a few days before the Gators’ matchup with Tennessee.

“Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck?”

The Gators were riding an 11-game winning streak in the series, and the player used this metaphor to suggest that the Vols’ trying to beat the Gators was like a duck trying to pull a truck.

Enter The Duck.

We filmed a video of The Duck pulling a truck and turned it around in less than an hour while the story was still fresh in the news cycle. And in one fun post, Oregon won the day on social media.

Mirror check. When you’re creating content, the hardest thing to do is what I like to call the “mirror check.” Think like your target audience – put yourself in their mind and ask yourself if you would consume this piece of content (which can be challenging). Be honest with yourself. This should help you figure out if you’re truly maximizing the moment.

Take a deep breath. Before hitting the post button, pause for one last second and assess everything: the size of the graphic, the length of the video, the tone of the copy and any other dynamics in play. What’s the point of your micro-story? What are your primary and secondary messages? Are you delivering it in a way that will most likely resonate with your intended audience? Will your visual catch their eye and make them stop scrolling? This could determine whether you get 100 or 1 million video views.

Always be closing. Keep your business goals top of mind when that moment finally comes to fruition. Can you increase your return by investing in a paid strategy to reach even more people? Find ways to turn it into a victory for your fan base and your franchise.

In closing, I’ve always found that, if I keep each of these outlined approaches in mind, the chance of further elevating the “big moment” only increases.