In the weeks before the Super Bowl, FleishmanHillard TRUE asked two companies — EA SPORTS and Buffalo Wild Wings — to answer some questions about how social media has changed the role of brands at arguably the biggest annual sporting event in the U.S. TRUE conducted interviews with Adam Tanielian, senior director of integrated communications at EA SPORTS, and Bob Ruhland, BWW’s vice president of North American marketing, separately but combined them into a roundtable.
TRUE: How important is an event like the Super Bowl when it comes to your marketing and communications activities around sports?
EA’s Tanielian: The Super Bowl isn’t the end-all, be-all the way it once was. The reach of our social channels, combined with the way we’re able to optimize our content, allows us to connect with millions of fans — people who play our games — every day. That day-to-day organic relationship makes us less reliant on big events to drive our communications efforts. That doesn’t mean the Super Bowl doesn’t create a ton of opportunity; it’s a global event and it matters. But by leveraging real-time data around content and conversation, we can connect with 2 million to 3 million people every day on our Madden channels with little to no spend. Most often, it’s a quality engagement that builds an organic relationship with consumers who, in turn, evangelize for our brand and reach new potential players. Like I said, it’s not that the Super Bowl has lost significance. Those 364 other days just matter a whole lot more.
BWW’s Ruhland: All sporting events are important for a company like Buffalo Wild Wings. For us, events like Game 7 of the World Series or the NCAA championship game can rival the Super Bowl in importance.
We like to say we’re the sports fan’s biggest fan. We’ve never advertised at the Super Bowl, but the popularity of social media has allowed us to have a real presence. Social media really gives smaller advertisers and marketers the opportunity to participate in the hype. Last year, we had the fifth most retweeted tweet. I don’t think this takes away from the big advertisers; I think it just increases the engagement — it’s a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of thing.
TRUE: Given the importance of social, how have your preparations around the Super Bowl, or other major sporting events, changed? And how have the weeks pre- and post-event changed in terms of your efforts?
Ruhland: Last year, we started live social media engagement around major sporting events. This is essential if you want to be woven into the sports culture. Precomposed posts and tweets appear to be just what they are — “canned” — and less authentic than live engagement during moments that matter. That’s made a big difference in our ability to connect and engage. To be authentic and provide the ultimate sports experience for fans, we have to be involved in moments that matter like the Super Bowl. That’s why over the last three years we began partnering with the NCAA, and we even sponsor our own college football bowl game [Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl].
Tanielian: For us it’s all about taking a newsroom approach. Much like a newspaper, we tell stories leading up to an event to lay down the foundation and set the appointment for what’s to come. There also are real-time stories that happen in the moment, and you need to react. Long before any big game or event, our team is discussing different scenarios and prepping a variety of content in advance to be ready for that moment. Everyone wants to grab an “Oreo” moment, but around any big sporting event, there are just so many stories to tell before, during and after the event. Those are what keep fans engaged before, during and, most important, after the game is over.
We opt in to see a video, but then we literally hover over the mouse or phone wanting to leave as soon as we can.
TRUE: Have social media and technology changed the fan and how you view their role in sports? What is his or her expectation at this point from brands, and how would you contrast that with previous years?
Ruhland: In the past, the distance between the athletes and teams and the fan was a greater divide. Following athletes in social media brings fans in closer proximity to the sport itself. In a lot of ways, the prediction of a global village 20 years ago has really come true in the world of sports, thanks to technology.
Tanielian: Today, we live in an always-on, always-connected world that gives brands an amazing opportunity to connect with people at any time, at any place. That’s both the good part and the challenge because our attention spans are extremely short. We have millions of choices at our fingertips and we’ve become rather impatient. We opt in to see a video, but then we literally hover over the mouse or phone wanting to leave as soon as we can. The expectation is, “I want something awesome and I want it now. Otherwise, I’m out.”
So the challenge is big. This is where the art and science meet. Leveraging analytics can save or kill great content. It’s amazing how the smallest of tweaks to content can keep consumers from opting out. Still, a lot of brands haven’t figured this out yet.
TRUE: In your view, which brand, team or league is doing the best job of leveraging communications to improve its reputation and drive engagement this year and why?
Tanielian: The usual suspects like Nike, Red Bull and Gatorade kill it. Their brand voice is crystal clear, engaging and consistent across every platform. Every brand can learn from them. Beyond that, I’m a huge fan of the way some individual sports franchises leverage their communication platforms. The Celtics, LA Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Liverpool F.C., Seattle Seahawks — they’re aggressive and creative. Fan interaction, team news, real-time game coverage and conversation and just some real good writing filled with humor and personality. They’re building meaningful organic relationships.
Ruhland: I am continuously impressed with the work from Nike, Gatorade and Budweiser, to name a few. Brands that move their product or service from the head to the heart are on the right track.