Teams, leagues let fans do the marketing talk

A Dallas Cowboys fan takes a photo with his cell phone last December in Chicago.
Joe Robbins | Getty Images

To get fans pumped up for the upcoming football season, Texas Christian University is inviting its students to submit videos of themselves showing their Horned Frog purple pride. The "United for the Fight" submitted clips are augmented by partner tech platform Vivoom and turned into fully branded 21-second videos that can easily be shared through social media.

"Anytime we can invite the community via social media, we hope that all of that translates into the fans of the games being really involved and gives our student athletes the home field advantage we strive for," said TCU assistant athletic director Drew Martin.

Thanks to the growth in popularity of social media, more companies are relying on user-generated content (UGC) created on online platforms to market their products to younger folks. The tactic is especially effective in sports, where including passionate fans in campaigns can help build loyalty.

"Historically from a marketing standpoint, we're always trying to recreate these magical moments in sports, like people cheering in a bar or jumping off a couch with the chips and snacks flying in the air," said sports marketing agency Optimum Sports managing director Jeremy Carey. "It did feel a little bit artificial at times. Now, we're at a point where we can deliver on these moments with authenticity, and do it in a way that's real time, and people are accepting of it, almost in a nonedited format."

UGC isn't a new concept. In 2006, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay ran the Crash the Super Bowl contest, where fans could submit their own commercials. The most creative and popular ads were given free a 30-second spot during the Big Game. But, Carey points out that almost everyone from local leagues to major teams are adding fan social media content into their marketing—and if they aren't yet, they will be in the near future.

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"There's two big themes driving [the popularity of UGC]: mobile and how do you break through on mobile," said Vivoom CEO and founder Katherine Hays. "And, content from friends breaks through."

Major League Baseball launched "MLB Wednesdays" on May 13, a way for Snapchat users to submit photos and videos of themselves at baseball games.

Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels takes a picture with fans before a game with Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Meanwhile the NFL has been running the "Together We Make Football" campaign since 2013 as a way for fans to submit their personal stories through videos and essays. After uploading their tales to a website, users can share them through social media.

Specially selected stories have been turned into short films by NFL Films, segments on the "Today Show," and some winners have gotten tickets to the Super Bowl. During the past two years, the NFL said they have had more than 13,000 pieces submitted, leading to more than 2 million video views online.

NFL senior vice president of marketing Jamie Weston said Together We Make Football started because the league wanted to find a way to connect with their broad range of fans, not because they were jumping on the UGC bandwagon.

"We have 185 million fans from 5 to 95," she explained. "[UCG] works because it's authentic."

This year the NFL is bringing back "Together We Make Football," but focusing on asking fans to submit stories about how football inspires them. They will be renewing their partnership with the "Today Show," allowing some stories to be shared through the program. The NFL also signed a multi-year partnership deal with Twitter on Monday to seed official video and multimedia content on the platform. Brands can advertise on the content, especially those desiring to reach a youthful social media audience.

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One benefit to UGC is that it can be more cost effective, considering that most of the marketing materials are made for free by the fans. Using UGC also allows sports leagues and teams to tap into live moments and create content when they may not immediately have the broadcast rights to repurpose that content in a social space, Carey added.

"With Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, you can allow the user to produce this content that isn't necessarily the game itself, but it still serves the purpose of promoting the game," he said.

However, Carey points out that in order to make sure it's an effective campaign and reaching the right audience, there's still a lot of effort from agencies and leagues to make sure participation is the kind of participation they want.

"The nature of today's social ecosystem just lends itself so well to being able to tell stories that are in the moment," he said. "We're at a point where we want to share those feelings in real time and share them with a mass audience. That resonates with sports and the sports fan, and marketers want to address those fans."