Women’s Pro Soccer: Market the Narrative (1/2)

Recently the sports community benefited from a Soccer Wire article by Joanna Lohman on marketing to the innovators. While it was preaching to the choir on some points, it definitely got the ball rolling on discussions concerning the new women’s pro soccer league that is kicking off spring of 2013.

The yet unnamed league is in the early stages and is developing largely behind closed doors at the moment. Meanwhile the rest of us looking in have had a lot of thoughts built up over the years. Many of us were there for one or both past leagues folding. No one wants a repeat of that, but what can be done to avoid a similar fate?

Lohman’s Innovators

Many of us read Lohman’s arguments supporting marketing to the innovators and the discussion that followed. Check that out if you haven’t yet or to brush up on the soccer superfan. I can see the appeal for both the players and superfans to reach out to each other. If just for sanity sake. As an athlete or as a superfan it has to be nice to know there are people out there who love the sport as much as you and express it in the same ways.

Marketing to the innovator isn’t a new idea outside of the sport. A number of industries rely heavily on a core fanbase of superfans to survive financially and creatively. The music industry is a big one. Recently Lady Gaga’s unique success was broken down to the fact she aimed primarily to the 1% of her most loyal superfans. That’s a viable option when your 1% is being factored from millions. She found the fans that spoke to her, drove her creativity, and a byproduct marketing to them is a product that appeals to millions.

What if your 1% equals 20-30 super loyal fans per team? Owners would rightfully point out that between the “butts in seats” need and sponsorship opportunities marketing to the superfan isn’t an option at the moment. They don’t carry the numbers and by their nature are so loyal they will come if you market to them or not.

There aren’t enough superfans out there. How do you create more? What switch do you flip in a person to turn them into that kind of fan?

Who Do You Target Then?

I argue that both the superfans and youth soccer (the latter being the target audience of the past two leagues) are the two groups that require the least amount of effort as far as marketing goes. In some ways both groups are the most predictable and the most frustrating.

The Superfan
Everybody loves the superfan and would love to have a section of them at every game. As long as we have our wishlist out how about a stadium full of them? There aren’t enough superfans out there. How do you create more? What switch do you flip in a person to turn them into that kind of fan? As a superfan I’m not even sure. I’ve not infected anyone to that level yet. I have some sway over average sports fans to get them to a game or two, but setting the hook is another matter entirely.

Youth Soccer
The opposite is true for youth soccer. There are lots of youth soccer (be it soccer moms, dads, or coaches bringing in young people), but how do you convince the youth soccer element that their already busy schedules can afford more than two or three trips to a game per season? To their advantage, as a group they are the most numerous. They also are the most busy. You can count on them like clockwork for what they have time to give you, but no amount of marketing can change the fact they are busy people. And where have they all gone over the years? Two leagues marketed to them. If that worked then we should see thousands of  18-30 year-old women graduating from that system and filling the stands. The people who grew up being marketed to have not made the jump to being adult sports fans. Instead we have a Logan’s Run scenario. After a certain age they evaporate no matter how much you cater to them as children.

Both the superfan and youth soccer are loyal in their own way, but seem steadfast in either their lack of numbers or the level of commitment they have available to give you.

The Sports Fan
What group is both large in number and is predisposed to become more than a one or two game fan? I say it’s the sports fan. Anything ranging from the casual level sports fan to the soccer purist who needs to be exposed to the women’s game. They are by far the most numerous and ultimately the “butts in seats” segment that make up any mainstream sport out there. They are the group you want your youth soccer segment to learn to grow into, the lifelong fans of the sport in general, and the group that would enjoy the atmosphere created by the superfans the most. They have the potential of developing the sustainability of the superfans with the numbers of youth soccer.

Creating a narrative is an important part of developing a fan. It might start off as seeing one game, but it needs to be about getting invested in the story of the season.

Who are these sports fans? What marketing language do they speak? What can be done to create an environment conductive to their needs that would also appeal to the superfan and youth soccer fans?

Tap into the Narrative

Major sports in America have 24/7 exposure, a built in audience, and loads of money. The narrative of their teams are out there in front of the public all the time and running on momentum that is fueled by fans, media, and history as much as by the direct efforts of the organization. If you move to Chicago and want to get to know the Bulls you have many avenues to do so. The story is everywhere. That’s the environment where the sports fan exists.

Creating a narrative is an important part of developing a fan. It might start off as seeing one game, but it needs to be about getting invested in the story of the season. The gaps that are easily filled in the major sports leagues need to be filled somehow. If someone goes to a game and comes home to look a player up online or looks at the schedule there needs to be compelling content for them to run into. They expect content. Content that they are used to taking in every day in other sports like breathing, but because of the start-up nature of women’s sports has to be created for this team in a DIY fashion.

Jump-starting a Narrative
The Houston Texans, the youngest NFL team, has tried to speed up it’s brand depth by doing some of this themselves. They are trying to turn the casual fan into a lifelong supporter. While they obviously have more money than the entirety of the women’s league, they recognize the need to be proactive on this front.

For an example closer to home look no further than Paris St.-Germain. The women’s team that recently signed Lindsey Horan, the American player who turned down a college scholarship to play for them. PSG is making every effort to be the best in their league and perhaps best in the world and they want everyone to know that goal. After five minutes of this video you know exactly what they are about this season and the next ten for that matter.