Category Archives: Writing

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.

The long awaited unabridged review of Hope Solo’s book. No one was waiting? What?

There has been a lot of discussion in the sports world over what Hope Solo’s book is about. Why she wrote it. Much of it negative. Discussion might be too strong of a word considering many of the people talking the loudest don’t seem to have read her book at all. I am looking at you espnW. Do they really not care to learn more about the woman they keep writing articles about? When journalism as we know it finally breathes its last I’m going to propose “self inflicted wounds” as the cause of death.

What is her book about though?
It isn’t a tell-all about Dancing with the Stars. Sorry reality tv fans. You get just a chapter in the back. It also isn’t a book that is going to bring the USWNT down to its knees. The part about the 2007 debacle is what we all knew anyway. The bones of it at least. Only now fleshed out with her POV. 2007 is an inescapable part of her life so of course it would be included in her bio. There is nothing malicious about it. It is just part of her life.

By the 2008 Olympics, most of the major players in the plot got taken out by an aggressive case of bad karma anyway. In the long term, the remaining people worked really hard to grow up like in the case of Rampone, Tina, and Abby. As it is written the important people get a resolution in the book as in life. That’s quite a bit more peace than the media ever given her on the subject for example.

What is it about if not those two things the media keeps going on and on about?
To me it’s a book about someone who chooses to be happy. Who chooses that over and over again despite all evidence in life that happiness just isn’t in the cards for some people. You have to fight for it and continue to fight and you have to be ready to treasure the smallest shard that comes your way.

The two major figures in the book, Hope and her father, both came to that resolve during different stages of their lives. That isn’t to say it is some kind of moralistic story full of lessons or whatnot. Well, maybe if you are a fan of grace through fire Flannery O’Connor Southern gothic style. Pacific Northwest gothic? Twin Peaks? David Lynch can direct her movie. Someone, make this happen! Ok, back on topic.

Choosing happiness leaves her open for more hurt, often by people who should know better, but that choice can also be an act of defiance. Her father. Her mother. Family love tinged with the effects alcoholism and grifting. Always a battle between the two. More than once she seemed to be afraid the worst parts of her own personality were legacies of that. Would she be lost in the woods for as long as her parents were? Take soccer away and what would be left?

She is amazingly optimistic just by continuously trying for her dreams despite what the universe seemed to be telling her. It all goes back to what her grandmother would often say:

Don’t let the devil steal your joy.

Thoughts on the rest of the book under the cut, semi-related (or not) ramblings about introverts, and uneducated speculation. Best if you’ve read her book first. Maybe had a glass of Walgreen’s wine too. I go on for a few pages. | Amazon/B&N

Continue reading The long awaited unabridged review of Hope Solo’s book. No one was waiting? What?