Stories are Important in Sports - Rocky Balboa

Everyone loves a good sports story.

“Storytelling” is undoubtedly one of the top marketing buzzwords of 2017, and for good reason.

As the number of engagement platforms continues to skyrocket so too does the competition for a share of consumer attention. The current landscape demands that businesses in all industries excel at connecting with their target audiences in a meaningful, emotion-driven manner to drive business results. That applies to sports as much as any other business, where creating relationships with fans is critical to lasting on- and off-field success.

Stories are the key to establishing and reinforcing those relationships.

Stories in Sports

When it comes to storytelling, sports teams have a built-in advantage. Rivalries. Upsets. Comebacks. Underdogs. History. Exciting stories are woven into the DNA of competition, so it makes sense that sports movies are so popular.

But, at some point those positive stories will run out. No team is immune. Even the most prolific franchises in the history of sports have had down years during which the team underperformed, supporters become uninterested, and fans stop showing up. Those are the occasions when storytelling is most important.

Stories are Performance Agnostic

As I write this the Chicago Bulls are sitting at 24-25 and the players are involved in a public bickering match. However, their marketing team is turning out terrific content to change the tune.

Who Deflated Big Ben is a Snapchat short film that combines a unique story with an engaging, familiar topic that fans will be interested in. The story is unrelated to the team’s performance on the court and provides an additional interaction point to connect with fans.

Stories Shape the Narrative

While there’s little you can do to stop the media from covering an off-court controversy or lackluster performance, teams that tell original stories can influence the fans’ focus. The Bulls’ Who Deflated Big Ben Snapchat Story generated thousands of views, press hits and impressions and was a polished piece of content that entertained fans of all ages. Most important of all, though, is that the story created an excuse for the Bulls to communicate with fans in a positive way despite a lacking on-court product.

Stories Establish a Brand

A few days ago I connected with someone from the Atlanta Hawks. During our conversation he said something that really stuck with me. He explained that the Hawks are working to transform the public’s perception of the organization from a sports team to an entertainment brand. Take a look around their marketing and it shows.

The Hawks are finding new ways to tell stories about the city of Atlanta, its culture, and current events that fall outside of the game of basketball. By incorporating local artists into regular programming the Hawks are communicating an understanding of their fans and the local culture. Events like this serve to establish a deeper connection with fans and the local community that are likely to last a lifetime.

Stories don’t always have to revolve around PR or events, though. Take a look at this recent video from Manchester City.

Not only is this a great use of virtual reality and 360 video, but it tells a fantastic story. The sharp narration and behind-the-scenes footage triggers an emotion in the viewer that makes them feel like a part of the club rather than just a fan. Reinforcing this feeling over time through storytelling helps to ensure long-term loyalty among the club’s supporters.

Stories Drive Sponsorship Revenue

Effective storytelling requires planning, development, and execution. Each of those things requires resources and can, in some cases, be expensive. Fortunately, creating and telling stories can drive revenue. Teams prioritizing the creation and distribution of compelling content are not only engaging the fan base, but are also increasing their inventory of sponsorable assets.

This is especially true in the digital space, where the possibilities for brand integration are almost endless. Callaway’s year-end wrapup series, Best of 2016, is a great example.

callaway content series best of 16 stories in sports

This piece is published by the brand rather than being sold as a sponsored asset, but it tells a cohesive story and wraps up 2016 in an interesting and interactive manner. The combination of measurable engagement and efficient content distribution makes digital executions like Callaway’s extremely attractive for potential sponsors. Telling stories and regularly creating content from scratch unlocks opportunities for more meaningful brand integrations and native content, both of which are prime for sponsorship.

Telling Stories in Sports

While the terms “stories” and “storytelling” might be getting beat to death, integrating them into marketing and engagement activities is crucial to connecting with fans. Telling stories allows for frequent, positive conversation regardless of the on-field performance, and can even open revenue generation opportunities for the organization.

Stories are the best way to ensure fans are emotionally invested in the team and the brand.

Have you seen a great example of storytelling in sports recently? Hit me up on Twitter @MathewBernstein and share.