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Sports CFL turns to social media to convert casual viewers into hardcore fans

15:04  14 june  2018
15:04  14 june  2018 Source:   thestar.com

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Canadian Football League marketing boss Christina Litz isn’t worried about the league’s avid fans. The Saskatchewan Roughriders die-hards who fashion helmets from watermelons and fill the stands at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium buy tickets and merchandise year-in, year-out.

But Thursday marks the start of the CFL’s first full season under Randy Ambrosie, and the league’s commissioner has ambitious commercial goals. Earlier this week he told The Star he aims to double the CFL’s total revenues by 2023, setting a lofty target for everyone tasked with selling the league.

On Monday the CFL announced a new partnership with Facebook that makes the social network the home of a new CFL pre-game show that will air on Thursday nights this summer. The move doesn’t settle the revenue question, but Litz says social media initiatives are a key element of the league’s long-term strategy to engage casual fans, who she says are typically younger and more diverse than hardcore CFL followers.

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Growing the business means converting casuals in to CFL regulars, and Litz says initiatives like the live Facebook broadcast serve as a valuable entry point.

“The big question we asked ourselves is ‘what are those (casual) fans doing the rest of the season, and what do they look like?’” said Litz, the CFL’s chief marketing, digital and strategy officer. “When we look at what we want to do to get them following us during the regular season… it demands doing different things, and our teams have done a tremendous job on in-stadium experience.”

Even before training camp opened, former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel lent the league marketing momentum it will carry into the regular season.

According to Google Trends, searches for “Hamilton Tiger-Cats” and “CFL” rose precipitously between May 6, when reports first surfaced that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was on the verge of signing in Hamilton, and May 19, when he officially joined the team. His presence has also attracted interest from U.S.-based media outlets like USA Today, which sent a reporter to Hamilton to cover Manziel’s first CFL training camp.

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But the publicity boost Manziel provides isn’t a league-wide business strategy, and the folks running the CFL recognize meeting aggressive revenue targets means planning beyond a single player, team, or market.

“I got asked by the governors at the last meeting for a five-year plan,” Ambrosie told the Star’s Bruce Arthur earlier this week. “And I’m gonna start with a five-year vision, and then the plan, and then work our way through the details. I know this: I think we can double size of this league in the next five years. In terms of revenue. I think we can.”

For this season, Litz says the 30-minute weekly Facebook broadcast, which aims to showcase each market’s local fan culture, will lead in to TSN’s pre-game show. It’s loosely modeled on ESPN’s College Gameday morning show, which visits a different campus each week, and places hosts on set amid frenzied spectators.

The goal, Litz says, is to use Facebook to expose casual fans to an in-stadium entertainment experience the league thinks they’ll enjoy. She says casual fans usually parachute in during the playoffs, accounting for the uptick in post-season TV viewership. Reaching part-time fans earlier in the season could help nudge them into the habit of watching CFL games, and inch them toward becoming ticket-buying customers.

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Many business owners are trying to convert fans to customers without adding any value or building trust first. This results in an overly sales-focused approach that turns off prospects before you’ve had a chance to The best social media strategies use social networks to funnel leads into their pipeline.

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Will a partnership with Facebook help lure casual fans to three-down football? The CFL sure hopes so.© Peter Power Will a partnership with Facebook help lure casual fans to three-down football? The CFL sure hopes so.

“The long-term belief is, let’s get them in (and) let’s make sure they’re having a good time,” Litz said. “As their life evolves… you remember those great times and their traditions… That’s where lifelong and avid fandom really starts happening.”

Facebook doesn’t offer the CFL an all-access pass to younger audiences. A 2017 study by the analytics firm Forrester Research found that 34 percent of U.S. teenagers surveyed found that Facebook was “for old people.” But the same study found that three quarters of those teens had Facebook accounts, even if they used them sparingly.

Sports marketing professor Peter Widdis says a solid Facebook strategy could pay off for the CFL, even if the platform has flaws.

“Facebook matters because it’s a proven platform,” Widdis said. “You’re seeing Instagram and Snapchat grow with the younger audience, but Facebook is foundational.”

Last season CFL broadcasts averaged 610,666 viewers, according to CFLdb.ca. And while a Facebook pre-game show will likely draw an audience a fraction that size, Ryerson University sports marketing professor Cheri Bradish points out that streaming via Facebook gives the CFL and its sponsors valuable data about each viewer. So even if pregame show audience is composed of casual fans, the CFL quickly learns their other interests, and can leverage that information to enrich sponsorships or target potential hardcore fans.

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The first step of converting casual viewers into loyal customers is creating valuable and free content for them. If you have loyal youtube fans that click on your video as soon as you post it and gush in the comments It makes it a go-to channel for your target audience and turns you into an authority.

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“Christina Litz has always tried to push the boundaries with technology and try new things,” said Bradish, the sports marketing chair at the Ted Rogers School of Management. “(This partnership) allows you to go global and reach consumers in different markets. They’re starting to reach fans in other markets who might be a fan of a player in Toronto.”

This year Facebook will pay Major League Baseball up to $35 million to broadcast 25 games exclusively on its platforms. A Blue Jays-Royals game that streamed directly to Facebook drew a reported 6.8 million views worldwide, but that figure counts any user who spent at least three seconds watching the game. According to the Philadephia Inquirer, a Phillies game streamed on Facebook averaged between 65,000 and 85,000 concurrent viewers, a significant drop from the number who would typically watch on TV.

While the CFL has streamed preseason games on Facebook, Litz said the league has no plans to move regular season contests there. But she did say the CFL would consider using the social network to reach overseas markets its current broadcast deals don’t cover.

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