It takes a lot of work to organize and plan a sporting event of any size. But, even if the planning is perfect, it does not guarantee attendees will want to partake. This is why marketing efforts are critical to the success of the event. Determining the best avenues to promote the event, however, can often be daunting—especially with everything else on the planner’s plate. Here are some tried-and-true tips for attracting attention to a sporting event.
The Strength of Social Media
It’s no secret that social media has exploded in the last 10-plus years and is practically required at this
point to promote any type of event.
The Savannah Sports Council team found that to be especially true a few years ago when seeking to publicize the annual Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run. After spending years heavily investing in printed mailers to lists that were getting outdated, they began focusing more on social media and digital marketing. They also digitally targeted their message to runners that have participated in other similar types of races. “After doing that, we were up 17 percent in participation the very next year,” said Sports Council director Rob Wells, CSEE. “Our move to focus more on social media was a big part of that.”
In addition to relying heavily on social media, the Savannah Sports Council also made sure to utilize other resources around them. That included the event’s title sponsor, Enmarket Convenience Stores, which has many locations around southeast Georgia and South Carolina, the event’s target market. “We were able to do some advertising through them, both in their stores and digitally at the gas pumps, and that definitely had an impact,” said Wells.
Customize Your Channels
While social media is a dominant—and often preferable—force in promoting sporting events today, it’s important to remember each social media channel is different. That means using a variety of channels is ideal as each can have a different audience. Visit Colorado Springs, for example, uses a variety of the typical platforms—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—but the organization knows the message isn’t going to always look the same across each channel. “Facebook and Instagram posts can be a little freer and fun, but we wouldn’t use Twitter that way,” explained senior director of sports and events Cheryl McCullough. “Twitter needs a more targeted message, perhaps with specific information for the day of the event.”
It can also be beneficial to think outside the typical social media box to incorporate other channels as well. Visit Colorado Springs likes to utilize LinkedIn when possible, as well as blog posts on their website, as all can be used to promote an event. “LinkedIn and blog posts are very specific, but they can also be helpful tools to push out information to potential attendees or registered attendees,” added McCullough.
When it comes to more “out-of-the-box” channels, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation has started using Pinterest. “Pinterest can be great for destinations because people often use that channel in planning trips,” said CVB EVP & CMO Deana Ivy. “You don’t think about Pinterest as an option to advertise, but it is—and can be—more authentic than placing an ad somewhere.”
Because each channel is different, it also means that content can’t always be copied verbatim across each platform—it should be customized to suit the channel’s particular audience, Ivy adds. “It’s critical to use the channels differently and develop your content toward that market,” she said. “So many just post the same exact content across all their channels, but you’re talking to different people. While Facebook and Instagram are a lot of the same audience, others aren’t necessarily the same. Talk to each audience in the way they want to receive their information.”
In addition to sharing information or images about an event, social media also offers a great avenue for providing interactive opportunities that can increase interest surrounding the event. Cooper River Bridge Run, an annual event held in Charleston, S.C., hosts a T-shirt design contest each year to build interest for its event. Via social media, people can vote for their favorite design. Nashville utilizes social media for ticket giveaways and travel packages for events frequently, as does Visit Colorado Springs. “It’s a great way to generate competition to attend the event because someone may not win tickets, but the giveaway may have made them interested in attending,” McCullough added.
Promote in the Present
Social media is a great way to build interest before the actual event, but it’s also a great way to promote the event in real time, which could draw more attendees the next day (if applicable) or the next year. Simple marketing efforts such as live tweeting or livestreaming the event can have a significant effect on the event. When NASCAR hosted its Burnouts on Broadway during Champion’s Week in Nashville, the event was livestreamed to reach as large an audience as possible.
Visit Colorado Springs also partners with its event organizers when possible for “Instagram takeovers,” which allows the event to post to their account for a specific period during the event. “We did this with Pikes Peak Airstrip Attack a couple of years ago and it was so cool,” McCullough said. “It gave the event increased exposure to our followers, and it gave us access to some really amazing images.”
Leverage Your Efforts
Many events are large enough that they have marketing teams dedicated to promoting the event, but many organizers simply do not have the funds or the staff. This problem is why working with the local CVB or sports commission group is important for the event to succeed. “Many sporting events are run by parents, and they don’t have the resources or connections to push out info about their events,” McCullough said. “The CVB can take on that role and help craft the press releases or social media posts to make sure they have the best coverage.”
CVBs and sports commissions often have a wider audience, or at least a different audience, than the organizers, so their marketing efforts can extend to a whole new group. Coordinating efforts between event organizers and the local CVB or sports commission can ensure there is no needless duplication of efforts, the marketing is coordinated, and every needed media outlet is covered as it’s often impossible for one organization alone to afford to cover every expense to seamlessly promote the event.
CVBs and sports commissions can also lend their brand to the event organizers to help attendees to the
event as well. When Nashville hosted the NFL Draft, they put a Music City spin on many of the promotional pieces, incorporating music and well-known looks from city spots like Hatch Show Print as much as possible. “We as a city have such a strong brand that it does help draw not only events, but people to Nashville,” Ivy said. “Because of the draw to the city, our brand can help attract more attendees than maybe the event typically would draw. The event can use our brand and promote us as a destination, and we as a destination promote the event. It’s a great partnership the city has with events hosted here, and it has been successful.”
Go Old School
It is so easy to focus in on social media that traditional marketing efforts like press releases and print publications can get overlooked, but they are still important avenues for publicizing a sporting event. CVBs and sports commissions often can help draft press releases and have great relationships with local media outlets that can help garner attention. Rated Sports, an organizer of youth soccer tournaments across the country, often focuses
much attention on reaching out to local university newspapers to publicize their events. “University newspapers are typically willing to come out to the event, as well as smaller media outlets, so we focus on those instead of large media outlets that often focus in on bigger events,” said director Michael Rocca.
The Charleston Area Sports Commission offers its event organizers a free mailing of a visitor guide to their database and includes a save-the-date sticker with promo code to encourage visitors to register for the event. “We do so many bulk mailings that we can achieve it at a very reduced cost compared to the event organizer,” said executive director Kathleen Cartland. “Receiving the visitor’s guide with specific information about the event can encourage someone to register and provides them with what they need to know about the city to get excited about planning a trip.”
Remember the Media
Inviting the media to get a preview of the event or even take part in the event is another way to garner great publicity as well. Visit Colorado Springs works with its sporting events to plan media days that allow the media to truly experience the event firsthand. For example, when hosting a dragon boat competition, they invited the local television channel to do a morning segment with the newscaster getting a chance to get out in the boat. “We’ve had the media come out to test out wake boards and participate in wheelchair basketball,” said McCullough. “Giving the media an opportunity to experience the event, not just cover it, is a great way to get the news coverage and create some hype.”