SXSW Recap: Sports Storytelling as Told by NASCAR, NBA, & MLS

March  24,  2014 / By Taylor Blog

“Sports is such a passion point, you can always hear what fans like and don’t like. Brands must alter their content plan based on that feedback.”

That’s how Steve Phelps, Senior VP & CMO of NASCAR, kicked off answering one of the questions from “Storytelling to Build Affinity”, led by Jackson Jeyanayagam, our SVP of Digital Strategy, at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. The SXSports-themed panel also brought together Melissa Brenner, Senior VP of Marketing of NBA, and Howard Handler, CMO of MLS, to discuss the latest sports innovations in digital and social and what both marketers and sports fans need to know.

Of course, for major players like NASCAR, NBA, and MLS, the athletes are key to telling their story. Brenner said that NBA players act as marketers from an on and off-court perspective. However, though they are partners, “Players can cut off the social stream when they want to focus on game. They can set the term,” she said. She emphasized there has to be a boundary between being a brand advocate and then focusing on the game, saying “Players don’t tweet an hour before or during match.” When it came to how fans interact with brand and fans alike, Phelps noted that “Fans want authentic athletes – without too much of a brand filter.”

When asked about learning from mistakes, Handler noted that in the field, it’s important to have the spirit of risk-taking. “We have to be ready to be fail, at a reasonable clip,” he said.

Another discussion point revolved around balancing online and offline technology. MLS emphasizes online as much as it can in addition to creating an offline commotion. “60% of sports fans have a second screen, but it’s enhancing not replacing the experience,” Handler said. Phelps discussed how NASCAR also uses a combination for the overall NASCAR experience – using camera angles, car data, and real-time stats from a mobile app.

One of the most interesting points that rounded out the panel was focused around where these sports brands find inspiration. For MLS, the team uses pop culture and late night TV to create ideas. Handler said “We think outside sports. We learn just as much from other people.”

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