Major League Content: How to engage the sports fan

Major league sports are big businesses. The top revenue-making leagues are from the US, including the “Big Four” (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL). With millions of fans to please, particularly the millennials, these leagues are increasingly stepping into new marketing avenues. 

The challenge for sports marketing

Just like a B2B or B2C company, US major leagues understand there are more constraints on people’s time than ever before. That’s why content marketing has emerged as a useful strategy to engage with their fans beyond traditional advertising.

However, there are some differences between sports marketing and other forms of B2B or B2C marketing:

  • Most of the content consumers already have a good level of awareness.  
  • The focus is on creating unique content that drives engagement and affinity.
  • Social and viral aspects are potentially more significant.

Video as a popular medium

This comes as no surprise, and especially popular is the mobile consumption of videos. Let’s look at some examples of leagues thinking “well outside the box” and “develop aggressive content plans” targeting digital natives.

Major League Baseball’s digital arm (MLBAM) is so advanced in handling digital content for sports that the National Hockey League entrusted them to handle theirs too. If you look at their video section, there is a lot of content under different categories designed to keep fans engaged before, during and after a season.

Sponsored content such as Statcast (“powered by Amazon Web Services”) and Key to the City (by MapQuest) weaves engaging content with subtle messages about the sponsors’ roles in providing such content.


In 2014, NFL launched its own YouTube channel, featuring three sub-channels:

  • NFL Network: the usual in-season clips.
  • NFL Films: focusing on off-season engagement.
  • Together We Make Football: user-generated content.

MLB and NFL are both betting their money on producing creative content by partnering with other media giants. Example: MLB and MTV’s Off the bat show vs. NFL and HBO’s Hard Knocks documentary series.

Native advertising

Instead of the normal commercial breaks, broadcasters are now partnering with major leagues to allow sponsored content on TV. For instance, during this year’s MLB World Series, Fox Sports’ early in-game analysis in its studio was “brought to you by T-Mobile.”

This form of native advertising seems to be the way forward as media companies recognise consumers’ preference for less intrusive ads.

Turner Broadcasting System (owning channels like CNN, TBS) is another media giant looking to create longer content for its clients – or “Native Plus” pods. Soon we could be seeing native ads during their NBA broadcasts.

Social media

Expanding beyond popular channels like Facebook and Twitter, many major leagues are now active on Pinterest, Google+ and Tumblr.

Major League Soccer has transformed traditional press releases into an online event using Google+ Hangout, which allows direct participation from fans and the media. Examples include their 2013 MLS State of the League and 2013 March to Soccer pre-season address.

Meanwhile, MLB is big on Snapchat:

  • Customised lenses for each baseball team in the league.
  • Snaptchat Stories offering a peek into training days.

Shareable, bite-sized content

MLS’s Twitter account is heavily focused on visual content, providing “contests, promotion, news, while also taking fans behind-the-scenes with exclusive photos and videos.”

Source: NBA
Source: NBA

NBA Pulse is a web hub displaying real-time social media stats of sports players with options to follow social media conversations. It acts as both a fan destination and a data source to inform the content they create on the main NBA website.

Follow Linh on Twitter: @LinhContent