How to Grow Your Sports Audience Exponentially with Casual Fans
Die-hard fans of your sports league are indispensable. But, casual fans provide a massive opportunity to fill stands with high energy that also looks promising to potential sponsors.
Similar to die-hard fans, you can entice casual fans to attend your matches with sports marketing.
The catch is, engaging casual fans is fundamentally different than it is for die-hard fans.
So, here’s a detailed look at casual fans, what their motivations are and how to engage them with sports marketing so they fill stands at your matches more often with an abundance of energy.
What is a Casual Fan?
A casual fan is someone who enjoys a team or sport but is rather laid back about it.
There are different types of casual fans, from novices who are just being introduced to the sport for the first time, to common, every-day fans that understand the game well.
Casual fans might have a favorite team they support, but their lives don’t revolve it. These fans might attend only one or two games a season, or maybe none at all and instead opt to only watch games on television or online.
Even though they may not be your main demographic, casual fans are still a valued asset to your league.
With season ticket packages always in flux, for example, their decision to attend specific games is one you can sway in your favor.
Why Engage Your Casual Fans
We’re not trying to convert casual fans to be die-hard fans. The goal here is to entice someone who has never been to a match to try it out and for those who have been to one of your matches, to come back a second, third or even fourth time.
If all fans went to one extra game a season, your turnout numbers would grow exponentially.
And more than just ticket sales, a packed stadium gives your players a reason to feel energized and supported in order to do their absolute best.
Sports events are also a great way to bring the community together.
What Casual Fans Want
When a casual fan attends a sports event, they’re not interested in the nuances of the game or how the season is going like core fans would be.
Some things casual fans are interested in are:
- Non-stop entertainment – Fans want their money’s worth so the game’s two to three hours should be packed with continuous fun.
- Sensory experiences – The buttery popcorn. The loud music. The flashing lights. All the things you don’t get from watching at home.
- Fan participation – Engaging communal traditions, like team chants, make event-goers feel like part of the fandom.
- Keep it light – A casual fan doesn’t want to spend their energy keeping tabs on the latest updates, forecasts and projections.
At the end of the day, casual fans want what all fans want: a fun time to remember and share with their friends, family and social media.
Here are some ways to slowly engage and cultivate a relationship with casual fans so they return again and again.
How To Engage Casual Fans
Unlike die-hard fans, with casual sports fans there’s no guarantee they’ll return after trying out a game. To help get them back in the stands, casual fans need a reason to engage and to feel connected with your team.
That’s why it’s crucial to develop an ever-so-slight brand loyalty with them, which can be accomplished by building a series of positive experiences over time.
If they keep having a great time when they encounter your name, their opinion of you increases and they’re more likely to engage with you another time.
A key element to maintaining casual fans is getting their active participation and engagement — a tactic that begins with you. This form of engagement is ultimately what will entice casual fans to attend more matches.
Below are several practical suggestions to help you pack those stands with casual fans for your sports league or club.
Tie in Those Values
Because casual fans aren’t spending every last minute keeping tabs on you, it’s fair to assume there are other priorities and values in their life they consider important. Use this to your advantage.
In your marketing, emphasize values and qualities that appeal to the average person, not just sports lovers. Sporting events are a great place to learn about discipline, respect, fairness, and team building.
Highlight the communal nature of sports as well as its family-friendly atmosphere.
Human-interest stories such as interviews with the team and staff are able to showcase this far better than a newspaper ad. Use emotional content whenever possible.
For example, Olympics commercials are incredibly popular because their expert marketing makes us feel and believe in the common pursuit despite incredible struggle.
Families know what it’s like to encourage and support a child’s dreams and the commercial above plays into that superbly.
It’s common for some to see sports as overwhelming or “just not their thing.” Putting a different spin on it and tying in values they already hold could help them see sports in a new light.
Don’t Waste Their Time
When a casual fan comes to one of your events, they’re making a conscious choice to schedule you into their day so try to be upfront about the happenings of the event.
Having a game-day schedule is helpful for fans to know exactly what the specifics of attending a game entail. Fans who aren’t used to attending live sporting events could get overwhelmed by the large crowds and stadium rules so the more useful information you can give them the better.
USC did an excellent job of this at the kickoff of their football season by letting fans know when they could be on site, what the parking and tailgating rules were and what security setup fans would encounter.
Go the extra mile by providing a guide for first-timers who maybe don’t have a friend to explain everything. What time is kickoff, the first pitch and other important details? Are there any key pre-game rituals and festivities?
Going above and beyond can make a huge difference in a fan’s comfort level.
Make Sure They’re Educated
If you didn’t grow up watching or playing a particular sport, the barrage of rules and protocol at a match can be overwhelming to figure out on your own. Make sure you take into account the casual fans who are beginners and try to make them feel as comfortable and welcomed as possible.
Below are a few ways to work some common sports knowledge into your fan experience.
Create a Play of the Week series where you breakdown common tactics or plays on social media. You can reference old games and pivotal moments and turn a #ThrowbackThursday into a teachable moment.
Keep It Personal
Have sports-loving volunteers at the game who people can go to and ask questions. There’s certainly a few true fans in your league who would be happy to impart their years of wisdom to a newbie.
Back to School
Have guides up on your website or printed flyers available with common terminology they’ll hear throughout the game.
For example, the NFL has a Football 101 page where you can learn about common formations, replay processes and breakdowns of TV graphics.
If you create something similar for your team or league, it can be useful for years to come.
Take It From the Big Leagues
When searching for ideas to market to casual fans, take a look at how professional and national sports teams have tackled the problem. While they may have special programs and clubs for the die-hard fans, how do they use marketing strategies to entice people who wouldn’t normally come to multiple games?
Many teams have started pairing up with entertainment companies to bring new foods, songs and even comic books to the game. By diversifying the content they provide, teams can reach and engage a wider audience.
New York Jets’ president Neal Glat says the Jets ask fans directly for feedback on how they could improve:
“We have a fan advisory board multiple times during the year. We’ll get them into our auditorium and ask them questions [such as] how can we do better?”
By taking into account your fans’ preferences, you can be sure you’re giving them the best possible game environment to attend.
Jump on the Bandwagon
Social media engagement is the way of the future. By integrating yourself into their lives through their social feeds, you can connect with fans who haven’t ever or infrequently attend games.
Casual fans may not go to your page directly, but seeing a funny retweet or picture as they scroll through their feed puts you in the back of their mind next time they’re choosing an outing.
Make sure your social media content is valuable, engaging and worth their time.
I am the one who blocks. pic.twitter.com/Zxln6BFHJv
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 31, 2015
The Breaking Bad and Eagles mashup meme above is a fun way to reach fans of a whole other area of entertainment.
For details, check out 5 Sports Teams on Social Media that are Killing it in 2018.
Root, Root for the Home Team
When considering an outing for the weekend, most take a look at what’s close by. Use this to your advantage and play up your status as the hometown team.
What community activities can you take part in such as festivals or holidays that commemorate important events? Tie yourself even further into the community by giving back to a local organization.
When both you and casual fans have a common interest – in this case, your town or city – you can support each other in your endeavors. The rewards will reap themselves.
Kidnap Them (Kind Of)
There are some folks out there who wouldn’t ever choose to go to a sporting event unless you dragged them there so maybe that’s sort of what you have to do. Encourage your die-hard fans to bring a friend and share the excitement.
Consider having a fan-oriented night with discounted 2-for-1 tickets and an extra helping of education about both the sport and the team.
If people feel taken care of when they are at the stadium with friends for the first time, they’re more likely to show up again on their own.
Show Your Appreciation
Nobody likes to feel like just a number in a crowd. By paying attention to who is buying tickets, how many tickets and how often, you can help build a personal relationship with casual fans.
Take note of which attendees are first-time ticket buyers by including a question in your online ticket form, then rewarding them with a special offer or discount.
For fans who have been to over 5 games this season, you could honor them with a quick, fun ceremony like a Timeout Shout-Out or a 2-for-1 offer. The possibilities are endless.
Not only will this help you track attendance statistics, it’s an opportunity to personally thank folks for coming out and supporting the team.
Back For Another Round
Casual fans can be a vital asset to your organization even if you don’t see them as frequently as the die-hard fans.
When you make sure casual fans feel included and appreciated, you can be sure they’ll keep supporting your league in their own special way.