Regular readers of this blog know that I am a bit of a sports fan. I say a bit because I am no longer playing any fantasy leagues etc so I am not a sports fanatic. I am primarily a New York area sports fan but not the usual kind (Giants, Mets, Devils. I could care less about the NBA). People in that area are pretty passionate about their sports and that’s how I learned to be a fan.
Now times have changed considerably. It is difficult for the everyday fan to afford attending actual games (especially if a family is involved). As a result the connection to sports is changing and social media is creating a whole new channel for the fans to interact and be a part of the action that they may not get at the stadium or the ballpark.
Pat Coyle of Coyle Media has been involved in the social side of sports for quite a while now. Pat has worked as the Director of Marketing for the Indianapolis Colts and helped create MyColts.net, which is an active online community for the fans of the NFL franchise. I talked to Pat about this and other social media projects he has underway.
Frank: Since most people in the social media industry came from somewhere else what is your background?
Pat: I have always had an interest in ways technology impacts human communication. I am a Chicago native came out of a direct marketing and sales career to be the Director of marketing for the Colts. I left to start a company and returned to the Colts after five years to be the Director of Digital Business for four years. Coyle Media, my consultancy to the sports industry, is now 2 years old.
Frank: So tell us about Coyle Media and what you are doing?
Pat: Coyle Media has two legs at this point. One is Sports 2.0, which has its own community at sportsmarketing20.com. The focus of my sports practice is to help teams (and other properties) make money through digital media. The main revenue sources we assist with are sponsorship, ticket sales and community building.
The other part of Coyle Media is a social media platform called SmallerIndiana.com, which is a hyper-local online community we launched 2 years ago. It has grown to 8,000 members, and is driven by a sponsorship business model.
The consulting business keeps me very busy so the communities, while growing, could use more of my time. That’s the nature of the online community business but I’m not complaining.
Frank: You started and have grown MyColts.net. Tell us about that.
Pat: The theory is simple: connect fans to each other and you connect them closer to your brand. Colts fans want to socialize with other fans. They want to be seen and recognized and they want to feel like they’re getting inside access. MyColts.net was designed to give fans all three of these things. We figured if we could engage fans through social media, it would give us another way to help sponsors engage with fans and it would give us another channel through which we can sell merchandise and tickets. So far the site has over 28,000 registered members.
Research showed as well that while there are ticket buying fans that are in the Indianapolis region the greater number of Colts fans actually reside throughout the country. This site gives them a chance to become more involved in the team without ever likely being able to attend a game.
Frank: What are your thoughts on the NFL and their attempts to limit social media interaction with the athletes and fans?
Pat: I run a little counter to the “let it be wide-open” crowd. I can see the side of ownership and the need to protect their investments. While most think that the owners are just rich guys getting richer, they are actually taking on all the risk so their desire to keep things contained to protect the brand are less about being “old school’ and more about doing good business.
I do, however, think ownership must face the fact that fans are gaining control, so their habit of controlling content may have to evolve rapidly in order to allow fans to do what they do. While it will be an interesting transition it will be best for everyone in the long run.
Frank: How will social media effect how sports are marketed and sold in the future?
Pat: There is a HUGE opportunity to tap Facebook and Twitter in combination with team social communities in order to add value to fans’ experiences, create opportunities for sponsors and make money for the team. But these things won’t happen by accident. Teams need to make them happen.
So far, most teams do not have anyone running their digital channels. I think that needs to change if teams are going to tap the full potential of digital. I hope to see teams begin to optimize their sites for sponsorship and ticket sales. In fact, that’s the focus of my Sports 2.0 service…to help teams optimize their digital channels to drive profits.
The biggest idea in my brain right now is a way to help teams sell tickets through the social graph. I am working on this one and will let you know more when it’s ready. I am really excited about the prospects for sports teams as a result and I think the future of sports marketing will be heavily concentrated here.
Frank: Thanks for your time. We look forward to seeing how the sports industry embraces social media and how you will help shape the way we interact with sports teams in the future.
You can see more of Pat’s thoughts on these subjects at patcoyle.net