WePlay employee

Beyond the whistle: rethinking, reflecting, and leveraging the off season

Gina Sparks

Gina Sparks

28th Jun 2023

It’s that time again when the competitive seasons for football, basketball,  ice hockey and many more come to an end, commonly known as the summer lull.

However, contrary to popular belief, it’s not a time for sports marketing agencies in our industry to relax and wait until the whistle blows in August.

The off season holds even greater significance in many ways and while the workload remains similar, the priorities shift.

It’s a time to reflect, hone skills and knowledge and strategise for the upcoming season. It’s also the period when contract renewals take place, making it an important time for partnership relationships as well.

With that in mind, let me walk you through what we do at WePlay during this crucial time from strategic reflection, and keeping audiences engaged, to thinking outside the box and refining our skills and knowledge.

Strategic reflection

One of our initial and vital tasks is to engage in reflection, revisiting the business objectives established at the start of the season.

While the specifics may vary depending on the partner and the Statement of Work, the fundamental process of review remains consistent.

This presents a natural opportunity for us to pose three essential questions:

  • What did we achieve?
  • What opportunities could have been seized?
  • What areas do we need to capitalise on next season?

For instance, this season, we witnessed an outstanding achievement on ESPN, in the viewership for the Women’s NCAA basketball championship game.

The broadcast garnered an incredible 103% increase in viewership compared to the previous year, setting records as one of the platform’s most-watched college events – an avenue that we should strive to capitalise on more in the future.

Analysing our performance allows us to refine and tweak our strategies, as well as re-evaluate our priorities ahead of the upcoming season enabling us not only to excel across multiple channels but re-evaluate priorities, ensuring that we surpass the targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) we set with our partners.

Utah Jazz summer camp ad and AC Milan season ticket salesKeeping audiences engaged

In order to drive and sustain engagement during the off season, we work closely with our partners to implement captivating content strategies that effectively keep fans engaged outside of live events.

This involves digging into content archives to reignite past glories or covering key moments in our content plans, such as new signings, kit releases and details about pre-season events.

Promoting details about pre-season events holds particular significance for RB Leipzig, as part of our work with them is to help grow their US following and they will be returning to New York to provide another chance for motivated youth players to develop their football skills with one of Europe’s best clubs.

It’s also important for us to ensure the content reaches relevant and potentially new audiences through various media channels.

While it’s unlikely for a fan to switch their allegiance to a different team or club, certain individuals can wield significant influence that attracts new fans.

For instance, during a previous football summer transfer window, we maximised the impact of Messi’s signing to broaden our partner, PSG’s, worldwide fan base.

Monetising these audiences during the off season is equally important. For clubs like PSG, Utah Jazz and AC Milan, as match-day ticket sales cease once the season is over.

However, we capitalise on opportunities to promote upcoming season ticket sales, merchandise or summer camps.

For instance, we work alongside AC Milan to execute various strategies aimed at monetising fans through season tickets.

This year, the campaigns have focused on the themes of family and togetherness, featuring fans in their content and incorporating the slogan ‘Noi, Voi, Milan’ (‘We, You, Milan’) across multiple platforms.

And for  Utah Jazz, we have specifically been targeting parents of younger fans with tailored messaging for summer camps aiming to capitalise on diverse audiences and monetise different segments during this period.

Thinking outside the box

During the live event periods, there is a steady flow of content with weekly games and matches, making ideation and content creation much easier.

However, during the off season, some serious out-the box thinking is required. Nonetheless, this presents a wonderful opportunity to unleash our creative potential.

There are numerous other exciting avenues to explore. For instance, we can offer glimpses into the personal lives of players, showcase academy talent that goes under-the-radar during the season, spotlight fans through user-generated content, or devise innovative ways to promote sponsorships and co-branded content.

For broadcasters such as ESPN, without any major live sports events to promote, we often engage in activations using original content, such as the 30 for 30 documentaries (I’d recommend “The Two Escobars” 😀) or we target new audiences with emerging sports that aren’t typically streamed during peak seasons.

During Covid-19, when there were no live events, we collaborated with FIFA, harnessing our creative thinking and a fantastic archive to launch the remarkable #WorldCupAtHome campaign.

Through this initiative, we premiered 32 FIFA World Cup matches exclusively on YouTube, actively involving fans through Twitter voting, and integrating interactive elements such as YouTube’s Super Chat. FIFA World Cup stars like Diego Maradona, Kylian Mbappé and Kristine Lilly joined the conversation, with fans and stars alike captivated by the dynamic and original campaign. In the end, the #WorldCupAtHome garnered over half a billion impressions across platforms, captivating 300 million fans in 126 countries.

Our pioneering approach was recognised and rewarded with The Leaders Sports Award in the prestigious category of ‘Leaders in Content Creation’.

Whatever the endeavour, it’s the perfect occasion to impress our partners with our ideas and creative prowess.

Refining skills and knowledge

The off season also encompasses a wide range of non-activation work that goes far beyond strategising and ideation.

Unlike during the season, which centres on execution, the off season provides a valuable window to step back and actively pursue skill development and knowledge enrichment.

During this period, we will actively participate in training, workshops, and discussions to help us enhance our skills and expertise and stay up-to-date with the latest technology, processes, and industry trends.

We always maintain close communication with our platform partners like TikTok and Meta throughout the year, but during this ‘downtime’, we make a conscious effort to meet up with them and make sure we’re in the loop with the latest updates, trends, and best practices on their platforms.

This knowledge exchange helps us optimise our content and engagement strategies before the upcoming season and ensure we will be maximising the potential of the platforms.

Strengthening relationships Photo of two employees visiting our client AC Milan in the off season

This period also serves as the ideal time to strengthen our relationships with our partners.

As we work with partners worldwide, virtual communication plays a significant role in our operations, particularly when in season.

But, we recognise the importance of face-to-face interaction making off season an opportune time to visit some of our international partners.

This is also a great time to showcase other projects we are working on with other partners and illustrate the potential benefits they can derive from sharing knowledge with our expanded range of services across all our partners.

The clock never stops

For us, the clock never truly stops ticking, given our involvement with a diverse range of sports and entities.

While it may be the off season for one industry, it’s the in-season for another.

So, contrary to popular belief, the off season at WePlay is a dynamic and bustling period that encompasses reflection, strategic planning, fan engagement, skill development and partnership strengthening.

It’s a time when we embrace the full spectrum of activities required to excel in the sports industry, seizing every opportunity to grow, evolve and ensure that we are well-prepared for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Read more about our work  here.