COVID-19 and Sports: Six Professional Teams Share Fan Engagement Tips

Empty stadium

The U.S. sports industry, which brings together millions of loyal fans each year, has had to take significant proactive measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19. On March 11, the NBA led the charge to protect players and fans by suspending the 2019-2020 season. Since then, organizations including the NCAA, MLB and even the International Olympic Committee have followed suit.

These unusual circumstances have made communicating with fans more important than ever. From providing updates, answering questions and maintaining engagement, sports teams across the country are looking for effective ways to stay in touch.

We reached out to a handful of teams that currently use Zipwhip’s business texting software to learn more about how their communication has been impacted by COVID-19 and how they’re engaging with fans today. In addition to sharing their creative uses of texting, they provided tips for other sports teams that may be struggling to reach fans.

Sports teams are texting more than ever

Texting has proven to be an invaluable way for teams to reach their fans, and the first thing we heard from sports teams is that they’re utilizing it more during this crisis.

“My personal outbound text volume has increased substantially. I’ve also noticed clients have become more comfortable with this new tool and have found it easier to connect with me on.”

– Karalyn Katchmark, Sr. Service & Retention Account Executive, Arizona Coyotes

Jordan Stegmiller, a sales associate for the Chicago White Sox, has also seen growth in her outbound text volume, noting that texting has been a great way to extend well wishes to her prospects and open the door for conversations.

fan waiting for baseball season

We also heard from several teams that they’ve seen improved response rates using texting during this time, which aligns with our recent research on COVID-19 communication trends. We found that 62% of consumers are responding faster to incoming texts during this crisis.

“We are texting a lot more now because of COVID 19 and testing it out instead of calling every time. It has worked because people are responding at a much higher rate. Better than calling or emailing.”

– Kean Ludvicek, Sr. Rep for New Business Development, Minnesota Wild

So, how are teams using texting during this unusual time? Here are some common use cases for the sports industry that our customers shared.

How sports teams can use texting during COVID-19

1. Provide updates on game schedules

It’s the question all fans have right now—when will the season start? Unfortunately, most teams don’t have an answer, but texting is a great way to let fans know you received their question and will update them as the situation changes.

“We are getting lots of ‘what-if’s’ about if the season is going to start on time or if games are going to be cancelled/postponed. While we don’t have those answers, we are ensuring guests know that if a game isn’t played, we will provide them with a refund or credit to their account.”

– Lindsay Walker, Ticket Sales & Service Manager, Seattle Seahawks

“Most fans are generally asking me when the MLB season will start or how my health is. I answer these questions honestly that my health is fine, and that Major League Baseball is assessing the ever-changing situation every day.” – Brian Hartzell, New Business Executive, Chicago White Sox

2. Renew season tickets & generate leads

As consumers grapple with social distancing and shelter-in-place measures in many states, they’re craving normalcy and thinking ahead to their favorite events. As a result, many teams are still successfully selling and renewing season tickets as well as generating new leads for much-needed revenue.

“We are in our busy season with renewal and seat relocation. We’ve created flexible and deferred payment plan options and removed a payment requirement for seat relocation to help accommodate season ticket holders who have been financially impacted.”

– Lindsay Walker, Ticket Sales & Service Manager, Seattle Seahawks

Kean Ludvicek, who also focuses on driving new business, says he sold Minnesota Wild season tickets from start to finish using Zipwhip for the first time ever. “Now I can tell my team that it works! Big win for us,” he said.

Man and son sports text

Texting gives teams an opportunity to make a personal connection before they attempt a sale, as we heard in this example from the Arizona Coyotes.

“I had a client who I have had a good relationship with before the pause of the season. I sent him a zip asking how he and the family are. After exchanging a few texts (we are originally from the same part of the country) about friends and family we set up a call where we were able to upgrade his package from a 1/4 season to a 1/2 season.”

– Chris Bongo, Group Sales Supervisor, Arizona Coyotes

This brings us to our next, and favorite, use case for texting during this pandemic—engagement.

3. Engage with fans

With seasons stalled, sports teams are looking for creative ways to engage with fans and keep the lines of communication open. Here are some creative ideas we heard from our customers.

Video content

Sharing videos came up more than anything when we talked to our customers about fan engagement. Videos are a way to connect on a more personal level, and right now they provide the kind of human connection and entertainment consumers want.

“I sent a video of my recent top five sports movies to watch. A lot of fans replied to me with other movie or show recommendations.”

– Brian Hartzell, New Business Executive, Chicago White Sox

Even a simple video with a positive message can mean a lot to fans and open the door to new conversations, as Chris Bongo of the Arizona Coyotes shared. If you’re already creating video content for your social channels, consider sharing that with fans via text, too.

“I sent a special video that was broadcast on our Twitter account #AllAZ which has received a good response from fans as it is positive messaging. I am also doing a weekly check-in with as many clients as possible asking how they and their family are – focusing on as many of the positives as possible with them. Several have engaged by sending memes and gifs via text/email which has led to many personal and entertaining conversations.”

– Chris Bongo, Group Sales Supervisor, Arizona Coyotes

Photos

Like videos, photos are a fun and effective way to check in with fans and encourage engagement.

“Especially on the service side we reached out to personally check in. The service team asked for fans to send photos of them and their families in Padres gear on what would have been Opening Day via Zipwhip. We also sent pics of reps as kids to fans via Zipwhip.”

– Carter Motley, San Diego Padres

sports sales manager texting fans

“Zipwhip has been a great way for my clients to connect with me on a more personal level. We’ll often end up talking about something they’re doing at home that I’ll want to see a picture of! I’ve been sent pictures of my clients’ dogs and current art projects. It’s been a great way for us to connect around something they’re passionate about and for me to get that behind-the-scenes look at their life. They like it because it’s much faster to text a picture vs. emailing it.”

– Natalie Landers-Sherer, Season Ticket Services Manager, Portland Trail Blazers

Personal check-ins & words of encouragement

If you don’t have the time to create video content or take photos, a short text to check in or share some encouraging words can go a long way.

“A way I am keeping fans engaged is honestly just asking how they are doing. I actually have gotten to know my clients a lot more since this virus started spreading. The conversations are not as straight to the book about sales and business. Asking about how they are keeping busy, what they miss the most and being there for them has really gone a long way. Telling them we will get through this together is really reassuring to them. I then talk about the excitement and buzz surrounding this team and how when we do start back up, to be ready for some fun memories here at the ballpark.”

– Alex Conway, Group Sales Executive, Chicago White Sox

Andrew Hrabe, a premium service executive also with the White Sox, said fans have been appreciative of these types of messages. “I think it feels more personal to them than an email and makes them feel valued as a fan,” he said.

Activities for kids

With schools closed in many cities around the country, parents are looking for ways to keep their kids active and entertained when they’re not focused on schoolwork. This next idea from the Seahawks is a great way to get kids involved.

“The Seahawks have created weekly activities directed at kids that we post on our website and send out via email to subscribed fans, with players making cameos and encouraging kids to stay active and keep learning.”

– Lindsay Walker, Ticket Sales & Service Manager, Seattle Seahawks

4. Answer questions about refunds and credits

Due to the ambiguity around sports schedules at this point, some fans who’ve purchased tickets are reaching out to explore their options. In these cases, texts and phone calls can be used together to handle those sometimes-challenging conversations with fans.

“The biggest objection I have received is people not wanting to place any additional money down with the uncertainty of what is to come. The best way to combat this has been to utilize Zipwhip to transition to a phone call and have a conversation. This has helped lead to more accounts transitioning their funds to an account credit rather than a refund.”

– Chris Bongo, Group Sales Supervisor, Arizona Coyotes

Why sports teams love using Zipwhip to reach their fans

When we asked our sports customers what texting feature they’re using most right now, the majority said Templates. Templates can be personalized with Dynamic Fields and make it easy to send the same message again and again. They can be used for introductions, phone call reminders, special promotions and more.

sports COVID-19 text

Templates and other texting features can easily be accessed from anywhere via our desktop and mobile apps, which makes Zipwhip a convenient tool for reps working remotely.

“It’s been so much easier to take advantage of Zipwhip as a tool while working from home. With not having access to my desk line to call out, I’ve been able to keep in contact with all of my clients primarily through text.”

– Karalyn Katchmark, Sr. Service & Retention Account Executive, Arizona Coyotes

Start engaging fans with texting today

Even with sports seasons delayed due to COVID-19, there are many ways to engage with fans and keep your team top of mind. Texting is an easy and convenient way to check in, provide much-needed entertainment and foster relationships that could turn into revenue later.

Want to learn more about texting for sports today? Check out our on-demand webinar with Matt or download our free e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Texting for Business, for tips to get you started. And for more coronavirus texting best practices, please visit our dedicated COVID-19 resource page.

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