• Jackson Clark

How The Milwaukee Bucks & Dallas Cowboys Marketed To Fans During Trying Times

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Marketing for a sports team can present a myriad of challenges.

At the professional level, most marketing efforts are geared towards driving ticket, sponsorship and merchandise sales, fan engagement and growth.

But the biggest challenge are the many variables that club marketers cannot control, most notably, the wins and losses of their team. Anyone who has grown up following sports can attest to the fact that fans can be savage towards their under-performing teams. Managing online marketing and social media interaction during struggling times is an incredibly challenging operation.

So, how to you generate content for an apathetic, disengaged, angry audience?

I recently watched a presentation from Michael Grahl, who at the time was the Vice President of Digital Platforms for the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise.

This presentation was delivered after the 2013/14 season – an abysmal period for the Bucks, who recorded just 15 wins, the worst of any of the 30 NBA teams.

The Bucks’ marketing team identified their most valuable assets – the fans and the players – and helped make the connection between the two parties stronger. At the time, the Bucks had the second youngest team in the NBA, so they began to tell the players’ stories as people, as opposed to strictly basketballers. They told the story and built the profile of a young, relatively unknown Nigerian prospect raised in Greece. Giannis Antetokounmpo is now one of the world’s best and more recognisable basketballers.

Turning to another American sport and NFL franchise Dallas Cowboys adopted a different approach to drive engagement with disgruntled fans after a four-year period of poor performance.

The Cowboys released a video of its players reading out “mean tweets” that had been directed to them individually or about the team – an idea taken from Jimmy Kimmel Live! It became the highest viewed video in the history of NFL team websites, smashing the previous record by five times. Marketing with the millennial age group was a huge focus for the franchise.

After a regular season win, the Cowboys players tweeted #WeDemBoyz – a tagline and song of American rapper Wiz Khalifa. The Cowboys’ marketing team capitalised on the younger demographic’s interest in urban lifestyle and rap culture and within 24 hours a deal in principle was made with Khalifa’s management. Before the next home game, shirts with this slogan were available to purchase off the Cowboys. This is an example of using what is organic and already out there, then moving quickly to create merchandise and other profitable content.

Back in Milwaukee, the Bucks had an advantage because its roster was made up of players of the demographic they intended to market to. They used the players to speak directly to fans via social media in a natural and casual style.

Former Bucks player Jabari Parker uses Snapchat to engage with supporters

The Bucks also leveraged the players for contests and fan engagement. One supporter even had the opportunity to win a fishing trip with one of the players. When a Bucks fan sees this content on the club’s social media platforms and notices the player’s personality off the court, it builds connection. If you discover that you share a similar passion with a player from your supported team, you start to become more attached to that athlete.

The next time that player turns the ball over or misses a shot, you’ll view him through a different lens. This is because you have a different relationship with this player now, albeit purely virtually. You would be more frustrated if you viewed him purely as an athlete and not as an individual.

Each digital platform is different, but the takeaway is the same. Provide honest, genuine value for your fan base and you will be rewarded with their loyalty.