Professional Sports Marketing

A closer look at the marketing of five Washington D.C. professional teams across five different sports

by Maya Moten | 5/21/18 2:20am


A look at average postings of five Washington, D.C. teams in season compared to out of season.

Over the course of the last four millennia, sports have served as an integral part of the human experience. With these contests drawing billions from around the world, marketing representatives constantly need to develop innovative approaches to engage fans throughout the year. However, what strategies do teams use to motivate fans to respond? What do some of these interactions look like? Do they differ among different sports?

This week, The Dartmouth examines the social media sites of teams in the Washington, D.C. area as a model to answer some of these questions and determine some of the more successful methods for getting fans to respond.

In Season vs Offseason

For many teams, it is easy to post on social media during the regular season. There is a certain amount of built-in content when posting about player highlights, the outcomes of games, interviews and press releases from teams. It is only during the offseason that the challenge to remain relevant amongst fans emerges. Although teams strive to continue to post and engage their fans during the offseason, there is still a significant decrease amongst many teams.

For Washington’s basketball team, the Wizards, there is an abundant supply of content when in season. On average, the team posts nearly 16 times in a month while in season. In contrast, during the offseason their monthly posting rate decreases to a third of the usual amount. This decrease is even more emphasized amongst the Nationals, Washington’s resident baseball team, and in the ice rink with the Capitals, with both teams reducing to an eighth of the in-season posting.

In contrast, both the Washington Redskins and D.C. United remain relatively consistent throughout the year, posting on average the same amount of content during the offseason and while in season. This could potentially be due to the short offseason of soccer. It also could be due to the large following of football throughout the year, as fans consistently follow the NFL Draft and training camps. While that is not to say that other sports do not go through the same offseason programming, football remains America’s favorite sport by a margin of over 25 percent, according to a January 2018 Gallup poll. Because of this, it is understandable that a football team would seek to remain consistent throughout the year to retain those fans.

Twitter Surges

The disparity in posting by time is not the only one that emerges when looking at the habits of social media marketing. The frequency of posts and different platforms varies as well. On average, teams post on Twitter double, triple and in some rare instances quadruple the amount that they do on Instagram and Facebook. 

Although Twitter data is restricted to an account’s first 3,200 tweets, when examining the average posting rates from the months of February, March, and April using the Washington Nationals as an example, the team posts at least 18 times per month on average. In comparison, this is nearly four times the amount of Instagram and Facebook posts the team sends. Although the Nationals are the only teams shown here, the same trend emerges among the other D.C. teams — especially among the Capitals with the team posting four times as much and in one instance five times as much.

One of the primary reasons this occurs is due to the easy accessibility of Twitter. With 280 characters it is convenient to quickly send something out and update it in real time. In addition, Twitter possesses a certain level of impermanence that is not associated with Facebook and Instagram. With Facebook and Instagram, audiences are looking for a photo or highlight capturing a moment instead of the simple update associated with Twitter. Therefore, one can easily place 10, 15 or even 20 messages on the site as the busy fan might only have the opportunity to see three.

Message Formats

Regardless of the debate of how often teams post during the season or offseason or how much teams post on each site, teams do focus on producing content tailored to the different audiences that they cater to on each social media platform. 

According to a Pew Research Center report on social media use in 2018, although most people aged 18 to 65 and older use different social media, this demographic varies significantly in which sites they favor. While most Americans use Facebook, those ages 18 to 24 are much more likely to use Instagram and Twitter. Therefore, the messages that appear on each platform reflect those users.

On Facebook, teams are much more likely to post messages sharing the accomplishments of players, the team and other affiliates. When Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Nationals, earned his 2,000th career strikeout by striking out the Texas Ranger’s Nomar Mazara, video highlights touting the accomplishment could be seen throughout the team’s Facebook page with messages like, “Max Scherzer strikes out Nomar Mazara for the 2,000th strikeout of his career.”

These messages give the fans a way of remaining updated and inspire fans to support the team and even include them in the franchise and athlete’s success. In contrast, to appeal to the younger, fast-paced crowd on Twitter, teams rely more upon posts that update fans in real time on games, highlights, interviews and recaps. Often times when facing another team, marketing managers live-tweet games featuring messages such as the one the Capitals posted when preparing for their Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs: “#Caps trail their series 3-2 and are facing elimination for the first time in the 2018 #StanleyCup playoffs. Game six will be played in the District on Monday night. #ALLCAPS” 

Another added benefit that teams take advantage of is the interconnectedness of the platform. With a simple hashtag or mention, teams have the ability to reach out to a wider audience than their own followers. For that reason, teams often collaborate on promotions with other organizations to sponsor free tickets, photos of the game and merchandise provided by the franchise. Before one of the more recent games, D.C. United paired up with Taste of Arlington, a food festival featuring Arlington food with donations going to charity, by promoting on their Twitter page: “Come by the #DCU booth at @TasteArlington for games and giveaways until 5 today!” 

By connecting with a broader community, teams are able to connect to other fans and continue to promote their brand. While Facebook and Twitter may appear to fall on different spectrums, Instagram finds a happy medium between the pair, with posts primarily focusing on featuring players through their performance during games or while training and spotlighting them in interviews. A primary example of this was the exit interview basketball player Marcin Gortat provided reporters after leaving the Washington Wizards.

Regardless of the site or type of message, each is focused on creating a narrative around the team capitalizing on the big moments and illuminating the franchise while providing accessibility to the fans. This accessibility, which can be seen across every platform keeping fans engaged, is the reason why sports have continued through four millenia and the reason why it will keep existing after four more.