As the NFL season kicks off, brands looking for savvy ways to tap into fan culture need look no further than the Kansas City Chiefs. The team's engagement on social media is stronger than any other team in the league, with a reach of 8.19% of the NFL's online fan base, per a new report by consumer insights platform Helixa that was emailed to Marketing Dive.
The report, which sourced data from Twitter using artificial intelligence software, also found that the franchise has the highest level of social media engagement across all generations, from Gen Z to baby boomers, as well as the highest engagement in five states. For a team that serves a mid-level market, ranks 22 out of 32 in team value and is up against marketing heavyweights like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, the Chiefs are an unlikely success, which could make them an appealing model for marketers hoping to break through on social media this NFL season.
"As a brand, [the Chiefs] are trying to do the right thing of creating an association," said Larry Mann, executive vice president of sports marketing agency rEvolution. "They're doing what they need to do to create that authentic appeal and engage consumers."
Marketing on social media for the 2021 NFL season poses several advantages that could see brands opting for the channel. While stadiums are filling up again, the ongoing coronavirus delta variant puts the season in a precarious position, giving brands more reason to use the digital and social activations that surged in popularity since the first lockdowns.
"You need to engage with fans so they become engaged to your product forever."
EVP for media and business development, rEvolution
Compared with last year's pandemic season, this one has already seen a return of consumer energy and excitement, which marketers could draw from in order to drive brand awareness. But in a space like social media where millions of fans engage with team, player and brand accounts every day, the competition for eyeballs could leave many marketers by the wayside.
Catching fans' attention requires a brand to keep their most marketable asset front and center, Mann said. For the Chiefs' social engagement, this asset has been quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whose rise to stardom over the past few seasons has positioned him as the de facto face of the NFL. By taking Mahomes' star status on and off the field and fitting it in their social marketing, the Chiefs have been able to bolster engagement, said Mann.
Data compiled by Helixa's social media report reinforce this strategy: Just over 53% of people who tune into the Chiefs are also engaging with Mahomes directly, per supplementary research shared with Marketing Dive.
But while marketable assets are effective in catching attention, brands must not rely on them too heavily if they want to build a long-term connection, said Mann. Mahomes, for example, may not be on the Chiefs forever, so the team must focus on creating fans who will stick around whether Mahomes is there or not.
"You need to engage with fans so they become engaged to your product forever ... You want to be broader, but you're using the benefit of Patrick Mahomes to drive that [long-term strategy]," said Mann.
Engagement spurs innovation elsewhere
Establishing a connection with fans on social media also offers the ability to learn about their other interests, insights that can inform other marketing efforts.
"What you really are trying to uncover are those unexpected opportunities," said Laia Pescetto, vice president of marketing at Helixa. "You know that people like football, but what else do they care about, where else can you find them?"
Digital auctions, for example, have surged since the pandemic's onset, and more consumers are bidding for products from their smartphones. Perhaps seeing an interest from its fan base in this activity, the Chiefs last month launched a mobile marketplace called Chief Bids, through which the team will auction off merchandise. In addition to streamlining digital engagement between the team and fans, the platform offers direct-to-consumer (DTC) capabilities that have grown more popular alongside e-commerce.
The technology underpinning Chief Bids also supports the auctioning of digital collectibles like nonfungible tokens (NFTs), which brands are increasingly adopting in their marketing strategies. At a time when blockchain technology is seeing interest from several sports leagues, including the NFL, the Chiefs could be opening the door for future involvement in the space.
Understanding these audience nuances is possible through social media because fans are already telling brands what they're into by virtue of who they engage with, per Pescetto.
"It's really [about] understanding the motivations of why [fans] are engaging … and trying to connect those things and building that full picture of that audience," she said.