How to Utilize Digital Content in Your Youth Sports Marketing Strategy
By Melissa Wickes
May 11, 2023
With their heads often buried in a phone, digital content is arguably the best way to reach kids these days. Accordingly, youth sports organizers can use this to their advantage to capture the attention of kids and keep them engaged in the programming.
At one of our NextUp conferences, Dan Porter, CEO and co-founder of Overtime, spoke about how to design sports content for youth and incorporate it into your youth sports marketing strategy.
Overtime is a sports network built for today’s generation of athletes and fans. Before he started the company, Porter served as the head of digital talent at Endeavor, the largest global talent agency in the world. He took everything he knew about YouTube, Instagram, and digital talent—and applied it to sports.
In describing the Overtime business model, he says: “Think ESPN except the voice is very different and is distributed on every social platform.”
Interestingly enough, he consulted ESPN early on, which is why Gary Belsky, the former editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com/Insider, had some pertinent questions to ask during this session.
Know Your Youth Sports Marketing Audience
This is something that every business owner should know like the back of their hand. On a regular basis, you should be studying and painting a clear picture of your ideal customer, reinforcing these messages throughout your entire organization. The truth is: youth sports are no longer just a hobby for organizers—the industry is “professionalized”—and thus, you’re an entrepreneur.
Your audience has historically been parents because they’re the ones who make the decisions, but we’re seeing kids at the center more and more. Overtime, for example, was originally designed for parents and recruiters, covering athletes a year or two before they went pro. Now, it targets a younger audience focusing on college, pro, basketball, football, soccer, and gaming.
What type of content are kids actually consuming through social media? Porter made three #1 mobile apps before launching Overtime. His vast array of experience also includes school teaching and coaching his two sons in youth soccer and flag football. Therefore, he knows a thing or two about the intersection of sports and media consumption among kids.
Digital Content Requires Personality
We know that the tastes and proclivities of kids continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Consequently, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest trends. But what are some of the hallmarks of digital content? What are kids really paying attention to?
Number one is personality, which comes out in how an athlete plays and how they are on and off the camera. This implies that organizers must be discerning when choosing which players to highlight.
Porter says that when he worked in the talent business, his colleagues would occasionally bring him a prospect that might seem like they have a personality on paper. He referenced a fitness instructor who had five million followers on Instagram—whom his colleagues were ready to sign. Then, shortly after meeting with her, everyone realized she didn’t have the personality.
“You can look in any pro sport, and you’re like ‘wow, there are people who just have a lot of personality in their game, in how they are, and how they present [themselves].’ Some of it is around how they are with their teammates—and that’s just different.”
People Connect With Individuals, Not Organizations
Although we may think in terms of team sports, which are indeed businesses, it would be foolish to ignore what’s captivating kids these days.
“The secret of digital is that it’s about people. That’s why 95 out of the top 100 accounts on every single social platform are not brands or teams, they’re individuals.”
Ultimately, it’s easier for people to connect with other individuals than brands or companies. Porter reports that those who embrace openness tend to be more successful on digital platforms. The reason is because digital content is real, intimate, and immediate. Kids are able to create it easily and use it as a means to express themselves.
What youth sports organizers should be looking for are players who can take advantage of this and be authentic. With a goal of creating amazing storylines, encourage your players to tell a story in their own words. The bland interview style that’s common in traditional media isn’t as engaging to a younger audience.
Remember that they should not only have a personality but also be a good teammate whose values are aligned with the organization. Individual athletes can be marketed as the face of an organization without sacrificing a sense of team, but be careful not to oversaturate your social media accounts with content hyping up only one athlete.
The other thing about digital content—on social media in particular—is that it allows college scouts to learn more about a player and get a glimpse of their personality. Since social media first gained popularity, it has been used as a recruiting tool for many college coaches. Look to our friends at SportsRecruits for tips for athletes on how to handle social media throughout the recruiting process.
Kids Respect Earned Mastery
One might think that kids are attracted to content that portrays athletes who are super confident, naturally gifted, and/or all about winning. Yet, Porter suggests the contrary—kids want to see others share their struggles in life.
He followed with a business story about the adversity that LEGO faced when it was on a decline. Company leaders analyzed all of the trends, which said that young people wanted instant gratification. As a result, LEGOs themselves became bigger and simpler, but this strategy didn’t turn the business around.
Instead, researchers from LEGO traveled to Denmark and all over Europe, spending time with kids ages 11-13. They asked the kids which of their toys was more important to them. Porter uses LEGOs and a skateboard as an example. In this scenario, neither was more important. Instead, the child pointed to a pair of shoes in the corner that were worn down on one side. When people see the kids in their shoes, they know that they have worked hard to get where they are.
The moral of the story is that LEGO tried to simplify the process of constructing a figure, but in reality, what kids wanted was for it to be harder. They relished the opportunity to show their mastery and the fact that they worked hard to achieve something. Upon uncovering these findings, LEGO changed its model and rebounded financially.
Everyone loves a feel-good story that involves overcoming adversity. In sports, it’s often the underdog story or scenarios that reflect a positive culture—one teammate helping another up off the floor or a long-awaited celebration. As Porter illustrates, “the ability to tap into those core elements that are about humanity instead of getting lost in all of the other things is really the key.”
Dig Into the Things That Kids Enjoy
Porter thinks about gaming a lot. He introduced the topic by asking the audience why kids like to play video games instead of doing other things. In answering the question for us, he debunks the stereotype of the 30-something guy sitting on the couch in sweats eating a bag of chips. Separate from digital programming, we believe there’s a lot to be learned from the gaming industry.
Here’s a list of some relevant insights that Porter shared:
- All games are based on Elo ratings, which are like chess rankings. You rarely get thrown into some online game and get annihilated because game developers know that’s a good way to get you to never play that game again. Instead, they match players with others of a comparable skill level.
- Like traditional sports, gaming is a community that allows kids to socialize and make friends outside of school—often in another part of the country or the world.
- There are a lot of elements of mastery, it’s not just one loss. Games are devised with various badges and different things you can win. It provides a platform for kids to be competitive without putting everything at stake.
The point is, as Porter concluded, that we need to dig into what kids are responding well to. Perhaps the biggest benefit of gaming, for kids, is that they don’t have to deal with parental pressure.
“If any of you are parents, I really doubt that when your kid is playing Xbox in the den that you are pacing the sidelines yelling ‘push up, push up, move, over there.’”
This is a stark contrast to what we habitually see in youth sports.
Parents: take notes, and make sure your child is having fun, first and foremost. You play an active role in helping to keep them engaged in sports.
Organizers: make sure you’re also considering the parental perspective when designing for youth.