Today I binge-watched the entire season of 'We are LAFC' on ESPN+. It was incredibly interesting to get a behind the scenes look at a brand new franchise's origins. Most importantly, I definitely walked away from the season, an LAFC fan.
Today, our relationship with sports is evolving. In the past, our touch points with our sporting idols were few - live games on TV, seeing them live in-stadium, and the occasional newspaper article. Now, social media has given us unprecedented access into the lives of our favorite athletes. On the flip side, athletes have found several ways to express themselves off the court. Thanks to Twitter and Instagram, we know of Russell Westbrook's latest pre-game fashion garb, Lonzo's latest rap song, Lillard's offseason superman workouts, and Josh Hart's favorite video games (and how good he is at them). As access increases, fans want their sports team to create content way beyond their live games. This is important for three reasons, brand loyalty and retention, fan acquisition, and multi-channel revenue streams.
I am a big Los Angeles Lakers fan. I came for Kobe and stayed for the championships and even though we haven't won a lot of them recently, I love the Lakers' young core - especially Lonzo and Brandon Ingram. Even in stretches where the Lakers play terrible, not to fun to watch basketball, increased access to the players and the organization guarantees that my ties to the club go far beyond their on-court performances. Despite their failures, I am willign to stick it through the rough patches not only to see LA win a championship but to see Lonzo and BI do really well.
While BI has kept his off-court life out of the limelights, Lonzo has really embraced the 'everyone is a media company' mantra. He has a 'Keeping up with the Kardashians' style behind-the-scenes reality show, a shoe and apparel lifestyle brands, a rap side-hustle, and countless appearances on major nighttime talk shows. As a result, I feel like I really 'get' Lonzo and often his on court performance/actions supplement my understanding of him from these other sources.
No I grew up watching the Barclays English Premier League as a big Chelsea fan. When I started watching, my favorite player was Michael Ballack. But back in the day, there was barely any additional access to his life and personality and therefore, despite being my favorite player, I don't feel as connected to him. As a result after he retired, and slowly as years passed by and I couldnt find a replacement for Ballack in Chelsea's squad, my passion for Chelsea diminished. Now, as a non-stakeholder in the MLS, I walked away from 'We are LAFC' with a newfound passion for football in the US and LAFC successfully acquired me as a fan. I developed a connection with some of the players in the documentary, learned more about their backstories, and even quickly googled to check when they are playing in my area.
Finally, this media strategy unlocks a bunch of new revenue streams for sports teams. In the past they were mainly focused on ticket and concessions, and merchandise sales. Now, they can create and monetize exclusive content in partnership with large streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Plus, these platforms give sports teams unprecedented data on their consumers and their preferences.
As 'We are LAFC' showed, building a sports franchise goes way beyond simply buying a stadium and putting players on the pitch. Media infrastructure has become as important as on-court performance. As more sports teams get up to speed, I am interested in keeping an eye out for new formats, modules, and paradigms that brands use to provide even more access to create an absolutely unique digital fan experience.