How Sports Websites Can Step Up Engagement

bulls site

After reading Carl Boehm’s open letter that recently appeared on Marketo’s blog explaining why sports websites need to better track their audiences to offer more personalized content, I wanted to take a moment to respond to his thoughts and offer a few of my own here. I’m sure many of them will resonate with all the sports fans out there and get them thinking about what their favorite sites can do to step up audience experience.

So websites, while this letter is addressed to Carl, it’s also meant for you. If you start taking our suggestions to heart, you’ll learn a lot and lock in our loyalty for years to come.

Dear Carl,

Your open letter last week opened a floodgate of emotions for me because I too feel like sports websites no longer get me. Like you and many other readers out there, I spend far too much time on my favorite sports websites every day and feel like we’ve been growing apart over the years.

As someone who used to work in sports communications, I feel you made many valid points in your post, namely that sports websites must start more actively listening to their audiences in order to provide the kind of personalized content that readers are increasingly coming to desire in today’s highly-targeted digital age. Is it too much to ask that our chosen sites include customized content based on our engagement and location, thus reflecting our individual needs? No!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking after reading your letter and have a few more recommendations to tack on to your list. First, since so much of our lives revolve around our social networks now, there needs to be a greater emphasis on social sharing. Sure, many websites recommend trending content and include options to share articles on our social channels, but I’d like to see sites feature recommended content from our tweeps, Facebook friends and the like. This could be done much in the same fashion as Twitter’s push-through messages notifying you when several people you follow are talking about the same topic. I want to know what my friends are reading and tweeting about my alma maters and the Chicago sports scene (Okay, well maybe not the Cubs). Share this content with me so I can become a more informed fan and engaged reader who shares it across my own networks. It’s a win-win!

When it comes to content, every sports website should also offer its audience inside access. This is particularly true for professional franchises and college athletic departments, which have direct access to their coaches, athletes and staffs. If you have the access, leverage it to provide the kind of inside glimpse into your organization that fans crave and can’t get personally. The Chicago Bulls and Notre Dame Athletics have both done a tremendous job of this with their blogs, video, etc. So all you sports sites out there, take a page from these proven content creators and begin brainstorming how you can begin generating or enhance this accessible and often-free coverage on their end.

These inside glimpses often come in the form of video, which I think we can all agree is the way of the future in sports. Many websites – teams, leagues and third parties alike – have made it a clear priority to feature video content with virtually all of their articles. Whether it’s behind-the-scenes content or the standard highlights and interviews, organizations like the Pac-12 Conference have realized that if they don’t commit to producing video content, then they’re going to quickly fall behind the times and the competition.

And while video is becoming increasingly king when it comes to content, the written word will always be key in what keeps your audience coming back. Let’s face it, whether we love them or love to hate them, we fans all have our favorite sports writers. I applaud sites like ESPN for featuring their most popular personalities on their homepages, which not only promotes their writers and gives readers easier access to them, but also helps websites leverage their affiliated websites like ESPN does with Grantland.

So thank you, Carl, for providing some sensible and much-needed suggestions to sports websites and inspiring me to think about how else these sites – and all websites for that matter – can improve to better serve their audiences. We all know it’s no longer enough for websites to simply inform us, but they need to actively work to monitor our behaviors and engage us in meaningful conversation about how to make our experiences all the more personal.

With the overabundance of content out there nowadays, opening a dialogue and creating the kind of customized content we so crave will capture our attention and keep us from looking for the next best thing, which will undoubtedly come along if websites don’t take notice. Like you, Carl, I don’t want new websites, but only ask that the ones I love get better so we can rekindle the relationship we once had. If websites genuinely listen and take heed of my needs, then I’m in it for the long haul.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst


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