What does a Super Bowl appearance do for the value of a franchise?
Beyond the pure joy of winning on the field of play, there is the usual increased revenue from ticket sales from home playoff games, plus a surge in merchandise sales from T-shirts and caps produced recognizing each round conquered throughout the playoffs. But teams that go deep into the postseason also improve the value of their digital brands, specifically their social media values.
Like the last World Series, this year’s Super Bowl will be a contest between David and Goliath in terms of social media value–the Atlanta Falcons versus the four-time champion New England Patriots.
The World Series featured the Cleveland Indians, a team with an extremely loyal yet highly localized fan base from the 17th-largest market in the U.S., squaring off against the Chicago Cubs, with a national fan base from years of WGN broadcasts and heartbreaking near-misses.
Neither the Falcons nor the Indians have a player ranked in MVPindex’s top 25, but their respective competition has plenty of star power: the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady (No. 5 on the MVPindex) with the Pats. Atlanta’s highest ranked player is Julio Jones at No. 34, but quarterback Matt Ryan doesn’t even crack the top 200, despite being a favorite for the National Football League’s regular-season Most Valuable Player honor.
Heading into Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons are ranked eighth in the MVPindex, jumping five spots from No. 13 at the start of the season. Not surprisingly, the New England Patriots are currently ranked second only behind “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys. Like the Falcons, the Cleveland Indians saw a major boost in their social value through their World Series run. Over the course of the season, the Indians were able to jump seven spots in the MLB rankings.
So how has Atlanta’s success on the field fueled its increase in social value? This season, the team’s reach grew more than 18 percent to 3.5 million followers across all platforms, with 47 percent of its new followers joining since the start of the playoffs. In fact, Atlanta’s largest single day of follower growth occurred after the Falcons clinched the NFC Championship, gaining nearly 58,000 followers in 24 hours.
While follower count is an important number, the true benchmark for social success is the level of engagement that occurs. This is where the Atlanta Falcons have really excelled. Tracking all 8,125 posts from the Falcons this season, nearly 80 percent of its highest-performing posts occurred since Jan. 1. (The Cleveland Indians saw similar success, with 70+ of its 100 most engaging posts occurring during the postseason.)
According to Falcons media group vice president Morgan Shaw Parker, this was a perfect case of preparation meeting opportunity. The team had a clear vision: to create an integrated communications team including digital, social, video and photography with a fan-first mindset. Rather than social media serving in a transactional role or in support of other initiatives, it would become a primary channel for telling stories that would create stronger, more emotional connections with their fans. Digital and social had a larger purpose beyond promoting or advertising.
With that in mind, Parker’s growing team focused on creating rich content like the inspirational “In Brotherhood” video series, which marries the journey of head coach Dan Quinn’s team with the journey of the city of Atlanta and Falcons fans.
Falcons digital media director Dan Gadd said:
The series is not only authentic to what the team stood for and the Falcons brand, but it tells the story in a way that the fan can see themselves in it.
Parker, who spent 11 years at Nike before joining the franchise, said:
We wanted to rethink the way communications and digital media have been approached and really listen to what our fans wanted. I believe that if you approach content and storytelling by taking insights directly from your consumer, you will not only strengthen your relationship with them, but you will also strengthen your brand. And as luck would have it, our new strategy started hitting its stride at the same time the team did.
Boy, did it ever. The Falcons ranked 20th in the league in engagement during the regular season but jumped to sixth in the playoffs. On Facebook alone, the Falcons increased average engagement per post more than 500 percent compared with an average increase of 55 percent across all teams in the league.
And with increased engagement comes an increase in overall value, both for the franchise and its corporate sponsors. Since the playoffs began, the Falcons’ social media value has almost doubled to $46.6 million, and brands like Bud Light, Head & Shoulders and FedEx have received $2.3 million of that pie.
So where do the Falcons and their corporate sponsors go from here? The Falcons need to continue to execute and expand on this winning playbook, remaining laser-focused on listening to fans and using that insight to create content that drives true engagement and builds upon the relationship the club has established.
From a sponsor perspective, I believe we’ll see many companies rethink how they allocate their marketing dollars between traditional media and digital. Even the brands that can afford to spend big on Super Bowl commercials are actually pre-releasing those same spots on social media first rather than waiting for the traditional game-time premier. And what the Cleveland and Atlanta experiences have shown is that brands can get more eyeballs and forge deeper connections with fans by demonstrating an authentic relationship to their favorite teams.
Who will be raising the Lombardi Trophy this Sunday remains to be seen, but one thing we know already is that the Atlanta Falcons are clear winners of the social media game in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons logo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons Facebook page.