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  • Richard Fleming

As Apple Deal Beckons, Clubs Must Shift From Selling To Telling?


Clubs like the Colorado Rapids have moved into hiring overdrive after learning of the content expected by Apple as part of the new television deal for MLS. This, though, may force clubs to take a different tack than has been previously employed, as they seek broader appeal to a global audience.


The art of storytelling is as old as time itself. The concept hasn’t changed since, I suspect, Adam turned to Eve and began with ‘did you hear the one about the snake?’


The idea is to entice and excite, inform and educate. Some of the best storytellers know just what their audience wants and are aligned to their needs. All of this can quite easily be said of sports fans, and the media machine telling tales.


But it is a quite different media machine these days, with a stark contrast between telling and selling. Let me explain.


When I first started out, in the summer of 1989, the independent media pretty much had a free run of it all. If fans wanted to know the outcome of a sporting event, or the thoughts of players and coaches, then the independent journos held all the aces.


The newspaper I worked on straight out of school (England’s equivalent to high school) came out twice a week, on Monday and Thursday nights, so fans eager for news or features about their favorite team had to be patient.


Fast forward more than 30 years, and the teams I once reported on now deliver their own match reports, photos, highlights, and postgame interviews within minutes of the final whistle. The pendulum of power has severely shifted, and with it the agenda, the narrative, and sometimes the reality.


Sports teams cover their goings on, as do the independent media, but often the stories are very different, or at least delivered from an alternate angle, with differing tones. After all, the role of club media is to build up the team, highlighting the highs and skirting around the lows. PR and marketing often determine the agenda, while independent media has journalists steering their stories.


The battle sports teams have is one of credibility in the eyes of the fan base. It can be tough to take the obvious approach, certainly if it means bashing players and performances. What you can end up with is spin, which is usually very easy to see through.


In turn, supporters are served a big bowl of vanilla because clubs can’t say and write what they want for fear of damaging the brand - understandably - and this is where the storytelling can suffer. And, believe me, there are hundreds of great stories within MLS.


The Rapids have been a victim of the Altitude TV and Comcast squabble the past few years, which has severely impacted local relevance, while local media has historically paid them minimal attention, save for a few conscientious souls who are genuinely passionate about the sport and don’t simply see it as a pathway to the bigger sports in the state.


This places a much greater onus on the club to tell their stories with credibility and authority. There needs to be a sizable shift toward delivering what fans want to consume, rather than what sports teams need them to consume.


How the team performs on the field is clearly crucial to the success of the club. Almost as important is how tales are told, which personalities are profiled, and how the poster boys are promoted. Give people a reason to want to engage, carving out compelling, clever content.


Marketing and PR influence seeks to control the messaging and steer the narrative, but fans are a little more savvy, so while they may consume the content they may not fully engage. Storytelling is an art form, and from good stories will emerge the ability to market the hell out of your club. Just ask Wrexham.

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