Back in 2016, the New York Jets organization implemented a series of “game-day improvements” designed to make attending one of the team’s games at MetLife Stadium “a more holistic, family-friendly experience” (think: food, wine, tech, kids). Their desire to find “different ways to get the word out” spawned the formation of what’s believed to be one of pro sports’ first ‘influencer engagement programs’. This past season alone, the club hosted almost 40 celebrities and influencers (including: Ralph Macchio, Big Show, Klarity) at home games. Collectively, these influencers published or shared authentic Jets-centric content with a potential reach of over 63 million followers. Senior director, content marketing and strategy, Jessica Ciccone said that the development of “new brand supporters and influential advocates has helped [the NFL franchise] to amplify its messaging and to cultivate new fans.”
Howie Long-Short: The Jets ‘influencer engagement program’ has been a success in terms of facilitating fan development because the content generated by the influencer network reaches a significantly wider audience than the team’s fan base. While the franchise regularly speaks to its existing followers through various media channels, “[influencer advocates] enable the club to talk to people who may not necessarily be aware of what it’s doing.” The hope is that by showcasing authentic experiences “through [non-endemic] influencers” it can convince “those who [never really had an interest in coming out to a game before] to attend, to follow a player or watch the team’s content.” Ciccone called it “an opportunity to show someone who didn’t realize that the New York Jets brand was a good fit for them, how [the organization] can fit into their life.”
The first step to building out a successful ‘influencer engagement program’ is “identifying people within the influencer community who focus on the specific [demographics the team wants to target] and then inviting those individuals out to sample the game day experience.” For the Jets, program participants have included YouTube stars, wine enthusiasts, food bloggers, mommy and daddy bloggers and video game devotees. Whether it’s a “small blogger with a highly engaged community or a big-name celebrity [with a massive following]”, once in the building the team’s objective is the same; to show the guest a good time so that “they’ll share [the positive experience] with their followers across multiple platforms.”
To ensure the influencers in attendance have a memorable experience (and plenty of opportunities to create the organic content sought by their audiences), the Jets provide “a behind the scenes look at fan activations as well as pre-game tunnel and sideline access.” The club has found that tailoring the outing to the needs of each individual influencer – as opposed to putting them all through the same program – is the most effective means delivering the desired results. Ciccone cited the differing needs of TikTok personalities “who are looking for settings and places to create content” from that of a representative from Little Kid Big City “who wants to showcase fan activities” as a reason the team moved away from operating in a group setting.
Fan Marino: The Jets game against the Giants on November 10th had the “greatest [influencer] reach” of any game this season. Ciccone credits the participation of Method Man and the Wu Tang Clan – not the opponent – for social impressions reaching a season-high. The rapper group’s sideline photo was the single most shared piece of content from the game.
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