“We just try and find people who are on different sides of TikTok,” KC director of social media Alex Merry said. SportsTok? Of course. MomTok? Check. CatTok? That’s where Merry comes in.
“We have everything covered,” she said. “It’s fun to set aside, like, 30 minutes a week to talk about just crazy, wild things, which I feel like you don’t often get the luxury to do in a business setting.”
The scouting sessions are paying off. Sports teams have started taking TikTok seriously, and with a league-high 2.5 million followers on the platform, the Chiefs have the early lead. (The Eagles, Cowboys and Lions are all tied for second with 1.9 million followers each.)
“That’s actually now our largest audience,” Merry said, “which is kind of funny to us sometimes,” given the type of content posted there.
The Chiefs’ social playbook mirrors coach Andy Reid’s by incorporating plenty of creativity. While a personal message from tight end Travis Kelce as he walked off the field following Saturday’s 27-20 victory has racked up a million views, it was bested by a montage posted before the game of lineman Orlando Brown quizzing teammates about their past tweets. Behind-the-scenes video of the team’s picture day performed even better earlier in the week.
“Some of our most popular players on TikTok are maybe guys that aren't quite as well-known to the rest of the world,” Merry said.
The same trend has played out across the league: Highlights get views, but personality goes viral. In fact, the two most viewed TikToks posted by NFL teams this year feature the Colts and Texans mascots (Blue and Toro) rather than players. The Buffalo Bills landed two more of the top five spots with a clip of Stefon Diggs playing catch with a kid and a team wide grip-strength competition. The Detroit Lions tossing the Chicago Bears a yeasty bit of trash talk came in at No. 4.
NFL social media teams, then, are lining up against the untold number of aspiring influencers (and cat owners) posting every day, hoping to create viral content. In the TikTok battle that exemplifies sports’ larger war for a generation’s attention, having stars isn’t enough; the best ideas and execution win. Teams like the Chiefs even enlist influencers to help create more compelling clips.
“That's where (young people) are getting their product advice from,” Merry said. “That's where they're learning from. That's who they're listening to. And so we've started to build out that department.”
The Chiefs may sit 20th in NFL franchise values, but according to YouGov polling, they are now the most popular team in the NFL. And winning over younger fans is even tougher, given that Gen Z is 50% more likely to not have a favorite sports team. Younger fans connect more with individual players than with franchises, but by acting more like an individual personality online, teams can fight that trend.
The Chiefs’ reach is expanding overseas too; Kansas City launched a German TikTok account this season after landing marketing rights in the country in 2021. Next season, the team will travel there for a game.
“It's a great opportunity for us to develop a bigger fan base,” Merry said of TikTok. “It's just a great opportunity to reach all of these new people.”
She isn’t wedded to the platform though. While the Chiefs compete to make a third Super Bowl in four years, and their social media team fights for online attention, the platforms themselves are battling, too. TikTok may have popularized its format, but Snapchat Spotlight, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are all trying to woo creators as well.
“We've really been investing a lot of time into YouTube Shorts,” Merry said. “During the season, but also mainly in the offseason, we reevaluate everything every year.”
How’s that for coachspeak?
WHAT ELSE I’M WATCHING
- After partnering with 11 esports organizations over the last three years, BMW announced it would cut its spending on the category. Other companies could reevaluate their gaming strategies if advertising slows down overall in 2023. BMW also cited a desire to focus more on individuals in new deals.
- “Sustainability” will be one of the most popular buzzwords this year—and a potential way for teams to connect with younger fans. Last week, the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena made news for diverting 2.5 million pounds of waste from landfills over 2022.
- The NBA and Meta have extended their VR partnership. Fifty-two live games will be available via the Meta Quest platform this season.
A tip of the cap to former Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, whose streak of covering every Super Bowl will end at 56. The 94-year-old said he won’t be in Arizona this February.