WhatsApp is Ready to Enter the Game

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As the two galactic superstars (and PSG teammates) Lionel Messi and Kyrian Mbappe traded goals and impressive moves during the World Cup final in December, the world was glued to televisions to see how it would end.

They also were glued to their phones, sharing memes, predictions, and running commentary on the match. The global game required a global network, and while people were Tweeting, TikToking, and posting elsewhere, no one platform received more attention than WhatsApp. Parent company Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed 25 million messages were sent per SECOND during the World Cup final, dwarfing the other social networks.

And, for many soccer teams across Europe and Latin America, WhatsApp is an integral part of their marketing, messaging, and consumer engagement strategy. But US teams have yet to fully embrace the chat platform, despite the great opportunities it provides to strengthen bonds with fans.

With NFL playoffs in full swing and March Madness and the NHL and NBA playoffs soon behind, now is the time to trial WhatsApp. Teams in those leagues cannot just march out the same multichannel engagement and marketing strategy as last year, especially considering that too few have established their WhatsApp strategy.

While traditional marketing channels still provide significant value for sports teams, WhatsApp is a must-have.

Here’s why

    1. Sports are no longer local. Tom Brady holds a record that was unthinkable a decade ago. He’s won an NFL game in four countries (the US, the UK, Mexico and Germany). The NFL has devoted significant attention to the global market, expanding its relatively new London Game series with games in Mexico and Germany. And the league announced International Home Marketing Areas in May 2022, opening up opportunities for individual clubs to market to specific countries. For instance, the Eagles can market to Ghana, the LA Rams to China, and a host of teams can market in Mexico. Also, the NBA continues to be hugely popular in Europe and China, thanks to the influx of international players. Conversely, European football teams continue to increase American fandom, especially when the team’s owners are two famous actors.
    2. It’s increasingly where people discuss their lives. 41% of US mobile phone users have a WhatsApp account, a percentage that is growing yearly. Many countries, e.g., Brazil, India, Argentina, and Italy, have a +95% market saturation. While WhatsApp has some headwinds against those who prefer iMessage, SMS, or Facebook Messenger, it will continue to add market share as people see their friends and family chatting more frequently on there and begin to take security measures like end-to-end encryption more seriously. Companies, sports teams included, always try to show up where their audiences are congregating. That is increasingly becoming WhatsApp.
    3. It will increase ticket sales. People rarely want to talk on the phone, especially with corporations. It’s now easy for companies to integrate WhatsApp with the platforms that sell their tickets and, in the process, create a holistic customer management platform. When the US team lost in the World Cup round of 16, the six MLS teams that feature US Men’s National Team players on their roster could have messaged fans on WhatsApp to encourage them to buy season passes to see those players when the season started. Drafts, key trades, and coaching changes are great opportunities to message fans about tickets when expectations and emotions are high. Whereas an email may be ignored or opened much later, WhatsApp is more likely to get immediately in front of the fan.
    4. Engage fans even when the team is underperforming. There’s no denying that sports fans as a passionate bunch. And since most games have a winner and loser (okay, some have ties), half of fans will leave the game underwhelmed or upset. That’s why teams that treat the holistic fan experience as entertainment beyond the actual games can always have something to offer. Teams could ask trivia questions during live events, and ask their fans to WhatsApp the answer. ChatBots can respond to questions and offer giveaways. Then end goal? Distracting fans from disappointment on the field or deepening relationships if the team is outperforming expectations.
    5. It enables scaled real-time customer service. Using the right technologies, customers can immediately provide feedback to teams on WhatsApp, where any follow-ups can be routed to the right person seamlessly. Many conversations can start with a bot, so fans receive common information while a human sales rep gets notified to take over when it is moving closer to a sale.

The World Cup may only occur once every four years, but opportunities to strengthen a team’s bond with its fans and recruit new ones to present themselves daily. WhatsApp is a great platform to reach out to your most loyal customers, give them exclusive opportunities, answer their questions, and sell tickets.

Cody Haynes
Cody Haynes is a business development executive at Factoreal Sports, a unified fan engagement & data platform that helps teams, leagues, and venues make data driven, revenue generating decisions. Cody is a 15-year professional sports industry veteran previously working in strategic marketing and revenue roles in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes and the NBA with the Houston Rockets.

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