Ep. 36: Generating Fan Engagement Without Games with Nick Lawson
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently.
Nick Lawson, CEO at SQWAD, joins Rob Cressy to talk about how sports teams, schools, and brands can still generate fan engagement even with no games being played. What are the creative ways they can still engage? Why is it important for them to evolve their content mix into video? How do you remove “I don’t have enough time” from your list of excuses? How can you put yourself in a position to succeed moving forward by taking action now? Why should you be thinking about building an asset vs worrying about risk?
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Rob Cressy: (00:05)
Welcome to the GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Nick Lawson, CEO at SQWAD. Nick, great to have you on the show.
Nick Lawson: (00:29)
Thanks for having me. Excited to chat about engagement and especially in such a time as this in sports.
Rob Cressy: (00:37)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Nick Lawson: (00:42)
Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm the CEO, co-founder at SQWAD sports. What we do is really help teams connect fans to sponsors as well as their game day digitally through mobile activation. So mobile scratchers, scoreboard trivia just ways to connect during breaks in the game. And then, you know, really grab them, pull them in, really connect them with partners and obviously a great outlet for partners. Then to kind of sponsor that and be a part of that experience.
Rob Cressy: (01:13)
And right now we are in an unprecedented time in the world of sports where there are virtually no games going on. I even just look at my own consumption and I only watch sports on TV. I don't watch anything else. So literally over the last week, my TV hasn't been on, aside from the NFL free agency news because there hasn't been anything for us to talk about or consume. And before we started recording the podcast, you talked about sort of how this is impacting your business. So talk to us about what's going on from a no game standpoint and what can still be done with the teams, with the leagues that you're working with on a fan engagement side of things.
Nick Lawson: (02:01)
It is an unprecedented time. It's almost a real, as they should, you know, over the last couple of days of in sports, just games and our life experiences that is no longer the case anymore. We no longer have sort of that as content. So we're almost put into a place in a matter of six days where we actually have to say, okay, how can we find ways to connect and engage with fans without having a live game or highlights or content on that end. So, you know, for us it's an interesting time just because you have a lot of seasons ending and kind of coming to a close, but they still had a month's worth of games left. On the flip side, you know, for baseball and for soccer, you had games just started. So you're almost at different sort of cycles of fans getting ready for the post season fans getting excited and ready for those first games. So, you know, for us it's been an interesting kind of shift of you know, a lot of our stuff is done in stadium during the live some of the stuff outside of the stadium. But now it's just obviously a huge shift. Teams are really trying to see, Hey, how can I keep that fan engaged? If I don't have live games, how can I keep that sponsor engaged with my fans if I don't have live games? And what are the different creative ways that I can keep them connected during this, during this time of sort of postpone
Rob Cressy: (03:24)
And what are some of those creative ways? Because I'm with you that we're looking for ways to almost express ourselves or do a deeper dive with these teams because we're all jonesing or more sports content. So the value that teams and leagues can bring to the table is they can be a respite from what else is going on in the world right now to say, listen, we know that there's not games going on, but we still got you. The challenge of course being is what is the we still got you?
Nick Lawson: (03:57)
Yeah. It goes back to that reliance on live games. Now we have to have our reliance on a couple of things. One is our players. I mean, our players are at home doing nothing kind of sitting around and if you've watched some social media they're really bored. Something that came out today that one of our clients, the Seattle Storm did was they had Jewell Lloyd, one of their players lead you through an entire fitness regimen of how she's working out during that time, including videos of her doing the workouts. That's amazing content that obviously is really powerful right now, gets you sort of the, what you need in consumption, but also that's an asset that can carry on long after this crisis is over. So what I'm intrigued on and excited about is teams at a necessity almost have to get more creative with how they engage fans, not having those games going on.
Nick Lawson: (04:56)
Obviously with what the Suns did with Twitch and some of the streaming there and simulating games. Again, as bad as this crisis is with no sports, we're now forced to really find creative ways to engage with fans. I think that's only gonna make us better when we come out of it, not only for fans, but also for sponsors to have that inventory. I think some of the better games or content that we can create that sound side of that live experience is really going to help build that up during the crisis to sort of mitigate what we've lost but then also come out stronger with just more assets and more ways to engage.
Rob Cressy: (05:40)
You mentioned video and one thing that's important about this is not every team and league in school of all levels are using video or video as frequently. Where if you think about it, video, live stream and podcasting, they're high touch. They're great for engagement, but never, not everybody has the knowledge, the resources, the budget and or the time to make these things happen. So it's almost like because brands are backed into a corner, they have to innovate out of it and I have to believe the content mix in the ways that they're going to communicate are going to have to evolve more than just an email or a tweet or something text-based.
Nick Lawson: (06:25)
Yeah. You know, it's what we're going to see right now is we're going to see almost forcing these quote unquote smaller teams who think, who would have thought Facebook live can never work with us because we're too small or we could never do this sort of activation or, or engagement piece. You're going to see a lot more of these teams, whether it's minor league, whether it's, you know, smaller colleges, they're almost going to have to be forced to do that. Whether you're doing it on your phone where you're, you know, you're just sending out to athletes or just picking it up, whether it's time to look at TikTok and now we have the, you know, the time to really look at it and try to create content off this. I'm a firm believer in stealing, especially within sports. So, what a great time to kind of look through Twitter and see what other people are doing and kind of start stealing some of these ideas. But I think, you know, overall teams have been really slow to adopt some ways technologically to connect with fans. I think that this is almost forcing us into an era where if you're only sending out tweets that are just keeping your fans updated and not giving them content, then you're losing out on a large potential to engage, connect with them and stay top of mind when we get out of this. So I think kind of two things. One, if you ever thought you were too small to kind of take on these initiatives, what a perfect time to kind of test that and get into that. It may be, you know, quote unquote low budget and on a phone. But you know, there are ways you can get into this starting a podcast to where you can talk with different people in departments who right now are social distancing in that home. It's a great time to kind of start that process and build that up. So that again, when you're coming out of this and when season does sort of start, you're coming out with so many more assets than when you had coming into kind of this core, this postponement of the games.
Rob Cressy: (08:25)
One of the challenges I potentially see is you mentioned the social distancing and the way that a lot of people, teams and companies are working from home now, so that that is added an element of a fragmented nature. We're used to going into an office as a marketing department where we're going to talk about TikTok and video and Facebook live and things and is there, even though I see the opportunities is the flow of communication between whether it's done internally or internally with the outside partners. I see a little bit of a speed bump there and making that happen. But I completely agree with everything that you're talking about.
Nick Lawson: (09:08)
It'll be interesting and this isn't just for sports. Obviously, remote work is, is now new for a lot of companies. I think overall as an as a department keeping a structure of getting together every day for a meeting, whether that's on zoom, through Skype, through video, whatever, and being able to come up with a game plan, I think the best thing you can do right now is for your organization is really keep that structure and start to make those 30 day, 60 day, 90 day schedule so that you can say, Hey, look, in the next 30 days we want to put out a podcast, a video series from home with some of our players or our coaches and we want to make sure that we're exploring tick tock just because people are on it more.
Nick Lawson: (09:57)
Or even Snapchat, you know, that's our first, you know, 30 day step. How can we integrate sponsors? Okay, great. You're going to take over a TikTok. You're going to watch and see how people are consuming, how it could fit with our brand and just being communicative. Kids have liked that. But I think bringing structure into it is really gonna help every day at 10:00 AM jumping on a call and keep those updates and keeping everybody aligned with Hey, this is our goals for the next 30 days, here's what we want to accomplish. Then, giving yourself the ability to take those risks on some of the new pieces.
Rob Cressy: (10:37)
So this is sort of a great segue into how to put yourself in a position to succeed moving forward because I think what teams and leagues and companies are going to learn is when they say, all right Rob and Nick, we are going to create video or live stream or podcast or TikTok and we're going to do this remotely. Now you're just learning how to create these things remotely. Which Oh, by the way, when everybody is back together, which is inevitably going to happen, whether it's days, weeks, or months. Now you've created a new asset in your tool belt that says, wait a second, we know that we can do this. In the worst case scenario, God forbid when we're in the best case scenario in what that can do from a creative side of things, from a fan engagement point because what it's almost forcing is companies to realize how can we engage fans and then all of a sudden their eyes are a lot wider right now because they have limited what we're seeing as perceived resources. But once those resources are there, certainly on the creative side, I see so many more opportunities or fan engagement because they don't exist. Now we're going to create them and then all a sudden the end game is going to come back and you're like, wait, why don't we continue the podcast, the video, the live streaming and the TikTok.
Nick Lawson: (12:01)
I think that's, you know, that's really on point. I mean, we, with some of our content at SQWAD, we've really been pushing teams to become digitally native and that just means jump on TikTok and create videos, create a podcast, do some live streaming. We get a lot of pushback, mainly because people are saying either A, I don't know if that will work and we have other things that are working right now so I might not want to take that risk. B, I don't have time for this, right? This postponement has almost pushed us into, there's no more excuses. You have to go out and build these assets to engage fans. You have to get creative. You have to create, you know, different segments that can go on Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, you know, a podcast, whatever that is. The beautiful thing is it's not like you'll create it and it just gets thrown away, right? Obviously off-season, you know, it's talked about constantly in sponsorship. How can we make sure that our fans are engaged with our sponsors? 24/7, 365 because other outlets allow them to do that. Facebook, Twitter, if we're not offering that, we're only offering in season. There's other competitors, there's other ways to spend my money. Now what we're doing is we're setting up a system to where the next time you go into a sponsorship meeting. Hey, we've created this podcast and it is going to go on throughout the off season. I know you all wanted to talk about coverage during the off season with your fans. You know, we have a TikTok account that will keep going. We had this great segment that we created for Snapchat that really took off and when we're going to continue that. I think, you know, the worst thing you can do right now as a team is sort of get complacent and play the waiting game of hey, games will come back. Let's just get ready for in stadium when those games come back. As opposed to being really proactive and saying, look, if this is really going to be 90 days till we get things back going, how can we really attack that? That's just, I mean overall that's just, you know, businesses, if you look at business through recessions, the, you know, the brands that spend more on marketing come out stronger after the recession and the ones who kind of sit back and are conservative. I think the same thing as with some of the digital assets, the ones that are really going to come forward and push those limits, take some risks build out these assets are going to be the teams that come out of this much stronger for sponsors, for fans and everything. If you kind of just sat back and said, well, this won't last very long. I don't know if we want to start a big initiative. Let's just sit back and wait.
Rob Cressy: (14:41)
Yeah, and I love what you said about the in-season versus out of season because what this can really do is it can always help these brands for the out of season, let's assume it's in six months. So if you were a college basketball, it was supposed to be ending within the next few weeks. Some of these brands realized we have, what do we do out of season to engage our fans. Now all of a sudden that out of season has been given to you right now, so you're really working on the now but also on the future right there and I think it's really important for us to double down on what you said about the excuses for why teams and leagues and brands are not doing these things. You've mentioned some words that are always red flags for me in terms of risk. So brands by design are risk averse. They don't want to do things that are going to put themselves out there. The challenge of course being a lot of this stuff has been thrown out the window because you're at risk now for being completely irrelevant if you have no impact or fan engagement whatsoever. So now you have to take on a little bit more of this risk tolerance to say, all right, we realize that we have sponsors that want fan engagement. We as a team or a league or a school wants fan engagement. Now we might have to take up a little bit more risk, even though we're in this environment of uncertainty and I'm someone that believes that certainty leads to action and that's what we're really looking for here. Then we flipped that around the other way. Action leads to certainty. So by doing nothing, your team will continue to have an uncertain mindset or fan engagement strategy. But on the flip side, when you find ways to live in action, you're going to add more certainty and you're going to build more assets both for the present day and in the future.
Nick Lawson: (16:36)
Yeah. You know, it's insane. And you know, I obviously this is a crisis and an issue, but again, I'm excited for what comes out of this just because you're going to get the scrappy, there's no more excuses. It's almost more of a risk to do nothing as he kind of said. So I think, again, if you're a team right now and you're starting to hear the mindset of, hey, let's just sit back and see how this goes. There's other teams out there in your markets. There's other teams out there in your leagues that are gonna take advantage of this. The last thing you want to do is look back 90 days from now and say, man, we really, you know, this team, this team started with no TikTok account 30 days ago and now they have 5 million that they're pushing sponsors onto cause they love it and they're capturing new fans in different countries. Man, we should've done that because we had the time. Obviously it's chaotic and there are certain business things that need to be fixed and infrastructure and all that and we're at home. But I think, you know, you don't want to be that team that said we could have as a minor league team, had 5 million followers that I could have leveraged into the off season and into the new season when season kicks up, like I said, for soccer and baseball. Rather than, again, taking that risk of saying, let's just be complacent. Let's, let's sit back. Let's take a little vacation and not take these risks on things to engage.
Rob Cressy: (18:05)
Do you know what's the crazy thing? What if we reframed the term risks and what if we made it the positive? Because risk by design is almost like it's a negative. There's something bad happening. And when you're talking about the TikTok thing, my mind is just racing as someone who's a creator and a marketer because you're completely right. If you are a team, let's use March madness, a school there. If you were to create an TikTok account and just have it be stuff about the basketball team where you can continually engage and continually creates this amazing content there you have the ability in a world which is very arid right now from a sports content perspective to immediately stand out and create something that is an asset. So maybe that's the better phrase. So if some brands are thinking about this in terms of risk, you and I are sharing that you need to think about this as an asset. How can you build an asset right now? Because what if you are the only game in town, pun intended, being the content you're creating on your channels and or the new ones?
Nick Lawson: (19:17)
Yeah, I mean it's it's one of those things where we work closely with the Portland Winterhawks here in Portland, Oregon. They're a WHL junior hockey team, minor league team, and they were one of the first ones to jump on TikTok in the market. And quickly, you know, I think their third video had a million views. Think about that from a sponsorship perspective. A minor league team can get a million views with over 12,000 comments. That's new reach. Some of the other teams in the area were much more slow to kind of get on the platform. So it took their organizational awhile to wrap their heads around it. There was people who pushed back and said, Hey, this is just another platform. Is it going to last? Is a worth my time. But what I always say is, what's the risk of you not doing it? The risk is people might not engage with your content and you might waste time that's not as big of a risk as you totally missing out on what's looking like the next Snapchat for a new generation and being on that, then all of a sudden, you know, that's like saying like, wow, you have a store but you don't have a website. I can't buy your products online. Back when e-commerce first started coming out, people were like, Oh, this is crazy. You know, nobody's ever going to buy anything over the internet. So I think you're totally right. It's its own. It's more of a risk to not do it than to do it. it's a risk to do it just because the downside of it is very, very small.
Rob Cressy: (20:52)
Yeah. And the way that I would reframe it, once again is let's start thinking about what is the upside. And I want to make sure we hit this home as we wrap this up. The excuse of I don't have time for this and if something is important enough you need to make time and time is actually the thing that we have so much and I think it would really help to audit your time and this is something for everyone with people working from home now they almost don't know what to do. I've gotten this lack of structure because I'm not used to working from home and then there may be not as efficient as they normally would. There's going to be a little bit more distractions, but I would say to use this as a positive in a fun thing because guess what? There are going to be teams and brands out there that say, Holy smokes, I can't believe how much fun we have had building a podcast, building a live video series, working on TikTok together as a team every day at 10:00 AM like you said for the team call. I would keep the same structure and say, all right, what if one hour a day? This week we just worked on new fan engagement opportunities. And this doesn't mean your entire day is only this, but let's just break off a small piece because I don't like the excuse for, I don't have time for this because all that is, is an excuse because there are plenty of opportunities for time. You just need to make it.
Nick Lawson: (22:21)
Yeah, I think coming out of this and what I really think and hope really hits home for teams is you can't use that excuse because if anything, you have more time than you ever had. Whether that's people aren't buying or you don't have that promotional night that you were going to have for us in sports. You don't have games. Right. So that's another, that's another five hours in our day. It kind of opened up that we weren't expecting. You don't have that excuse anymore for why you didn't do it again over the next 30 days just take those risks. Take the idea of, Hey, we don't have the time or the bandwidth and implement those because when you really don't have the time and the bandwidth, when the season starts again, now you have such a foundation that it will be automated. It'll be a process and you know exactly what to do to have success as opposed to, you know, trying to start that up when season starts. Of course you're running around everywhere. So I think, you know, again, now is the perfect time to double down on that. Obviously against structure, what projects you're going to work on, but take, take some of those new creative pieces, no idea's stupid. Obviously there are going to be stupid ideas that pop up. You know but you know, leave no stone unturned for how you can keep connected with your fans and then really process that and make it into just a process so that you know, when season opens up you can fully have a TikTok cam at your team game and you know that your TikTok account is full fledged with content on it for when you do that, when opening night comes again instead of you know, scrambling to kind of get that done.
Rob Cressy: (24:11)
I fully believe that teams, leagues, companies and schools that decide to use this time to emphasize community-building and fan engagement are going to be the ones that succeed because they're all about coming from a place of bringing people together in a time like this. This is what we're all looking for. We're looking for connection, we're looking to be around other like minded people. So you're right, there is such an opportunity there in Nick. I really found your thought process in the way that you're approaching this extremely refreshing. And it's something that I wholeheartedly hope that everyone who's listening right now really thinks about this because we're not just saying it because we're saying it's because we are both living this Nick and I've used the strategies that we are going to be using with the teams, leagues, companies and brands that we are working with. So this is a great opportunity for you to live in action. So Nick, where can everybody connect with you?
Nick Lawson: (25:16)
Yeah, LinkedIn's probably the best way. Just type in Nick Lawson CEO SQWAD, I put a ton of content out, especially around sort of this and the effects on the sponsorship. So definitely check that out. Connect with me on Twitter, Twitter handle is @nlawsonpdx. Again, would love to connect with anybody, hear your thoughts on that side and give any advice I can come to in this, in this unprecedented time in sports that I hope, we never see again for as long as I live.
Rob Cressy: (25:48)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I've got a simple one. Are you on TikTok, at least do you have an account, whether it's you, your personal brand, or the company that you work with? If so, let us know about it. If not, what is holding you back? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter at @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram at @fanfoodapp, or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at @robcressy.