Inside the bubble: How player-generated content fuels awareness for the NBA
If you’re a basketball fan, March 11, 2020 is likely a day you won’t forget.
The NBA has suspended the season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 12, 2020
That was the day the entire NBA shut down after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of their game against Oklahoma City. It was the beginning of a four-month long hiatus, one that had fans and players alike questioning if the season would ever pick back up again.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITHOUT BUCKS BASKETBALL
— Nathan Marzion (@nathanmarzion) March 12, 2020
So when the league announced the formation of the NBA bubble to complete the season, it naturally invited doubt. Would the bubble actually work? How would journalists cover players with limited media availability? And how would the league keep fans engaged when no one was allowed to watch the games in-person?
As it turns out, a lot of those fears were put to rest when the NBA resumed on July 30. So far, there haven’t been any positive tests, the finals are underway and a few fans have been able to join via virtual courtside seats. But what really makes the bubble experiment stand out is its athletes, and NBA players with YouTube channels like JaVale McGee and Troy Daniels are keeping fans entertained both on and off the court.
What the NBA gets right that so many other leagues fail to understand is they know how powerful player-generated content is in sustaining fan interest. People are going to pay attention when J.R. Smith talks about the hotel food on his Instagram Live or when Mo Bamba posts a video of Tacko Fall golfing. And unlike other sports leagues, the NBA has a fairly hands-off approach when it comes to monitoring what their athletes can and can’t post. When it comes to fueling awareness and keeping fans engaged, sometimes the best content strategy a brand can take is to let others create the content for you.
Giving fans what they want now
A quick glance at the Los Angeles Lakers social feeds and it’s clear every piece of content is crafted by a professional. The logos are in the right places and the camera-work is as steady as can be.
On the other hand, Laker’s center JaVale McGee’s YouTube channel shows all the signs of a first-time vlogger. His videos are more rough around the edges, with the occasional shot out of focus and muffled audio. But McGee’s user-generated content (UGC) also attracts more views than his team’s official profiles. A highlight reel on the Lakers’ channel has 59,000 views to date while McGee’s first bubble vlog has over one million views.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle, another successful basketball vlogger, also draws millions of views to his channel where he shares team golf outings, candid conversations about Black Lives Matter and a boating trip with Kyle O’Quinn gone wrong. Thybulle, a first-time vlogger as well, openly admits he’s still learning how to edit and viewers can spot the occasional mistake on his vlogs.
In other words, content doesn’t have to be super polished for it to be highly engaging. What matters more is how quickly you can deliver the content your fans want while interest is still high. NBA players entered the bubble between July 7-9 and Thybulle and McGee both posted their first vlogs on the 11th and the 12th, respectively. For context, the Milwaukee Bucks released their own bubble episode a full two weeks later. When it comes to keeping your audience engaged, providing UGC right when they want it is going to yield more success than making fans wait for a highly produced version.
Getting all eyes on the bubble
NBA teams have millions of followers on social media. The Chicago Bulls have close to six million fans on Instagram while the Miami Heat boast roughly five million followers on Twitter.
Individual players, however, can reach niche audiences that may or may not be interested in basketball at all. Heat center Meyers Leonard, for example, is an avid gamer with a respectable following on Twitch; Portland shooting guard CJ McCollum is a podcaster and wine enthusiast. In addition to being a Sixers’ guard, Thybulle is a budding photographer who recently received a request to collaborate from YouTuber Casey Neistat. Neistat, a vlogger in his own right, ended up Retweeting one of Thybulle’s vlogs to his two million Twitter followers because he was impressed with the athlete’s videography skills.
Matisse Thybulle – part time NBA player, full time YouTuber. https://t.co/7C2WfVNyuQ
— Casey Neistat (@Casey) September 14, 2020
Player-generated buzz also caught the eye of several late-night talk show hosts and news outlets who just wanted to know more about what was happening on the Disney World campus. Pelicans’ guard J.J. Redick made an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden where he talked about playing in unusual circumstances, the launch of his new podcast and his wine consumption in the bubble.
Went on @latelateshow w/ @JKCorden last night and talked Bubble, wine, and @OldManAndThree podcast! https://t.co/zpsjqI4H6P via @YouTube
— JJ Redick (@jj_redick) August 12, 2020
Instead of trying to reach new audiences on your own, consider using your industry stars to break into untapped demographics. Your industry’s version of a star veteran and a fresh-faced rookie will bring different audiences to the table, giving your brand the opportunity to speak to as many people as possible. McCollum and Leonard, for example, share a similar fanbase that’s interested in basketball but Leonard also has followers in the gaming community while McColllum does not. Through their videos, stories, Tweets and podcasts, players were able to captivate an even bigger audience than just the typical NBA fan.
Peeling back the curtain
Like any other brand, NBA teams have their own distinct style when it comes to content creation and guidelines about what they’re allowed to post.
Players, however, are held to a less rigid standard and can capture the behind-the-scenes content team officials can’t post or access. While the Bucks’ Twitter feed is filled with videos of team practices and interviews, center Robin Lopez’s feed has pictures of the players’ lounge and answers to fan questions about all things Disney.
Got stuck at the Dig Site arcade just now when a storm hit…but at least there's pinball #WoeIsMe pic.twitter.com/3Gl8VJzjqO
— Robin Lopez (@rolopez42) July 11, 2020
With UGC, audiences can access unique content that isn’t available on an official brand account. Fans, for example, got an opportunity to see how some of their favorite stars interact with other teams. In his vlog, Troy Daniels invited fans to see how the team prepares for game day and showed the candid encounters he has with players from the Utah Jazz. It’s those small moments fans are unlikely to see through the eyes of a team account that make player generated content stand out.
With UGC, marketers are able to give their audience content that isn’t featured on a brand account and offers a unique perspective on an event. One marketer can’t capture everything that happens during an event as big as the NBA bubble—so why not lean on players to share what they’re experiencing on social? By leveraging content from users (in this case, the player), marketers can offer behind-the-scenes content to keep social feeds from growing stale.
A hands-off approach to content
No one could have predicted the chaos that unfolded on March 11 or that the NBA season would conclude on the Disney World campus in Florida. But three months into the bubble, it’s safe to say the NBA experiment once shrouded in uncertainty has become one of the most interesting, must-see events of the summer.
While people were already curious about the bubble, it was really the players who kept fans engaged even when there weren’t games on the air. There’s no shortage of unique content coming from Orlando and whenever players post something new, the entire internet tunes in. And it goes to show that sometimes the best strategy is to step back and let others do the talking for you. By letting players create and share their own bubble content with the rest of the world, the NBA was able to sustain fan engagement without having to create all the content themselves.
For more inspiration on third-party content can help you achieve your social goals from awareness to consideration, check out our guide on user-generated content today.
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