Lessons From Leaders – Mike Farrell

Insights from our Flip the Switch podcast:

This week we sat down with Mike Farrell, Assistant AD for Broadcasting and Video Production for the University of Maryland. In the last year, Mike and his team launched “Terrapin Club+” often dubbed “Netflix for Terps.”

Mike’s passion for the project was evident through the entire interview, especially when he attributed the stories of the student-athletes and alumni as his greatest source of inspiration.

From the conversation, here are three key takeaways to reinvent your content strategy and deepen connections with your customers.

Value creation > Value capture

The concept for Terrapin Club+ was part of a larger initiative to “reinvent” the Terrapin Club, the fundraising arm of the department, and create more of a membership experience than a donation experience.  The mindset changed from “philanthropic giving” to “providing value” and giving some of Maryland’s biggest supporters a deeper connection to the student-athletes they support through their stories in the One Maryland magazine and Terrapin Club+ shows.  

If you look across most professional leagues, there is a mentality shift from being a season ticket “holder” to a season ticket “member”.  Changing one word can shift the thought process from something transactional to something relational, where the focus becomes building a long-term relationship with the fan so they are invested beyond game day.  

How else are you creating value for your most loyal customers? What else do they want out of the relationship with your organization? Do all fans want free t-shirts or priority entrance lines? Some might. But the majority just want access. Not sideline field access (although that doesn’t hurt either), access to the real story, who makes up the team off the field.  Maybe there’s a story that a fan can relate too. We become so much more invested when it’s personal.  

The digital transition we’ve experienced in the last year presents challenges and opportunities to personalize the customer experience. Going from paper to digital tickets might eliminate season ticket pickup events or delivering them to fans’ houses. Team posters also went digital so do you still have your major autograph events? The time you save from organizing season tickets can be used to create several small scale events for fans, like these from New York City FC. Or invite season ticket members to be the “special ambassadors” participating in existing events like Kansas City Chiefs’ Style Lounge. Treat kids like the student-athletes and mic them up at camps – you might strike content gold like West Virginia

When you create additional value, you create leverage when you need to increase ticket prices.  Disney is a prime example of this.  Ticket prices increase yearly, but they continue to increase the value proposition with new attractions, new shows and new personalized experiences that Guests don’t blink at the price increase.  

The Terrapin Club+ provides the story and the value and coupled with the work of the Terrapin Club, they’ve seen a 100% year-over-year growth in membership. 

Attention spans aren’t getting shorter.  They are getting more selective.

We’ve asked a few guests about something they’ve recently changed their mind about and Mike beat us to the punch with this answer.  

“I don’t think that attention spans are actually getting shorter. I think that there’s just a massive amount of content out there that’s decent or okay…It’s throw-away content. But if you give them something that they actually care about, that they actually will want to invest in, they’re going to watch the whole thing.”

The pandemic not only changed consumption habits – average screen time increased from just over 3 hours in 2019 to 6 hours and 59 minutes in 2020 – but also what we consumed.  People watched 12.2 billion minutes of video last year (23,211 years’ worth of content!)  Netflix viewers averaged 3.2 hours of streaming per day.  155 million people listened to at least one podcast a week, 68 million listening to more than one. You could argue we were on that path though – binge-watching series didn’t just start last year.

For years, it’s been all about content marketing.  There was such a push to meet fans on every platform they were on, which has resulted in an abundance of content.  The term “content shock” was first coined in 2015.  But it also resulted in generic content that “could” appeal to wide audiences.

The creator economy is challenging brands to think about designing content for niche audiences.  Now the question is, are you developing a content marketing strategy or a community marketing strategy? 

Community marketing is about “engaging with customers while building trust and loyalty and reaching a wider audience.”

We discussed on a recent podcast with David Meerman Scott that inherently, we’re all wired to want to be part of a tribe.

That desire for community became even more evident over the last year.   

What has made Terrapin Club + successful is the relationships they are deepening with their tribe by appealing to different groups in the Maryland fan base.  Not only were the five series designed with different audiences in mind, but the shows in the series evoke a connection with a range of long-time fans and donors who watched basketball games at Cole Field House to recent grads that might have been part of The Crew at Maryland Men’s Soccer games.  

As a result, fans are tuning in and watching the videos for an average of 6.5 minutes!  You don’t have to follow the social media guidelines of 1:00 videos and hooking people in the first 5 seconds.  The content just has to be meaningful to your audience.

The opportunities from storytelling

There will be a seismic shift once Name-Image-Likeness goes into effect and  July 1 is just around the corner.  The fear of the unknown has led to a widespread “wait-and-see” mentality.  Yes, schools have invested in new partnerships with INFLCR and Opendorse.  But, then what?

It goes back to the community marketing conversation.  People want to build connections and NIL could actually be a partnership between schools and student-athletes to build those communities.  Mike shared his unofficial thoughts to this relationship:

“We want our student athletes to be able to use the video content and the graphic content of the photography that we’re able to deliver to them to help boost their social numbers and grow their audience and really let people understand who they are, not just on the court or on the field, but as people….They can have a narrative of who they are and where they want to be already established and people and companies that want to partner with them know who they’re, who they’re going to be talking to, and the value that they’re going to be able to bring.”

Restrictions on time for official team activities can hold content teams back from asking student-athletes to participate in one more thing.  As we learned from Mike, the student-athletes wanted to tell their stories.  

There will be endorsers from NIL.  If you revisit our conversation with INFLCR’s Jim Cavale, they will be your performers.  However, the other 98% of student-athletes are producers and players.  How might you work together to share their interests in fashion, music, cooking, or growing up outside of the U.S. and produce ancillary content that can attract new fans to their brand and ultimately yours? 

From there, what can you offer them beyond tickets to a game?  Would they have an interest in one-of-a-kind shoes you design with your equipment provider?  Do you offer the right merchandise in your team store to match the latest spending trends? Could you find new artists to promote your brand around town or perform at your street festival or halftime show? 95 percent of fans will never attend a home game of their favorite team. Their lifetime value to your organization can still be impactful.

For more on our conversation with Mike Farrell, listen to the full episode here.

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