3 tips for thriving in digital sports marketing

by Vince amatuzzi - founder and chief strategist of coordinate | July 30, 2019

I started my job as Director of Marketing at the United Center in early 2010. While nine years might not feel that long ago, the digital landscape was quite different at the time. Steve Jobs had just introduced the first iPad, Instagram was still a few months away from launching, and the idea that fans might use their phones as tickets was truly baffling to many in the industry.

One of my first priorities at the United Center was to develop a digital marketing strategy that would not only catch us up to the times but chart a course for the future of digital engagement at the venue. Our team started engaging fans on Twitter (“Buildings can talk?” was a response that got old fast). We asked visitors to check in on Foursquare and Gowalla (remember that?). And we drafted a list of the big projects we wanted to tackle. For me, a redesign of the United Center website was at the top of that list.

To do great work, develop and leverage your network

When you kick off a website redesign, or any big digital project, you start by thinking about your audience, content, and goals. You want the finished product to stand out from the crowd, so you look at what others in the industry are doing. How are they listing upcoming events at MSG? What call-to-action does the Staples Center use? Who’s offering 3D seating charts or delivering a unique mobile experience?

That information is key, but the best insights and takeaways don’t always come from merely clicking around. After 12 years of working in sports, I’ve found that many of the best ideas are sparked by talking to colleagues and counterparts, listening to how they’ve dealt with challenges or come up with some of their most innovative solutions. Working in sports means having the advantage of being surrounded by some of the most creative and passionate minds out there — people who love what they do and genuinely care about the experiences they help bring to life. Harness that collaborative energy and you’ll not only elevate your own work, but also be a benefit to those around you.

The truth is, very few problems are truly unique — someone, somewhere has been in a similar situation and would be more than happy to share what they’ve learned. So, the next time you’re struggling for good ideas or wrestling with a new project, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who’s been there before. And remember that networking is an ongoing conversation, not a “one and done” solution. Putting in the effort to continually build and maintain strong relationships with your colleagues is an investment that will pay dividends time and time again throughout your career.

Look outside the industry for further inspiration

Every day, innovative companies and startups around the world are working to improve upon or disrupt the accepted way of doing business. Consumers are savvier and more connected than ever, which means we need to constantly find unique ways to engage and build relationships with them. So, paying attention to what’s happening outside our industry can be just as important as tracking inside trends and practices.

When we approached new projects at the United Center, like our website revamp, our goal was always to do the best work possible. That meant not just creating a great website for a venue but focusing my team’s energy on creating a great website, period, regardless of industry. So beyond researching what was taking place around us in sports, we looked to the innovations and experiences happening elsewhere and asked how they might apply to the work we were doing.

Just a few of the broader questions we considered: How have mobile devices changed the way consumers interact with content? Are there insights we can draw from the restaurant or hospitality industries about ways to surprise and delight our fans? What are the Amazons and Googles of the world doing to connect with their customers and increase conversion rates? We weren’t a tech giant with a blank-check budget, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t think like one or look to those major players to inform our approach.

This type of thinking not only helped spark our creativity, it directly led to some practical ideas we might not have considered otherwise. One example: the “Upcoming Events” grid, which is still on the United Center homepage today. It was our solution to the challenge of displaying a large list of events in a visually friendly way and was very much inspired by the e-commerce product grids we researched.

Check yourself for burnout — then refocus

When you have a sports-related job you love, you spend a lot of time at work. At a venue like the United Center, which is home to two professional sports teams and has a steady stream of concerts and events, that means countless nights, weekends, and holidays spent “at the office.” At times, it can feel overwhelming, and it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose perspective.

For a marketing team, that can have real consequences: lack of creativity, loss of focus on the big picture, or reliance on the dreaded “well, that’s the way it’s always been done” mentality. When you start to feel burned out, it’s time to take a step back and recharge. That could mean having a gut-check discussion with your team, giving yourself a short break (if possible), or relying on the network you’ve built — both inside and outside the sports business — for advice or inspiration.

Over the years, I’ve come to see marketing as a team sport. To grow and innovate, you need to get outside your own bubble and build a strong network, both in sports and across different industries. This will give you — and your colleagues — a valuable way to open your mind to new ideas. And it might just lead to unexpected ways of doing business that benefit you, your team, and, most importantly, your customers.


Vince Amatuzzi is the founder of Coordinate Marketing and Public Relations, co-founder of FantasyEsports.gg, and former Director of Marketing at the United Center. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, or in person the next time you find yourself in Chicago.