My first Classic Rock station – WMMQ in Lansing – signed on in May of 1985. It wasn't that long before my phone began to ring. In fact, one of the first call was from a familiar voice – Jay Hoker, my former GM at WRIF. Jay was a great broadcaster and an entrepreneurial guy, and had recently bought a Class A in Harrisonville, Missouri – KCFX.
At the time, the station was struggling but was playing lots of older rock, so the transition in the fall of that year to my Classic Rock format was relatively smooth. Jay was the one who commissioned the creation of the now well-known Fox character mascot (I was originally against the idea), and weak signal and all, the Fox took on the mighty KY102.
It was a struggle. The station's manager, Bill Newman, was a great guy. We had some really strong PDs along the way, but KY was a daunting opponent. And while we made progress, The Fox, lacked ratings consistency, a morning show, and a competitive signal.
Until 1990 when two big doors swung open. The first was a signal swap, allowing KCFX to broadcast from 101.1. And at the exact same time, Hoker and Newman cut a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs to become their flagship. I believe KCFX was the first FM station to make that claim. And did it ever work.
The Chiefs' GM at the time was Carl Peterson. Talk about a control freak with an iron fist, this guy had his vision for the Fox's broadcasts. And while pedantic at times, the Chiefs/Fox relationship flourished, lasting three decades.
Having that inflatable Fox – dubbed Foxzilla – at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoons was the coolest association you could imagine. In time, the Fox defeated rival KY, and continues to dominate the Kansas City market today. Needless to say, I became a staunch believer in station mascots.
So, when I read a story in Marketing Dive, “How the Kansas City Chiefs flip fandom into social engagement,” by Asa Hiken, it caught my attention.
If you follow the NFL, you know the Chiefs have been on a serious roll ever since they drafted Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech in 2017. He was the 10th overall pick, making an idle fan wonder about the nine teams that passed over him.
Mahomes has it all – talent, competitiveness, charm, savvy, good looks, and that emotional intelligence most superstar jocks sadly lack.
He is not only the face of the Chiefs – he is becoming the face of the NFL, ready to take over that mantle if/when Tom Brady decides to call it a career.
Hiken reports the Chiefs' reach is greater than the other 31 NFL teams, and that includes the Bucs, the Packers, the Patriots, and the Cowboys – all super franchises, but behind Kansas City.
The Chiefs reach more than 8% of the total NFL online fan base according to Helixa, a consumer insights operations that measures these things via AI software.
More fun facts:
- Kansas City has the highest level of social engagement across all generations from Gen Z to Boomers. And then there's this:
- The Chiefs also lead engagement in five states – obviously transcending Kansas and Missouri.
- The team's financial value is ranked at #22, but outperforms that level by miles.
Why is social interaction so important? As the NFL (and all sports leagues) learned the hard way in 2020, there may be times when stadium level crowds are not possible. And social reach greatly exceeds the 76,000 fans you can cram into Arrowhead on any given Sunday.
Right now, the Chiefs are putting the lion's share of their efforts behind Mahomes. An astonishing 53% of fans who connect with the Chiefs are engaging with Patrick Mahomes directly via social channels.
The Chiefs are aware they may not have Mahomes forever. Few superstars wear the same uniform for their careers, even the GOAT, Tom Brady. And who knows how his health and performance will hold up after taking a beating year after year on the gridiron? But for now, the team is channeling all their social energy through their young quarterback.
As Larry Mann, EVP for rEvolution observes, “You need to engage with fans so they become engaged to your product forever … You want to be broader, but you're using the benefit of Patrick Mahomes to drive that [long-term strategy].”
The other impressive aspect of the Chiefs' fan engagement program is transcending football by focusing on other hobbies, pastimes, and interests they have. As a result, these extracurricular activities become marketing opportunities, too, whether it's revenue generation, partnerships with other brands, or simply growing the fan base.
For the Chiefs, this translated to the development of Chief Bids, a mobile marketplace where the team auctions off team merch via mobile devices. This platform blossomed during COVID when fans weren't able to get around, and will continue to be a profit center for a long time to come.
The Chiefs show their innovative side by also auctioning off NFTs – non-fungible tokens, all the rage among young marketers and consumers.
So, what's the radio application? Consider these seven key action steps:
- Leverage your star(s) – If you have a hugely popular personality or show, steal a page from the Mahomes playbook, and run most of your engagement through them. (Of course, there's that issue of who owns those social assets, another conversation for another day.)
- Transcend your fans' interests – In radio, we often think of listeners as lovers of country, rock, hip-hop, or news. And in the process, we fail to take into account their other passions. If you have a great email database, you can learn more about your fans – and what they value. That opens the possibilities of growing the fan base in other key areas.
- Where else can you connect with them? – Like the Chiefs, team devotees don't just go to Arrowhead on Sundays. Where else do they hang out – physically and virtually? Establishing a presence in these other spaces can open up doors to additional revenue and even partnerships. Social media tribes like Facebook Groups might be a great place to start.
- Don't forget the merch – This is a much-talked about topic here on JacoBLOG, but a sports team and platforms like the Chiefs' mobile auction engine suggests your brand might be leaving money on the table if you don't tap into wearables and even collectibles.
- Use engagement to innovate –As the Chiefs have done with their mobile auction platform, you can conduct simple research among these legions of fans to identify other revenue streams, whether it's event marketing, gold member experiences, or relationships on other platforms, like TikTok or Twitch.
- Share your success with your clients – After you grow your fan base and foster stronger relationship, the end game is to lend it out to advertisers and sponsors who pay for the privilege to hang out with them. You don't need me to do the math – the larger your fan base and the more amped up they are, the better results for your clients.
- Acknowledge them and watch engagement grow – It's Lori Lewis 101 – fan interaction equals increased brand usage. Being recognized on social media platforms is like giving fans digital autographs. At a time when so many people feel unheard or alone, your station and your personalities can provide moments of connection.
If you're already a solidly branded station with personalities that matter, you can use these NFL-proven tactics to create a game plan and strengthen your position.
It may be the fourth quarter of 2021, but you've got time to put these social strategies in place before the new year is upon us.
Hut, hut, hut.
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