4 ways professional sports teams could improve their email marketing

Who doesn’t love receiving emails from their favorite sports teams? I know I definitely do! However, I’ve noticed that not all sports teams are created equal when it comes to a couple of key areas of email marketing, specifically the sign up process, automation and email design. So, here are four key things that professional sports teams could do tomorrow to improve their email programs.

1. Improve your email sign up process

Have you tried signing up to receive emails from your favorite professional sports team lately? Probably not because professional sports teams seem to be universally terrible when it comes to email address acquisition, with most teams hiding their subscription form in a drop down menu or registration page. Once you do find the sign up you’re then asked to fill out a ridiculous amount of information such as your physical address, phone number, date of birth, gender, favorite player etc. Here is a fairly typical example from the San Jose Sharks:

There are some shining exceptions, though. The Golden State Warriors (Go Dubs), for example, do everything right when it comes to email acquisition and I’m sure their list size is sky rocketing compared to other NBA teams because of it. And to be clear, they aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, they are just following many of the same best practices that ecommerce companies and publishers have had implemented for years now such as pop-up modals, they have a big call to action to sign up on their homepage, and they only ask for your name and email address.

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I suppose it could be argued that ‘real’ sports fans would find a way to sign up to their favorite teams email list, but I personally think that’s a poor excuse. Even fair weather fans might want to receive emails from their local teams, so why make it so difficult?

My recommendations for email acquisition:

- Make your sign up forms more prominent
- Don’t ask a million questions at the point of sign, just collect email address and name
- Ideally trigger a welcome email with a link to a preference center. This is where you can collect additional details about your subscribers such as date of birth, favorite player, address (if you’re actually going to use it)
- Try out a pop-up modal

2. Set up automation to drive traffic back to your site and engage your audience

Disappointingly, most professional sports teams don’t seem to have much in the way of automation. The most I have seen is a one -off welcome and birthday email.

Here is an example of a welcome email from the Dallas Cowboys. Ideally I’d like to see more information about the team in this email. I feel like there is lots of evergreen content that a professional sports team has access to which would be perfect for new subscribers such as a history of the team, player profiles, or links to other parts of their website.

I also haven’t seen any sports teams who have a series of welcome emails, which I also think is a huge missed opportunity. New subscribers should be nurtured within the first few weeks with a number of emails which drive them back to the website, encourage them to follow the team on social media or buy merchandise. These are typically very simple tactics which could have big results.

This birthday email from Manchester City Football team is actually one of my favorite emails of all time as they have used dynamic content to include facts about the club from the year I was born. This is super interesting content for subscribers and doesn’t seem like it requires a lot of data other than date of birth.

There are many other types of automation which sports teams could take advantage of. What about a series of automated emails with interesting facts about key players on the team, re-engagement triggers, cart abandonment, post game survey’s etc.

My recommendations

- Implement the basics first - Welcome program and birthday email should be easy to setup
- Try asking people to sign up for a series of emails on their favorite player or interesting facts about the team. Set these up as automation's so you don’t have to remember to send them as manual campaigns.
- Set up progressively more complex automation's such as cart abandonment or re-engagement emails.

3. Optimize your email design

Many sports teams actually do a lot of things right when it comes to email design, often using a good mixture of HTML text and images, and making sure their design is mobile optimized. However, I think there is still a lot of room for improvement as I don’t look at many emails from professional sports teams and think ‘Wow, that’s a nice looking email’. Most teams seem to have a fairly basic looking template which does follow best practices but ultimately looks pretty boring after a while. Here is a fairly typical example from the Boston Bruins:

Luckily, there are a few sports teams leading the charge with innovative, interesting email designs that really do standout in the inbox. The South Sydney Rabbitohs is one team that comes to mind first, with their use of huge, edge to edge background images which look especially awesome of large computer screens.

The Vancouver Canucks have taken a similar approach and also used a large background image and layered their content on top. This may seem simple, but I feel like it really adds to the overall impact of the design.

The other team that I think has done an amazing job with their email design is Manchester City Football Club. They literally do everything right when it comes to having an email design that looks professional, includes ALL of the best practices, and responds well on mobile. Their email content is also on-point.

Subscribers to Man City will have probably noticed that their email design has changed quite a bit recently, compared to the above. I’m personally a fan of the old design...

My recommendations

- Try to spice up your email design every once in a while. Small things like background images and new layouts will keep things interesting for your subscribers.
- Don’t try to replicate your website exactly, email is a different channel which presents its own set of challenges which you should be optimizing for.

4. Monetize your email with programmatic ads

Occasionally I have seen sports teams who place static ads inside of their emails for their main sponsors, but I’ve never seen sports team place a programmatic ad from a provider such as LiveIntent or PowerInbox inside of their email. I’m sure there’s a reason that sports teams don’t do this, maybe it’s politics or something to do with how their sponsorship packages work, but I feel like there is huge potential for sports teams to monetize their newsletters in this way.

This email from the NFL shows how they are monetizing their email program with ads from PowerInbox:

My recommendations

- Professional sports teams typically have a large number of highly engaged email subscribers. They are missing out on revenue by not monetizing their email programs with programatic ads.

Hopefully there are some interesting ideas in there for sports teams. If you work for a professional sports team, I understand that it’s not as simple as I’m making it sound when it comes to making changes! There are often politics, traditions and established ways of doing things. I also realize that some sports teams might not even be in control of their email program, as it might be outsourced or centralized with their league. However, there is hope as I’ve also seen individual sports teams in pretty much every sport who are killing it when it comes to email marketing. Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to sports emails for more inspiration.