When the NFL formalized a two-year content partnership agreement with TikTok in early September, Greg Miller, the Bears’ vice president of content and innovation, simply didn’t want the team to follow the league’s lead with a paint-by-numbers approach.
Instead, when the Bears launched its TikTok profile on September 26, it was backed by a three-pronged strategy that the team believes will help it reach a more youthful audience.
“One of our goals with TikTok is on the youth market – 12 to 24 is a big goal for us,” Miller said. “So we perceived TikTok as being able to help us with the youth market.”
While the team uses its vast history to appeal to both younger and older fans in other fan-facing activations like bobblehead promotions, its TikTok presence is about speaking directly to that younger demographic.
The strategy the Bears have deployed on TikTok was developed in part by social media coordinator Nicole Cabral, whose research helped the team to pinpoint where it should be aggressive in terms of creating content.
The first of those areas of focus was to create original ideas involving emotional moments. One example of this is a TikTok post involving Bears Linebacker Danny Trevathan.
According to the video, Trevathan’s grandmother was battling cancer and had never watched him play at Soldier Field. While the actual video dates back to 2018, Cabral and Miller decided to repurpose it for TikTok on October 17. Everyone who previously viewed the clip knows how it ended – Trevathan’s grandmother surprised him during a team practice – but Miller had no idea how impactful it’d become.
As of December 1, the video has more than 4.3 million views on TikTok and is the Bears’ most-viewed post on the platform, said Miller. It also has over 856,400 likes and nearly 3,820 comments. “It was a nice emotional moment,” he added. “That kind of got us started accelerating our followers on TikTok. We have some other pretty popular videos on there, but that’s the one that set us off.”
Another storyline Cabral began pursuing on TikTok were posts with prominent players, said Cabral. One of the Bears’ more well-known stars in recent memory is former Defensive Tackle Spice Adams. Given his outgoing personality, Cabral identified him as someone whose persona could mesh well on TikTok.
One week after the Trevathan post, the Bears released a video of Adams in numerous poses and outfits with the caption, “Spice is not a model or anything but here are some pics.” As of November 18, it has become Chicago’s second-most engaged post on TikTok with more than 1.2 million views and 185,400 likes.
With the Bears’ growing engagement figures, it’s no surprise that more professional sports teams are looking to TikTok for this, said Joe Gagliese, the co-founder and CEO of media-marketing agency Viral Nation Inc.
Just months ago, the majority of the sports industry was hesitant about exploring TikTok for social media purposes, he said. But now, with teams like the Bears and Golden State Warriors finding success utilizing it, Gagliese thinks that this is just the beginning between sports and TikTok.
“I think [teams] are looking at TikTok as a really interesting way to get to these very young people,” Gagliese said. “They’ve all kind of benchmarked the fact that these teams and organizations need to tap into them now if they’re going to have the next 10 years as a glory period like they’ve been having the last little while.”
To date, the Bears have accumulated more than 189,000 followers – the ninth-most amongst North American sports teams – and two million likes. At 47 posts since late September, another goal of Miller’s is to see that number increase with the hopes that it bumps up the follower count.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears will post for the sake of posting. Certain themes have worked well on the mobile app, but Miller believes that more time is needed to fully recognizes which kinds of posts do and do not resonate with Bears fans.
“We know that not every trend works,” Miller said. “We don’t jump on everything we see, so it has to be a trend that feels natural for us and works for our brand.”