The Kansas City Royals haven’t had the same success on the field this season as recent years, but a revamped digital strategy has the fanbase as engaged as ever.
Following last season, there was a realization there would be struggles the Royals fanbase wasn’t accustomed to during the past few seasons, which includes the World Series Championship team in 2015.
That realization led to an expansion of the digital content team, said Erin Sleddens, the Royals senior director of digital and social. Now, despite the team’s subpar record this season – near the bottom of the American League Central – Sleddens said the reenergized social content has performed strongly and follower levels are increasing.
“We knew we would likely have some challenges on the field, so we wanted to maintain and strengthen the connection to the fanbase,” she said. “There were a lot of new faces on the team fans didn’t know yet and we wanted to tell their stories, what their personalities are and their impact.”
To amplify coverage, the Royals hired three content creators to fit within the digital department, Sleddens said. The department handles all content that hits the internet, and Sleddens said the expectations of quality greatly changed with the hiring, which brought the entire team to five people, which includes a digital and social manager and intern.
The new hires are tasked with telling stories the team didn’t have the ability to in the past. Sleddens said the digital department previously relied on the team’s in-house production group, which primarily handles gamely videos and production. But their capabilities were limited, especially when spread too thin. Now those hires are able to fully dedicate their time to capturing content for the Royals’ digital properties.
“We capture our own footage during the game, so the angles are different than the TV broadcast, so those videos stand out,” Sleddens said. “We’ve developed the strategy to include slow-mo, different overlays and try to be unique in baseball and how we’re covering games.
“We have talented folks behind our cameras and I don’t think anyone is capturing gameplay like we are.”
Having a consistent and authentic voice is key to ensuring a regular connection with a fanbase on social, said Will Yoder, who oversees U.S. sports partnerships at Instagram. Having employees capturing unique content for a team’s digital presence is innately important to the whole objective of social media, he said.
“If you’re watching what’s happening on television, you want to see a different side of what just happened,” Yoder said. “That’s why you have the phone out. Highlights have a purpose and will always be important, but what moves the needle is content like a friend who was at the game and sent it to you so I feel like I’m transported. That extra layer of context is incredibly important.”
Sleddens said the digital team has a process down to make sure the content is turned around in real-time during games and even place radio-broadcast audio behind the content.
Beyond game day, the digital staff has a greater capacity to pursue off-the-field stories with its players. Sleddens said the team does its best to capture emotional moments and interactions between fans and players. Likewise, the team can go behind the scenes on stories like a first day for a player called up, tracking them from the moment he walks into the stadium.
“We didn’t have that capacity to capture those moments you can’t plan for,” Sleddens said. “Now, to have the staff, we can show the players and organization in a different way.”
Telling those stories and providing interesting angles on players has also increased the engagement with players, she said. The Royals digital department will begin planning this month for the offseason and next season. Sleddens said things like player hometown visits or stronger Arizona Fall League content aren’t off the table.
“The goal would be to continue telling those deeper stories even though baseball season isn’t happening,” she said. “We want to remain top of mind, and we’re still trying to determine the direction for that.”
Sleddens said she believes more teams are set on moving toward a similar model of digital presence and has had conversations with other teams. Providing unique content with an exclusive view will be important as the social world continues to become more crowded, she said. She also stressed the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to content and working carefully to highlight the right marketing and promotions.
“It’s hard to break through the clutter when there’s so much going on on so many channels,” she said. “Yes, we’re a baseball team, but more and more companies are becoming content factories. People are connecting with social and you need to be where they are.”