Engaging fans in the off-season

This guest blog is by Jay Adams as part of our themed content hosted the first week of each month, with November focusing on professional sports organizations. Jay is managing editor of AtlantaFalcons.com

The offseason in the NFL is a polar opposite to what we face on a daily basis during the season, as one would likely expect.

The building here in Flowery Branch — our team headquarters — goes from a buzz of constant action and excitement to a quiet lull as all the players head home for a few weeks of rest before getting at offseason workouts and interns go back from whence they came.

As the managing editor of the team’s official website, AtlantaFalcons.com, this time of year is a particular challenge. Our goal as a site is to provide unique, fresh content 365 days a year, so the offseason is never an excuse to not deliver the things we promise.

With access that no media outlet has, we have a unique ability to get information and present stories that our fans can’t find anywhere else. This past offseason, however, was a particular challenge.

A normal offseason consists of NFL Combine, NFL Draft, free agency, offseason training activities and mini-camps — all of which keep us very busy — but with the NFL’s labor situation and the lockout throwing a major curveball during these times, we had to really get creative to provide content that was compelling and unique while also being careful of the fragile labor situation that was dominating the news at the time.

While we did send three people to Indianapolis in February to cover the heck out of the NFL Combine and blanketed the NFL Draft from the beginning of prime draft season, we found some major holes in our coverage were going to be created by the absence of OTAs and mini-camps.

Since the discussion at the time among all football fans was completely focused on the ever-changing lockout situation, our biggest goal was to get people talking about football again by whatever means were available at the time.

Thinking out of the box for this was essential. After all, we didn’t have access to our players for content campaigns or series, so we had to find something that, A. our fans would be interested in; and B. would be strong enough to run for a long period of time.

That’s when I turned to our long, esteemed list of Falcons alumni. As with any sports team, former players still have a lot of name recognition, and for fans who were around when they played the game, the mere mention of some of them brings back positive nostalgic thoughts and feelings.

The perfect mix of what the site needed at the time was sitting right there with our alumni base.

We determined the best way to go about presenting the alumni in a way that would get some serious miles on the site while also sparking conversation and debate among the fanbase on our social platforms was to create competition. 

For me, the decision was easy: Determine who is the fans’ all-time Falcons player.

From the conceptualization of the campaign, I got with some of our staff members who have been with the organization as eras went by to create a list of the top 18 favorite players, in their minds, in Falcons history. 

An important caveat of the campaign that we stressed throughout was that we were looking for the fans’ favorite — not necessarily the best player in Falcons history.

With that list, we created an NCAA basketball tournament-like bracket and ranked each player from 1-16, with three others vying for the “play-in” spot.

Each day, fans would be presented with an individual matchup between two of their favorite all-time Falcons players and asked to vote for a period of 48 hours to determine who would move on.

The moment we pressed the button on the first post, we knew it was a success. Fans immediately responded with how much they loved the idea, and the voting numbers really proved that as we raked in 20,000 votes in the first round of the bracket alone.

This campaign began to accomplish many of our major goals that we set even when we’re not dealing with a lockout situation:

  1. Create compelling content daily that resonates with the fanbase.
  2. Spark conversation and debate wherever possible and keep people talking about the organization.
  3. Get as much as we can out of each idea.

Concerning the third item, we were able to get 16 individual content posts throughout the voting portion of the campaign. That got us five solid weeks of content that had our fanbase excited and talking about football again.

Without the support of the organization to try something a little different and a little new — perhaps a little risky — a campaign like this never would have seen the light of day. We saw a spike in our traffic on our flagship site, AtlantaFalcons.com, as well as our official team message boards. Our social numbers were also impressive as the campaign relied heavily on the viral effect.

People really took up the cause for their favorite player and spread it throughout Facebook and Twitter, which in turn got us more followers and fans as an organization.

Desperate times called for a smart, innovative campaign, in our case, and we succeeded in that and much more by being willing to do something that hadn’t been done before with the resources we already had. 

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