How Basketball’s Champions League is fuelling its impressive online growth

The Basketball Champions League is making history.

With today’s scenery, already excessively filled with events, creating and developing a new sporting competition from scratch is no easy matter. Launching a new top tier club competition in European basketball is even a bigger challenge, due to the already well-established competitions which have been running for years.

Despite those initial obstacles, the Basketball Champions League, created in the summer of 2016, has embraced social media as its main channel of communication, and set its digital landscape as a top priority. This has led the competition to be among the fastest growing sport properties in 2017 and to become the number one European club competition on Facebook in only one year.

Initial build-up

There is much to savour from the initial 2016-17 Basketball Champions League season, as the competition gave the fans plenty of inspirational moments to discuss. In all, the first season registered close to 30 million video views and reached 50 million people through social media over the course of the season. The Final Four in Tenerife itself generated a ton of excitement, triggering 2.7 million video views and 840,000 likes.

“The competition turns out to be a massive success on social media. At the end of the season, there are more than 780,000 followers of the Basketball Champions League on social media. The digital output of the first season is impressive, and we are proud of such achievement,” said Patrick Comninos, the CEO of the Basketball Champions League.

“The Basketball Champions League does not exist for its own sake but as part of a broader strategy to grow basketball across Europe. It is based on established sporting principles of inclusion by merit rather than commercial brand value, and is an integral part of the new European basketball eco-system. The competition was true to its values and delivered on its goals as our competition welcomed numerous national champions, and we are extremely pleased to see that the first season of the competition was praised by the fans and the participating teams.”

Praised by its main actors

“Our digital strategy is multifold, but a strong and essential emphasis is put on fan activation and engagement. We are assessing our strategy and adapting our actions on a daily basis, listening to our fans, to the digital trends. But our first and prior focus is to keep the main actors at the centre of our attention: the clubs and their players,” said Fabio Franceschi, Communication Manager of the Basketball Champions League.

“I’ve enjoyed this Champions League a lot. They’re on top of everything. I feel like for the first year, there are a lot of great teams in it, a lot of great competition in it. There have not been any games that we’ve been able to take lightly and the way that they broadcast their league and the way they do their social media is phenomenal. I’m glad to have been a part of it,” said MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg guard Tekele Cotton.

The numbers of fans following the Basketball Champions League Facebook page rose impressively thanks to various digital activations. The creation of profile frames allows 23,200 fans to wear proudly their team’s colours during the play-offs.

Eventually, www.championsleague.basketball generated more than 2,300,000 visits in the course of the 2016-17 campaign with fans eager to read features and interviews about star players.

“It’s well organized. You know how the NBA promotes things? It’s like that. The league has got the highlights after every game. It’s a great league to play in. I see nothing but good for the league, great teams. This first year has been amazing. You might expect that after 15, 20 years. But the first year? That’s amazing,” said PAOK guard Thaddus McFadden.

And the road to success keeps unfolding during this second season, since the Basketball Champions League has recently passed the one million fans mark on Facebook.

Key strategic partnerships

To achieve such results, many key partnerships have been concluded to offer a top-level product to the fans. From an 8-camera TV production on all games (FIBA Media/Perform), signage (CSM Live), branding (The Works) to commercial and marketing aspects (Infront), market leaders have been involved and greatly helped to promote the competition. On the digital side, a key partnership has been taken with WSC Sports Technologies, also partner of the NBA, MLS and US Open, to propose automated video highlights’ solutions to the fans, clubs and players. This feature has helped the Basketball Champions League to increase -and speed up the process of- production of digital content, with a focus on videos. Not only, diverse digital graphic agencies are also partners, to complete the visual offer of services.

Russell Glennister, CEO of London-based social media tracking and analytics specialist SnapRapid put the achievement into perspective. “For a basketball competition to go from 0 to over 700,000 social media fans in its first season is a great performance. Making video available for sharing played an important role in driving those numbers, I’m sure. It ties in with growth rates we’ve seen elsewhere in sport backed by effective video sharing,” he said.

“Sports marketing is changing fast as it comes to terms with the impact of social media, sponsors are placing high value of good social media exposure and the quantifiable engagement that delivers. That has to be good news for Basketball Champions League and the clubs who can use it as a platform for value added relationship building.”

Knowledge transfer

The development of the Basketball Champions League has been accelerated thanks to the close relation with FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, owning 50% of the competition (together with 10 European leagues) and hosting it in its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Basketball Champions League has therefore been able to benefit from this knowledge sharing, FIBA being among the most digitally active and forward-looking international sport organizations, as recently highlighted by the “2017 Olympic Sports Social Media Ranking” established by Burson-Marsteller/TSE Consulting in December 2017.

Focus on Facebook & App

Facebook has been considered the most active and growth-centric platform by the Basketball Champions League. That said, efforts are being done cross-platforms, using diverse tools and target audiences according to each platform. This strategy has allowed the Basketball Champions League to digitally outmatch concurrent competitions, some being on the market for 20+ years. For the second season of the competition (that started in October 2017), the Basketball Champions League has just launched its own app which is having promising results and drives some important part of the digital traffic.

Snapshot of the European Basketball competitions on Facebook (19/12/2017)

Diversified approach

The Basketball Champions League dedicates a lot of time, energy and resources into establishing a successful digital strategy. To summarize the main principles adopted:

1. Adopt a flexible strategy, fan- and player-centred. As FIBA is doing in its own social media strategy, the Basketball Champions League put the fans at the heart of its digital activities. Being disruptive, the aim is to keep an extremely flexible approach, adapting to the needs and interests of the fans, and always keeping the focus on the main actors, the players, continuously putting them in the light, at the centre of the attention.

2. Be tech- and trend-savvy. The digital landscape evolves constantly. This requires to continually adapt, be aware of and use new technologies. The Basketball Champions League has partnered with market-leaders to propose a top-level fan experience, notably on the digital side. They use a balanced offer between first-class TV production and digital livestreams (on platforms such as Livebasketball.tv and/or on the main social media channels).

3. Build & benefit from the network of stakeholders. Being hosted by FIBA, one of the most digitally advanced and active sport federations, the Basketball Champions League has benefitted from their digital knowledge and best practices. Developing in parallel the social media footprint of its own channels and participating in the increase of the digital exposure of their main actors, clubs and players, the Basketball Champions League is offering a win-win solution that greatly participates in their digital success.

Accumulated digital growth during the first #BasketballCL season

4. Video is key

Video content is currently the key digital asset for any modern sport properties. It allows the content to be easily accessible, consumable, visible, engageable by everyone. Short video content is also easily shareable by all stakeholders (fans, clubs, players, media, etc.).

Chris Evans with probably the dunk of the season!

Man DOWN ☠️ It's over!#BasketballCL

Posted by Basketball Champions League on Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Most viewed video on Facebook, Chris Evans (AS Monaco) with the dunk of the season.

About Basketball Champions League

The Basketball Champions League is an innovative 50-50 joint partnership between FIBA and 10 top European leagues. It is a fair competition based on sporting principles with teams qualifying through national leagues. It is a truly European club competition with 32 countries.

For further information about the Basketball Champions League, visit championsleague.basketball or follow us on facebook.com/basketballCL, twitter.com/basketballCL, instagram.com/basketballCL and youtube.com/basketballCL.

Geoff runs his own Sports Consultancy, working with clients such as FIFA, UEFA and FIBA across the world. He is also on the board of Tourism Northern Ireland. You can follow Geoff on twitter @geoffwnjwilson or connect on Linkedin at linkedin.com/in/geoffwnjwilson
Drop me an email to geoff@geoffwilsonconsultancy.com if you would like your sports club or Federation profiled in the up and coming months.

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