Can you really plan for ‘live’ sport?

April 26, 2023
9 mins
Can you really plan for ‘live’ sport?

As live sports continue to captivate audiences worldwide, social media and creative teams must prepare to deliver an overwhelming majority of their content in real-time. Cassandra Wilkins shares her thoughts on why planning is a crucial aspect of creating content for live sports.

Ah, the dreaded p-word: planning. For many, whilst it doesn’t come naturally, it is a fairly time consuming activity for creatives and social media managers alike who already spend a majority of their day just keeping up with daily tasks…

So, how do you find time to plan, you ask? Well, that's up to you and your time management skills - I can't help you there. But what I can tell you is that if you find the time to plan, it’s certainly worth it.

“How can you plan for live sport when it’s live?!” Well, yes, it is live… But there are only a small number of variables that play out in a live environment, most of which you already know there are possible outcomes for. Therefore, there are many elements you can plan for! Let me elaborate.

Scenario: You are working for a football league who have two teams playing a game. It’s likely you will:

  • know these two teams were playing each other well in advance (planable moment)
  • know that throughout the lead up to the game, there will be key points of interest; team lists, player focus, key matchups, press conferences, countdowns, etc (planable moments).
  • know that a game has one of three possible outcomes: Team A wins, Team B wins, or Team A and B draw (planable moments).

Do you see where I am going here?

Whilst in this scenario you won’t always know the specifications of these moments (winning team, final score, standout players), you will know that they happen and this is what you plan for.

With live sport, there is a formula. It’s based on a competition roadmap sold to broadcasters, sponsors and the like to have a set number of games, with a set number of teams, locations, rounds, time slots, themed rounds, additional formats, etc.. All of which allow you to plan, to a level of certainty, the basis of your content strategy.

Take the National Rugby League for example - everyone knows State of Origin happens every year with the same two teams and there is a series winner at the end. It’s still a live sport, but the formula is set. As a content creator, social media manager or anyone involved in piecing together the content strategy for an event like Origin, you’ll already have 70-80% of the information you need to plan for this event. So why do people wait until the last minute to pull a strategy together and get the ball rolling?

As many of you would know, I was previously the Social Media Manager at the NRL. I oversaw these accounts with an amazing team for several seasons. It took me the first few seasons to figure this out, but planning for the full season during the “off-season” (if you’re wondering what I mean by this, view my post HERE) was the most effective way to manage this mammoth list of social channels and requirements for the organisation.

This meant having to create numerous pieces of content that sometimes would never see the light of day...! But if you’re heading into a Grand Final, or any match really, and you don’t have two versions of your result-related post(s) already planned, you are already way behind. You can certainly rely on templates in these instances, if that’s what your creative decision is, to help with the ‘live’ process, but don’t be afraid to create two versions of content knowing full well one won’t be used.

Is this approach efficient? Yes, it is. But let’s look at the inefficient argument for a second.

Why make your designer create two / three / four versions of something if you know they wont be used? Well, the same could be asked as to why you would wait to tell your designer you need a winners’ graphic the week of the match when they have now been slammed with 30 other requests from ‘inefficient planners’ across the business for things all due at the same time on the same day?!

I’ll go to my grave with this: 75% of what’s briefed into a designer on a weekly basis for game day related assets, is likely something that could have been planned, drafted or created months ago to allow for the ad hoc nature of live sport to take priority in those final critical moments.

Now, I am not saying you can’t create things during the week of. In fact, I encourage you too. New storylines, team news, rivalries, injuries and more always pop up and you want to accurately prepare for these. What I am saying is; if in the same week you are asking your designer to prepare 10 assets for a milestone match for a player that has been building up to their 300th game for months, this might be an ineffective use of time and could have been prevented by better planning.

So, now for a quick game of would you rather?

Would you rather create two versions of something in advance, knowing your content will be ready to go when the time comes to post it (even though one will be “wasted”), OR not have the content at all because your designers didn’t have the time to create it? I guess that's a question you ask yourselves and your businesses, but after a long time in the game it’s clear to me what side of the fence I’d rather be on.

The funny thing about ‘‘wasted” content, though, is that it has surprisingly come in handy for me on multiple occasions. The benefit of live sport is that you never know what’s going to happen so something you thought was a waste at the time could be the perfect piece of content in a month when that exact variable plays out.

Have I convinced you to be a planner yet? If not, let’s keep going.

There is great power in being a planner. If you aren’t the best planner, my advice to you is just be better than your counterparts at it. This allows you to have a level of power over the decisions being made, the timelines on things being created and being able to dictate, to some respect, what you can and can’t say no to. Being the most organised team/department or individual forces others to step up to your level, to become better planners and to move their timelines forward as well; otherwise they just simply miss out.

The more you do this and the more consistent you become by being the first one to share your plans and ask for input, the greater response you’ll see from others around you that then realise this is the way they need to work now and (hopefully!) up their game too!

Let me just quickly give a little bit of love to the creatives out there doing an incredible job in the sporting landscape! By planning, we give our creatives the time and space to create what’s really impactful for live sport - the quick turnaround, responsive content that they all love to do. By doing a better job of planning for them and working with them more collaboratively in planning phases and slower periods, we will find that their time can be freed up at critical moments for them to be present and create incredible work when it’s required.

I want to add in something I spoke about recently on The Social Media Coach (TSMC) Podcast with Em-Rose Hills and Reece Carter. For those of you interested in the full chat you can listen HERE. We spoke to the concept of planning in the context of, “How do you create enough quality content to ‘feed’ the algorithms to the level that they need?”.

In sport, it’s likely you have more than one channel on more than one platform and the level of content required, in different formats and in different specs adds up pretty quickly on a day-to-day basis. We spoke about how planning ahead can help you manage this.

We used the example of player access. We know that content fans like to see usually involves players or talent in some capacity but it’s not always easy to get access to them, even if you are working for their team.

There are, however, going to be a number of chances throughout the season (whether you have to coordinate it or not) where you will get access to them, so you need to USE IT! Spend budget, use your resources to execute, bring in external help, PLAN the crap out of it, and this will be your best opportunity to bank a whole heap of content for use across the year (if done right) to fill in the gaps in your content strategy. This will save you from either not posting anything at all in these times, or posting something you wish you didn't have to. Planning gives you power; power over the content decisions you get to make about what you will and won't post on your channels.

So yes, planning in live sport is possible and in fact highly effective if you do it correctly. By all means make templates (highly encouraged!), but look for real opportunities to create quality content in advance to allow yourself the capacity to do the ‘live’ things really well when they come up.

All SMMs and creatives working for sports teams will know the number of business units that come knocking on the door last minute for all things URGENT. So if you don't plan for anything else, you can at least plan for that! 🙂

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