Published on April 111, 2019, at 11:55 p.m.
by Mickey Kennedy.
It is very simple to build and protect a brand when you are perennial winners, like the Alabama Crimson Tide and the New England Patriots, or even historically large brands like the Yankees or the Lakers. But what happens when you are neither? How do the worst teams control their brands and engage their fans without trying to come off with an “always find the positive” attitude?
For this query, I looked at one of the most notable losing franchises in American sports, the Cleveland Browns. Despite its most recent season and offseason player transactions, the team has been historically poor on the field. Teams like the Browns have still found a way to keep fans, and some recent nationwide followers, engaged by their use of social media and other interactions.
Making content fan-oriented can drive engagement far more than any game-specific posts will, especially when the team can’t find a way to win. The Browns developed its brand around the city of Cleveland as a whole to create camaraderie between the team and the fans across the city even when the team isn’t successful.
The Browns’ biggest interactive social media movement in 2018 was the Bud Light beer refrigerators that were placed in Cleveland in early August. The refrigerators were scattered in 14 public locations and were locked shut. The fridges had “When the Browns win, Cleveland wins” written across the front with the promise they would be opened after the Browns snapped its 636-day losing streak.
Three weeks into the season Baker Mayfield, the rookie sensation out of the University of Oklahoma, led the team to a comeback win over the Jets. But, more importantly, he led fans all over the city to free Bud Light and renewed hope.
The beer fridges were a massive success, not just for fans in the city but around the nation. Each week people from all over the internet would check on the Browns and the hunt for free beer.
Boast fan favorites
Over the last year, all Browns fans have found hope through Baker Mayfield. The young gunslinger has not only helped the team actually win games but has also been a massive part of the Browns’ social media rise to fame. Mayfield has been a part of the culture in Cleveland not only on the field but off the field.
The most iconic moment for Mayfield, and debatably the Browns’ season was his “I woke up feeling pretty dangerous” quote in a press conference after a win over the Falcons that lit the social media world on fire.
The Browns have used Mayfield as the main rallying force for the team revival as well as social media engagement. A player of his talent level, personality and national prevalence due to his dominance in college football is easy for fans to get behind in Cleveland as well as across the nation.
Alongside Mayfield, the team hired Freddie Kitchens as head coach, another fan favorite, and the branding on the hire started before Kitchens’ first official game as head coach. The team tweeted, “Every Baker needs a Kitchens” right after the hire, paired with a video of sideline interactions between the two.
Accepting all engagement
Even if your social media game is strong and you have an entertaining brand, you cannot make your social channels a “fantasy world” as Adam Cohen, a social media director for Thomson Reuters, said in an article for The New York Times.
Being inauthentic on social media can only cause outrage toward the social media team. Accepting the losses and being real may cause negative interactions with the team but can reinforce long-term fan loyalty. At the end of the day, all engagement is still engagement: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Controlling the brand of a losing team isn’t easy. But, despite the on-field result, any brand can be a winning one.