How the Milwaukee Bucks Reached Fans When the NBA Season Was Suspended

The team's digital strategy pivoted to emphasize its online store and content series

The contest to win player Giannis Antetokounmpo’s jersey drew more than 30,000 entries in a week. Milwaukee Bucks
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The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented 2019-2020 NBA season. As the league suspended basketball for three months beginning in March, then instituted a phased return of teams to play within an NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World, teams had to rework their marketing strategies to digitally reach quarantined fans.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who dominated the regular season but had a playoff appearance plagued with injuries (they were eliminated by the Miami Heat in Game 5), developed a strategy highlighted by two main tactics: offering content for fans that was easy to find and consume, and shifting focus to the team’s online retail store.

For years, the Bucks’ fan engagement strategy was rooted in data, which is automated and delivered using Adobe’s Marketo Engage platform. Ben Conrad, senior director of database marketing for the Bucks, explained the team’s previous success with personalizing online messages and content—highly personalized emails drove a 300% increase in clickthrough rates in the 2017-18 season—was the linchpin in reaching remote fans this year.

“As a team, we have always been focused on customizing fan engagement. While everyone across the organization had a role, we knew that digital had an outsized one,” Conrad said. “When consumers feel like you have a pulse on their needs and can anticipate their wants, they tend to have more affinity for the brand.”

The team revamped its BucksPlay site to curate free content series for fans.Milwaukee Bucks

To make player content easier to navigate for fans, the team redesigned its BucksPlay website to focus on player access and make it as easy as possible to watch all of its featured series, such as Season Rewind, Payer Mixtapes and Inside the Mind Of.

Then, the team kicked off its retail shift with a simple approach: a giveaway of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s jersey. While not everyone who entered could win the jersey, the contest’s incentive was offering a free shipping code for every entrant to use at its online store.

The shift to online retail paid off. The contest, which was promoted through internal databases and with organic social, drew more than 30,000 entries in a week. Compared to the week before launching, the contest increased page visits to the store by more than 100%, and doubled the average number of daily orders.

The marketing shift to promote the online store has garnered around 6,000 news fans since March.Milwaukee Bucks

Conrad said the two tactics, combined with other retail initiatives spotlighting store products over the last six months, has doubled the team’s year-over-year online shop sales and garnered roughly 6,000 new fans. Specifically, he noted 33% of contest entries were new to the team’s database, and nearly 10% of new-to-database customers used the free shipping code to make a purchase.

“My biggest takeaway is that establishing recurring campaigns, as well as programs that become the foundation of your monthly planning, is key to building a baseline for success,” he said. “Each program we started and built did not necessarily by themselves have big, gaudy numbers associated with them. But when you bring them all together, you can see the large gains that were made.”

Conrad added that as the pandemic continues, his team plans to continue investing in areas like their official app to improve the in-person stadium experience once fans can safely return to the stands.

“Regardless of how and when things take shape, we are staying focused on the bigger picture,” he said. “Bucks fans are Bucks fans no matter where they are, and we want to keep that connection alive.” Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.