Presenters from Forward Madison told their incredible success story of building a professional soccer team from scratch at the June SMB Facebook Live session. The team launched in May 2018, and by the end of 2019, the club led its league in every business metric.
From the start, fans led the brand’s development, explained Kuba Krzyzostaniak, the team’s director of fan engagement & digital media, and Jason Klein, digital content manager. That partnership began when fans named the team. From there, engagement grew.
Metrics Tell the Story
Forward Madison leads USL League One in these significant statistics:
- Attendance: 4,300 fans per game in 2019
- Fans from nine countries buy merchandise
- Social media presence: 31,000 followers combined on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
Kuba and Jason explained that “soccer is a sport for the digital world.” They’ve built upon that interest and now have international fans. Both emphasized that their players offer fans professional quality play at the improved Breese Stevens Field. It’s their primary job, not a part-time gig.
Attendance at Forward Madison games ranks in the top 20 with major teams that are four to eight times the size of Madison.
“That’s a testament to the fans here,” Kuba said.
Through social media, the soccer team connects to fans in Madison and across the country and world. One fan flew in from Switzerland to attend a game.
The Story Behind #Fullmingo
Who would think that a pink plastic flamingo could mean so much to a soccer team? That’s the case for Forward Wisconsin. A creative photo opportunity sparked viral engagement and a basis for the brand.
The story began during the Polar Vortex of January 2019. Jason displayed a photo of a pink flamingo half buried on the snow-covered Breeze Terrace field. The next shot shows nearly one whole “Mingo” buried in the snow. By the end of the series, the snow level depths reached a “Full Mingo.”
They put all three photos together to tell the #fullmingo story. It went viral with nearly one million Twitter impressions. This simple, unique story captured the attention of viewers, Kuba noted. They wondered, “Why is a plastic pink flamingo in the snow?” They thought the series was funny and shared it.
From there, the #fullmingo story grew. The tweet was the start of the club’s fullmingo story. And now, pink flamingos highlight a lot of the merchandise.
“We used (the Tweet’s popularity) to guide us in a different direction,” Kuba said.
To fans, “going ‘fullmingo’ means going all out,” he added. Now, many club fans are part of a social media flock with additional subgroups. Another 40 independent social media accounts also support Forward Madison. They take the club’s posts and share them with their networks.
With today’s social media, Jason noted that the club can interact with anyone around the world. In their communications, they take a “brick-by-brick” approach, providing meaningful engagement with each person. As a result, that person may become a fan who draws in other fans providing soccer evangelism.
In their interactions, Jason and Kuba aim for a “voice” that reflects Madison as a funny and quirky city. Their interactions with fans help direct their social media posts.
Top Soccer Voices Share Their Message
Like many organizations dealing with the pandemic, Forward Madison faced revenue challenges because it couldn’t conduct matches at the start of the season. In response, Kuba and Jason launched an influencer-based marketing campaign. They sent Forward Madison jerseys with a hand-written note to the top 20 soccer voices in the world. Their goal was to encourage these soccer stars to amplify their message by posting to their social media networks.
In the first six hours of the campaign, they tripled the sales of their jersey packages. In addition to sending out the jerseys, the duo also prepared related marketing messages to keep the story going.
For instance, a designer explained how she made the jerseys. Kuba said that 90 percent of the reviews were positive, and viewers continued to reshare messages.
Flexible Content Strategy
Instead of a traditional content calendar, Kuba and Jason plan posts based on what’s trending in the soccer world. They do plan some topics but leave plenty of room for flexibility.
Kuba also noted that sponsors buy into the Forward Madison brand voice. “Our partners want to be part of our quirkiness and strangeness,” he said. “We tried to break the mold, even in a place as relatively small as Madison.”
Listen to Fans
In their planning, Kuba emphasized that Forward Madison listens to fans and the community. By listening to their “flock,” they know what fans like and don’t like. “It’s helped us avoid missteps as a brand,” he said. “If they want us to do something, we find a way to make it happen.”
Fans near and far want to go #fullmingo with Forward Madison.
Special thanks to the presenters, attendees and sponsors. SMB recognized the Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin Chapter during the Nonprofit Spotlight. It provides education programs, support groups and online care consultations. Visit https://alz.org/wi for more information.
During the session, Hannah Wente, SMB board member, shared a Black Lives Matter resource list.
The next virtual SMB program via Facebook Live will be Keeping it Real: Leveraging the Power of Social to Build Business and Community with presenter Otehlia Cassidy. RSVP for the July 15 free virtual event on the SMB Mad Facebook page.
Leslie Blaize wrote this post on behalf of Winbound, a content marketing firm specializing in manufacturing and industrial clients. Winbound provides an all-in-one content marketing package specifically designed for small marketing departments.