Harnessing the power of fandom: It’s no longer a linear conversation

Rogers Sports & Media revises the playbook on bringing brand partnerships to life
Star athletes talk about their struggles with mental fitness and their self-care routines for 'The Mental Game', a campaign Rogers took on for Movember. The campaign wrapped with a 30-minute special hosted by Ken Reid of Sportsnet Central.

Star athletes talk about their struggles with mental fitness and their self-care routines for ‘The Mental Game’, a campaign Rogers took on for Movember. The campaign wrapped with a 30-minute special hosted by Ken Reid of Sportsnet Central.

Rogers Sports & Media and Sportsnet have a massive megaphone,” says Sam Nasrawi, senior director of original content at Rogers Sports & Media. “Our job is to fuel fandom – to inspire fans, and bring sports to life on every platform.”

He notes that while sports used to be a very linear client conversation – how many spots, during what game – now it’s about multiple lines of communication. It’s about social, influencers, Rogers Sports & Media in-house talent and athletes. It’s about bringing together opportunities on multiple channels to bring stories to life. And it’s not an insignificant platform. On TV, the Sportsnet brands reach 30 million viewers a month with 38 million impressions on digital (and the full Rogers Sports & Media roster includes over 200 websites, 60 apps, seven TV and 56 radio stations).

To serve client needs, Nasrawi says his team has built what he describes as a creative content house ready to collaborate on ideas. Fans are hungry for authentic stories and Rogers Sports & Media has learned how to tell them. “We’ve been very good at responding to RFPs,” he says. “But, that’s not good enough. Now, we’re going to be more proactive. I want us to be seen as the best place for your idea to come to life.” It’s an ambitious goal for a team that only recently doubled in size to six members – but, he says, they’ve become nimble and hands-on, learning to work within the complex puzzle of league rights, sports seasons and showcase events to make partner content resonate.

To help start a conversation about food and the holidays for Loblaws, the team gathered together five stars: (clockwise from bottom left) retired NHL forward Paul Bissonnette, MLB shortstop Bo Bichette, former Raptor Serge Ibaka, tennis star Bianca Andreescu and Canadian Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak. The campaign kicked off a month before the special aired, creating a ton of traction on social.

To help start a conversation about food and the holidays for Loblaws, the team gathered together five stars: (clockwise from bottom left) retired NHL forward Paul Bissonnette, MLB shortstop Bo Bichette, former Raptor Serge Ibaka, tennis star Bianca Andreescu and Canadian Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak. The campaign kicked off a month before the special aired, creating a ton of traction on social.

A Loblaws partnership illustrates the approach. The grocery brand wanted to build on its connection with Canadians around food for the winter holidays, so working with the Sportsnet team, a dinner was hosted for former Raptor Serge Ibaka, tennis star Bianca Andreescu, shortstop Bo Bichette, swimmer Penny Oleksiak and hockey tough guy Paul “Biznasty” Bissonnette – five stars talking about food, the holidays and topics important to them.

A 14-minute cut of the conversation was featured during the Raptors halftime show on December 25, but two- and three minute outtakes began appearing on social a month before. The athletes promoted it on their own channels, not mentioning the broadcaster or client, beginning a conversation that got picked up on national media outlets.

Sam Nasrawi, senior director of original content at Rogers Sports & Media, says the game has changed for sports broadcasting. There are way more options for partners now than just linear broadcast

Sam Nasrawi, senior director of original content at Rogers Sports & Media, says the game has changed for sports broadcasting. There are way more options for partners now than just linear broadcast

When it aired, Nasrawi says they actually gained viewers during halftime – something unheard of to that point. “One of the biggest things we look at is how we can retain audiences, and that was a prime example of being able to do it through content. It wasn’t your typical halftime show. It was, ‘Hey, you just saw Serge on the court and now he’s going to be hosting a dinner with four big notables.’ It was natural storytelling.”

It was such a hit that Loblaws and Sportsnet teamed up for a follow-up show in 2020 called Home for the Holidays, a 30-minute special hosted by Canadian Olympian Tessa Virtue and featuring a diverse group of Canadian stars: NBAers Jamal Murray and Nick Nurse, hockey players Max Domi and Wayne Simmonds, plus musicians Jully Black and the Arkells’ Max Kerman.

 

Another standout content-led partnership is recent work with Movember, telling athlete stories about mental health challenges and everyday habits they’ve developed to cope. The Rogers team began talking to Movember more than a year ago about what could be done to tackle men’s mental health issues. The focus wasn’t going to be on reducing stigma. Instead, the goal would be to promote mental health fitness and self-care, an approach they knew could have an impact on men aged 18 to 34.

The Rogers Sports & Media focus on more proactive creative solutions yielded Ice Avengers, a content play featuring hockey trick shot artists Zac Bell and Pavel Barber; regardless of brand partners the team plans to develop the concept further.

The Rogers Sports & Media focus on more proactive creative solutions yielded Ice Avengers, a content play featuring hockey trick shot artists Zac Bell and Pavel Barber; regardless of brand partners the team plans to develop the concept further.

‘The Mental Game’ campaign features a number of elite athletes talking about their mental health struggles and victories, and mental health experts who explain how Canadian men can follow their lead. It airs on social, digital, broadcast and radio, a combination of ads and original content, with the goal of encouraging men to adopt their own mental fitness routines. The five-week campaign began in late February, wrapping with a 30-minute special hosted by Ken Reid of Sportsnet Central, who has himself been vocal about mental health.

A focus for Nasrawi’s team is developing original content ideas – many of which they will pursue editorially if they can’t find the right partner. One of those concepts is Ice Avengers, a series featuring hockey trick shot artists Zac Bell and Pavel Barber.

While sports was hit hard by COVID, with leagues shutting down and longstanding events postponed, the Rogers Sports & Media team forged ahead with new concepts and a new approach to brand content. “This is as busy as the team’s been in years,” says Nasrawi. “It’s been a crazy time.”

CONTACT:
Sam Nasrawi
Senior Director of original content
Sam.Nasrawi@rci.rogers.com