Have a strategy!

Luka Dukich, Director of Content with the American professional basketball team Chicago Bulls, competing in the National Basketball Association (NBA), explained, in the first digital SPORTO Talk, how the Bulls were included in the conversation around “The Last Dance”, Netflix’ documentary series which generated a lot of public interest, and how they used TikTok in an innovative way to engage (future) fans.

At the SPORTO Conference two years ago, Luka Dukich gave an inspiring presentation of the Chicago Bulls content strategy. This year, his focus is on the two most important events happening recently which have had a strong impact on the team’s communication with their fans. The first is a ten-episode sports documentary mini-series called “The Last Dance”, co-produced by ESPN Films and Netflix, which revolves around the career of the legendary Michael Jordan, with a special emphasis on his final season with the Chicago Bulls. The series also features many other NBA stars, such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson. “The Last Dance was a huge cultural moment in the USA and across the world as well, especially since sports world stopped. That is why the series was released in April, and not in June as first planned. We had to respond quickly, adapting the content to the fact that people were staying at home and watching television more of the time. We wanted to make the Bulls part of the conversation,” begins Dukich. This paid off fast, as the number of interactions on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter platforms doubled or even tripled. “During that time, the Bulls had the highest fan engagement globally among sports teams,” says Dukich.

Putting content in the hands of fans

At the centre of their efforts was, as he emphasised, a strategy which included a content media matrix that allowed them to use all communication channels – from the most traditional, such as the e-newsletter, to social media platforms, including the ‘new’ TikTok, Reddit’s fan communities and the players’ accounts. “Everything needs to belong where you put it. Every platform is different and deserves its own strategy and its own focus. That is how the Bulls were included in the conversation – we were present everywhere without dominating anywhere, because we wanted this moment to belong to fans,” explains Dukich. The Chicago Bulls digital media team includes about 15 people, including graphic designers, who create attractive graphics for channels with more visual content, such as Instagram. “The Last Dance” also inspired many other artists, so they reached out to them as well, sharing their often incredible artwork on their platforms.

Dukich, who joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, says that, since then, the sports industry has changed like night and day: “Our approach to content also changed as night and day. A couple of years ago it was Facebook, Instagram and Twitter … It’s so much bigger now, so we have to decide which channels we will use. For “The Last Dance” for example, Snapchat would have made no sense, so we did not use it.”

Benny the Bull and TikTok

According to Dukich, their TikTok campaign was also based on a carefully prepared strategy: “We wanted to go on TikTok with an actual strategy, not just go there, because that’s where people are. Benny the Bull (the mascot) was almost perfect for launching our TikTok platform campaign and it was great success, because Benny speaks the language of the platform.” In his opinion, many brands fail to understand TikTok: “It is very community-focused and its users are completely in charge of the content. TikTok is mostly about fun, so the content that is posted needs to be funny and entertaining, and such that the users can engage, for example through dance or music videos.” With 3 million followers, Benny the Bull has quickly become the third most followed sport club account on TikTok (after FC Barcelona with 5.5 million followers and FC Bayern with 3.2 million followers).

The Bulls also succeeded in involving sponsors to TikTok; Benny the Bull, for example, created his unique dance style sponsored by a beer brand. “We are always thinking about sponsors, as they represent an important part of our income – and our organisation must continue to grow. We integrate brands in a way that doesn’t feel like commercial, because the Bulls’ content must be authentically ours,” reveals Dukich.

To avoid “doing the same thing as everyone else”, as it often happens, they look for inspiration outside of marketing and even outside of sport. “Personally, I find inspiration in art and music, which helps me better understand platforms like TikTok even though I’m not using them myself.”

As for how he sees the near future, impacted by the coronavirus, Dukich replies: “No one knows what the new season will look like or when it will start. Regardless of what it looks like, content is going to play a huge role. Especially if there will be no fans, content will be the only touch point to the team.”