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Episode 224 Snippets: Kyle Sheldon of Name & Number ⚽️

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Episode 224 Snippets: Kyle Sheldon of Name & Number ⚽️

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On episode 232 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kyle Sheldon, Founder and CEO, Name & Number (soccer marketing and creative agency). Kyle is a senior marketing and branding exec with years of experience with MLS teams, NASCAR, and more.

What follows is a collection of snippets from the podcast. To hear the full interview and more, check out the podcast on all podcast platforms and at www.dsmsports.net

On episode 232 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kyle Sheldon, Founder and CEO, Name & Number (soccer marketing and creative agency). Kyle is a senior marketing and branding exec with years of experience with MLS teams, NASCAR, and more.

What follows is a collection of snippets from the podcast. To hear the full interview and more, check out the podcast on all podcast platforms and at www.dsmsports.net

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Episode 224 Snippets: Kyle Sheldon of Name & Number ⚽️

  1. 1. On episode 232 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kyle Sheldon, Founder and CEO, Name & Number (soccer marketing and creative agency). Kyle is a senior marketing and branding exec with years of experience with MLS teams, NASCAR, and more. What follows is a collection of snippets from the podcast. To hear the full interview and more, check out the podcast on all podcast platforms and at www.dsmsports.net. @njh287; www.dsmsports.net Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  2. 2. Kyle’s Career Path “I'll start by just saying I'm a lifelong soccer fan and player. I played my whole childhood, three siblings who all played; we all played in college at different levels. I think I can best describe my collegiate career as mediocre. I was a D3 benchwarmer…that gives you a sense of my on-field prowess. But I've always loved this sport and I was in high school when Major League Soccer [MLS] started kind of in my high school and college days I realized that this is something I might be able to make a career out of. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  3. 3. “I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do going into college. I was a comms and media studies major and went to grad school to get my master's in PR and that was kind of my path. I left Marquette University my second semester of my last year with just a couple months to go to take what I called my initial dream job at DC United, [an] entry level communications coordinator, making no money, writing press releases, doing game notes and setting up interviews for the players in the locker room. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  4. 4. “It was a really great time to join that club. That was 2005 and they had just won the MLS Cup. It was the height of Freddy Adu mania, they had some really cool, legendary players, [like] Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen, so I felt really fortunate to be there. I spent eight years in DC and was really, again, just fortunate to grow my career there. “The nature of the league at that point was a bit of a startup mentality. You know, it was only 10 years old and so you ended up wearing a lot of hats. So I was able to take on a lot over the course of my years there, eventually overseeing content and graphic design, all sort of areas of marketing in addition to [communications]. So it was a really great experience and, you know, you have limited resources, but you try to make it work and creativity kind of wins the day in those scenarios. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  5. 5. “Then I spent some time at NASCAR, I oversaw social media there for three years. It was a really intentional step away from [soccer]. I knew I would come back to it because it's my love and passion, but I wanted to test myself in a space that I was really unfamiliar with. Probably not advice I would give to every person who interviews for a job, but I told them If you want to hire a someone who understands NASCAR, do not hire me because I've never watched a race the whole way through. But I had a great experience there, learned a ton. Social was really growing at that point in a meaningful way. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  6. 6. “But then the Seattle Sounders called and offered me a job to oversee their marketing, and I jumped to that chance. So I spent a couple years there, [and] made the move to the [Chicago] Fire and spent three years overseeing marketing and content and brand there, and have been consulting this year and starting to put the wheels on what will be the agency that you mentioned, Name & Number…” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  7. 7. On social media and how MLS and its teams did coverage, content, and PR as Kyle came up “It’s been really fun to watch the transformation and evolution over the years. My first ever internship was with the Minnesota Thunder of the then USL A-League back in 2004, and I was a communications intern and we were faxing box scores at that time still. It's not even 20 years ago, which is pretty wild we were faxing box scores to the local papers. And, you know, in my time at DC United, when I started there, it was very much entry-level, pounding the pavement, making phone calls to TV outlets and newspapers and trying to garner coverage because it was the only way you could get your message out beyond your website. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  8. 8. “It was sort of just a happy accident that I happened to be there as Facebook was just starting to come online. Really, Twitter was kind of the accelerator, I think, for connecting to fans directly. And we were in a place where we were just able to test and learn and try to figure out what was or wasn't gonna work. It was evident to those of us at the club pretty early on that Twitter was gonna be a bit of a game changer for connecting to fans directly, to your point. So we were on early and, again, testing and learning. Marketing was frankly a lot easier prior to that. It was kind of paid media and earned media and not much else. And now there are so many choices; there are so many ways to connect. There are so many ways to communicate your brand and your message. But that's also what makes it really fun is that there's no one size fits all plan. You have to really be thoughtful about how and where you're connecting to folks. “I feel fortunate I was able to at DC kind of take a lot of that on just naturally as the club evolved and as we found ways to try to connect to fans. But it's a much different place that's for sure.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  9. 9. On the growing importance and currency of content “I think in those early days I'm not sure we knew exactly what it was going to be. It was just evident that you could connect and tell your story directly. I'm guessing if I were to pull up old DC United tweets, it'd probably be pretty cringy at this point. I'm sure it was. You couldn't post photos when Twitter started, right? It was just sort of text only. So it was very specific kind of one to one communication. We were fortunate to have some — we didn't have a lot of resources — but we were given resources to go test and learn, and that's a credit to Kevin Payne, the former President and CEO there, who really was trying to help us figure out how to move things forward a little bit at that time. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  10. 10. “We hired a video producer, I think we were the first MLS club to hire a video producer. We hired a writer, one of the first clubs in the league to do that. It was really starting to understand the ability to kind of tell your own story directly. I actually think that there has been a bit of an over- correction in some ways in that I think clubs, across sports not just soccer, they tend to almost overemphasize their own channels. It's not to say you shouldn't, clearly you should invest and put a ton of time and energy into the content you're producing, it's a great sponsorship mechanism. But people have sort of lost the art a little bit of driving earned media and the amplification impact that can have. “I do think teams have to be on guard against that, which is to say there's still a lot of value in placing a story in the right spot in the right outlet at the right time. So it's this balance of internal [and] external, what you produce in-house versus when you bring on a partner to do it. And, again, there's no one size fits it all, but it's fun to explore; it's what I really enjoy.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  11. 11. Balancing telling your own story on your own platforms vs. empowering others “I think probably most people answer, you want both, right? You wanna have great content on your own channels, you wanna have other people covering you, you want influencers talking about you. And I also think you're just in a space and time where you don't have a choice, right? Whatever you put out into the world, people are going to take it and they're gonna put their spin on it. They're gonna add their own images, they're gonna add their own text. I mean, we're in such a sort of a meme culture where if you put out something that resonates or connects or that is a little bit wonky, then people are just gonna do whatever they want with it. That can be very, very good, and sometimes it can be challenging. But that's the world we live in and everybody's got a voice and an opportunity on some platform, big or small, however it is, and you've gotta kind of find the right way to navigate through that.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  12. 12. On making the jump from overseeing social to becoming VP of Marketing (with the Sounders) “The jump from NASCAR to the Sounders was unique. I was fortunate in DC to have a role where while I wasn't a VP of Marketing, I was able to oversee a lot of the external facing departments, and so I was able to sort of fail and fail fast and learn in DC. My perspective generally on social media professionals if they aren't already, they're the future CMOs. Because it's a space where you really, truly are connected, especially working for a team or a club, right? You're connected to every area of the business. You're the primary touch point for fans, for customers, and you have to have a little understanding of everything, right? You have to have a little understanding of of ticket offers and corporate partnerships and brand and communication — you have to kind of understand and be able to touch all of it and translate it both for your audience and then for your channel; and the audience on each channel obviously could be very different. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  13. 13. “So I found the move to NASCAR for me and being solely focused on social for those three year was incredibly valuable because I got connection to every area of the business and the experience of being able to be in the room with Fortune 500, Fortune 100 companies helping to translate for what just are largely older, sort of disconnected CMOs, CFOs, CROs — trying to help them understand the power of social and how to bring it to life. It's not as simple as you might think. It's not just could you tweet this for us? Which, you know, happens a lot. It still happens. So that experience was invaluable. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  14. 14. “But the transition to the Sounders for me and moving into a VP of Marketing role, I went from having seven or eight people under me at [DC United], I had three direct reports at NASCAR, but all of a sudden I had six or seven departments and more than 20 people on a team, so there was a really big adjustment there for me. It was going from doing it all, wearing every hat — you were doing, strategy, concept, planning, tactics, and the execution in both my prior roles, [and] now you've got a bigger team and you have to rely on other people to do the work. [That’s] the reality of having to be a leader and a manager, it happens sort of as you go. There's not a lot of training that happens for managers and for leaders, right? Some people just have it. And, you know, I don't think I'm a bad manager, but I had to learn a lot of lessons in terms of delegation, in terms of setting people up for success, being prepared that someone might hear, ‘Hey, this is the problem we're trying to solve and this is the answer I think we should go forth with,’ and me saying, ‘That's not what I would do.’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  15. 15. “I would say one of the things that I learned, and it took me about a year at the Sounders, is that really great work becomes more possible when you're able to unleash the talent and creativity of others. My job as a leader — clearly I'm bringing particular experience and thoughts and ideas to the table, creativity, etc. — but my job really is to ensure that the people on the team and everyone that's there is to make sure they apply their talent, their creativity, their thinking in the right way. How do I put up the guardrails so that they're aimed at the right objectives, and then be a little bit comfortable they might do it differently than you did, and that's okay? And often, by the way, if you hire really well, you're gonna have people do it better than you would've done it anyway, and you start to understand that there really is sort of strength in numbers. So that transition with me at the Sounders, it took me a good year to kind of figure that out and find my space and be able to back away from some of the day-to-day work and try to provide a little more flexibility for the team to go and do what they did best.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  16. 16. On developing fans of the team vs. just as much simply fans of the sport of soccer “I think the starting point as you think about sort of developing fandom, and this has changed a lot in the almost 20 years I've been working in the sport, but the starting point is that soccer in this country, I don't think it's a stretch to say, by far it's the most congested sport in the world, in this country. The competition for time and eyeballs as it relates to soccer in the United States is incredible. I mean, you can literally watch almost any league around the world at any given time. So I think that's probably the biggest shift that's happened over the last 10 to 15 years as you think about kind of MLS and the domestic leagues is the availability to watch anything. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  17. 17. “You're competing with eyeballs and time from every league, right? You can watch MLS, LigaMX Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1, to say nothing of Europa League, Copa America, Copa Libertadores, US Open Cup, and that's not even talking about national teams — World Cup, World Cup qualifying, the Euros, Gold Cup, Nations League —I mean, the list goes on and on. Which is a problem for my marriage because I watch a lot of soccer because I really love it. Luckily, my two boys who are five and three also seem to really enjoy it. “But just to come back to your question, I'm always a believer in a high tide raises all boats. As soccer fandom generally increases in this country, which it continues to do, is that you're more likely if you're an MLS club to connect to those folks. But the nuance that exists within soccer in the States truly is unlike anywhere in the world. And as I start Name & Number, the new agency, this is kind of the entire point, really — the understanding needed and necessary to navigate the really complicated, convoluted soccer fan base in this country is just very difficult and there's a starting point of knowledge necessary to be able to do that. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  18. 18. “You could be at an MLS game sitting next to a Manchester United fan who actually doesn't really care for the MLS product, but came with his buddies; someone who's a die hard, let's say Atlanta United fan but also supports FC Barcelona, but for whatever reason has a connection to River Plate. I've seen data over my career that soccer fans in the US are more likely to have multiple teams that they follow than just about anywhere else in the world, which makes sense when you think about it, right? It's a dynamic country with people from all different backgrounds, and you've got really kind of first generation soccer fans in a lot of cases who are discovering the sport and their attachment to a particular team varies pretty wildly, right? It could be that they played FIFA and they, for some reason they picked this team to play with in FIFA. It could be that there was a particular player that they really loved. It could be because a team is in their backyard. It could be the values that a team kind of speaks out into the world. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  19. 19. “So it's a long-winded answer, but I think this is really the crux of what's interesting about the sport at this moment in time. And as we look towards 2026 and the interest that will come in the coming years is how do you navigate through that really kind of complicated, convoluted soccer fan base? Because if you don't speak the language, and I mean that literally and figuratively, if you don't speak the language, it is really easy to have a misstep and to actually do some damage to your credibility. I'm thinking particularly with sponsors; if you don't sort of do it the right way. I saw a soccer commercial a couple days ago where they referenced Neymar scoring the most points [sic]. It's like, that's not what you say in soccer, right? That's not the language that you use…” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  20. 20. What the ceiling for the development and growth of soccer fandom in the US looks like “I think there are different perspectives, right? If you work for an MLS club, you're focused on creating fans of your team and of your club. I'm someone who's always just loved the sport, and so for me I'm a big believer in soccer as a connector, as a community builder, and so I love seeing the sport grow on the whole. I think you've seen, in MLS over the years, a lot of different things that have been tried. When I came into the league what the teams were doing were targeting families; you know, the old ‘soccer mom’...You saw teams building their facilities, their stadiums in the suburbs with tons of fields around them. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  21. 21. “That’s really evolved as you've seen other teams come into MLS. And I think most importantly, Toronto FC in 2007, Seattle Sounders in 2009, you started to see a different type of person attend those games and there was a different connection in the city, in the community that just indicated a different opportunity. I think those were really eye-opening moments for people around the league, and a lot of teams are still frankly trying to capture it. “But the shift to starting the target, the young professional, the 18-34, the person who is maybe equally interested in the experience as they were the on-field product. Then as you sort of fast forward and you look at — I think it's a more subtle shift, but you see Atlanta and Minnesota and LAFC and more recently Austin FC have come into the league and these teams are very culture-focused, they're value-focused, they're community-focused. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  22. 22. “Richard Orosco, who's a friend of mine who's the Chief Brand Officer at LAFC, he's been there from the start and he said something to me as they were getting up and running and they were having some success. He said ‘Plug into culture before you plug into soccer.’ I think that's a good recipe for anyone to do, right? You're a team and a club that's representative of a very specific place, and that very specific place has cultural connection points. It has its own creative, community, it has music and design and just a lifestyle that's really specific to that space. My team in Seattle got sick of me saying this, but one of the things I always call back to is ‘How do we do something that's uniquely Seattle?’ There are three teams up in the Pacific Northwest, [so] how do we do something that's unique to us? “So that evolution of how teams have attempted to market themselves and what teams are still trying to do, it continues. It’s a fascinating time to be in the sport.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  23. 23. About working toward the avidity and atmosphere of European club soccer “I think it's a question that MLS has been — I don't wanna say wrestling with necessarily, but thinking a lot about over the last decade or so. The reality is, and this comes from someone who loves MLS; I call myself an MLS snob, I mean I really love the league, but the reality is it's not the best in the world, and Americans are used to watching the best athletes in the world, in their country, in their backyard. If you look at any of the competitive sports domestically, NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, WNBA, etc., they're the best in the world and [in soccer] the best players play in Europe and they play in a couple different leagues. It's one of the things that makes the sport fascinating. There isn't one league or one country that owns all the best players, they play across the world. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  24. 24. “MLS has never really had the ability to say come watch the best soccer players in the world. So, sort of to your points there, the experience and the supporters experience in particular is the differentiator for sports viewing or attendance in this country; to your point, it just doesn't exist [in soccer]. College football probably is the closest. But if you go to an Austin FC or an LAFC game, Portland or Seattle — there's a lot of teams now across the league who have this experience. You can see what happens in Cincinnati and Charlotte. It's grown a lot over the last few years, but there's nothing like [the European experience]. There's nothing like the 90 minutes of singing, chanting, drum beating, just raucous atmosphere. For my money LAFC does have the best experience in the league, and I've not been to every stadium, but I've been to a bunch and they just go at it, man; it's incredible to watch. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  25. 25. “If you are an observer of human behavior and you go to these games and you're watching someone and you just have a sense maybe they're a more casual fan, their eyes are on the supporters as much as they're on the field — and that's both good and bad, right? There are pros and cons to that. But to your question about where do you focus your efforts — I think it has to start with growing supporters culture because that's the differentiator. And naturally, if you create something that is experiential, that is raucous, that is interesting to watch, that is enjoyable to participate in, then other people will come, I think, because of that experience. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  26. 26. “And so much of marketing today and this is true in sports, but I think it's true kind of across everywhere — it's about community building and it's about creating a sense of belonging and it's about really truly bringing people together. It doesn't always have to be physical, but the coming together of people in a stadium and watching and having a shared experience to something on the field, there really isn't, for me, anything like it. I'm not a gamer, so I can't speak to maybe what that experience is like the way some others could, but I think ultimately that's what you're selling and marketing. It's less so buy four tickets, get two for free — that stuff doesn't work. The consumer's too savvy and has too many other things taking up their time and attention to really fall for standard marketing tactics.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  27. 27. About the game presentation differences between US and Europe, sports vs. entertainment gimmicks “There really isn't a right or wrong answer, and the experience of going to a minor league baseball game that might have 20 or 30 kind of gimmicks that happen during the course of the game can also be really entertaining. You look at what the Savannah Bananas have created down in Georgia, and it's just full-on entertainment to the point where they've changed the rules of the game for entertainment's sake. It's a really interesting little case study. I don't know what its staying power is, but it'll be interesting to see over the next five to 10 years if they can maintain the level and the height of entertainment that they're operating at down there Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  28. 28. “I just think in soccer, the game is built in such a way that it becomes difficult to do those things, right? The structure of 45 minute halves of continuous play, you really have, as I've overseen game presentation over my career, you've got about 10 minutes before the game starts when you've got engaged fans in their seats preparing to watch the game. You've got 15 minutes or so at halftime, but just about everybody goes to grab food or drink, so it's sort of limited the impact you can have. Antd then you got about three minutes after the game ends before people are on the concourses going to their cars. So I think there's room, and it's kind of the great thing about America as the melting pot for soccer is you've got all this collision of cultures and backgrounds and experiences that kind of come from all over the world, where I think it's the place to do some hings where you can test and learn and see what works and see what resonates. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  29. 29. “I think you've seen across different MLS markets teams have tried different things. Some of them might seem gimmicky. I was talking to somebody the other day about Atlanta United’s big hammer with the spike that they [hammer] — it couldn't be more gimmicky, right? The guy hits the thing with the hammer and then the spike about a second later goes down a little bit. You look at what Charlotte's done with their crown and their king's throne. A lot of people would call those things gimmicky, but what's important is does it communicate your brand in some way? Do your fans and supporters connect to it? Do they believe that it's something that speaks to them, speaks to their market, speaks to the community that's been built there? Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  30. 30. “So I don't think it's a right or wrong answer. I'm a traditionalist myself in many ways. I love the tradition of the sport, I tend to like kind of a cleaner match day experience than some others might. But I've evolved my thinking there too, which is it's entertainment. It's supposed to be fun. So if you can find something that someone might call a little bit gimmicky, but if your fans and supporters like it and if it enhances their experience at the stadium, then by all means go for it.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  31. 31. About building team brands and community efforts while also promoting the games and highlights “Clearly, it's imperative, right? Social is now so embedded into most people's daily lives. It's pretty unusual [that] someone doesn't scroll through Instagram or, or Twitter or TikTok in a given day. So it's really important that you have a really clear strategy in that space, of course, and recognizing that each channel is a little bit different in what works on one channel may not work on the other. I think you’re right that MLS teams in particular probably spend more time and energy on content kind of outside the lines, so to speak. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  32. 32. “In my experience, an incredible goal in MLS is always gonna be one of your most viewed videos, as opposed to the personality driven kind of player fun video. But you really do have to do both. I's been interesting to see how content consumption has evolved. I mean, it's obvious at this point, but people's attention spans are shorter. They're flipping their thumb really fast past content that doesn't grab [their attention[ in the first second or two. So it's a difficult space to be in. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  33. 33. “My philosophy has always been everything's marketing at some point, right? Everything's kind of brand. You're always communicating something about your club or your players or who you say you are, and just how it's applied can vary. So whatever the intent you're attempting to create something that ultimately entertains and something that will grab attention and something someone will be willing to watch, and you have to be realistic that a deeper personal profile on a player who is a spot starter is really just for your avid fans. It's pretty unlikely that's gonna break through to a more casual fan. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  34. 34. “I believe in ultimately kind of segmenting your fan base in different ways so that you're creating content for each. The number of entry points to fandom is vast. There are a lot of ways people get connected to a club and to an experience. You can't do it all, especially in a league where there still are limited resources. But to be thoughtful about that and ultimately to ensure you have the right guiding principles as to who you say you are and what your brand is and what you stand for is really what's most important.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  35. 35. About focusing on short-term goals like ticket sales while also trying to accomplish big picture brand building and regional/national/global fan- building goals “I'm a big believer that you can't be relevant globally or even nationally if you aren't relevant locally. I think it has to start in your backyard. And that comes back ultimately to the experience. If you're a soccer club, your product is — this isn't quite true, but you'll understand the point that I'm making — it's the game that you attend or it's the game you watch on TV. Yes, there's a lot of other stuff around that core product, but your core product is 22 guys running around trying to kick a ball into the back of the net. And if you turn on a game and there's 3000 people in the building and 20,000 empty seats, that is not dynamic, compelling, interesting television, right? What you're seeing when you turn that on, regardless of the sport, is oh, no one cares about this. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  36. 36. “So I think it's one of the reasons that TV ratings have been a challenge for MLS over the years. It has changed, it has evolved, their numbers are up really significantly this year as they head towards their Apple TV deal next year. But you've now got more markets where it's clear the teams are relevant and the fan bases are into it, and they're sold out and they're jumping and bumping. So, to answer your question, I think it's almost kind of comical how many MLS teams over the years have said, ‘We wanna be a global brand. We wanna be an international brand.’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  37. 37. “I think the starting point has to be hyper-local. It comes back to how do you plug into civic pride? How do you plug into the local culture? How do you plug into the local creative community? What's the hole-in-the- wall taco joint down the street that everybody, if you're in the neighborhood, knows? How do you connect to them? Who are the up-and-coming musicians that are playing the pubs and the bars in the market? Who are your local muralists and your creatives, and how do you connect to culture in such a way that it communicates ‘We know this place and we are a part of this place?’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  38. 38. On whether MLS clubs should be shit-talking and amplifying or creating drama on social “Yeah, my thinking's evolved a lot on this over the years. I think it is because of my traditional PR background I was more kind of buttoned up and in-line early in my career and have worked with people who've pushed the boundaries a little bit and that's always a good push and pull. I think the starting point for the question is who do you say you are? What is your brand? What sort of ethos are you putting out into the world? I think a little good old- fashioned banter is a lot of fun. There's always a line that can be crossed, and I think teams have crossed the line. “For many years people pointed to the LA Kings and said ‘That's what we wanna be.’ And I think that what gets missed sometimes is if you're all snark all the time, or if that's your thing, then it can be difficult to create a community, cultural, values-based brand because you just become known as the team that dunks on people, to use your language. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  39. 39. “I'll give you one example in MLS, which I think the folks in at Charlotte FC have done a really nice job with kind of finding the right line where every time they've beaten a team, they typically have a graphic that is something specific to the team. I think when they beat Red Bull, they had a crushed Red Bull can, as an example. It's simple. It's one post, it's a really clean design, it's white background with a really simple element at the center that just kind of says, ‘Hey, we beat you.’ And it's fun. “So I think teams have to find their voice first. The exercise should not be, ‘Are we snarky?’ The exercise should be, ‘What is our brand? What are our values? What sort of personality do we want to put out in the world across our channels?’ But the short answer is I think there's always room for little bit of fun and a little bit of poking of your opponent.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  40. 40. About the Chicago Fire’s rebranding and re-rebranding “Well, I think we were able to execute a really well- constructed rebrand because we executed one that was not well constructed a year and a half prior. For those that aren't familiar, you can Google ‘Chicago Fire rebrand’ [and that will] will bring it up. You know, I joined the club at a time when they were in the process of starting to think about a rebrand. We don’t need to spend a lot of time on the failures of the first rebrand, but the premise was really, I think, wrong in that the starting point was, ‘Hey, let's treat this like an expansion team.’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  41. 41. “At that time, the team was playing out in the suburbs. They were moving back to Soldier Field in downtown. They had a number of years where they hadn't been successful. The fan base had eroded for a variety of reasons, including on- field performance. And so the idea was let's recapture the imagination of Chicago with a new identity. That in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad starting point, but I think you had this collision of strategies that were taking place and that first rebrand was done in a way where it was kind of a more traditional rebrand that you would've seen. It was largely done behind closed doors; not in a malicious way, it's just how you used to do rebrands is you sort of do it behind closed doors and you do a big reveal. There was fan engagement, but it was limited. The fans weren't driving the actual work fully and completely. There was discussion about changing the name; at that time the club was going through an ownership change, so you just had kind of a natural disconnect as to what is this thing and what will it be in the future. At one point the idea was to not only change the logo, but to change the name of the club as well. Ultimately there was an owner who was really focused on wanting to keep the name at minimum. So you ended up with a totally new mark, but the same name. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  42. 42. “Ultimately it just didn't connect with fans. What was visually put in front of fans to say ‘This is your. This is now what represents you.’ It ultimately was just a miss. There's no other way to put it, it was a failure. We were fortunate and I was fortunate in that we had an owner in Joe Mansueto who very quickly understood the need to kind of remedy the situation. So I was fortunately in a position where I could go to him with a plan to redo the rebrand. Rebrand the rebrand, if you will. I said ‘We have to take the exact opposite approach or it won't work.’ And by the way, I think this is true for any rebrand. If you're an existing brand in any industry, you have people who care about you, you have stakeholders who connect with your visual identity, your voice, the whole picture. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  43. 43. “So with the help of, obviously a great team, we said, ‘Our guiding principles should be [that] this is the most open and transparent rebrand in pro sports history.’ We wanna be able to have anyone and everyone who wants to lend their voice to this project to do so. So we provided updates the whole way through. It wasn't this idea of, ‘Hey, we're gonna go do this thing. We're gonna go behind closed doors and you'll hear from us in 12 to 18 months. It was we're starting today. We hired Matt Wolff, who for my money is the best crest designer maybe in the world. He's done incredible work, including LAFC and NYCFC, he's an incredible designer. So he came on board and I said ‘Matt, we're gonna make your job really hard, man. You're gonna have thousands of creative directors.’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  44. 44. “We started with an open survey, we ran focus groups, we ran one- on-one interviews, and there was a dialogue the whole way through. Our job was to take everything we heard and ultimately synthesize it in such a way that it was actionable for Matt to go and design a really beautiful crest. It was a combination of pulling from your rich history, by the way, of a club in the Fire who'd won multiple championships, had incredible iconic players, there was a lot of history there that was meaningful. And a name that's inspired by the origin story of the city in many ways, as you think about the great Chicago fire that happened 150 years ago. So the exercise was really, ‘How do we listen to our community? How do we create dialogue and conversation? How do we ultimately create attachment to the club such that at the end of this thing we put something up on the screen that hopefully people can be really excited about?’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  45. 45. “I think we achieved that. I mean, I'm obviously biased, but I think Matt designed a beautiful mark, but it really was only possible because people participated, lent their voices, and we were able to ultimately — you're never gonna please everyone of course, some people just wanted to go back to the old mark — but ultimately we were able to create something that felt like the club that they knew and that's the most important thing.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  46. 46. About club affiliations with MLS and European club teams “It's a good question. You've seen it happen over the years, right? I mean back in the early 2000s, teams were doing some of these partnerships creating sister clubs. I think the challenge is there tends to be a big announcement and then you don't really see or hear much activity after that. Sort of just it's this idea that we're gonna share business practices and we're gonna potentially loan players and then you don't really hear about it again. I think that I'm a little bit of a broken record at this point, I think, but the starting point is not which is the best club for us to partner with just from a sheer optic standpoint, but to come back to — if you're a European club, as an example, and you're looking at MLS and you're saying ‘We wanna have a presence in the States in some way,’ and I'm certainly thinking a lot about this with the new agency Name & Number, the question isn’t just can we just pick one? It's which of those clubs represents our values in a similar fashion? Which one has a brand or what is the connection? There has to be some natural connection. Otherwise, I don't think there's a lot of value in doing it. But because the US soccer fan is still relatively young, as you think about kind of the generational fandom, there's real opportunity, I think, for teams abroad to have presence in a particular market if they activate it the right way. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  47. 47. “That could be something as simple as a very cool merchandise collaboration. It could be playing a friendly against that team and then having presence in the actual market for a period of time. There's a number of tactics I think [to] bring that partnership to life, I just don't think many teams have done that to date. I think it's, again, an announcement. It sounds really good. Maybe some of the executive levels talking to their colleague across the pond a couple times a year, but it doesn't really seem to be positively impacting fan experience in a way that's meaningful. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  48. 48. “The starting point for me is always how, whether you're a club or a brand who is activating in the sport, is how are you adding value to the fan experience? What are you doing to enhance that experience? And this is something, in a slightly different way, Angel City has really done an incredible job of, is that every single one of their partnerships is somehow positively impacting the Los Angeles community, right? Every single partnership is doing something in LA for the good of the community. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  49. 49. “I think it's kind of that ethos, right? So they're battling food security with DoorDash, they're battling access to transportation with Chevrolet. And if there's a club abroad who has that same ethos, man, wouldn't that be a cool partnership to bring those two clubs together and figure out how to speak to it on a grander scale and drive more impact? So I do think there's a way to do it. I don't know that many are doing it well at the moment, and there's gonna be meaningfully more opportunity for it over the next four years as we point towards 2026 and the entire world's eyes on North America for what will be the biggest sporting event in the history of the world.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  50. 50. What was Kyle Sheldon like as a soccer player [he played in college]? “I would say I wasn't that good. But I really did love it. I played center [midfield], I played a lot outside mid. I was fast, I could get up and down the field. I wasn't the most dynamic player. I will tell you though, I'm in the record books at St. Olaf College, the D3 school I played at, because I led the team in assists my senior year with three, which gives you a sense of we didn't score many goals. By the way, two of those came in the last game of the year, which meant I had one assist over like 20 games, two in the final game. You can look me up next time you go to Northfield, Minnesota.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  51. 51. The most memorable initiative or campaign from Kyle’s time at NASCAR “We had a lot of fun at NASCAR. I oversaw social media, and we were able to test and explore a lot. One of my favorite campaigns was I was there in 2015 when NASCAR started what they called NASCAR Throwback. It's a sport that has history, with a lot of older drivers and the cars that have changed and the paint schemes that have changed. So when NASCAR launched that they did it at Darlington Raceway, kind of an old race track, we said ‘Let's kind of do all of it throwback.’ Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  52. 52. “We bought a bunch of Polaroid cameras and we posted every photo as a Polaroid or as a picture of a Polaroid. We found an app for our phones that made the footage look like 8mm photos. We wanted everything to have a feel of being kind of throwback. We would type out tweets on a typewriter and then take a photo of those. So it was really kind of a fun one. It got picked up [in] some media coverage. It doesn't sound that interesting today because I think people do things way more interesting. But at the time it was a really fun one.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  53. 53. Who has been or is the most important American soccer player of our lifetime and why? “It's a really challenging question to answer. I'm gonna probably hedge a little bit because I have a few names that pop into my head. I'll list them off quickly. I mean, I think Landon Donovan for all that he accomplished, in particular at the US Men's national team level; I mean, his goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup remains one of my favorite sporting moments of all time. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  54. 54. “I always really loved watching Clint Dempsey play as he was coming up, and I think he's a really interesting case for an example of what American player can be, and you've seen it with the modern day players. But he played in MLS with the [New England] Revolution, and went over to Fulham in England, went to a big club on Tottenham, came back to the Sounders, scored in three straight World Cups. He's got an attitude and swagger that people love… Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  55. 55. “Then I'll throw one more name out, Claudio Reyna, who's maybe a little less known, but he's the GM now at Austin FC. He was one of the first players that really established themselves in Europe. He played for Rangers in Scotland, Sunderland, Man City, and then eventually came back to the New York Red Bulls; [he] also played in Three World Cups. “Those players all had impact at the MLS level that impact globally, and they had impact at the World Cup…Those three I think are probably three of the most impactful in our lifetime.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  56. 56. The best home atmosphere in Major League Soccer “It's actually a hard one to answer today, because I think you've seen the growth of interest and relevance across MLS. There are so many teams now that have great fan experiences, great supporter sections. You know, I mentioned them earlier, I think LAFC and Austin FC have two of the best. I've seen both of them in person, so I can speak to it. I've not been to every market; I haven't yet been to Cincinnati and seen what they're doing, I've not been to Charlotte, so I reserve the right to change my mind. “But what those supporters groups do in being full-throated and raucous and jumping for the full game. LAFC probably takes the edge just a bit because those guys get in an hour before the game starts, so they're going for two and a half hours. It's really special what they've built there. So, LAFC quickly followed behind by Austin in my experience.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  57. 57. The most memorable or charismatic player that Kyle has worked with in his career “The player that immediately jumps to mind, and if he eventually listens to this it won't surprise him, is Bobby Boswell, who was a defender for DC United when I was there. He actually came into the league the same year I did. We both started there in 2005, and Bobby is an absolute nut. We sort of found in each other people who were willing to kind of test and try things. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  58. 58. “After his first year, he was an undrafted rookie out of Florida International; he ended up starting 30 games or so his rookie year kind of out of nowhere. He ended up winning Defender of Year the next year. But we started BobbyBoswell.com, it was the first player blog in MLS. We did video segments. We put him up for Cosmopolitan Bachelor of the Year one year. He actually won, but couldn't participate because of the schedule with DC United…He was making, you know, $32,000 a year as a rookie and he threw a party…David Beckham's first-ever game was in DC in 2006 and Bobby decides he's gonna throw a party. The guy's making no money; and it became this thing that was written up in all the papers as the must-go-to Beckham party. And the poor kid I think maxed out his credit card paying for drinks. But it's just who he was — great personality, always up for a lot of fun. I saw him at MLS All-Star this past year in Minnesota and it was good to reconnect. He's a good one.” = Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  59. 59. Kyle’s favorite mantra, tip, or guiding principle as a marketer “I probably said it over the course of the interview, I'll try to be succinct, which is, I think the starting point is you want to add value for your fan or your follower. You wanna improve or enhance every experience, you wanna entertain and connected to that is everything we talked about related to creating a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Sports really is about connecting people at the end of the day and giving people something to care about, so I think if you're focused on how you can add value to someone's experience — and that's sporting experience, life experience, connectedness to other people — I think there are a lot of ways to do that. There are a lot of tactics to do that, but if you can come back to that as a bit of a guiding principle, then you're probably in a pretty good spot.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  60. 60. The coolest soccer stadium that Kyle has ever been to a game at, and what's the on Kyle’s bucket list to see a game “The first ever game I saw abroad is the answer to the question. It was Craven Cottage in London, which is Fulham FC’s home ground. It's this incredible little stadium that's kind of tucked into the neighborhood. And at the time I was there, I was in high school, Eddie Lewis, who's a former US Men's national team player and also played MLS, was there. And they obviously have had a history of American players including Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Casey Keller, Carl Bocanegra— I mean, the list goes on. “But that experience of being at Craving Cottage at what felt like a really true longstanding traditional club in Fulham was really special. And I was there with my family, so it was particularly a really fun day. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  61. 61. “The second part of your question, I think seeing the Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund is on the bucket list. Not that I'm a big Borussia Dortmund fan or necessarily a big Liverpool fan, but going to Anfield at some point, I'd love to just experience the Kop and see that in person. So, Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund, and then Anfield in Liverpool.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  62. 62. The best meal to get in Chicago and where to get it “Man, I think that you'd expect folks maybe to give a deep dish pizza answer, [but] I'm gonna go in a different direction, and I'm going there tomorrow, which is why it's top of mind — there's a place called Johnnie’s Beef, and it is a no-frills hot dog, sausage, beef sandwich stand in the western suburbs. They've got this incredible Italian ice. If you've watched the show, The Bear on FX — it's a great show that was shot in Chicago about a beef sandwich shop —you can get a great meal for $8-10 and the food's really good and it just kind of has that nice kind of hometown Chicago feel to it.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  63. 63. The sports team outside of MLS and any current clients whose marketing Kyle most admires and why “Two come to mind. One is the Carolina Panthers. I think they've really done a really interesting job with their brand over the last few years. I find them as a team that's not afraid to try things. They're embracing some of the trends and some of the memeification, but they're doing it in a way that does fit their brand and their voice. I think they have a very distinct voice. They push the boundaries on content in a way I think is really compelling, so I've been following them for a while and been very impressed with what they've done over the last few years. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  64. 64. “And then I'll mention a team in my backyard who I think is one of the best-marketed teams in sports, which is the Chicago Bulls. Obviously an iconic brand, very well known globally, but they do an incredible job. Thinking about all the things we've talked about today, I mean, plugging into culture and into art, fashion, design — they're doing really cool custom merch drops on their mobile app. Their VP of Marketing is a guy named Dan Moriarty, who's an Englishman, who's a soccer fan as well, and a really, smart forward-thinking guy. So I've been really impressed with what they've done over the years. And if you don't know their stuff, I'd encourage folks to check out their social handles because they are doing a great job.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  65. 65. The winner of the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup will be __________ “I think it's very difficult to predict and it is hard to pick against someone like Brazil or Argentina, but I'm gonna go with my heart and say, Argentina. I think it'd be amazing to see Messi win it near the end of his career. He’s been such a dynamic player, obviously; for my money I think he's the best player of all time. So the idea of him bringing a World Cup title back to Argentina would be pretty cool. So I'm gonna say Argentina.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  66. 66. Kyle’s Social Media All-Star to Follow “One is a young one I've gotten connected to this year named Caitlin Stevens, who spent some time in her career at Atlanta United. She's like me, someone who just loves and consumes the sport of soccer. She and her husband travel the world now. She's freelancing and consulting, not exclusively in soccer, but in a lot of soccer, and she's just doing some really interesting things on TikTok. She’s got a travel space that she does as herself, as Caitlin Stevens. But then she has a number of clients that she's activating across social. She's got a really good feel, I think, for what works on TikTok in particular. Someone that I'm hoping I can work with at the new agency with Name & Number. She's a good one. Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  67. 67. “Then I'll mention Jack Appleby of Morning Brew (@jappleby). He's someone that a lot of people that are in this space might already know, but he's been at Morning Brew now for some number of months. He's worked with some massive big brands over his career, and I like Jack because he's just very generous in sharing his thoughts and how he views the world, his reactions to what he's seeing. He does a lot of real-time coverage of what's happening in the marketing space, not specific to sports necessarily, but he's an NBA guy so he does a lot on the NBA. He does great case studies. He's got a newsletter now with Morning Brew called Future Social, which is a must-read for my money. He's one of those follows that you just know he's gonna add value and teach you something just about every week.” Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  68. 68. Where to find Kyle and Name & Number on digital/social Find Name & Number at NameAndNumber.com and on Twitter and LinkedIn Kyle is @KyleSheldon on Twitter and LinkedIn Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon
  69. 69. Thanks again to Kyle for being so generous with his time to share his knowledge, experience, and expertise with me! For more content and episodes, subscribe to the podcast, follow me on LinkedIn and on Twitter @njh287, and visit www.dsmsports.net. @njh287; www.dsmsports.net Best Of The Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast Episode 232: Kyle Sheldon

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