Marketing – Handball Team News

Are more TV shows the “quick fix” marketing goal for handball in the United States?

This is part of an ongoing series: Link

Marketing handball in the United States: a long-standing and thorny challenge

Virtually every newcomer to team handball in the United States has the same reaction: “This sport is awesome! How did I not even know this sport existed? And often the next conclusion is, “Wow. Whoever is responsible for or behind this sport must be horrible marketers. After all, what else could explain why you’ve never heard or seen it before?

An understandable, albeit simplistic answer, but if one does a little investigation it becomes clear that there are underlying issues that make marketing handball in the United States difficult. I first captured some of these issues in a series of comments I wrote about why the United States was not at the 2012 Olympics. The marketing sections are below:

Part 5: A lack of awareness and marketing: one in a million? The 312 real Team Handball fans in the United States: Link
Part 6: A lack of notoriety and marketing: The paradox of Catch 22 TV: Link
Part 7: A lack of notoriety and marketing: The historical lack of European support: Link
Part 8: A lack of notoriety and marketing: Europe sees the light, but does not know how to properly invade the American market: Link

While much of what I wrote 8 years ago still rings true, there have been a few positive developments:

  • Handball has been on TV more often. EHF Champions League matches have been broadcast on beIN Sports since 2013. The IHF World Championships are also broadcast regularly, first with beIN Sports and later with Olympic Channel NBC from 2019.
  • Social media has become more prevalent and has become another way to promote sports.
  • More importantly, the IHF and EHF have emerged and are beginning to pursue the development of the US market more aggressively.

USA Handball Team Strategic Plan Marketing Objectives

USA Team Handball’s strategic plan identifies marketing as one of its primary objectives. Here are the documented goals, objectives and targets related to marketing.

For the most part, I have no problem with the identified objectives. These are all things that need to be done in terms of marketing. Objective C, with its specific Salesforce solution, is perhaps the exception.

To varying degrees, USA Team Handball also appears to be achieving most of these goals. Melissa Zhang, the organization’s first full-time communications director, has done a great job with the website, cleaning up athlete profiles and regularly posting stories about current and former athletes. And, USA Team Handball is also now more active on its social media and rarely misses an opportunity to engage with anyone or any outlet discussing or learning about handball.

In terms of goals, Facebook’s 2020 goal hasn’t been met, but arguably Facebook has become the domain of old people, it’s less important than youth-oriented Instagram and TikTok. I don’t know if the web visits goal was met, but one would suspect that posting more frequently resulted in an increase in web traffic.

Feeding the fan base vs expanding the fan base

Running a handball website for 14 years, I had to deal with a marketing dichotomy that can be described as ‘feeding the fanbase’ or ‘expanding the fanbase’. I will say with some authority that the handball fan base in the United States is very, very small. Depending on how generous you want to be in terms of definition, it’s between 300 and 2,000 people. And that includes non-US citizens. As someone who is truly passionate about handball and has a website devoted to the sport, I will just say that the reality is sometimes downright depressing.

Does the resigned saying: “It is, what it is” apply? Or is it self-defeatism? Can effective steps be taken to methodically expand this fan base? Maybe, but I would say it’s very difficult to organically grow a fan base for a narrowly defined topic like team handball. Essentially creating new fans of the sport through well-written articles and social media engagement. Certainly, such efforts are greatly appreciated, but unfortunately only by the “already converted.” Don’t get me wrong: Nurturing the fan base is important… but arguably less important when your base is so small.

Expansion of the base depends almost entirely on better and greater television exposure

So what can be done to really broaden the base? Answer: Regular TV broadcasts of games and, extremely important, on the networks with the greatest reach into American homes. I know that sounds, “old school,” but, it’s still the reality. Anecdotally, the percentage of Americans who first discovered the sport through television is off the charts. And, I suspect a structured investigation would just confirm that suspicion. Analytically, Google’s trending data correlates directly to TV shows, and I can assure you that internal website metrics do as well.

It’s very simple: nothing reaches more Americans than television and nothing reaches young Americans more than the engagement on social networks that comes directly or indirectly from the video content that the major television networks can publish. online for their millions of subscribers.

I’ve said it a thousand times. If handball were to air regularly on a network like ESPN, virtually every statement about the progress of handball in the United States would now begin with these words:

“Well, after handball started airing on ESPN…”

Choose how you want to end the sentence. Here are some possibilities:

  • College handball really took off with an expansion to several hundred clubs
  • Expanded youth programs in multiple cities feeding into college programs
  • USA Team Handball recorded xx% annual growth in membership; Along with the concomitant increase in website visits and social media engagement
  • Merchandise sales of professional handball clubs in Europe gradually increased as more Americans became fans of the game
  • The quality of the game in the United States has improved considerably
  • The level of talent in the United States that our national teams are starting to improve

A marketing objective above all others

The point of this discussion is to point out that one marketing objective: getting handball on TV more often outweighs all others…because it’s a real force multiplier that greatly improves the likelihood of better results in all the other areas. In other words, anything that can be done to make this happen should be a very high priority.

Of course, this is considered important, but it’s unclear where this ranks in terms of priorities. I would say that empirically this is the number 1 objective and if the strategic plan is updated, I would say that this priority should be clearly stated. In addition, there are a number of supporting objectives that could be undertaken to facilitate the achievement of this objective, including participation in television rights conferences and the hiring of consultants to facilitate coordination between networks and handball content owners. It might even justify the use of limited funds and resources to produce US-based television content. Or even… in some cases, pay to have the content delivered.

One thing that helps. Getting handball on television in the United States is not just a goal of the USA handball team, but pretty much a goal for anyone who cares about the sport. In particular, content owners like the IHF and EHF stand to gain the most from its realization. Moreover, developments such as OTT web streaming make it more feasible than it was in the past.

Is handball on TV a panacea? The miracle solution to all our problems? For my part, I’m usually not inclined to such deep and sweeping statements, but…yes, that’s pretty much the case. Without a doubt, this is the only thing that could change everything overnight.

This concludes the review of USA Team Handball’s future plans. At least what has been officially documented. But are there also unofficial and undocumented plans? It looks like there may be some and I’ll get to what those plans are next.