Brand: Fox Sports
Challenge: How do you engage cynical sports fans in New York City? The Mets are done for the year, the Giants are off to a 0-4 start, and expectations are low for the Knicks’ new season.
Being a fan means picking a side.
Talk to fans like fans talk with themselves. Fox Sports wrapped subway cars in vinyl and asked fans if they were “hopeful” or “hopeless.” Inside the train, seats carried the kind of provocative messages you typically see on Twitter or hear on sports talk radio:
- “Nothing will change until Dolan sells the team,” referencing Knicks owner James Dolan
- “The high point of the last 25 years was the movie ‘Eddie’,” referencing the 1996 bomb where Whoopi Goldberg coaches the Knicks
- “Kristaps Porzingas is a unicorn sent back in time to show us how basketball will be played in the future,” referencing Knicks star Porzingas
The ads generated plenty of coverage, but the reaction to the more negative messages was fierce. Knicks owner Nolan was “furious” and reportedly called Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch to complain. The campaign, originally meant to last four weeks, was pulled after two days, according to the New York Post.
What they said in a public statement following the outrage:
“Today, FS1 featured statements on a New York City subway car intended to reflect the distinct emotions and opinions of passionate sports fans,” the statement said. “We regret the tone and are removing the content in its entirety.”
Lessons to be learned:
- Talk like a fan — The execution might have been bungled, but the thinking was in the right place. Most of the messages felt authentic, like trading texts with a friend. This is rare for sports marketing, which typically puts athletes and teams on a pedestal.
- Any publicity is good publicity — The subway ads generated tons of articles and dominated social media discussion among sports fans in New York. Fox Sports has worked to separate from ESPN by frequently courting this type of controversy with in-your-face opinions from TV and radio hosts. Provocation is the brand.
- But know when to pivot — Fox Sports knew when to pull the plug. Fox wanted to engage fans, not piss them off. As the backlash mounted, Fox issued this statement: “FS1 featured statements on a New York City subway car intended to reflect the distinct emotions and opinions of passionate sports fans. We regret the tone and are removing the content in its entirety.