How St. Kilda Football Club Uses Competitive Banter in Their Social Strategy

June 19, 2024
By
Rachel Ramsay

Ever wondered what goes into managing social media for a professional sports club? Read on.

Introducing Julian Trantino—Senior Manager of Content & Channels at St Kilda Football Club. Established in 1873, St Kilda FC is one of the oldest sporting clubs in the world, competing in the AFL: the premier competition for Australian Rules Football.

Since Julian joined the content team two years ago, he and his team orchestrated a strategy pivot that saw the club adopt a more irreverent social media tone. Think Teletubbies memes, Budgy Smuggler stunts, and on-field tousels edited to romantic soundtracks

For this edition of Behind the Brand Handle, we dug into the day-to-day workings of the St Kilda content team to discover how they built trust with the wider club and players, how they fill out the social calendar week-to-week, and how they navigate the unique challenges that professional sport socials bring. 

Give us a peek at page 1 of your strategy doc—what are your objectives on St Kilda FC’s social channels?

Our main objectives as a wider marketing team are to grow our brand and build fandom. 

We grow our brand by better engaging our audiences on high-growth social channels particularly, commercializing our platforms, plus supporting rising trends like social commerce on TikTok and Instagram and leveraging best practice organic content to drive commercial outcomes for our club sponsors.

Building fandom comes from providing behind-the-scenes content and general storytelling, which provides our fans a window into the club and makes them feel more connected to our journey. We’re aiming to humanize the faces of our club, and build the profile of our key young talents. 

The final key component is connecting with our community. So that’s promoting user-generated content, empowering our fans to be creators, and reflecting their engagement in our content. 

And specifically regarding social media, which channels are you focusing on most in 2024? 

We conducted a thorough channel review at the end of last year to identify priorities for this year. TikTok only further established itself as a key focus, being our fastest-growing platform with the highest engagement. 

LinkedIn also showed significant potential. It’s becoming more personal and intimate, almost like the Facebook of 2014, which makes it a good place to humanize our club's culture and people in front of an audience that is becoming younger and looking to connect with the club in non-traditional ways.

YouTube, especially through YouTube Shorts, has also been a great platform for reaching a casual audience and increasing brand awareness.

Instagram remains our curated window to the club, while we've seen stagnation on Twitter (now X) and Facebook.

Our key target audiences vary across channels. On Facebook, our audience is mostly male (64%) and over 35—that audience is mostly made up of our diehard fans and members.

In contrast, TikTok's audience is a lot younger (60% under 25), with a 50/50 gender split, consisting of casual fans who engage for entertainment rather than results. Since we're focusing on growing and better engaging our under-25s, particularly under-represented groups like young females, TikTok is especially important to us.

Given the audience and best practices vary so much across each channel, we take a totally tailored approach to each one.

For someone who isn’t familiar with St Kilda FC’s socials, how would you describe the content that you put out?

I’d describe it as authentic, collaborative, and entertaining. Those are the three key pillars we want to be defined by. 

We’re having a challenging AFL season, so we’ve had to make sure we balance the entertainment with showing that the players and coaches are working hard to rectify on-field results.

Even when results aren’t going our way on the field, young fans particularly still crave entertaining and authentic content, but we’re extra careful in making sure that it’s done in good taste. 

You often take jabs at other teams on social media—all in good spirit. What is behind that approach to your brand personality and tone? 

At the end of 2022, we had a lot of changes in our football department, headlined by the return of Ross Lyon as AFL senior coach. 

That coincided with changes to our content team, where we had several new starters across the 2023 pre-season, so it was very much a new chapter for the football club and one that we wanted to reflect in our content with a fairly new and energized content team. 

We wanted to be cheeky and rebellious because we felt that leaned into the history of St Kilda and resonated with our fans. In 2023, the club celebrated its 150th year, so our content and tone really aligned with the eccentricity and quirks that have defined the Saints over all those years. 

We took more risks and were unapologetically us, and this led to a significant rise in engagement on socials—an approach we have continued in 2024.

A key thing we changed was the game day graphics. Previously, we’d had templated graphics that we felt had become too transactional and led to very little engagement.

One of my favorite things in 2023 was how our content and design teams would come together each week to brainstorm our game-day graphic and how we were going to theme it. 

It was a fun way to foster creativity and collaboration among the team. We came up with some pretty whacky, unpredictable stuff that the fans absolutely lapped up, leading to some added spice and banter between us and our opponents, all in good fun of course. 

How do you weigh up the risk of doing that ‘cheekier’ content?

We’re big on sense-checking content with a diverse mix of staff at the club when we feel there’s a risk involved. It’s important to have different perspectives and consider all angles on how content can be interpreted. Taking this step has definitely mitigated risks. 

How did you build trust with the team, staff and players? 

In terms of relationship building, we sit right next to the football department— the head of football actually looks out into our row from his seat and we’re also near the assistant coaches and other football staff, so the communication lines are always open. 

It's a very open-plan office, so the players are often at our desks for chats too. That ability to interact casually helps so much with our relationship-building.

Tell me a little bit about how your social and content team functions—what’s the breakdown of team roles?

We have one person who handles the majority of posting on our channels. We feel that’s too little, and we’re currently adding extra resourcing there. The way the social landscape is now, a lot of AFL teams have two or three people who are running their social accounts, and maybe each of them has different specialty channels.

We have three video producers who do a mix of longer-form traditional video, plus short-form vertical as well. Priorities for them have shifted a lot over the last two years—our video producers have had to upskill and really understand how to edit a video for social optimization, and they've done a really good job of growing in that area. 

Then we've got a content and platforms editor who manages our website and app and curates them beautifully, while also writing the majority of our articles and dipping in on socials where needed. 

We also have three designers who I don’t manage, but they work hand-in-hand with us and we all sit in the same row.

What’s your approach to helping your team overcome creative burnout?

Once you get burnt out and overwhelmed, it’s very hard to be creative. 

As a manager, I’m big on ensuring my team members take time in lieu the week after working a game day. 

We have a shared calendar for days in lieu so that we can always ensure we have cover from Monday to Friday, and our team is so flexible and multi-skilled that whoever is on a day in lieu can properly detach and know that they won’t be coming back to a stressful situation the day after. 

I’m also very big on quality over quantity and making sure that every piece of content we do has a clear purpose. It can be easy to fall into the trap of quantity over quality, which can lead to being overworked and overwhelmed.

Your replies to comments are hilarious—it’s clear you’re not afraid to clap back to cheeky remarks. How does that work in practice? Does your social media manager have free reign to respond as they see fit? 

Yeah, we’re really big on interacting with fans through the comments, showing there's personality behind these channels. The algorithm loves it when you’re commenting quickly, and the fans love it, so by replying quickly, you're encouraging more of that user behavior and interaction. 

Sam, who runs our socials, is the one replying with all those funny comments. He injects a lot of his personality into those accounts. We back him in because we know he's got a good moral compass. He knows what's right and wrong and will sense check if he’s unsure about something. He’s the guy in the office who’s always making everyone laugh, which translates into what he does in socials. 

On a more serious note, we’re also not afraid to call commenters out as well. In a professional way, of course. 

For example, a few weeks ago it was National Reconciliation Week. We took photos of our Indigenous players doing a flag-raising ceremony at the club and posted them on Instagram, to which someone replied, ‘Who cares about this? Just go and win a game.’

We replied with, ‘We care.’ We'll call out someone when we feel they’re being unreasonable, or we need to show a bit of backbone as a club.

What’s your brainstorming process like?

When we brainstorm, we try to get out of the office, maybe go for a walk or have a coffee. 

Each year we do an offsite planning day, normally around February, where we just get off-site and start to jot down some ideas, think big picture, and review what worked and what didn't the year previously.

We also have a weekly WIP where we brainstorm on key themes and events coming up

It’s very collaborative across the team. If I look back on our best-performing content, I feel like everyone, at some point, has been the one to come up with that idea. Those posts have probably come from 20 different people across the wider marketing team and other departments

It’s so good because I've been in environments before where it feels like it's just one or two people who are always coming up with ideas, and that's exhausting. And you're not getting enough perspectives.

In our team, we’ve got a very good mix of males and females, plus those in Gen Z who seem to have an innate understanding of  TikTok, and the millennials like myself who have really seen the shift in the social and digital landscapes. We've got a good mix of diversity and different thinkers, which makes a big difference.

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Lots of social media managers have to rely on others in their team—from CEOs to interns— to act as on-screen talent. And these people don’t always have a natural on-camera presence. Based on your experience working with athletes, how do you bring more reserved people out of their shells?

I think relationship-building and education are keys here. 

We have players who will jump at the opportunity to be on camera, and others who are quite hesitant, which is totally fine. With those who are hesitant, it’s important to understand their reasons why, so this is where the relationship-building comes in.

Lately, with the support of the football department, we’ve seen great results from holding more frequent and in-depth social media education sessions with the players.

This has made them feel closer to our content team and also helped them further understand the importance of social media and how it can grow our club’s brand as well as their individual brands.

We’ve seen players who have been hesitant become more invested in doing social content as a result.

We also understand that each player has their own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences when it comes to content, so it’s important to understand those so that we can take a tailored approach and get the best results for everyone involved.

On the topic of social media’s dangers, do you have a crisis management plan for if something goes wrong? 

Luckily at St Kilda I haven’t had a serious crisis with social media, where a player has put up an inappropriate post or something like that. 

But it has happened to me at previous clubs. The first thing we would do is ask the player to remove the post immediately while alerting our head of football and our communications team. It might be on a Sunday morning, so you have to be prepared to be on call all weekend in case a situation appears. 

From there, we’d work together on the next steps to mitigate further risks and ensure the safety of the player and those affected. No case is the same, but a key thing is bringing the most experienced people together to deal with these situations.

What’s the most challenging part of running socials for a football club? 

I’d say it’s the ‘always on’ nature and needing to be across the ever-growing intricacies of each channel.

Sponsored content on socials can also be tricky to navigate when fan sentiment is low during losses, so it’s important to be flexible and open with sponsors and come up with solutions that still achieve key outcomes. 

As we know, sport is so emotional. You’re lauded one week and ridiculed the next. If our  AFL team particularly is not performing well, we'll cop it on socials from the fans and that has the potential to impact the content team’s spirits, so this is another challenge we need to navigate 

Brands’ social media content is getting more and more unhinged—what’s the riskiest piece of content you’ve put out at St Kilda FC?

So one of our partners is Red Rooster. I love working with Red Rooster because they're a bit like us— they love to have a bit of fun and take risks

They'd done this collaboration with Budgy Smuggler to create these Red Rooster Budgy Smugglers, and they wanted us to do some content around that to promote them. We thought, let's shoot for the stars and see if we can produce a short video of a day at the beach with three of our players wearing just these Budgy Smugglers.

We were able to get a few of the younger guys to do it. Some of them needed a little bit of convincing, but the results of that piece of content were great. Fans had a bit of a laugh and Red Rooster got great organic exposure out of it given the huge amount of shares. 

And what’s your personal favorite piece of content you’ve put out? 

I love a good community story, especially when it involves a kid. We were recently informed of a nine-year-old Indigenous artist, Jed, who was painting one of our player’s boots for Sir Doug Nicholls Round.

So we thought we'd reach out to Jed’s father to see if we could get Jed into the club to meet the player and present him with these boots.  Luckily, we made it happen a couple of weeks ago,  and to see the way the resulting content touched our audience was pretty special. I’m sure young Jed will always cherish that experience, and he’ll always have a video to remind him of it when he’s older. 

Social channels are always changing year-to-year, but what’s your favorite social media channel to work on right now? 

For personal use, I’m loving the direction of LinkedIn. It’s become a place I go to for advice and inspiration from people within my industry particularly. It’s so less transactional and much more relatable these days.

It’s a channel we’re very keen to dial up at the Saints, too. It has so much potential, and we see it as a great opportunity to take people behind the curtain of our football club and celebrate our strong culture.   

And your least favorite channel? 

Probably Facebook. I just find that on a personal level, it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose for me anymore. On a club level, it’s also become very hard to get the organic engagement we used to get on there for video content particularly, and this has been a challenge across the board for all clubs. 

Best and worst things about working in social media? 

In terms of my least favorite thing, social media can be a negative space where unfortunately people do get bullied. Having worked with athletes over the years, I’ve seen some of the abuse they sometimes receive and how it can affect them, so that would be my lowlight.

But as for highlights, I remember the first Anzac Day game I worked when I was at Essendon. I was helping run the socials for game day. During the Last Post, the MCG was dead silent with 95,000 fans, and when the siren sounded to start the game, hearing that almighty roar of a full MCG will stay with me forever.

In that moment it really hits home that you’re one of a very lucky few in the content team giving  thousands of adoring fans a window into their club, and that feeling has stayed with me throughout my whole time in the AFL no matter which club I’ve been at. It’s a responsibility and privilege that I don’t take lightly.

It’s so special to see the impact a single piece of content can have, and that’s a real highlight for me.

And that's a wrap for our first edition of Behind the Brand Handle. DM us on Instagram to tell us which accounts would you like us to interview next?

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