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How the Miami Dolphins Became the NFL’s Leader in Digital Strategy

In 2017, the Dolphins generated over $4 million in new season tickets through leads on Facebook.

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BY Darren Heitner - 19 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In 2016, the NFL's Miami Dolphins decided to completely overhaul their content strategy. In the 2 years since making such decision, the Dolphins have experienced a 250% increase in digital revenue, they've become the #1 NFL franchise in video news and seen 30% of new tickets revenue coming from Facebook lead generation.

I recently spoke with Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel about why the Dolphins chose to go with a new strategy and how the team accomplished such remarkable results in a short amount of time. Part of the success resulted from shifting away from use of outside agencies and creating all new content in-house.

What was the precursor to the Dolphins deciding to overhaul their content strategy?

Garfinkel had a branding, creative, and sponsorship marketing background early in his career and recognized the opportunity to do things differently and bring creative and content creation in-house in order to better control the brand aesthetic, storytelling opportunities and platform creation for revenue growth.

"Technology enabled us to control our own storytelling as well as the distribution, and create platforms that we could measure and sell ourselves," says Garfinkel. "We just needed to build a creative infrastructure to execute a vision of an elegant and simple design aesthetic that was differentiated from other sports teams. We wanted to create content that was unique, behind the scenes, and of the quality of brands we admired like Nike and Apple."

What specifically influenced the Dolphins in reshaping that strategy?

In his conversations with CEOs and CMOs back in 2013 and 2014, Garfinkel recognized the beginning of a shift of marketing spend away from traditional methods towards more digital and social platforms.

"I had seen a transition to a more targeted, measurable, and impactful approach," notes Garfinkel. "I wanted to be ahead of the curve and create specific platforms to grow and sell."

What should other NFL teams be taking away from the Dolphins in terms of what to do in order to try to mirror that success?

"Marketers are increasingly less interested in static signage and non-specific eyeballs," says Garfinkel. "We can now know a lot about who we are reaching, how they are engaging with our brand and the brands that attach themselves to us, and how that engagement drives revenue. The quality and consistency of the content itself is also hugely important to driving that engagement. We generated over $4 million in new season tickets through leads on Facebook, and our digital and social sponsor revenue is seeing exponential growth - but it's a consequence of an investment in building a creative and data analytics infrastructure. It's not as simple as just hiring a young social media manager and posting more on Instagram."

What else is the organization currently working on from a business standpoint to be more efficient and productive?

"How we incorporate our NFL and college football business with our International soccer business, concerts, the Miami Open tennis tournament, and now potentially promoting a Formula One race here in Miami," says Garfinkel. "Miami is a curator of culture - art, food, music, sports, fashion - for the rest of the world. We want to build a vehicle for brands to be a part of that in a targeted, measure-able way, and monetize the opportunity."

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