GIFs: Revolutionizing The Way Fans and Professional Athletes Interact



Julie Logan, Director of Talent Relations at GIPHY and Martellus Bennet, Creative Director, The Imagination Agency sat down with Alero Akuya to discuss how GIFs connect players and fans.

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Traditionally, showing support for your favorite players and teams was very tactile. You would buy jerseys, trading cards, and other memorabilia. However, it was very challenging to have any interaction with these players unless you went to a game or public appearance. Even then, you might end up hanging out in a parking lot for hours, only to find they used a different exit.

With today’s digital ecosystem, we can more easily have a two-way dialogue with our favorite players. Fans can retweet their latest posts and may even get an @ mention if one of their posts catches an athletes attention. Over the past few years, GIFs have made this interaction easier and some would say, even more impactful. Instead of just writing text, Gifs offer an interesting way to infuse your personality into a conversation.

Julie Logan states “It’s just really fertile ground for people to explore and develop their relationship with platforms and with teams and with sports because so much of sports is expression and feeling and the emotion of that.”

Many players appreciate the opportunity to forge deeper connections with their fans. Martellus Bennet, a former NFL tight end, provided additional insight.

“As an NFL player, your face is covered so people don’t get to see you as a human. They know you by your jersey number and last name. Social media allows you to take off the helmet, you get a chance to show the real you.”

Although athletes get an opportunity to speak with fans at media appearances, these conversations are often commercialized and groomed through media training. Even worse, they’re often forced. A popular GIPHY post includes NFL running back Marshawn Lynch repeating his famous “I’m only here so I won’t get fined” quote.

Bennet then went on to mention how great this realness is for fans, especially if they don’t like what they see. After reading some of your favorite player’s tweets, you may not like them so much, and decide it’s not worth your time to wait in line to see them.

The Text Back Pack

During the 2017 preseason, Bennet solicited many of his teammates to start creating personal GIFs. At the time, most GIFs represented a team. Player specific GIFs allowed them to create an even more genuine connection with their fans.

“The idea was for me to take off helmets and off some of these guys to show their personality in a nonverbal way and just through emotion”

His fellow teammates had GIFs the featured everything from Anime to math equations.

“Calling it a Text Back Pack was based on the idea that this was something players and fans could text back to each other before during and after a game.” Julie Logan

As a busy NFL player, you don’t have time to respond to every message sent your way on Social. GIFs provide an opportunity to quickly express gratitude without seeming too brief.

Logan went on to mention how GIFs allow individuals to continue the conversation with more personality and expression because you have a visual that says way more than you ever could with just a few words.

Bennet jokingly admits this was “The only good thing I did for the Packers”.

With over 150 million views in just 24 hours, this was certainly something to brag about.

Creating GIFs during Onsite Experiences

GIFs can also be used to make an onsite experience more engaging and leave visitors with an entertaining memory. Taking a step away from Football, Bennet again showed his creativity. He imagined a museum where each room had scenery that allowed you to make your own GIF. For example, you could make a GIF of a dinosaur chasing you through a cave. Each room could have its own theme and unique GIF opportunity.

Logan agrees. “I’m intrigued to see if someone is at an activation how can they be engaging with the experience and almost like coming out of it with their own version of it as a GIF.”

Some brands are starting to do this via Snapchat and Instagram. A store that sells running apparel could have a running-related sticker and encourage patrons to use it every time they go running. Thus, spreading their brand message even more.

Fans at sporting events would also welcome the opportunity to create an exclusive GIF based on scenery provided at the venue. Imagine being able to create a GIF you in the middle of a huddle with your favorite team.

The Future of Sports and Social Media

GIFs, and Social Media, in general, have helped fans and players engage in a more meaningful dialogue.

For players, Logan stressed how important it is for them to listen to the people that follow them and remember it’s a two-way street. Bennet offered some extremely practical advice, that many players should consider before they retire.

“If you want to start a business, introduce the people to it now before it’s too late. A lot of guys wait until they finish their career to introduce people to what they want to do next. Build a bridge before you have to cross it. If you wait to build it, they may have forgotten you already. Take them with you on this journey of you finding yourself.”

He concluded the session by performing an impromptu rendition of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s theme song. Perhaps his next move will be to the studio?


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