Dream Team, the fantasy football offshoot from U.K. tabloid The Sun, has had a retention problem.

From one year to the next, the free-to-play game would have to reacquire two-thirds of its audience who signed up to play the previous year, which is typically around 1 million subscribers. As well as wasted effort, re-acquiring audiences costs more than retaining them.

To address this churn, Dream Team built a new content vertical including a newsletter and YouTube series around fantasy football last summer. Now it has begun to bear fruits: Dream Team retained 68% of last year’s customers this season, increasing annual audience retention rate 21% year-on-year, and won new branded content clients; however, the publisher was unwilling to share exactly how many people subscribed for the 2019 season.

Dream Team has roughly 10 people publishing regular football video content on its own site and social platforms. Dream Team had over 100 million video views in July, up from 50 million, according to Tubular Labs. Facebook and Instagram is a good funnel for acquiring news audiences, but the team needed to do more to nourish its existing fan base, said Edward Bearryman, head of content and communities at News UK.

“We are building a more franchise approach to content,” he said. “As many brands in the digital space find, bringing in audiences with content is easy, but digital content brands can struggle with loyalty and retention.”

After hearing that audiences wanted more fantasy football content — rather than generic football news content — at the start of the football season in August 2018, Dream Team also launched an email newsletter, Dream Team “Coach,” devised in part by Jimmy Lloyd, content development editor. The newsletter, written by football expert Nick Elliott, to add a more personal feel, goes out every Thursday and features tips and hints on which players are likely to play well that weekend for subscribers to switch around their fantasy football teams.

The newsletter now has over 1 million subscribers and an open rate of between 15% and 20%, according to Bearryman. The content is mostly self-contained content, so it doesn’t track click-through rates via links to external stories.

“That was the big shift and was a battle in many ways; people are used to using email a certain way,” said Bearryman. “We looked at Red Box [political newsletter from News UK’s subscription title, The Times of London] and what audiences want from email. Like other off-platform distribution, audiences don’t want to be thrown around.”

As an extension to the newsletter, in February, Dream Team launched “Coach TV” on YouTube, a weekly 20-minute chat show focused on football news. Videos typically get up to 20,000 YouTube views, last season had over 500,000 unique viewers. Over the course of 12 months, viewer retention rate doubled retention rate from 20% to 40%, according to Bearryman. Watch time on season two is over six minutes compared with three minutes last season.

Publishers like BuzzFeed are increasingly making series over one-off episodes in order to bring people back more regularly. It’s this regular viewing that attracts brand budgets too. The success of “Coach TV” was instrumental in signing bookmaker Betway to a season-long branded content campaign. As well as Betway badging alongside the Dream Team logo, the bookmaker gives exclusive betting odds and offers for the “Coach TV” audience. It’s a natural fit as 50% of Dream Team managers have an active betting account. The season-long campaign, exclusive to Dream Team rather than The Sun, cost £1.04 million ($1.27 million). According to Bearryman, the conversion rate of traffic referred to Betway is 2.5%, which compares favorably with Dream Team’s internal content conversion rates.

Over the last year, Dream Team itself has run between 10 and 12 other branded content campaigns across other sub-brands or franchises. One such sub-brand is “Hometown Glory,” a weekly show where former England football player Alex Scott takes other football players back to their hometown. Dream Team is currently in talks with two consumer goods brands for sponsorship for the season.

More franchises are in the works, according to Bearryman.

“We want to build other online sub-brands and franchises to become famous for and reach new audiences,” he said.

Image: Dream Team via Facebook.

Update: An earlier version of this story stated Dream Team increased retention rate by 68%, instead it retained 68% of customers from last year. 

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