Customer Spotlight: Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro’s Elena Zoppè
Blinkfire has with the Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro (Italian Basketball Federation (FIP)) since May 2023. The FIP is unique in that they handle the social media accounts for various men’s and women’s basketball teams. The teams don’t play every weekend, and when they do participate in major tournaments, it’s often uncertain how long they’ll be in the competition. The FIP represents Italy on the global stage, but they’re also keen on expanding their fanbase worldwide.
For this month’s Customer Spotlight Series, we chatted with Elena Zoppè, the Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro‘s Social Media Manager. We not only talked about social media and the sports industry, but also the challenges faced by the federation including balancing local and international coverage, evolving social media trends, differentiating communication on various platforms, content planning for major events, building successful partnerships, and adapting strategies for different audiences. Plus, we got a sneak peek into some of the cool stuff Elena and her team have worked on lately.
What do you do at the Italian Basketball Federation?
I’m the Social Media Manager in charge of creating the editorial plan and posting content we create during practice camps. I work with a great team made up of Press Officers (who connect us with the Federation on important activities and events that would create buzz on social media), photo agency, videographer, graphic designers, and illustrators. During particular events we are supported by the locals and/or by FIBA, providing pictures and videos from each of the events.
How do you balance representing Italians and having international coverage?
I have to be honest: right now we’re in a positive moment, with great interest towards the men’s national team and the growing awareness around youth teams. The past three summers helped us create a strong bond with our fans in Italy, which was our goal because they’re the ones coming to our games and the ones we represent in each game we play.
I know it can sound funny when I speak in the first person, as if I’m playing the games too, but this is the relationship we’re trying to build between the teams and our supporters. Our players care so much about the Italian Jersey that the fans feel like they’re part of this family!
We’re lucky enough that our Head Coach Gianmarco Pozzecco (nickname: Poz) and our star Simone Fontecchio (nickname: Simo) are well known aboard (and I would add ‘appreciated’). Poz’s personality and Simo’s journey from Pescara to the NBA make them easy to love. The numbers don’t lie either, and during the World Cup in Manila, FIBA awarded us as the third most engaged federation on social media. It’s a huge accomplishment for us, especially if you consider that we’re not winning as much as we’d like (last medal was in 2004).
How do you connect with national team fans who are abroad?
Video is king right now, and pushing clips with more action and less speaking helps us reach fans who do not understand Italian. TikTok has played a huge role in doing that. On Facebook, where the prevalence of content seems to be declining, 90% of our followers speak Italian. This rate decreases when we look at Instagram (78%) and Twitter (70%) since we push good pictures and engaging videos with a short, effective text rather than a long and explanatory one.
FIBA also shows love to the Italian National Team (Azzurri) during the national teams’ windows, with several collaboration posts and content about us.
What strategies do you use to engage with fans and build a loyal fanbase for the national team?
We try to differentiate our communication as much as possible on each platform to hit our target audience. For example, we use a young and fun tone of voice on TikTok that can’t really be used on Facebook or LinkedIn. In general, we try to keep our brand in place but give a new, fresh style to everything we post. Taking advantage of memes, trends, and viral tweets allows us to reach the younger audience we need to take the leap in quality on Instagram and Twitter.
We can’t hide that our players’ personalities help too. It’s not usual to see two veterans like Gigi Datome and Nicolò Melli hosting a podcast involving their teammates so people can learn more about them and their stories. This is what I meant by saying this national team is like a family.
In the digital age, what role does social media play in maintaining a strong fan following for the national team?
It’s key. Right now, the fans don’t just care about the games. They want to know more about the players: their stories, their characters, and their interactions with one another. We have the tools and access to give the fans what they want: during practice camps, we can be “insiders” with the players and spend the day with the team. We get to know them and their daily routines, which translates to social media content. Our goal is to show the full view of the team, both the wins and losses. The way they stay together, and their motivation after a defeat. Everything has a bright side, and our job is to spotlight it.
How do you keep up with the latest social media trends?
The only way to do it is by spending time on the platforms. Before creating our TikTok channel in March 2023, we spent months gathering ideas for the videos we wanted to create, the trends worked well, and the archived content that could be used. TikTok Italy does a great job sending weekly updates about the viral songs and trending videos and topics to direct us a bit.
The same goes for the other social media platforms. We take inspiration from the best teams (not only in basketball but other sports as well) and try to turn ideas into social media reality. Board games, TV shows, or social media accounts of other organizations: everything can give you the creativity for great content.
What are the different modes of marketing and communication you’re doing for the federation?
If we’re talking about more formal communication, obviously, press releases and the news on our website are our main tools. But to create a solid relationship between the fans and our teams, there’s nothing like Instagram right now. Unfortunately, Twitter in Italy is not very popular — even though live-tweeting during games gives us great satisfaction. Facebook is decreasing for us, and TikTok is very much still growing.
Instagram has literally exploded lately, with 60,000 new followers just this summer. Our TikTok audience is very active and loyal.
How do you take advantage of players’ social media accounts?
We know which of our athletes are most active on social media, so we act accordingly. The new (and amazing) collab posts on Instagram and the possibility of starting a conversation on Twitter are two main ways we try to involve our players.
We’re lucky that young names like Matteo Spagnolo and Gabriele Procida, Dame Sarr, and Matilde Villa have huge fanbases, and we organically try to engage with them as much as possible.
Our players are very attached to the Italian jersey and brand and post often during practice camps. We created a well-working system to share high-quality pictures and videos with them (via Telegram).
How was it working during the World Cup? How did you plan social media? Can you give us some insights into how you prepare content for a competition?
Working during an event like the World Cup is something you can’t explain. Simply being there, with the best federations in the world, and having the opportunity to exchange ideas is very special. The pressure can be a lot because we knew the expectations on our team were high. We kept following our strategy, showing how the guys lived during the event — a behind-the-scenes view. I hope we were able to convey the feelings and the amazing atmosphere of Manila.
Once we played the last game in February, we started preparing for World Cup content. As for the planning, we started thinking about the content right after the window we had in February. We shared ideas with our photographers about games and practices as well as our media day. We usually take pictures on three different backgrounds:
1) White: Used for regular headshots and cutouts
2) Neutral: In this case, it was black
3) Vibrant/Creative: A special background used for specific occasions
Since we played in the Philippines, for the last one we created a pattern that recalled the Country and we used the pictures we took with it to announce the 12 players who were going to the World Cup.
We did the same with our videographer, dividing the clips we needed as TikTok material (“snack” videos, shorter but effective) and a more formal format (the “over-story” of the whole World Cup). The initial idea was to tell the story of each one of the World Cup members: players and staff. But on one of the first days of practice camp, Nicolò Melli and Gigi Datome proposed something different:
- Having something the players felt passionate about and could connect with made our team change some of the content we planned, and we focused more owned media on the podcast.
Finally, when looking at our content, we decided to keep our standard templates for the friendly games before the World Cup and customize every game day graphic that tells a different story. For the first game, we played at Araneta Coliseum, the Arena where Muhammad Ali faced Joe Frazier III in the renowned “Thrilla in Manila,” so we decided to recreate the original poster. When we played the USA for the first time in 25 years, we focused on the coaches since both played for the national teams they represent now.
We had a lot going on this summer, with Gigi Datome’s retirement and his 200th game, but with the help of our illustrator and each of our collaborators, we did a great job (we are more humble than it seems here, I swear).
Can you give an example of a successful partnership or collaboration with a brand that you’ve been a part of?
We often collaborate with our sponsors. With some of them, we have agreements for fixed templates. For example, MG’s logo is present on gameday graphics, and this works best in my opinion. We try to create specific content that connects with our brand partners. This summer, ITA Airways asked us to record some quick clips with our players talking about something they take when they travel. Not every sponsor is used during this collaboration, but offering them ideas helps the brand and us.
A great partnership we developed over the past year is with the Utah Jazz. During the summer, teams don’t do many internal activities besides the NBA Summer League in July, and the Jazz pushed a ton of content around Simone Fontecchio’s performance. The Jazz is an amazing organization, and we keep sharing pictures and clips to join forces.
What’s the most exciting fan interaction or engagement campaign you’ve been involved in?
Obviously, there’s nothing better than seeing our content go viral or creating conversations outside our channels. For instance, the impact of the Afternoon Podcast, hosted by Nicolò Melli and Gigi Datome. Melli came up with the idea at the beginning of our last practice camp, which was to be Datome’s last camp before retiring. The podcast guests were team members and Coach Pozzecco, recorded before the World Cup. In each episode, the guys talked about the World Cup, memories, and stories.
Afternoon Podcast was an unexpected success in that people who listened and/or watched understood the beautiful atmosphere we experienced in Manilla and how the team approached every win and loss. It became tangible when we realized many fans were calling Matteo Spagnolo and Gabriele Procida “Manuè”, the funny nickname they gave each other, and they told the story about during an episode. FIBA itself re-adapted the claim of the podcast “Questo è Afternoon, cominciamo” (“This is Afternoon, let’s get started”) to “Questo è Second Round, cominciamo” after we beat Serbia.
How do you adapt your communication strategies for different platforms and audiences, both locally and internationally?
I’ve already said this, but studying our audience is fundamental to giving fans the content they like the most. TikTok is the best example: you should be authentic, keep the editing simple, and pay attention to the sound. On the other hand, Instagram focuses less on music and more on subtitles because the target audience on the platform is not inclined to watch every video with audio turned on.
On TikTok and Instagram Reels, we try to be as concise as possible, whereas on Facebook and Twitter, we can explain everything a bit more in-depth.TikTok is the best example I can give: you need to be authentic, keep the editing simple, and pay attention to the sound. On Instagram, you can focus a bit less on the music, and subtitles are very important because the target audience is not inclined to watch every video with the audio on.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in sports marketing and digital communications?
First of all, watch what others are doing! There’s no better teacher than understanding what works and what doesn’t from others’ experiences. It helps you develop a critical eye and gives inspiration. There’s nothing wrong with getting ideas from the best in the business, as long as you’re not copying them but adapting the concept for your specific situation.
My advice to get into the sports world would be to attend as many events as possible and talk to everyone. Always be kind and respectful, showing regard but not being too shy. If you want to make people remember you, you should stand out — with the right questions, professional behavior, and curiosity.
Measure your successes with Blinkfire
The 2023 basketball World Cup will be remembered by Italian fans for many years. While the federation didn’t secure a medal, they did manage to inspire their fans and captivate basketball enthusiasts, especially after their hard-fought victory against Serbia, one of the favorites.
At Blinkfire, we take pride in working with organizations like the Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro and look forward to continuing to provide them with the most accurate social media and sponsorship metrics in the industry.