From Players To Teams, NBA Runs Its Digital Play

Much has been made, and rightly so about MLB.com’s innovation and NHL.com’s savvy in the digital space. However over time, especially with such a solid NBA Finals going on, the NBA, their teams and their players has again found unique, effective and very positive ways to use social media to engage, grow and promote products, teams, players and events, without slamming platitudes over ones head time and again.

Last week the league let Fast Company’s Jason Feifer behind the curtain for a well documented piece on how the league has grown their engagement and what they do, and don’t do to activate in the space. The integration on league platforms is pretty seamless, and partners have the ability to create and then drive campaigns from one medium to another…TV to twitter, .com to radio. While that’s not driving huge dollars yet to the NBA coffers, it is growing an allegiance and getting a fan base which has trouble sitting still to pay a little more attention.

However the greatest piece of the NBA’s social engagement is the way it has been translated throughout every level of the league, from teams to athletes to officials. And while blogger policies are still evolving, largely due to space restrictions in arenas, they are becoming more integrated across the board in basketball than perhaps in any of the other major sports. Some other examples across the league of innovative engagement ranges from the Golden State Warriors use of social media to engage their bloggers, while the Boston Celtics incorporated a full blown social media workshop into their partners summit this week.

The New York Knicks took great strides to build out a full engaged web campaign to engage fans with product, special offers and access both home and away, while the Oklahoma City Thunder regularly posted players twitter handles on dasher boards throughout the playoffs, encouraging fans to follow along. Knicks fans also learned more about Amar’e Stoudamire, and probably had more access to him than their media did, by his strong social media engagement, where he not only shared his thoughts but gave fans the ability to know more about programs that he enjoyed away from the court, from charity to fashion. In Phoenix, the Suns digital team created a series of sponsor-related programs that note only increased visibility and buzz for the team but helped impact the bottom line by enhancing sponsorships partners and giving brands a direct ROI on promotion nights.

Then of course there is Shaquille O’Neal, whose retirement announcement was the culmination of a strongly developed fan engagement platform built out by his partners at Digital Royalty over time, the right person in the right medium.

Now is social media engagement the Holy Grail for all that ails professional sports these days? Heck no. Like every other form of engagement, some athletes take to the process and do well while some fall flat. Those who look at the medium as a money maker are still sadly mistaken, although pay to tweet and post programs with select athletes do work. Some teams are also still very protective of their messaging and aren’t yet ready to invest in full blown social media programs unless there are sponsor dollars tied to offset cost, and often times when you try to tie heavy sponsor messaging into a grassroots word of mouth program the sincerity of engagement is lost and the program dies. Even the best social media programs, without the mix of traditional media…TV and radio…still fall flat as there are still not enough consistent consumer eyes focused in any one place other than the TV to be truly and completely effective. Changing yes, but change is slow in coming. There is also the issue of WHO is engaged? Do you need the right 10,000 followers or do you really need millions, and who exactly are those people and what are you doing with them?

All of those questions are still in play through this medium, but rest assured the NBA from league through teams to players and staff, have really started addressing effective engagement and appear to be doing very well as they innovate and grow a fan base that remains as international and passionate as any in team sports.

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