The Federal Hockey League may not be far off from the fictional league of the same name from “Slapshot” at least in terms of being the first, and sometimes last shot, for players looking to make a go of it on the ice. But at least one team in the league, the Danbury Whalers (with similar logo to the old Hartford Whalers I may add), always tries to be innovative. Their latest experiment to engage fans in the social space has taken hold, and could provide a really cool template for engagement in a sport like baseball, with bigger gaps of downtime and more players, at least on the Independent level.
For several weeks the Whalers have been doing Twitter Take Overs. While a twitter Takeover is certainly not unique for a brand, it is different when the Takeover is being done by a player…during a game. With Whalers Director of Media Relations, Tommy Pecoraro serving as host, players who are playing in the game, as well as coaches, are answering questions and posting their thoughts, from the penalty box, between periods, after a goal, in the lockerroom all in real time. It is a daring and certainly innovative way to get unfiltered access, and while leagues like the NFL have allowed live tweeting during the Pro Bowl from players, getting instant reaction during a regular season game where dollars and points are on the line takes social media to a new level. It also sets up some unique sponsor activations for in-arena and in real time through social media, where a platform with limited characters like Twitter can sometimes be challenging to monetize in short stints.
It is also interesting to see that the takeover hasn’t really caught a great deal of backlash from selected players; they get it, they trust Pecoraro to approach at the right times, and the engagement is gaining steam and attention for a team that has done a nice job of building a core following in a spot near the Connecticut and New York border. It is also a great way to increase the fan base and get more engagement far away from Danbury, which can lead to some additional merch sales and other bottom line benefits.
While it is doubtful that live takeovers will make it to the Major leagues or even affiliated minor league baseball teams, the Whalers experiment should be noted for Independent league teams, all-star events, even spring training. What would be better than getting a twitter takeover from Matt Harvey in the dugout from Port St. Lucie next spring to generate some Mets buzz right after he comes off the field? It may be a stretch, but the Whalers attempt is worth some points, and will probably be augmented, refined, sold and copied down the line. Innovation lives on in Connecticut, with a solid experiment that is not minor league in any way.