We have all seen the good and the bad that the recent elections have brought to light in the area of social media influence impacting a sometimes quick to judge consumer base. President Barack Obama, who is one of the first leaders in any field to have harnessed the power of the digital and social space during his successful runs to the Oval Office, pointed out on several occasions that the use of “news” sites to push agendas has become alarming, and Facebook has finally acknowledged that there needs to be better policing of unauthorized, unfounded click bait sites that prey on an uninformed public to create news where news does not exist. How much that can effect public opinion is still up for debate, but there is no doubt that the new world order will continue to see more and more public figures, properties and brands going direct to consumer and bypassing the traditional new path when it comes to delivering messages of any kind.
This past week we saw the latest iteration of that, with President-elect Trump continuing to deliver news first hand, be it on Twitter or on You Tube. The message is direct and does not need interpretation by the public; it is his take on whatever he would like to say, uncensored and unfiltered.
So that brings us to leadership in sports business and an interesting observation we uncovered in the past few weeks. It is no secret that consumers continue to crave more direct access and deeper content to improve their experience. Like in the political world, athletes are taking more and more to their own social channels to deliver messages, both with social issues and with business opportunities, to various stages of success. Authenticity continues to be key, and consistency still rules the day.
But what about those at the top, in ownership positions? Should they have their own share of voice, can they take the time to develop that share of voice, does it help a franchise from a business standpoint for an owner or business head to have a position, or does it create a distraction? We took a look at the owners of the majority of the team sports in the North America, and it seems in many ways that voice is silent.
When looking at 125 teams and their social footprint, only a handful of owners/CEO’s…35 that we could clearly identify… have developed a public face in the social space, especially on twitter. Many of those who are actively engaged, personalities like Ted Leonsis, Paul Allen, Mark Cuban, Vivek Randavive, Steve Ballmer, Peter Guber and Dan Gilbert, use their social activity to effectively drive interest and attention to a myriad of business and personal interests, and probably do it effectively. In that mix comes team business as well, but because they engage and curate their social following, fans probably do have more of an affinity with them, and their chosen public persona grows.
There are also a group of senior executives; Steve Tisch, Jerry Jones, Peter Angelos, Merritt Paulsen and others, who started with engagement have gone dormant over the years, probably feeling that the commitment and the downside of being so public outweighs the positive.
Is any more sport owner friendly than others in social? Surprisingly there is not one of the five (MLB, NFL, MLS, NBA, NHL) that is much more dominant than the other, but MLS ownership, starting with Commissioner Don Garber, has the most engaged owners with 10 (although several like Steve Nash and Oscar deLaHoya are focused on much more than the teams they are partial owners of). The least engaged ownership group is still the most traditional, that being MLB, with only five owners (and of the five, Mike Ilitich, Peter Guber, John Henry, and John Middleton look at other business, entertainment and community events outside of baseball, and Angelos hasn’t done anything since 2010). The irony is that MLB, through Major League Baseball Interactive Media and now BAMTech, is probably more engaged in the business of sports in the digital space than any other league. Help others but keep your thoughts to yourself.
Is there a common link to those engaged? Disruptors seem to rule the roost, as do the smaller markets. Leonsis and his myriad of interests and first adopter stance is perhaps the most diverse and engaged, with Cuban waxing on all sorts of topics including his Mavericks.
Look for a New York owner taking up the social space? You will only find Woody Johnson of the Jets. Nary a Dolan, Prokorhov, Ledecky, Wilpon or Steinbrenner to be found. Chicago? Try the Fire and Andew Hauptman but don’t look for a Ricketts or a Reinsdorf. LA has Guber and the outspoken Ballmer along with the Lakers Jeanie Buss, but no Angels or Kings or Ducks in the mix. From a league standpoint, the only engaged commissioner other than Garber is the NFL’s Roger Goodell, who did draw criticism for months of silence following the Ray Rice incident and resurfaced much much later on and has been engaged ever since. If you want a “league” head taking to the space, go to the UFC’s Dana White, a master of the social space.
So what does this all mean, with a great deal of silence in social at the top of the sports space.
A few simple things that apply not just to ownership, but really to anyone of prominence who engages in what can be a volatile but effective space.
- If you are going to do it, you have to be consistent and take the time to engage. A casual post or something that is not authentic is worse than doing it at all, and if you choose to stop, then bow out quietly. Sometimes the worst thing is to leave tweets or posts up, better to delete the account.
- It is sometime better to listen than to speak. We live in a world of loud shouting with no real resonance sometimes. It’s Ok to have an account, even one that is hidden, to listen to the conversations going on and bookmark what is important. You can learn a lot, and not have to react.
- Learn from those around you. There are a myriad of listening tools that can keep anyone in leadership abreast of the conversations, without having to dive in directly. If you are an owner or a senior leader with a team, league or brand, you always have a platform to speak when needed. Those execs in the field who are doing it every day can help advise as to how and when, and by the way, you probably have the traditional tools to reach the audience you like when needed.
- Don’t do for the sake of doing. Of those who started and stopped, it seems like a first in try was important. They either lost interest or could not find the right voice so they stopped. Social does not have to be for everyone. It has to be a personal and committed choice to do right. If you don’t like swimming, don’t go in the water.
- If you have a voice and can curate it well, you can deliver what you want when you want. Look at the owners, many of whom are new to the game so to speak. They have found their voice and use it effectively to drive an agenda or an opinion. Many times the message is well thought out and strategic, it is rarely a vent in a passioned moment. Done well, social scores, especially with those who command an audience.
Will we see more owners and leaders engaged in social, following the lead of the President-elect to go right to the people and drive an agenda or a mission? It does not look like many have picked up the trend yet, but you are not dealing with people who react and engage on a whim for the most part. Success in business is safe and calculating and many times very private. Social wen used poorly can become a distraction, and even one misstep can easily undo lots of equity. It also has to be authentic, and in a world of cautious gatekeepers, sometime authenticity goes by the wayside.
So there you have it. Will President-elect Trump’s straight to the consumer bypass the media set the standard for engagement going forward, especially if it is successful? We shall see, but for right now, team ownership on social seems to think that quiet listening trumps loud and direct engagement, no pun intended.