Events like Super Bowl give you a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, one of which was NBA social pioneer Jeramie McPeek, who was quarterbacking all the social for the Super Bowl Host Committee in Houston.
Jeramie has more than two decades of experience telling stories and achieving business objectives through traditional print, online, social and mobile channels. He spent the past 24 years with the Phoenix Suns, most recently as VP of Digital & Brand Strategy, but left the NBA in September to launch his own business, Jeramie McPeek Communications, and spent the past five months playing “Social Media QB” for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. The 44-year-old had previously worked on social media campaigns for the Arizona Super Bowl, the NFL Players Association and the Pope’s visit to the U.S. in 2015, and has had more than a thousand articles published in national magazines over the past 20 years. Named one of the country’s top 30 online sports marketers in 2014, @Jeramie owns two Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and has been a featured or keynote speaker at more than 30 conferences throughout the country, as well as overseas in Amsterdam, Melbourne and Dublin.
We got his take on whats working in the sports social space, and how things went in Houston.
You have been kind of a pioneer in the digital space as it relates to team engagement, how did you find that niche?
You know, I really just kind of grew into it. I never set out to be a digital pioneer. In fact, when I started my career with the Phoenix Suns in 1992, I didn’t even know what “digital” was. We didn’t have a website or even e-mail, believe it or not.
My first full-time job was editing the team’s monthly magazine, Fastbreak. So when the NBA launched NBA.com and a “Home Court” page for each team, I really just looked at that as an extension of the publication.
But it didn’t take long to realize that we could do a lot more than just republish our articles. We could tell stories in a whole new way, adding more photos, related content and eventually video, as well. And we could also interact with fans in ways that we never had before, with online polls, live chats with players, message boards, text campaigns and eventually social media and mobile apps.
So I really just learned along the way, as the business itself was evolving. At the same time, I have always had a curiosity that I think drives me to push the envelope and find new ways to tell stories, to entertain and to engage.
What were the biggest challenges in building the social platform for the Houston Super Bowl?
Well, I can’t take credit for building the social platforms, at least not from the ground up. I joined the host committee in September, so they had already established channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at that point.
But I think the biggest challenge in managing social channels for a Super Bowl host committee is just coming up with creative and engaging content several months in advance of the game, and growing your followers over time. You really can’t wait until the last month or two to become active on social, or you won’t have enough time to build up an audience to communicate with when you need to share those important messages about all of the events and activities that surround the Super Bowl.
Thankfully, I had played the same role of “Social Media QB” for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee during the 18 months leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. So I knew what expect when I joined Houston’s team and what had worked for me previously, and I tried to implement a similar game plan.
What were you most proud of during the week leading up?
You know, I was just proud to be a part of an amazing team. I’ve gotten a lot of attention myself over the last month. I was interviewed for several publications and websites, and invited to talk about our social media efforts on a few podcasts, as well. But I was really just one member of a giant team that had been working for up to three years on pulling everything together, under the leadership of Chairman Ric Campo and President/CEO Sallie Sargent. So I was honored to be recruited to join their team, and incredibly impressed to see all of their hard work pay off, as more than a million fans enjoyed Super Bowl LIVE presented by Verizon during the nine days leading up to the Super Bowl. Even the national media members that flew in for the week were tweeting us about what an impressive job Houston did in organizing everything, so that was rewarding to know that I played a small role in that.
As it relates to our social efforts, I was proud of the quality and quantity of content that we were able to produce and push out during the two weeks leading up to the game. And I say “we” because there were a number of people on the committee, who would send me photos or video clips from different events that they were at all around town, and we had a few volunteers, who were also capturing or creating content for me to post. I personally took more than 2,000 photos and shot several hours-worth of video – including streaming through Facebook LIVE, Periscope and Instagram, and capturing snippets of video through my Snapchat Spectacles – but I couldn’t have done it all without the help of a number of other people.
How was this different from what you have done on the team level?
Honestly, it was not all that different. Much like leading digital for a team, it’s a lot more than just creating content and interacting with fans. That’s important, of course, but it’s equally important to work closely with all of the different departments, from PR to marketing to community relations to legal and event operations, and help them achieve their goals through social, as well. That could be purchasing and scheduling Facebook ads to help sell tickets and hospitality packages. That could be promoting the tree plantings around the city and reading rallies at local schools. Or it could be incorporating key marketing partners like Verizon and BBVA Compass into our social content to give them exposure, as part of their sponsorship.
I guess the only real difference is that we didn’t have a specific team to promote or players to work with throughout the five months leading up to the game. Instead, we tweeted about all of the big games and dramatic plays, and reposted great photos from the Houston Texans’ wins or the Dallas Cowboys’ winning streak, for example. We tried to engage with football fans throughout the country, and football media around the world, as we knew they would all be watching #SB51 in Houston on Feb. 5.
The social work that teams do can differ greatly, what’s the best advice you can give to any team or brand looking to engage more in the space?
Be consistent in your flow of content year-round. You can’t just post on game days or even just during the season. Your fans are on social every day of the year, so you should be too.
Be flexible and open to trying new things. Social is constantly changing, and you have to be able to adjust quickly, and take advantage of new features and functionality.
Keep an eye on what other teams in your league and other sports leagues are doing, but also other brands, as you never know where a great idea is going to come from.
Interact with your followers. If you see them post a photo from their first game, thank them for attending and tell them you hope to see them again. If you see someone post a photo of their baby or dog wearing your team’s jersey, tell them how cute they are. If a fan complains about their experience in your venue, respond privately and ask how you can make their experience better next time. Maybe even give them a pair of tickets to another game. Those quick exchanges through social can make a big impression on a fan, who will be excited that their favorite team responded to them, and it could make them want to attend more games, or purchase a jersey to show their team pride, because you have strengthened that bond with them.
Who are some of the teams that you have seen do social right?
There are so many teams doing great things on social that I always feel bad when I am asked this question, because I inevitably leave someone great out.
But some of the teams that quickly jump to mind are the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in the NFL. The Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings are a few of my favorites in the NBA. I love what Clemson does at the college level, and I have to throw the WWE in there, even though it’s not a team or even a sport, per se. They do a fantastic job covering their events and athletes in fun, creative ways.
What do you think is the biggest mistake, and what’s the biggest opportunity, you see for teams or leagues in the social space?
I think the biggest mistake is when a team floods their social media feeds with sponsored posts. Obviously, social is an attractive asset for marketing partners, and I believe there are a lot of creative and natural ways to incorporate sponsors into social. But when there are too many sponsored posts, or the posts are too focused on the sponsor and their products, it hurts your overall engagement and annoys your fans.
You can’t treat social media like your TV broadcasts, where all of the segments are presented by partners and you throw a bunch of commercials in between game action. Social doesn’t work like that and, I would argue, it can actually be a negative for your sponsor’s brand image, if their inclusion is a turn-off to your social followers.
What platforms do you have your eye on as emerging in engagement in sports?
Video is becoming more and more important on social, of course, now that Facebook has their LIVE product, Twitter has Periscope and even Instagram now allows their users to stream live through their stories. I think there are a lot of great opportunities to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at your teams, whether that’s during practices, community events, or live video chats.
E-Sports are blowing up, of course, and I am excited to see how the NBA and 2K Sports do with their new league. Teams that use Twitch to stream their players competing against each other, or against fans playing video games, are reaching a new, younger demographic that is valuable.
And, of course, VR is still in its infancy, but has huge potential. I had a chance to interview NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for HOOP magazine this fall, and he believes that VR can be a game-changer for the league, allowing people all over the world, who would never have a chance to step foot into an NBA arena, to experience what it’s like to be at a game and sit courtside. So I am excited to see how that evolves over the next few years.
The employment field is expanding for those in the digital/social world around sports. What advice do you give those young or old, who may just be starting to look? What are the skills and traits needed?
I think it’s very important to be well-rounded, in terms of story-telling. You need to be a good writer, of course, but it also helps to know how to use Photoshop, how to use a DSLR camera, how to shoot and edit basic video.
You also need to understand how to use all of the different social channels that are out there. That doesn’t mean you have to use Snapchat every day yourself, but it would help to know how that channel, as just one example, works and what all of the different features and filters allow you to do.
There are great sports writers, for instance, who know how to tweet, but they’re not very good with photography, and don’t understand how to use Instagram, or how to stream live through Periscope. That limits what they can do, in covering a team, either for their media outlet or for the team itself.
The more skills that you have, the more you can offer a potential employer, the more unique content that you can create for you sports team or league, and the more valuable you are as a candidate.