social media | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

In 140 Characters or 120 Minutes…The Communicators Who Communicate

One of the opportunities and also one of the issues with social media is that the stream and the quest for information and access is never ending. The pipeline if you choose to use it, never really shuts off. So into that vacuum of information, especially for the consumer, comes the communications head in sport of teams, leagues, governing bodies, and broadcast entities.  Like every new medium, some choose to embrace, some run and hide and others take a wait and see approach. Sport, on the team level at least, is a business of ritual which can sometimes be endless, and for some teams with long rituals and full press areas, those rituals are sometimes hard, if not impossible to change, even if there is benefit.

Some teams see the social media space as a way to reinforce the company line and that’s about it. Buy tickets here, here is tonight’s promotion, here are some facts about our players…much of it is not new or innovative, but it is effective to use social media to make sure that followers have some information, especially about the bottom line for the team. Often times these feeds are not personalized, they are generic, and can be generated as much by an intern as they would be by a senior staff member. They provide a service, but don’t really give the consumer much more insight or added value than they would get in other places. It’s access, but not access that enhances the experience or sheds light into what is going on with the team, or the athlete they passionately follow.

As a communications tool to the masses, for those teams that choose that path it works for them.

The tragedy of taking that path is that many times those communicators on the staff are great storytellers who often times can provide a very unique glimpse through their daily interactions. Little slice of life anecdotes which followers of the team, media, business partners, would find interesting. Because these men and women spend so much time inside the business of sport, and they are usually skilled communicators, they have both a different take on things and see the business from a side that is pretty unique. Can they mix in the obligatory shill for a giveaway day? Sure. Would they take shots at the team or officials in lean times, probably not.  However using social media as a fun way to peer inside the glass tower is a way for those who do the communication to better communicate even humanize the team or the entity that they represent in sport.

Who does the mix well? Some, like Josh Rawitch at the Arizona  Diamondbacks or Ron Colangelo at the Detroit Tigers  or Jim Saccomano at the Denver Broncos, or Charles Bloom who was at the SEC for a long time and is now at the University of South Carolina, or Mike Kelly who went from the ACC to the BCS,  do a great job of mixing in information and anecdotes from a long career. One of the first, and best, adopters of social media is New York Giants longtime communications head Pat Hanlon, who not only gives some solid insight into team goings-on but is not afraid to mix it up with fans and the media, usually in a good natured way. Most recently, the New York Mets longtime PR leader Jay Horwitz became a media story himself when he took to twitter like a fish to water, and provided amazing insight every day from a life dedicated to the orange and blue, telling tales of players past and present, mixed in with a lighthearted look at himself, in 140 character bursts. It is a fun and very unique peer into the inner workings of sport at its highest level. It is genuine, fun and very sincere.

Now that type of look, or the work that Hanlon and others do is not sanctioned by every organization. The Brooklyn Nets for example, recently cut off their lighthearted “Nets PR” twitter feed, which was providing some fun, some silly little slices of life inside the team.  While no real reason was given, the feeling is similar to what other teams, colleges and leagues feel…social media should be a marketing tool to push product, not to entertain fans. It’s may not be the right approach for some, but it is the choice of the organization. Sure, sometimes the rat-tat of social can also burn those who get caught up. Several teams and colleges have had to recant statements when front office execs, even some in communications, have fired off shots at media members or fans too hastily. However all that can be avoided if you think before you hit send…the same advice, most communications executives give to their players and coaches.

So no it’s not for everyone…however for those who use the medium well, communicating with the top communicators can be fun and effective, and a strong tool to engage fans and even grow brand and media following. The folks who do it well don’t shill, they are good story tellers and communicators, with a gift to spin a tale efficiently and make the game and those who play very human.

They make social media fun and interesting to their followers with their genuine approach learned from a lifetime of being on the inside. After all, sport is big business, but it is supposed to be fun, and communicating that fun is what brings fans, brands, and even media, engaged and interested, in good times and bad.

Kobe Sets The New Screen…

The opportunity for athletes, teams and coaches to engage with fans seems to ratchet up with each passing week. What was once doable only by going to a game or an autograph sessions or “sports night,” has elevated from “influencer parties” to chat rooms to text messaging to customized and targeted voice and email to tweet ups to text chats to Facebook engagements to message boards, where fans from around the world can communicate in real time with their willing sports and entertainment figure of choice.

The most recent flavor of the month is of course, twitter, where fans can follow and interact with their engaged athlete in short bursts. Into the twitter mix in a big way the last few weeks was the LA Lakers Kobe Bryant, who went from silent to carefully engaged in the platform I a matter of days. This week Bryant took his engagement one innovative step further, offering to watch and then tweet in real time his thoughts and responses to the replay of his 81 point game on NBA TV.  The response to Bryant’s outreach was very strong, and it got the NBA some tremendous buzz while opening up a whole world of engagement possibilities on twitter for any athlete or performer looking back on a memorable event. President Obama reliving his thoughts at the inauguration? Why not. Lady Gaga reviewing an HBO special with her fans to tell her thoughts about the process? Why not. The events are taped, the thoughts can be poignant and the fan would enjoy the give and take.

While the twitter engagement is nice, it really only scratches the surface of what may be coming to take this type of interaction to another level. For example. Google has had some success with Google hangouts for over a year…a way for anyone to engage via streaming video in real time with friends or bold face names. It has the power of one of the greatest promotional platforms behind it, and can pull in big numbers of people from around the world to talk to whoever the subject is.

So why not take Bryant’s interaction on twitter and overlay the live video component to it with an engagement tool like Google hangouts for a taped event. It could even be housed through the NBA’s home site on NBA.com, or even on multiple sites to help drive traffic. Better yet, how about taking a live game and dropping former stars or coaches into the hangout to give fans an insider’s view as to what is going on in a game. Both instances bring a sponsorable, unique real-time overlay to an event and create additional value that a fan cannot get with a primary screen.

Would it work for every game? No. Sometimes without the right “star” the chats can become silly and mundane and a distraction to what the consumer is watching. You don’t want someone to miss something going on in a game because they were focused on a mobile device or a laptop. Yu want to add to the experience, whether it is a live event or a memorable night being replayed. It also lends well to some events where there are natural breaks n the game like soccer, baseball, cricket and even football more than the fast paced environment of hockey for example.

Sure the idea of the second screen has been tried for years to some extent. However the speed of technology and live video today has made the opportunity for broader engagement more possible and less obtrusive than ever before without detracting from the overall experience.

Bryant’s massive tweet experiment this week showed the value of stars with that platform, now it’s time to make video the next part of such an engagement…cleanly, effectively and globally. It certainly isn’t live tweeting or micro cameras with reactions as the game is going on, but with the right experts involved…retired players, injured players, former coaches…the ability to keep growing the fan experience will continue to rise.

Nice score this week by Kobe and his team, let’s see what comes with the next shot.

In Social, Colleges Need To Play It Straight…

There has been a tremendous amount of hype and attention payed to high level college athletics in the last year. From conference reshuffling, to the National Championship playoff to expanded March Madness coverage and the innovation in the TV and digital space with added elements like the Pac 12 Network and the Longhorn Network, the opportunities for intercollegiate athletics as a business has never been stronger across the board. However with the growth comes higher expectations and a higher level of return from new brand partners, the media and the fans as well as a higher level of professionalism across the board. Whether it is fair or not to hold college athletics to many standards that professional teams are held to may or not be fair, but it is a reality. Big time events bring big time responsibilities.

It would also seem that the collegiate level should lead to more innovative engagement by schools in places like digital and social media. For example, this past week Northwestern University launched an innovative platform that serves as a social media hub for all their football followers, much in the way other leagues like the National Rugby League have done. Smart and supportive of their loyal followers. However with innovation comes some blurred lines at some institutions. Added expectation and promotional opportunities have made social media a key and low cost engagement platform for many schools. You have news or a promotion? Post it away. Most schools have found ways to split the duties of social media as well, with many times Twitter become the news source and Facebook more of a promotional tool. However with that work comes a certain level of authenticity…if you want to promote and provide information, even in a closed environment like Facebook and you want to sue social media as a news source, then you have to be professional and report accurate information, sometimes bad as well as good. While that’s not to say that bad news…a loss, and issue on campus…shouldn’t be placed in as positive a light as possible, if you are going to report news you must report all news.

So it was with some surprise that Sam Laird, the ever-diligent sports media reporter at Mashable, had a story on Monday that several schools, including the University of Houston and the University of Pittsburgh, failed to post poor opening weekend losses on their social media sites, especially Facebook. Both schools used the platforms to promote pregame activities, but when the game came along the upset reporting was avoided. It was disappointing to see that two such high level programs would seek to avoid news reporting on their home social media feeds when they would have no problem reporting good news. If you are going to use social media for a news source, then you need to be consistent.

Maybe someone felt it was embarrassing or that people should get and news somewhere else. Maybe they felt that the social platform is just promotional and would disappoint ardent fans who didn’t want to be reminded. No matter. If you want to be an authentic source of information then report it all. You have the ability to spin to some degree, and you have the ability to break news. Not doing so, or being selective in reporting, wreaks of unprofessionalism and a lack of credibility. It will also drive followers away. Now if you do want to use social just as a marketing tool that’s fine, then don’t report positive news either. It is very hard to have it both ways.

No losing is not easy. Finding the good in a bitter and disappointing loss is also not fun. However of college athletics wants to be in the big time, then always act consistently and professionally.  Take the good with the bad, and you will learn valuable lessons, as well as growing your brand with credible reporting. By not playing it straight, all credibility goes out the window. Yes the landscape is vast for college athletics, and so are the challenges to keep pace. Reporting the simple facts is an easy place to get it right every time. Take a lesson from the pros.

 

Yin and Yang of Twitter…Osi Umenyiora and NASCAR

The endless debate rages on as to how and what twitter as a social platform can do for sport. We started the weekend with New York Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora trying to use the medium to help Lawrence Taylor buy back his Super Bowl ring…provided Umenyiora found a million followers. Then we had NASCAR cutting a “deal” with Twitter to help manage and effectively market the medium to the sport’s uberloyal fan base, starting with the Pocono 400 in June.

One great idea, one poor one. Why?

Below are some thoughts we put in the updated Sports Publicity text which will come out in November on twitter usage. In the case of an individual athlete, the idea that “I will do this if I get to a million followers” has jumped the shark. It hasn’t worked with charities for the most part, and is becoming white noise with athletes and other sin the entertainment field trying to get a mass following “just because.’ The social media audience is becoming more savvy, and the days of quality followers that can be used to merchandise brands or other partners is becoming more important than just volumes of passive followers, many of whom may be spam or may never actually read or engage in anything that the “prominent figure” endorses . There is also a growing backlash from athletes and others who try to openly use twitter growth or Facebook likes as a ploy to help a charity or a brand.

If the effort was sincere, then why not just support the effort with the fan base you have cultivated, and use traditional media to help grow the word as well? Sincerity in cause and brand marketing is much more important than “follow me.” The other need is for consistency of message. The ability for athletes or any celebrity to endorse one brand this week and another random one the next is getting more and more difficult. People want to be cultivated and want to see a steady message, not some willy nilly shoutouts. Sure there are a few exceptions…an Oprah shoutout or something that Shaquille O’Neal may like carries weight because their work in cultivating followers has taken time and has been proven effective. It is very, very difficult to replicate, especially when someone is pleading for followers with no real backup.

Umenyiora’s appeal is a great example of what happens when the request for followers rings hollow. It is great that he got to 50,000 plus followers. That is the core he should work with and that is still a powerful group that will grow, so long as he seems sincere in his efforts. Otherwise the white noise gets louder.

Now NASCAR is a different story. Their athletes are marketing machines, they appear sincere in their outreach and the fans are looking for more interaction. They rarely have to seek, fans seek them and will follow.

NASCAR has also allowed, as we have seen in previous races, to use social media platforms for drivers and crews in race, the biggest result of which was Brad Keselowski tweeted from his car a photograph he had just shot of a jet-dryer truck engulfed in flames right after having been rammed by driver Juan Pablo Montoya. He added 100,000 Twitter followers in a few minutes because of his content and the viral nature of the shot.

The partnership with Twitter will support live race broadcasts. During a race, when fans click on #NASCAR, search for #NASCAR on Twitter.com or visit twitter.com/#NASCAR, they will reach a Twitter platform scrolling the most relevant tweets from NASCAR drivers, families, teams, commentators, celebrities and other racing fans and personalities. Twitter.com/#NASCAR will be available starting with the Pocono Raceway race weekend and then on June 10 in conjunction with TNT’s first of six television broadcasts of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Smart way for the medium to embrace, and for sure a good litmus test of proactive brands who will not have to beg for exposure. The exposure will come to them. Quality beats quantity.

Now those points…

One, it’s not for everyone.

Just like parties or driving fast cars, social media is not a practice for everyone. Coaches, athletes, even some brands may be risk averse or simply not have that much to say. Therefore participating in a social media campaign of any kind is not something that everyone must do. Understanding and following what is going on from a distance makes sense, so being on twitter or Facebook from a monitoring standpoint is a great thing to do. If you have nothing to say, or add, then don’t say or add anything.

However understanding what is going on is important. Silence can be the best form of intelligence.

Two, Size doesn’t always matter.

When social media exploded there was a burst to get to large number of followers. However social media is about peer to peer engagement of thoughts and ideas. Making sure you, your client, your business partner have the right followers, whether they are 20 or 20,000, is just as important as having a million in many cases.

Three, know who is in your posse.

Many people sign on to twitter or Facebook, Google Plus or engage in LinkedIn or any other social platforms and never bother to see who is following them or why they are following them. Ask from time to time; check your lists for spammers or unusual content, block those who are offensive to you. Just like people at a party in your house, responsibly managing your lists is an important piece of business maintenance. Then, knowing who and what is being said amongst your user groups will make your social media engagement just as valuable and effective as anything else you do in communications.

Four, ask questions.

Make sure you ask people why they are following you if you don’t know. Drop a question from time to time to some followers. It is important to be involved in the social space if you choose to be, so engage when you can.

Five, speak when you have something to say.

Many people fall into the trap of speaking just for the sake of saying something. Don’t. If you have an idea, a link, a story to communicate then do so, and make sure it is reflective of your overall social strategy. Don’t just post something because you haven’t said anything in a while and feel a need to do so.

Six, remember who you represent

Sometimes people think that they can separate their personal thoughts from their professional by using a “this is my thought not my company” disclaimer. That can be a big mistake. We are all intertwined for better or worse, and the alter ego idea in the digital space does not work. You speak for all those you represent at all times, so always have those around you in mind.

Seven, watch the chains that bind you

It is very easy to comment on a photo or a public chain in social media. Once you are on it you can lose control of those ties and they can spin very easily into a questionable area of comment, whether you are still commenting or intended to be part of a conversation that grew or not. Cut the ties after you comment, it will save you a lot of headaches.

Eight, watch the inference.

We lose all nuance with the printed word, despite the addition of emotions and small catch phrases. If something gets lost in the printed word pick up the phone and call the person. A little voice contact can take much of the sting out of a misguided email, post or tweet.

Nine, Think before your post.

The biggest mistakes made in social media come from those who react emotionally. Be professional, pause and then say what you have to say. Once a thought is out the amount of time taken to retract or clarify will cut away from all the productive time you have.

Ten, Be Genuine and Creative

Don’t use social platforms to create white noise or endless useless chapter about a subject you are working with or promoting. Make your platform as much editorial as advertorial and as diverse as you can. It is social, so be social while balancing the work effort. Social media provides lots of opportunities for us to connect with people from around the world that we would not normally be able to.

Of Bulls, Isles and Curves…Some Good Ideas…

As we go through Relegation weekend in the Barclays PremierLeague (also an idea which would be interesting but not feasible for American sport), some good practices that came in from the last few days.

The Isles Keep trying: Early last year it was the Tattoo Franchise sponsorship, not the Islanders, again with a long offseason, have gone the viral route to promote their young star John Tavares for the cover of EA Sports NHL ’13 Game. The team has taken some of the great video games of the past and inserted Tavares into the covers, with the requisite twitter handle and call to action for their fans to vote. It’s smart to get out in front, smart to be creative and smart to support your young star and send the message that you are thinking about next season, even for a franchise as star-crossed and lost in the media mix as the Islanders are. Whether it works is secondary, as the team has no media footprint to promote by being out of the playoffs (while their local Rangers and Devils still play on at least for a while) and the campaign comes during one of the most crowded windows on the sports calendar, with baseball, hockey and hoops going full force and the monster of the NFL Draft coming into focus. Regardless, the campaign is fun, worthwhile and certainly a great example of being creative and making the most of what you have.

South Florida Goes All Out: The University of South Florida has its challenges trying to fill Raymond James Stadium for all their football home games, and they know one of those key steps to being relevant in the sports community year-round. So their promotion in the social space of their spring game this weekend, using every vehicle possible not just to drive awareness but to reward fans with prizes for creativity and support. This is not about just the spring game, it is about the growth of the USF brand into the fall, when real dollars are to be made. By doing all those efforts now, the Bulls can get the right support and casual fan awareness down the road. They realize it is a long, tedious haul that isn’t just about wins and losses. It is ablout being a part of the community.

Moyer One For The Ages…In Altoona: One of the great sports stories, at least for middle age men, is the Colorado Rockies’ Jamie Moyer winning a game at age 49. In recognition of the feat, the Altoona Curve has done what minor league baseball teams do best…seized the moment with a fun promotion. The Curve will offer $4.90 individual Diamond Club seats and a pair of Grandstand seats for the same price on Thursday night. Additionally, any Curve fans in attendance wearing 49ers gear of any team-from San Francisco’s NFL team to UNC Charlotte to Long Beach State-will get into the series opener with Richmond for free, as will fans wearing any jersey from one of Moyer’s eight MLB clubs over his 25-year career….anyone from America’s 49th state, Alaska, which achieved statehood just three years and ten months before Moyer’s birth, and any fan rocking stirrups emulating the lefty’s notable leg wear of choice. Fun move, easy to pull off, and again worthy of the being acknowledged for the spirit of creativity and timeliness.

The Ying and Yang of Breaking News…The NFL vs. The Jets

The 24 hour period on Wednesday and Thursday of this week saw something that most people would have never predicted six, eight…well weeks ago. That March Madness and Linsanity could take a back seat in the beginning of spring to…Tim Tebow and the New York Jets. In less than 12 hours the NFL again rose up and showed the power it has in popular culture, first with the announcements of the suspensions brought down on the New Orleans Saints, and then through the Tim Tebow trade, untrade, negotiation and finally move to New York. The debate will rage on for months, but the medium of how the story carried out showed again how social media, without brands, without large dollars, took over the conversation, broke news, broke news again, led controversy and sent everyone scurrying for their smart phones.

Now the entire day was not ruled by the latest way to get news out. The NFL stuck with the traditional. Large scale statements and press releases, a formal media availability, q and a and much much followup for their decisions against the Saints staff and the organization. Well planned, thought out and effectively messaged.

Then the medium and the conversation changed. The Record newspaper on Thursday provided a very interesting
“Anatomy Of The Deal” that eventually brought the mercurial Broncos quarterback east to Gotham
. It showed very clearly that the first line of information changed from the NFL’s stance in the morning to a media and public conscious team just a few hours later. At 12:50, the timeline shows, the Jets announce an agreement on a trade with Denver…not on their website or on radio or through a press release or conference call. It was on twitter. Then at 1:03 the Jets contact their media members that they have reached an agreement with the Broncos…via text message. The next piece of news comes from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that there is a hangup because of contract language…again on twitter. 5:18 Schefter, one of sports’ most well connected media members…reports…again on twitter…that the Jacksonville Jaguars are again in the mix. While many other pundits are friending, monitoring and following every player, coach and media member connected with everyone from Florida to Broadway. While players like Antonio Cromartie vilified his team and others chimed in with opinion…officially…nothing. The Broncos official twitter feed? crickets. Finally at 8:47…Schefter again tweets that the trade is done.

Also in a world where news does not hold, the Jets finalize the deal, rally their parties and hold an extensive conference call…not a tweet up…late into the night, at a time when back in the day deadlines would have passed (they no longer really exist)…answering questions with all interested parties. In the postmortem and debate that will continue to rage on, the social media using Jets post 23 tweets, retweets or statements from press conferences, positive statements from players…one tweet saying an unauthorized tweet was posted…to continue to manage their message. GM Mike Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan, Tebow himself all use the traditional airwaves to tell their story lest it be lost in the fast moving public opinion of the day.

Now one thing is for sure. Nothing will really be settled until games are played in the fall. Debate will rage on but in a bottom line game, results are what count, and results are what will heal any wounds, tweets, or feelings. What is really interesting in the announcement was the choice of medium not just once, but almost every time news broke in the story. The Jets started the fire on twitter…a very short, sometimes effective to get a message out, if that message is not complicated. The debate then raged back and forth until the clearer news, and the traditional official statement, was released by both parties involved. Throughout the debate there was no use of TV or radio to communicate the first message from a news source…it came from social media and the spin went from there. Whether that is a healthy or consistent way to break news in today’s 24/7 world is probably a matter of style and circumstance.

The Jets choose to use the medium more to communicate hard news and speak directly to their fans, and to the media, than most, and it will be interesting to see if others follow. Years ago the Toronto Maple Leafs were vilified for being the first team to break a trade on their website. Now such a move would be considered quaint.

Regardless in what was a headline grabbing news cycle for the NFL, the mix of traditional news sourcing (which the league used) and a more helter skelter new age approach used by the Jets showed how diverse breaking coverage can be. Which is more effective? That’s probably a debate still to be settled, if ever. Or until the next medium of choice takes hold.

Social Media “Giants”

Many times the more elite or more traditional brands in sports rarely venture away from the way things are done. You will never see the Yankees wearing black game jerseys, Alabama football in bright orange, Manchester United donning stripes, the New York Rangers wearing pink, the Dallas Cowboys in day glo. It just doesn’t happen, even with the temptation to sell more merch. The steady tradition and way things are done is what makes the brand special in sport. Now that doesn’t mean a brand cannot be progressive and react and grow with the needs of the marketplace. A great example of that growth is the Giants, and what they have done in the social media space heading into this weekend’ Super Bowl.

Big Blue was not always the progressive brand. It was more slow and steady tradition, and that’s what worked. However the more competitive marketplace and the thirst for positive information and identity with teams has led even the Giants into a solid and effective embrace of social media, the likes of which many teams can and will copy and benefit from. Even with all the hoopla of the two weeks leading to Sunday’s game, New York has found ways to capitalize on a season of cultivating the social media space, and has given their fans, and the brands that support them, ample bandwith to enjoy the experience from a digital perspective, even much more so than their opponents from New England have done.

Now does this mean we will see John Mara, or his mom Ann, take to Facebook and twitter this week, or Tom Coughlin talking trash with fans in the text world? No. What is does mean is key execs like Pat Hanlon, along with the team’s digital media and broadcast department (and its announcers corps) have used the space effectively to engage and sometimes tantalize the fans, and have been able to use the open access channels to get out key information and show a side of the team that most fans don’t get to see. A great part of that access came to a head Thursday night, when the team hosted a set of hour-long Google+ hangouts with players as part of their Social Media Night campaign. The Google+ event, which featured Victor Cruz Corey Webster and Mark Herzlich was one of a series , in which the team will facilitate a series of conversations between fans and players.

The team also held a live webcast from the team hotel featuring players Jake Ballard, Steve Weatherford, Tyler Sash and Prince Amukamara, with fans submitting questions via Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and using the hashtag #NYGsocial. The Giants randomly selected 20 fans to join the sessions and participate in real time from wherever they were. It is controlled, smart, scalable and does not detract from the seriousness or the dedication the team is putting towards Sunday’s game. It is building more fan loyalty for the long run, and is giving those who may only follow casually a chance to engage on an even larger scale through the digital space.

Is all this a possible distraction to the teams preparation? Is it too much access? Aren’t the Giants a successful enough brand so that they don’t have to push the envelope even slightly with engagement online? The answer to all is no. The chats, and all the other access, is being done in downtime and away from other dedicated team functions. It is not being done in a vacuum, it is being done hand and glove with football operations, and the purpose and goals of the programs are stated and agreed to be all. It is not boastful or trash talking, it is clear, unfettered access in an environment that fans understand pretty clearly, and players have also grown to understand as well.

As far as it being not needed, the best time to build brand for the future and do the little things is when you are in a position of strength. When a brand is challenged or struggling, and that includes in sports, the mistakes are magnified and the changes to culture are amplified. By taking the time to grant access or try new avenues for engagement or sponsor or broadcasts programs now, New York is building from a solid base, and ensuring that if and when times get a little dicey, fans will understand and give them a second chance. There is no shortage of time for innovation and execution, and the Giants have shown, in the best and busiest of times, that their fans come first and they will make time to go the extra mile.

That is a giant stride forward, and sends a clear message to everyone that no matter how big the brand, there is always time to innovate. Adjustment to the marketplace is always important to a brand, new or established, and the Giants work in the social space is a clear example of leading by example, from the top on down.

Pro Bowl And Social A Next Step For Sport?

The Pro Bowl has been an afterthought for sports fans for years. Like most professional All-Star Games, mass exposure by media, the lack of any great value to players and the hyper-sensitivity to injury has made the games themselves into less than they used to be, and have made the weekends into great opportunities for sponsors to engage and the teams to get a respite, but not into the mega-competitions in days past. The NFL has always faced a bigger dilemma, as their game comes at the end of the season and has traditionally been in a far off site like Hawaii that is inaccessible to the average fan. While MLB has put in Futures Games and Home Run Derby and NL vs AL for the World Series, and the NBA turned All-Star Weekend into more individual skills and celebrities, the NFL has searched for other options. So Sunday, instead of having the fans just watch, the league will open up all its social media channels in game to get fans to engage with the players on the field and in real time. While there will be some screens put in to avoid controversy, it will give fans the opportunity to engage with their folks while they are standing on the sidelines, should the athletes choose, as opposed to just getting info from those at the game second hand. Will it work?

It is a solid test idea that other sports should look very hard at. Can you create brand engagement oppts off of social media that will grow a brand? Could Larry Fitzgerald for example, use his twitter feed as a call to action for Reebok to do a micro-giveaway to 10 followers with a code they would use in the next ten minutes? Could the State Farm offer discounts to 15 followers who call the next play? Those type of engagements, ala Fan Appreciation giveaways in ballparks, would be very useful tests.

Now the sport that could really take this platform to a new level in the coming months is baseball. MLB has long frowned upon the use of technology around the field, but the long days of spring training do lead to hours of downtime for all involved in Florida and Arizona. Could interested teams, through MLB Advanced Media, turn up the engagement level in the dugouts during spring training to give fans access to what players and others are doing? Why not some live tweets brought to you by x sponsor, during an afternoon of Cubs-White Sox? It would liven up an old ritual, give access to fans, create a new engagement platform without over commercializing the channels, and connect fans far away directly to the games going on in the warmer spots of Florida and Arizona.

Now these type of engagement oppts should not be a distraction to the games that count or the work players and coaches need to do to prepare. They should be kept to events needing a little pop where distractions are minimal. If it works for the NFL in Hawaii today, lets see how other use the onfield engagement going forward as a way to give added value and interest to events that may be waning for the casual fan.

Pac 12′s Hashtag Battle Brings Life To A Lackluster Football End…

In the time since Larry Scott took over as Pac 12 Commissioner, the league has emerged as a leader and an innovator in virtually every area of the business of college athletics. League expansion, marketing to a larger fan base in the central and eastern United States, mew media deals, a strong push to have member schools do a better job of telling their success stories nationally, proactive sponsorship and partnerships that promoted both the academic and athletic side of the conference are all big steps for a league which was sometimes an afterthought in the competitive world of big business and college sports. Even with all that success, the first Pac 12 football championship promised to be a bit of a dud, pairing UCLA and its lame duck coach Rick Neuheisel against the high flying BCS bound Oregon Ducks on their home field. With a national audience on Fox on a Friday, what little things could the league do to draw some interest to a game which is supposed to create enthusiasm and celebrate all things positive about the league this year? How about a little twitter contest?

The league used their digital and social platforms to call for the casual fan, as well as those supporting UCLA nd Oregon, to get into a little hashtag battle. They aggressively promoted #GoBruins and #GoDucks to a national following, with the hope that the digital world would follow the back and forth and add a little spice to a contest which most viewed as a blowout. The result of the hashtag battle probably was more interesting that the result on the field, which Oregon predictably won 49-31. While the Oregon hashtag’s percentage dominated the matchup 85-15, the coverage that the following got was very notable, including a national mention on Fox as the game ended. The Pac 12 gained more casual followers and was able to take a good look at who the most ardent, and largest twitter followers who participated were, and those followers can be invaluable in garnering grassroots support for programs going forward. They also got to see how national a footprint the two schools have in social media, and are also able to use this contest as a litmus test for marketers looking to engage in a social media strategy going forward. Keep in mind this was not a key rivalry game. The social media battle for a USC-UCLA or Harvard-Yale or even Army-Navy (given the military’s international footprint) would be much more intriguing and probably a lot more valuable to a brand.

Regardless of the overall outcome, the hashtag battle was a great test for the Pac 12 to drum up a little more interest and test an idea with big upside and no downside. It showed brands and schools that there is fun and value in working to promote interest and even drive viewers by cross promoting, and the league probably learned more about who and where they are being followed. Needless to say this won’t be the last or the most sophisticated battle online in sport, but it was another smart next step for a league which seems to have a better grip on the future and on engagement than many of the others in the space. A win for Oregon, and a nice win for the Pac 12 as well.

Dodgers Go Social To Try And Make Some Chicken Salad…

It has been a landmark year for the storied brand of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but not the way fans and officials probably hoped. The McCourt divorce trial, a vicious assault of a fan in the parking lot, financial troubles, dwindling attendance and a team that underperformed on the field have led to a tough year inn Chavez Ravine. However to their credit, the Dodgers keep trying to find ways to stayt relevant and look to the future by building some fan loyalty as things wrap up.

First came the announcement that their lead voices, including the legendary Vin Scully, were returning to the booth next season, giving fans a little continuity as the offseason looms with one of its most identifiable faces and its most unmistakable sound. Then the team this week announced a very aggressive social media plan for the month of September, which can help provide fans with more insight, connection and incentives to stay in touch with a brand they may have grown tired with due to all the off-field issues the team was having. Why does any of this matter? Shouldn’t the Dodgers just let it all go, quietly go into the offseason and see where the future will lead? Why draw more attention to themselves? The answers are simple…no, there is no need to go quietly. It matters very much for a brand that is going to have to find assets, rebuild loyalty and find ways to be relevant in a challenging and uncertain time, and with regard to attention…the attention is there, so try and find ways to make a positive.

The efforts the team are making are not high cost, but can be high impact. Social media remains a pretty free range space, and even on their darkest days, the team will draw some eyeballs, ears and butts in the seat in the final month. Why not try and engage them and reward their loyalty with prizes and access that are big on loyalty and low on dollar value. The team has marketable players and a brand that may be damaged but is not by any means dead. The Dodgers brand extends far beyond its Southern California borders still, so using the social space, one without walls, to reach out to even a casual fan base is a smart move. The promotion also sends a message to players that the organization has not abandoned them…they have value to the franchise and to the fan base, and the team is finding ways to stay relevant for them in the marketplace as well. While team ownership may and will eventually change, the Dodgers will remain a Southern California staple and an iconic sports brand, and those in the day to day spots have jobs to do. Challenging times sometimes lead to the most creative and executable ideas, and although the onfield results cannot be controlled, the enthusiasm for working in professional sports and entertainment at any level must be maintained and must stay high. Those in the box office and on the marketing team aren’t buying or selling the team, so using this time as a litmus test for ideas, and trying to be a leader in new areas like social media, is very smart to do. Could it backfire and people not be interested, or could an uncaring player drop the ball and use the space in a negative way? Perhaps. However the Dodgers appear to have cultivated a core of players who understand and enjoy the space, and they have made strategic moves to engage those players and see where it can lead not for this year but for the future.

Sports is cyclical, and those franchises down now will eventually rise up again. The great news for the Dodgers is that the brand, when it does rise again, will be recognizable and relevant even in the most challenging times. By pushing ahead proactively on the promotion front, the team is showing that they understand the responsibility of the position they are in today, and have created an avenue for fans to continue to engage and have some fun in an easy to access, no cost space, that can yield a solid and growing base of positive memories for the future.

It has not been easy for those in the Dodger employ this year, but it is great to see they understand the task and are trying ways to keep the ball moving forward on even the darkest of days.