Social Media is Not the Savior of Major League Baseball

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Major_League_Baseball.svgI was always baseball guy. Growing up in the pre-steroids, post-free agency era of Major League Baseball, I knew nearly every player by name. I memorized their stats. I studied their swings and emulated them on neighborhood ball diamonds. (I had a mean Von Hayes impersonation.) I could score a game — still can.

Saturday mornings were reserved for This Week in Baseball, followed by the Major League Baseball Game of the Week. Growing up in Iowa, I watched entire games on TV, since I rarely got to see them in person. There was no social media then, so my second screen was an APBA Baseball game board.

My friends and I collected baseball cards. And we probably still have them, unlike the generation before, who will tell you their collections were tossed by an annoyed mother, or destroyed in the spokes of a bicycle. I followed teams and players, and each World Series was more epic than the last.

I loved the game — more than football or basketball.

Baseball is different today, and I’m less of a fan now. Some of that’s me — getting older steals your free time, and being a baseball fan requires a lot of it. The game has changed, too. Some of what’s different is good, but recent history has tarnished baseball, perhaps permanently. Tradition also haunts the game.

The league has experienced record revenues — yes — but its fans are long in the tooth, and younger viewers are going elsewhere. Nielsen reports MLB has the oldest median TV audience — 56 years — compared to 49 for the NFL and 41 for the NBA, according to Adweek. Fading interest among young people is especially troubling. During the past four years, MLB viewership among 18- to 24-year-olds dropped 3.4 percentage points. Of the last five World Series, four have been among the least-viewed in MLB history.

From Experience Matters: A look at the declining interest in Major League Baseball among young viewers.

From Experience Matters: A look at the declining interest in Major League Baseball among young viewers.

What will help Major League Baseball overcome this trend? Not social media.

I give a lot of credit where it’s due to social media, but alone it will not bring a slew of younger viewers to ballparks or MLB Network broadcasts. Social media will not speed up the game, make it easier to watch online, improve stadium experiences, or soften a nearly 150-year-old institution. It’s just not that simple.

Can social media help? Absolutely. Strong, engaging and targeted social content already resonates with many millennials. The start of the 2016 season proved why social media is part of the conversation for changing baseball — and for connecting with young fans.

First, the #CapsOn promotion to mark Opening Day was brilliant, and drew simple and authentic user-generated content from young fans everywhere.

#CapsOn synced with other digital and non-digital tactics, too, including 30 geo-targeted SnapChat lenses, a custom Twitter emoji and massive cap giveaway. It was a league-wide campaign and an impressive way to help fans break out of winter and get excited for the boys of summer.

Stronger ties with social media platforms go a long way toward drawing a younger demographic, too. Another season-long SnapChat partnership is smart, as are the countless filters available to fans, teams and players. That being said, with just a handful of Stories planned throughout a 162-game season, the SnapChat push feels underwhelming. And a March 11 “SnapChat Day” just underscored the strict, social media-unfriendly rules that can limit MLB team and player creativity and connectivity.

Live video has potential, and social media will likely be a streaming destination. Despite some softening of blackout rules, fans still hit roadblocks to this all-important connection to their favorite teams. It’s encouraging to hear MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talk about potential partnerships with Facebook or Amazon, and I hope the league chooses fans over finances.

No, baseball’s biggest barriers to growth lie with game itself. It’s long, slow and trapped by its own traditions. These are things no snap or tweet can remedy.

“We are so enamored by the idea of what we think the game should look like that, we fail to see how it could be seen,” writes Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in this brilliant piece in Sole Collector. “Baseball is a beautiful sport, it’s our sport. We have a responsibility as the baseball community to progress the game forward and be ambassadors of the game.”

Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper fired perhaps the biggest shot across baseball’s bow, calling the game tired. “You can’t express yourself,” Harper told ESPN in March. “You can’t do what people in other sports do.”

Both are right.

Baseball must adapt — from game mechanics to how its current crop of stars interact with each other on the field. But saving baseball is bigger than allowing bat flips and flashier uniforms. It’s more fundamental.

The game must maintain that beauty Mr. Correa describes, but let go of some of its tradition that holds the game back. Despite Commissioner Manfred’s sentiment that today’s young players are “going to decide what’s acceptable on the field,” the game needs an overhaul that comes from actions off the field — led by owners and league leadership. 

In the meantime, social media will not save baseball. But it will continue to do what it does best — keeping fans connected to this game that, for generations, has been more than a sport. It’s our national pastime.

Thanks for being a fan.

Facebook Loves ‘Live’, and So Should Sports

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Live is a new form of Facebook content that should draw the attention of sports teams, leagues and athletes.

Safe to say I was an early skeptic of the Facebook Live feature. Truth be told, I’m generally bearish on anything related to Facebook. I’m a Twitter guy, after all.

Then my friend and former TV news colleague, Craig Rickert, started using Facebook Live. Craig is the main news anchor at KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He has an active Facebook page, so Facebook Live was an option — and a darn good one.

Craig began streaming updates before the news — just ahead of a broadcast or earlier in the day — letting viewers know what he and others in the newsroom were working on. A bit ho-hum, but it was live and on Facebook. Then, Craig started broadcasting on Facebook Live during the 10 p.m. news — like through commercial breaks or when weather or sports was on the air.

Seriously awesome access.

Craig’s behind-the-scenes looks at the studio and newsroom are fun and engaging. He’s good on the air, and just as good with an iPhone, selfie stick and a live feed direct to Facebook. And he has a captive audience of more than 8,000.

That’s when I started to get a little more bullish on Facebook Live. I also thought it was something the sports world should embrace. Turns out, some already are. But there’s more who are missing out.

So, here are three key reasons others in the industry should be bullish on Facebook Live, too.

fblive1. Media companies like Live. Huffington Post, Fusion and TMZ are jumping on board, citing immediacy and ability to interact with correspondents as obvious upsides to live video on Facebook. But just like my friend, Craig, has shown, Live is also simple to use and offers unlimited potential for media outlets and reporters. And sports teams should be thinking — and acting — more like their own media outlets. There’s better control of the message, the delivery and the reaction. Plus, Live allows teams, leagues and athletes to give something to fans — until recently — they could only get from the media.

2. Facebook’s algorithm likes Live. Not long after its release, Facebook noted it will begin prioritizing live video, as it tweaks the all-important News Feed algorithm. That’s big news and added incentive for any page owner to use this feature. I like the approach the Detroit Tigers (see example below) and San Francisco Giants are taking this spring — incorporating Live into their daily content mix. (Bravo to two hard-working, smart dudes — Mac Slavin and Bryan Srabian.) What happens between the games keeps fans engaged, and Live can help fill those gaps nicely.


3. The boss likes the cost of Live.
Seriously, what does it take to create images, highly-produced videos or even GIFs for use in social media? They take time and people — resources — and most organizations lack these precious commodities. Live video streaming essentially takes an iPhone and a person running it. Voila — instant content. Whether it’s Facebook Live or Periscope — plan for the growth of live streaming video — serious growth — in the next year. You’ll not only create compelling content, you’ll do it on the cheap while likely outperforming posts that took a lot more time and effort to pull together.

As with anything Facebook-related, I worry marketers will abuse Live or lack any strategic approach when using it. So be smart about how you use Live. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t just use it to crack Facebook’s algorithm. Fortunately, fans are interested in even the most mundane things — like locker room tours, batting practice or player Q&As. But don’t be surprised if marketers of non-sports brands abuse Live, or at the very least, use it ineffectively.

Live can and should complement any content strategy. And athletes in particular should use it judiciously. Too much of a good thing is not always good thing — especially on Facebook. There’s opportunity to complement what’s happening on other platforms (Snapchat, Twitter/Periscope) and with other content, so get the most out of Live content with some thoughtful planning. The boss will be happy, and so will your followers.

Are you bullish on Facebook Live? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for being a fan.

Front Office Sports Opens Doors for Aspiring Sports Business Pros

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Front Office Sports logo

Front Office Sports is a resource for students and young professionals in which they can access our extensive database of informational interviews, infographics, and tips.

Sports business people give, and give, and give some more. Why else would a guy with few connections and little experience get to talk with talented, smart people in a highly competitive industry?

Four years ago, that guy was me. I took a chance, started a blog and hoped to fill a couple voids. One was an outlet for writing, which I desperately needed. The second helped fill a gap, because few were covering this curious intersection of sports and social media.

It was uncharted territory. Yet there was a community here, with plenty of guides willing to help me find my way … willing to share and give.

Since then, an explosion of social media in sports led to other voices in this space, and it’s been incredible watching so many with similar passions approach topics affecting the fans consuming the content, as well as those creating it. Talented people like Sunny CadwalladerJessica Smith, Neil Horowitz, Bob McKamey, Tariq Ahmad, Kevin DeShazo and many others.

While it’s a seemingly small pond, it can feel like a vast ocean for those trying to make a splash — and a career — in it today. Adam White likely had that feeling a year ago when he founded Front Office Sports, an educational resource for students and young professionals interested in sports careers. More than just a blog or Twitter feed, FOS is a community that connects the industry’s big fish with those hoping to make it big.

“People who work day in and day out to make all of this happen deserve to have their stories told,” Mr. White told Fourth and 140 recently. “When we think of interviews, we think of players and not actually people behind the scenes. That is why our motto is ‘the game behind the game’ because we are telling the stories of the people who are working behind the scenes.”

Mr. White wanted to create a resource to connect professionals and students on a more personal level, a seed planted by his professors at the University of Miami-Florida.

Adam White photo

Adam White is the founder of Front Office Sports.

“Many times I heard, ‘Connections are so important in our line of work because the industry is so small’,” says White, who juggles his FOS duties with a part-time job and full class schedule at Miami. “I figured if I was going to talk to people, why not share their insight with everyone, so those who were too afraid to reach out or didn’t have the means to could still learn everything I was learning. The whole idea was to help myself learn and give others opportunities to work on the blog while educating others at no cost or effort to them.”

Front Office Sports recently celebrated its first year of operation, and using a team of contributors, now cranks out content daily.

“We cover everything from how they got their start, to their favorite memories, to tips for students,” White says. “This content is important because it is relevant, real and not sugar-coated. The people we interview keep things clear and straight-up, which gives those who read it an unadulterated view as to what sports business is all about and if it is actually for them.”

In the past six months, White says Front Office Sports went from averaging 100 visitors a week to more than 100 per day. He credits the growth to quality content from volunteer staff contributors who also use their networks to draw in new readers — and new content.

“It has been remarkable to see the reaction of those in the industry,” White says. “They didn’t have to do it, yet they chose to take anywhere from 30 minutes to sometimes two hours out of their day to speak with us.”

White freely admits he hasn’t made money from the site, but believes the connections he’s building are invaluable. After a year of publishing, people now reach out to FOS, offering to contribute articles or share stories. In the coming year, he hopes to post more video interviews, establish Google Hangout panels, sell FOS merchandise, and start a scholarship — among an ambitious list of goals.

A true student of the industry, White says building Front Office Sports provides incredible learning opportunities, fueled by a sports community willing to share their time and talents. It’s not unlike the journey I’ve taken — albeit as a non-traditional student of the sports business game.

“Without FOS, there is no way I would have been able to talk to over 110 professionals from across the globe,” White says. “These people are such a well-connected group, but a group that is never afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand. They’ve not only helped catapult FOS to where it is now, but have truly impacted many other lives. That is a true testament to their characters and personalities.” 

I couldn’t agree more, Adam.

Thanks to this community for being so gracious … and thank you for being a fan.

#q1SFE15 in Review: There Is No Off-Season for Sports and Social Media

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum was held March 2-3 in Kansas City.

I’ve caught up on my sleep and let my brain process the knowledge dropped at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum, held this week in Kansas City. Like last year, it was a chance to meet in real life people I admire — and have come to know thanks to social media.

#Q1SFE15 was also a chance to immerse myself in the sports fan’s experience, because after all, that’s what this blog is all about. Here’s what I learned — as a media partner, social media professional and fan — from a talented group of sports and social media leaders.

The Sports Fan is Boss

Whether it’s creating an incredible game-day experience or providing engaging social media content year-round, sports teams and leagues have the fan in mind with nearly everything they do. It begins with game day, but involves so much more. From tailgating, to in-stadium WiFi, to off-season social media content — and everything in-between: The sports fan craves what teams and leagues have.

At Nebraska, football game day is one of seven “state holidays,” according to Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the Huskers, who recently upgraded the team’s stadium to HD WiFi. This is tables stakes for teams now, even if it’s just satisfying a vocal minority of fans.

“Cell phones are this generation’s portable radio for fans,” Mr. Mosier said. “[Football] is more than us. It’s a community event. Even if it’s happening outside our stadium, we have ability to be part of that conversation.”

Mosier and his team monitor real-time social media feeds using sophisticated queries. The result is a plethora of engagement opportunities, and the ability to showcase the Husker product for fans unable to be in Lincoln on game day. This includes amplifying user-generated content and providing glimpses of fan activity that can produce authentic but also viral moments.

“We’re letting our fans across the country know it’s awesome to be at the game,” adds Mr. Mosier.

Create a Memorable Experience

The Indy Fuel are re-introducing professional hockey to Indianapolis, which presents much different challenges than an established sports brand like Nebraska football. “For us to be successful long term, we need to provide an experience that beings fans back,” says Lee Dicklitch, vice president of operations and fan experience for the Fuel. “We must share an experience that gets people to notice, and that ensures we don’t lose equity with our fans that we’ve worked hard to build up.”

The Fuel used an on-ice introduction video (see below) that puts an exclamation point on the need to amaze fans in-venue — because this might be the team’s only shot at creating a long-term fan of the franchise.

Sports is Always On: Embrace It

Game day is just part of the fan experience equation. Pre-game, post-game, off-season, training camp, free agency, signing day … you name it, fans want it.

TJ Ansley of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

TJ Ansley of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

“There is no off-season anymore,” says TJ Ansley, director of digital media for NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The team — under Ansley’s creative leadership — produces a crazy amount of content after the last buzzer sounds and before the pre-season tips off.

This can include re-purposing content from the previous season, or creating original photos essays, video recaps, highlight stats and team podcasts.

The Trail Blazers even played “hashtag games” as a fun and engaging way to generate conversation and collaborate with other NBA teams. The activity trending each time on Twitter — despite happening during a slow-called slow period.

But really, there is no down time for sports. No quiet period. No vacations. And that means there is no off-season for sports and social media. The demand has only increased from fans looking for ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues — and with other fans.

It also stems from the growing role social media plays in our everyday lives. FOMO — or the fear of missing out what’s happening on social media — is something teams and leagues can capitalize on during slower times, to ensure fans stay connected and engaged through social.

What’s Next? Let the Fan Decide

Some believe social media will become a “profit center” and generate more revenue than any other channel. These opinions — and the activities behind them — were also part of #q1SFE15 discussions. However, I’m not sold on those speculations, and I’m not going into detail about them here. The ability to predict sports and social media trends is an act of folly. The fan will decide. [Click to tweet.]

What’s certain is social media — in whatever shape or form it becomes — has a place in sports and in the sports fan’s life. It’s up to the smart folks who attended #q1SFE15 — and their colleagues across the industry — to deliver what the fan wants.

Thanks for being a fan.

A post script: My thanks to Q1 Sports for including Fourth And 140 as a media partner for the 2015 Sports Fan Engagement Forum. One of my favorite things to do is meet people — in real life — that I’ve come to know through social media. And this event provided another one of those opportunities. 

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum.

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum. (Photo via @LisaMBregman)

 

On Twitter, Community and the Passing of Tony Gwynn

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Twitter is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place for solace — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” — Hemingway

Sports fans took a pretty emotional ride today, fueled by sadness, grief, nostalgia … then anticipation, patriotism and sheer joy. Twitter was the engine, and the community its driver.

It’s days like today that make Twitter a unique space for sports fans of all types. It was a day where a Hall of Fame baseball player lost his battle with cancer, and was mourned by millions. It was also a day soccer fans anticipated for years — capped by an incredible moment in U.S. sports history.

Together, we shared these contrasting events in this community built on 140 characters. Each time I encounter days like today, I grow to appreciate many of the people I’m connected to through one way or another on Twitter. Through tragedy and triumph, we all learn a little about each other, one tweet at a time.

And our community grows closer.

We shared stories — about sixth-grade batting slumps.

We struggled — together — to comprehend death, especially of once-vibrant heroes we grew up watching, emulating, imitating.

We reminisced — with stories, photos and articles.

We also watched as a grieving son bravely shared his thoughts on the loss of his dad, just one day removed from Father’s Day.

As my friend, Sunny, eloquently wrote today, “In sports, we (fans and media) sometimes lose sight of the human element. In our passion, we forget that athletes and coaches, who are the ones in the public eye most, are dealing with the same issues we deal with on a daily basis.”

So we turn to Twitter, because it offers solace. It offers that human element to help us comprehend sad events — and celebrate joyous and historic ones. Yes, it is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place — as Hemingway noted — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter’s New Profile Design: The Impact and Early Results for Sports Teams and Leagues

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This week, Twitter rolled out a new profile design and updated features for all users. Sports teams, leagues and athletes are using this new space to showcase their brands.

Twitter made some dramatic design changes to its web interface recently, which are now available to all users. For sports teams and leagues, the news first came via blog post a couple weeks ago, so there was time to prepare. Some were more ready than others. More on that in a moment.

First, why did Twitter makes these changes? Social media profiles are becoming an extension of our personal brands, and Twitter’s previous design and features apparently did not keep up with the times. So, the big blue bird added a larger profile photo and custom header options, plus new ways to feature tweets (by engagement, pinning and filtering).

The visual changes — the most obvious of this latest update — homogenize Twitter’s look-and-feel, however. Profiles are eerily similar now on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, all boasting large “hero” images and similarly-placed profile photos. The tweet customization is a nice addition for Twitter, but traffic to Twitter profiles will always be lower compared to news feed views, just as they are on Facebook brand pages. Consider these new features are only available on desktop, and the number of eyeballs gets even smaller.

Overall, it’s kind of an underwhelming update to me, though nonetheless interesting and equally challenging to use this space to creatively showcase your brand — whether you’re an individual, business or sports team.

Noteworthy in Twitter’s strategy was its inclusion of a sports league and athlete in its preview phase of the new profile roll-out, featuring boxer Floyd Mayweather and the Australian Football League.

Australian Football League on Twitter

The Australian Football League was one of the first sports league to get Twitter’s new profile design.

Since the new Twitter web profile became available to everyone on April 22, sports teams and leagues have been hit-and-miss on adapting to the changes. Here are a few I noticed on Day 1 and some insight into what I noticed:

Chargers Twitter header

The San Diego Chargers were one of the first pro sports teams to take advantage of Twitter’s new profile.

One of the challenges with Twitter’s new header image is its sheer size. The space is massive, almost unwieldy, at 1,500 by 500 pixels. Just finding a photo — stock or not — to work well in this space is difficult. (Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time creating header image options in my day job doing social media for a financial services brand.) Here, the San Diego Chargers used a combination of styled images to fit the space in stunning and on-brand fashion. (Hat tip to Joel Price and  Alex McLeland from the Chargers for their creativity here.)

Another obstacle with Twitter’s header image is creating seamless web and mobile experiences. Twitter offers little to no guidance, which is frustrating. (Download the new Twitter profile one-page cheat sheet here.) As seen below, the St. Louis Rams header displays well when viewed in a mobile experience (and as a thumbnail from web browsers).

St. Louis Rams Twitter header

The St. Louis Rams Twitter header image is optimized for mobile viewing.

But when viewed full screen from a web experience, the Rams’ Twitter header image literally misses the mark. The profile image covers the text on the header and the “hero” image is somewhat less heroic when it cuts Tavon Austin’s face off.

Rams Twitter header - web

But the Rams Twitter header has some issues when viewed on the web.

Which approach is better? Given 76 percent of Twitter’s monthly active users access the site via mobile, maybe the Rams have it right. Focus on a kick-ass mobile experience first, because that’s what three-quarters of your traffic will see. But I still appreciate the desktop experience, which offers amazing opportunities to showcase photography and design creativity.

Which is better? There’s likely common ground, which for now requires some trial and error with Twitter’s header image, and some serious design skill (and patience). The Kansas City Chiefs may have found that happy medium. While perhaps lacking in splash, the team’s mobile and desktop versions nonetheless bring a consistent experience for fans.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - mobile

The mobile version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header is more consistent with its desktop counterpart.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - desktop

The desktop version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header image.

What works and what doesn’t work? Perhaps the fact that some teams haven’t activated the new profile (as of April 24) is proof their respective creative teams are working behind the scenes to get it just right. Or maybe it’s just not that significant. But I thought it was worth exploring some of updates, because while Twitter often changes small features, rarely does it unleash such a dramatic new look for all users.

So, which teams, leagues and athletes are taking advantage of Twitter’s new profile — and doing it well (or poorly)? Tweet me what you see or leave a comment below.

Thanks for being a fan.

#DSFE14 Day 2: Innovation, technology and data

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Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data -- especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data — especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

As the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference rolled into its second day, the fan remained at the center of the conversation. But sports teams and leagues must understand fans better, and offer them reasons to connect in social media, online and at sports venues.

It was another amazing day filled with loads of valuable information. Here are some of the highlights.

Enter the Quack Cave
A leader in social media led off Day 2, as Oregon’s Craig Pintens shared the Ducks’ approach to social media. It’s simple. Be a national brand and activate a social media strategy focusing on heavy engagement, fan-centric and unique content (especially around the Duck’s buzz-worthy Nike uniforms), and creating and amplifying brand advocates.

“Influence is more important than growth,” says Pintens, who launched the first-ever social media command center among NCAA brands. The Quack Cave employs a mix of free and paid technology, including Postano’s social curation platform, to connect with fan advocates in social media, generating added interaction in the Duck’s already vibrant communities.

Rather than hire dozens of full-time social media pros to staff 30-40 accounts, Pintens enlists an army of student volunteers, eager to earn valuable experience and evangelize the Ducks’ brand. Quack Cave captures all things Oregon — across sports — and empowers students to join those conversations and share them. The Quack Cave site provides a one-stop shop for fans.

The Quack Cave even joined the #DSFE14 conversation.

“We want to be your second-favorite team,” says Pintens. “The Quack Cave is about finding Oregon in places you wouldn’t expect to see it.” Which is smart, considering 81 percent of Duck merchandise sales come from outside the state of Oregon.

Second-screen best practices
Teams and leagues see opportunity — and challenges — when it comes to the second screen, especially given 88 percent of fans use one when watching sports. From in-stadium connectivity (an issue WWE faces as it travels from arena to arena) to in-game content, each organization faces similar opportunities when trying to reach fans during the action.   

But, admitting their events are truly scripted, WWE seeks fan input via social media to give them control of the story line and keep them engaged via a second screen.

The University of Oklahoma seeks an idealized fan experience, bringing emotion and value to the second screen. How? Provide what fans can’t get anywhere else: access, analysis and immediacy. And make sure to provide platform-appropriate content, understanding the differences, for example, between Facebook and Twitter communities.

“We customize the content to our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, Oklahoma’s director of digital media, noting the team invested in Bluetooth-enabled cameras to capture and share in-the-moment photos. “Emotion is why people love sports. We want to transfer that feeling to people on their couches.”

#ClubOrange rewards fans
Oklahoma sold out 92 straight home football games, so it’s important for the team to connect with fans who may never be able to attend a game at Memorial Stadium. 
The Phoenix Suns created #ClubOrange to provide fans with things they won’t find inside the arena.

The Suns’ Gorilla delivered pizza — and a unique experience — to Club Orange members.

“Money can’t buy experiences,” says Jeramie McPeek, the Suns’ vice president for digital. Club Orange rewards a variety of fan social media activities, including retweets, check-ins and hashtag usage. Fans earn prizes they can’t get anywhere else, including autographed gear, photos, and exclusive experiences — like a pizza party with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.

The team collects fan data through the program and uses it to stay in touch with current and former season ticket holders via social media. The goal is to retain and even grow season those numbers.

Packers everywhere
By contrast, 110,000 Green Bay Packers fans are on the team’s waiting list for coveted season tickets to Lambeau Field, and only eight to 10 percent of its fans will ever get to a game. So the team built Packerseverywhere.com to create a “virtual Lambeau Field” filled with photos, tailgating recipes and a where-to-watch guide for more than 1,000 Packer-backer bars.  

More than 200,000 fans signed up for the new fan program, and — incredibly — half were not in the team’s existing database. Now the Packers use this portal to bring more fans into their sales funnel while connecting them to other fans through engaging, social media-friendly content.

“Fans become entertainment for other fans,” says Joan Malcheski, Packers media group and brand engagement director. Rightfully so, given Packerseverywhere.com boasts more than 40,000 pieces of fan content from 64 countries. Talk about a global brand!

Sponsors are a crucial part of the fan equation — in digital and social especially. But #DSFE14 panelists urged athletes, teams and leagues to remain diligent in these spaces, keeping content authentic and relevant. 

“Find natural fits for your sponsors,” says Jaime Carlin, marketing director for the Texas Motor Speedway. “Weave it into your story. Social media has a tremendous value. We can’t give it away.”

NASCAR uses sponsor-driven campaigns to continue conversations after race-day buzz dies down. But as Tim Clark, NASCAR’s director of optimization and programming, points out, it has to be genuine.

“Fans are smarter than we think,” Clark says. “They’ll see through sponsored content. If you’re creating something for a contrived reason, you’re probably going to fall flat.” Instead, teams and leagues should look for opportunities to partner with big brands to split costs and work together on sponsorships, campaigns and content that’s authentic to both brands.

There’s plenty more from both days of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, and I encourage you to check out the Q1 Sports event blog, review the conversation from the #DSFE14 hashtag, and read my recap from day 1.

As a media partner for this event, I’m humbled to have been invited and appreciate meeting and hearing from so many brilliant minds in sports and social media — and the powerful sports brands they represent.

As always, thanks for being a fan.