#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.

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#DSFE14 Day 1: Putting fans first

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#DSFE14 conference

Day 1 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference included a wide variety of speakers and topics. But the overwhelming theme was obvious: Put fans first.

A common theme from Day 1 of the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference was loud and clear: Sports fans drive the conversation — and the content — in social media.

The conference’s first panel featured big-name sports brands like the Oregon Ducks, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Bucks and focused on digital and social media platform selection and strategy. But the overwhelming message of this — and most of the #DSFE14 discussion — centered on the sports fan.

Rightfully so. Fans are the bread and butter for teams, leagues and athletes. And, connecting with them in meaningful ways breeds success — not only social media scores, but bottom-line wins.

Sports fosters an unbelievable amount of user-generated content in social media, and time and again, today’s sports and social media leaders reflected on the importance of harnessing that valuable content. Not only does it provide teams, leagues and athletes with a rich funnel of engaging and authentic posts, it creates opportunities to reward fans by providing them things they seek out in social media — exclusive content, access and the occasional virtual badge of honor.

“Fans are narcissistic,” Chris Yandle, assistant athletic director/communications for the University of Miami Hurricanes says. Yandle — and others in similar roles — reiterated how fans absolutely love getting their social media posts amplified or acknowledged by their favorite teams or athletes. It’s something they can brag about to friends and is an easy way to recognize influencers — and generate additional engagement in social media — by sharing their posts, or even just liking/favoriting and responding.

The Seattle Seahawks take this approach to amazing levels, after developing an intricate social media response strategy. “We want to give fans their rock-star moment,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital for the Seahawks and Sounders. “A reply from a brand on Twitter is better than getting an autograph,” he says, noting the Seahawks empowered others in their organization to assist in the massive undertaking of replying to fans in social media.

Keep in mind, the Seahawks saw 400,000 Twitter mentions during its Sept. 15, 2013, game vs. the San Francisco 49ers. To manage that on an ongoing basis, Olson built a three-tier system to filter fan responses — all based on key business goals (including influence and previous interactions), then activated his team.

The Seahawks deserve credit for winning NFL social media supremacy — besting its Super Bowl opponent in a similar manner to the actual game. During the lead-up to Super Bowl 48, the Seahawks racked up 3,177 @ replies — sent directly to fans on Twitter — compared to just eight sent by the Broncos. It generated 167,500 engagements and nearly 213 million impressions.

The Padres, under leadership from NFL social media veteran Wayne Partello, also put fans first. Partello created a new mission statement crafted with the fan in mind and addressing the crowded nature of sports news. “We’re now in the media business,” Partello says. “We have to tell our story. If you’re not telling your story, others will do it for you.”

Another theme emerged from Day 1 of #DSFE14: Data is king, and it revolves around the fan. Turner Sports looks at social media from a data perspective. And, thanks to technology, Turner can learn a lot about its fans — including what content they want to see in social media.

Turner Sports even created a social media command center to analyze data and use it in real-time decisions related to social media content and fan interactions. It activated a mobile version of this command center during NBA All-Star Game weekend, generating more than 245,000 fan engagements, and uncovering an interesting problem.

“We could not give them enough content,” says Jeff Mirman, vice president of marketing for Turner Sports. “They wanted more. They more they got, the more they engaged.”

Athletes should take a similar approach to teams and leagues — put fans first and use social media as an engagement tool (not a megaphone or sponsor mouthpiece). Case in point: Jimmie Johnson Racing, which finds extreme value in fan engagement in social media through some innovative and fan-friendly content campaigns.

Johnson strives to provide fan value through his various social media platforms. It can be anything from turning a negative hashtag conversation into a brilliantly funny content opportunity (check out #blamejj, which generated 70 percent engagement on Instagram), to weekly giveaways that build fan momentum over time (see #jjswag on Twitter).

Johnson understands fans should be first in social media, according to Lauren Murray, who manages his social and digital strategies. He wants them to be the first to know news about him — and he uses social media as a tool to deliver that news in authentic ways.

#DSFE14 featured some incredible talents in the sports and social media world, and this is just a sampling of the conference’s first day. Continue to monitor the Twitter conversation and connect with these leaders as they implement what they’ve learned here. (For more about Day 2, see our previous post.)

Thanks for being a fan.

Enhanced Fan Experiences: The Sports Strategy of the Second Screen

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The Second Screen

Where will the second screen take sports fans in 2014? It’s imperative fans find value, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers.

The second screen. It’s an overused buzz term for the exploding use of mobile devices during television broadcasts. Tired or not, use of tablets and smart phones is big business and a big deal for today’s connected sports fans.

Consider this: 83% of fans say they use social media during games. Sixty-nine percent prefer phones as second-screen alternatives; 48 percent check scores and 20 percent watch highlights via mobile, according to data from March 2013.

Social media has been and still is the virtual hangout, digital man cave or online neighborhood bar we visit to talk about what’s happening with our favorite teams, even more so during epic, live events (like the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl, Olympics, March Madness, etc.). 

Live sports is Twitter. And Twitter is live sports.

“Sports events comprise somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of TV programming in any given month but generate close to 50 percent of the Twitter activity [on TV],” Sean Casey, a senior vice president at Nielsen, told The New York Times in October 2013.

As leagues and teams jostle for this real estate, they must keep fans in mind. (Remember, it should be about them, not you.) Here are four ways I’d like to see sports approach the second screen.

Make engagement lightweight and simple. 
Hashtags are one of the most effective methods for driving social conversations. They’re portable (across platforms and other fan-facing media/creative) and can be measured. They provide fans with few barriers to join larger discussions about players, teams or leagues — and the games they’re playing.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

Take the Missouri Valley Conference. Ahead of selected basketball telecasts this January and February, fans can tweet questions and comments with selected tweets featured during the broadcasts. Before the featured games, @ValleyHoops will tweet questions and comments from fans about the game or a specific topic. The league will feature select tweets on mvc-sports.com during it broadcasts.

Using #MVCHoops is an easy way for fans to participate and can be executed quickly and efficiently by the league. It can enhance online conversations and on-air broadcasts.

Drive deeper connections with fans.
Not enough is said or written about the engagement teams are having with fans in social. I feel conversations are not genuine enough and too many teams and leagues have built a barrier, not engaging fully with those who appreciate them most.

Some are getting there. Take the Boston Bruins. The team uses replies to many fan tweets, even personalizing each response with the initials of those behind the scenes.

Game time is go time in social media, and it can be chaotic. But teams should dedicate resources to connect one-to-one with fans more. Share their content. Have conversations. Build stronger bonds. This will only drive further engagement during the off-season and help fulfill social media’s true value — breaking down barriers and connecting people in authentic ways.  

Make off-platform activity worthwhile. 
Fans have lots of choices, especially during games. If they have to leave the platforms they love — whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or others — it must be an amazing experience.

Off-social tools like Tagboard, Wayin and others are getting there, using new technology and creative display to collect conversations and drive deeper engagement. But there must be extreme value in moving away from in-the-moment conversations happening on native platforms.

Desmond Trufant draft hub info

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons used a social media hub during the 2013 NFL Draft broadcast to add value to the existing online conversations.

Take the Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft hub. The team created real-time content during the 2013 draft broadcast, collecting stats and other info about each draft pick — on the fly, as they were shared in social — and aggregated it for fans to see in an interactive hub on the team’s website.

“As a high-profile, emotional brand, the Falcons are always looking for ways to harness the torrent of conversation surrounding major events and present it to our fans in meaningful, digestible ways,” says Dan Levak, Falcons director of digital media.

The team partnered with Wayin to provide fans something they wouldn’t find elsewhere — on Twitter or other native platforms. This week, the Denver-based social media start-up bought Comenta TV, presumably to strengthen its second-screen efforts.

ESPN used similar tactics during the 2013 NFL draft to enhance its broadcast. And look for NBC Universal to do the same in 2014 (especially the Olympics), after it recently partnered with Comcast and Twitter to create a second-screen experience.

Remember the in-game experience.
When fans attend events, they want second-screen engagement opportunities. Live action and in-stadium display (closed-circuit TV, JumboTron, etc.) are the first screens for fans here, but they’re also hungry to connect through mobile and social.

That starts with connectivity. Many fans (yours truly included) struggle with in-stadium service. Teams should boost cell service or provide WiFi to fans (at minimal cost or through sponsorships).

Then it’s about content. What will get fans in the stands to engage?

The Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium, while also connecting with them during road trips.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium.

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it’s from 2011 (a generation ago in social media terms), the team’s #SocialSept campaign is a simple blueprint for keeping fans engaged via a second screen that’s relevant in 2014.

The Dodgers answered Twitter questions on its TV broadcast, featured tweets with the #SocialSept hashtag on Dodger Stadium screens. And the team awarded prizes for social engagement, including on-field introductions before games.

“The goal,” Dodgers assistant director of public relations Joe Jareck told Lost Remote, “was really was to just give our fans more voice … another way to follow the Dodgers closely and be rewarded for it.”

The NFL is also emphasizing in-stadium experiences around the second screen, thanks in part to declining attendance (only accentuated by blackout threats during the 2013 NFL playoffs).

A sports fan’s second-screen options are endless. So are the ways teams and leagues can reach them during live events. It’s imperative fans find value in these experiences, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers. As it becomes ingrained into the sports experience, the second screen must be about the fan, providing deeper engagement, better access and increasing value.

Thanks for being a fan.

Fourth and 140 Signs Media Partnership for Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference

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Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference logo

Join today’s sports and social media leaders at the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference March 3-4, 2014, in Dallas.

It’s about time.

We finally have a blockbuster sports and social media conference for the ages. Some big names highlight the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, coming to Dallas March 3-4, 2014.

And, I’m excited to report, FourthAnd140 is officially on board as a media partner with Q1 Productions for this event.

Leaders from sports organizations, major brands and facilities will discuss the growing opportunities digital and social media provide for connecting teams, leagues and players with fans. It’s a who’s who of #SMsports, so check out the agenda today.

FourthAnd140 readers can receive a $100 discount on registration. For more information, email sports@q1productions.com and mention the discount code F140.

“Q1 is thrilled to partner with such industry leaders as FourthAnd140.com, for its innovative coverage of sports and social media,” says Kate Jeter, Production Director. “We value the strategic focus of this leading blog source to help our conference attendees get the most out of their time together.”

For more information regarding the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference, visit the Q1 website at www.q1productions.com/sportsfanengagement, and follow them on Twitter at @Q1Sports.

As we draw closer to the conference, I’ll share some insights from a few of the speakers, giving FourthAnd140 readers a preview of what to expect March 3-4 in Dallas.

Thanks for being a fan.

About FourthAnd140.com:
FourthAnd140.com gives readers a strategic view of how players, teams and leagues – professional and amateur – use social media to connect with today’s sports fans. Editor and publisher Tom Buchheim was one of the first bloggers covering the curious intersection of sports and social media, using his experience as a social media leader for a Fortune 300 brand (and a sports fan) to examine the trends – and characters behind them – in this rapidly-changing space.

About Q1 Productions:
Q1 Productions designs and develops webinars, training courses, conference programs and forums aimed at specifically targeted audiences, including the life science and sports industries. Through a highly structured production process focused on research calls with end-users and key stakeholders in the industry, our team is able to understand the immediate business concerns of today’s leading executives. Whether focusing on new or pending legislative and health policy issues for the life science industry or upcoming marketing trends in the digital and mobile space for sports organizations, our programs provide solutions to the urgent educational and information needs of our attendees.

CONTACT:
Nathalie Davis
Production Manager
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

Power to the #: Tagboard and the Sports Strategy of Hashtags

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Tagboard's logo

Tagboard helps some of the biggest brands in the world play a more active role in the social conversation by encouraging their audiences to share their experiences on a branded, moderated platform.

User-generated content is the gold mine inside social media. Across its varied platforms, one of the simplest but most effective ways for sports brands to mine that gold is with hashtags.

Take a look around. They’re everywhere. More brands — of all kinds — are developing hashtag strategies to capitalize on the conversations in social media. It’s the new, or at least next, call to action in marketing.

“There is a lot of buzz about the hashtag being the next URL,” says Dan Redwine, director of community outreach at Tagboard. “It’s the new way for people to connect, share information and engage around any subject.”

You’ve heard about hashtags, but if Tagboard doesn’t ring a bell, I suspect it will soon — especially if you follow college or pro sports (or attend their games), enjoy brand journalism, or just like the latest social media trends.

With roots in tech-savvy Seattle, Tagboard expanded its niche social media service outside of Washington, where a year ago it was a fledgling start-up. Fast-forward 12 months, and Tagboard is cashing in on the hashtag craze, providing content-hungry consumers — especially sports fans — with a new fix.

Following a recent $2 million funding injection, it seems Tagboard provides content-hungry brands with a valuable service, too.

Tagboard is basically a collection point for hashtags or similar social media-driven topics. For consumers, it is aggregated content on steroids — pulling data from across myriad social media sources, while its paying customers — companies, brands, teams, etc. — customize the look-and-feel of their respective pages, displaying them to various audiences.

But this tool is more than a flash in the pan. Yes, it’s a start-up, but it’s gaining traction — and paying clients — in established sports markets like Major League Baseball and NCAA football. Why? Tagboard is built for sports — or any brand producing highly engaging, exceptionally visual, event-driven content.

“We never planned on having such a strong sports focus,” Redwine told Fourth and 140 recently. “However, the sports community is full of ideal Tagboard users, because they’re so passionate about their teams. That being said, we also focus on a lot of different verticals, but for the sports teams, I think mainly it’s our ability to leverage the game-time setting with our live-event mode.”

Redwine says Tagboard works with teams on a variety of engagement strategies — like displaying user-generated content on the big screen at Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners (see video below), or on Stanford’s ribbon board display and web site.

“Our main objective is to make sure every fan is heard and that we are engaging in that conversation with them,” Mariners director of marketing Kevin Martinez says in an interview on Tagboard’s blog. “We really pride ourselves on being responsive to our fans. Without Tagboard, we would not be able to have such a high presence of social media in our game presentation. We have seen the amount of posts spike 10-fold.”

Despite hashtag success stories like the Mariners are seeing, traditional marketers are skeptical. I’ve heard them, too. From lack of value, to too risky, to off brand.

Tagboard provides a tool to mitigate those risks and deliver more value to marketers — in just about any industry.

First, let’s address the risks. Calls to action (CTAs) in traditional, paid media generally drive to owned (and therefore controlled) properties, not the Wild West of Twitter or Instagram. Using paid media to direct consumers to a hashtag instead of a website is difficult to quantify in traditional, “buy my stuff” advertising terms. And it can distract from those more established CTAs — like “visit our website” or even more recently, “Find us on Facebook.”

Execution is also risky, especially given Twitter’s snarky and skeptical nature, which can ruin even the most perfectly planned hashtag implementation. And there’s no ownership or copyright of hashtags — especially across different networks, not to mention the purported uselessness of Facebook hashtags.

Tagboard tackles both concerns, offering more control in a moderated environment, where board owners can choose to display the best-of-the-best content. It’s also promising improved analytics features.

The lesson here is that hashtags aren’t going away. It’s why a hashtag strategy should be discussed at the upper levels of an organization, whether it’s football or financial services. These are more than mere words or catch phrases. They enhance a brand’s existence, tell your story, connect you to a larger audience — in paid, owned and earned settings.

Hashtags should be treated (and chosen) with respect, and not delegated to a game-day intern or disengaged agency. And, as Tagboard proves, hashtags should be taken seriously, even if it’s a little silly giving so much power to the # sign.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports Strategy of Social Media Influencers: The Miami Hurricanes #USocial Suite

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#USocial Suite logo

Whether it’s space or sports, the strategy of social influence remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth.

It’s time for college football, and who better to tell the season’s story than fans. Really, really dedicated and passionate fans.

So it’s refreshing (and about time, frankly) that college football realizes the value of fanvocates — those extremely invested followers of their team.

The groundbreaking honors go to the Miami Hurricanes, who will host “fan reporters” and select bloggers for three football games during the 2013 season inside the team’s #USocial Suite, a spot set aside in the Sun Life Stadium press box.

The athletic department hand-picked some #USocial participants, but also held a casting call (via social media) for superfans seeking spots in the suite as #CanesReporters. All will be expected to share their experiences across social media during Hurricane home games vs. Florida, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

“Social media is a part of our culture,” Hurricanes’ Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Chris Yandle tells FourthAnd140. “Research suggests social media users are most active during sporting events. It’s a great combination. These are the people that – over time – will be the ones fighting for us online. Thanks to the TMZ culture and camera phones, everyone is a reporter.”

#USocial – and other on-site, in-game social media experiences (like the Cleveland Indians Social Suite) – help teams build stronger relationships with fans and their sports brands. Adopting a social media influencer strategy is becoming more mainstream among sports brands – at the professional (and now collegiate) level. A social suite is a smart, low-cost tactic.

“Everyone wants to share their experience. Everyone’s experience is content,” Yandle says. “Sharing fans’ experiences makes our jobs better. We want to be able to adapt and provide the best social, digital and entertainment experience possible for fans. [#USocial] could be the start of that.”

socialsuitetweet

During summer, Miami’s athletic department solicited fan tweet and video submissions to earn #USocial Suite access. Yandle says athletics staff members and fans alike recommended participants.  Some came from blogs or websites the university doesn’t credential as media for games.

“This will serve as a ‘test drive’ for them,” he says. “It’s as much as an interview process for us as it is them.”

#USocial Suite digs are more about function than luxury, but I doubt you’ll hear too many complaints. Participants will make their home in a suite on the second floor of the main press box at Sun Life. While Yandle says they won’t have post-game interview access, #USocial Suite will offer media materials, food and stats.

What more could a superfan need?

When it comes to college football, the amount of content available is overwhelming. Fans sites and home-grown blogs are plentiful, and Twitter streams clog on Saturday afternoons with play-by-play and fan commentary. Imagine having the opportunity to showcase your blog, website or fan forum by earning a spot at the big show. For influential fans, #CanesReporters provides a chance to set yourself apart even more, and up your street cred with other fans (not to mention grow your following).

It’s also just plain cool to see and report a major sporting event from a vantage point few ever see. (Trust me, it’s a blast.) Access is part of the deal, according to Yandle, who says several university leaders, including the school’s athletic director, will visit the suite, chat with participants and host Q & A sessions.

The lessons of brand advocacy and influence aren’t new to social media. Surprisingly, sports is playing catch-up. NASA has hosted tweetups for years. (I was fortunate to attend the NASA tweetup for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.) But, whether it’s space or sports, the strategy remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth and authentic buzz.

“Social media is vital,” says Yandle. “It’s free. No one can tell our story as best as we can. We want to take advantage of social media, while remaining as one of the trendsetters in social media among college athletics.”

The Hurricanes are leaders in social, and part of leading the way is taking risks and trying new things. Being first is OK, but doing it right is strategic (and smart). Yandle and his team nailed all three.

“My goal is to create a  great experience for this group, while building these relationships that can help us in our social brand moving forward,” says Yandle.

Social media is about relationships. It’s about connections. It’s about conversations. It’s today’s digital handshake, and in sports – especially college athletics – it can’t be ignored, vilified or downplayed. Through leadership and calculated risk, the Hurricanes will reap the benefits. But more importantly, so will their fans.

Thanks for being a fan.