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.

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#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)

 

#q1SFE15 Day 1: Fan Engagement Drives Sports Strategy

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The sports fan was at the center of nearly every discussion at day one of the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum.

And why not?

Just like traditional business models put the customer at the center of everything they do, sports teams and leagues acknowledged that fans drive key decision-making and strategy in digital, social media, event activations, and more.

How do teams and leagues understand the fan? Data. Use information about fans — wherever it’s available — to drive decisions. That can be social media data — the richest coming from the platforms or third-party providers. It can come from traditional fan data — focus groups, customer relationship management tools, website personas — anywhere the fan interacts with the team or league is ripe for the picking.

The Seattle Seahawks use data to analyze average social media engagements per post and benchmark against averages from other sports teams. The goal? Post better content that fans like.

“It isn’t rocket science,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital media and emerging media for the Seahawks. “We can stop and reassess what we’re doing and make adjustments to what we’re posting.”

Social media plays a role in how sports can better understand what fans expect from in-game experiences, or how they consume content (mobile vs. desktop), to which sponsors and community partners fans want their teams to work with each season.

“Encourage the ability of sponsors to join your team in making the fan the hero,” says Darcy Raymond, vice president of marketing and entertainment for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mr. Raymond pointed to the #RaysUp program which provides fan-centric content that also delivers authentic partnerships and highlights community support.

Giving fans what they want is a key driver for social media content, and was a theme running through most of the day at #q1SFE15. The Portland Trail Blazers strive to create “snackable” pieces of content more easily consumed from mobile devices — something that plays well on social media, keeps fan attention, and provides valuable information and multiple engagement points for fans.

“We want to create awesome moments for our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, director of digital media for the University of Oklahoma. With social content, Mr. Houghtaling says it’s important to “play the long game. Be consistent in who you are through your stories.” The payoff is a more consistent message — and experience — for the fan.

https://twitter.com/Q1Sports/status/572439535990128640

Even subtle things like gauging the mood of fans can be accomplished through social media. The Portland Timbers monitor the pulse of fans through the #RCTID hashtag — a fan-driven conversation about all things Timbers. The tone of tweets plays a role in the frequency and types of content the team will post.

The New Orleans Saints understand their fans and adjust the team’s Snapchat content calendar. “When we’re winning, our fans can’t get enough,” says Alex Restrepo, web/social media manager for the Saints. “When we’re losing, we take breaks.” It sounds simple enough, but in a must-post-every-day-no-matter-what world, being silent has its advantages.

It’s about knowing your fans. Let them set the pace for your social, digital and in-game strategy. These were just a few of the themes from day one of the Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Learn more by following the #q1SFE15 hashtag or by connecting with forum speakers and attendees.

And keep making it about them, not you.

Thanks for being a fan.

Own Your Social Media Mistakes

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The Ray Rice saga reeks from top to bottom, and nothing I write here can help the Baltimore Ravens organization distance itself — and the National Football League — from this debacle. Nothing I write here will help solve the issue of domestic violence. Nothing I write here will calm the outrage of people — sports fans or otherwise — who have witnessed this story unfold and are sickened by actions of the once-respected people involved.

Those are issues best tackled elsewhere, and plenty of smarter folks are doing their best to tackle them. (For starters, check out Mike Sielski’s piece or this from Keith Olbermann or this from Sam Laird.) What I can offer are two simple social media lessons we can learn in the wake of the Ray Rice incident…

Own your social media mistakes. If you are foolish enough to live tweet a news conference with a player accused of beating up his wife — regardless of the circumstances surrounding those actions — you should not delete those tweets (or a subset of them) hours, days or months later.

Apologize. Acknowledge mistakes. Do better the next time.

I’ve deleted plenty of tweets over the five-plus years I’ve been using Twitter (both personally and representing my brand). But it’s usually for a grammatical error, a bad link or something similar — and usually within minutes or hours of tweeting it.

The Ravens’ actions — deleting months-old tweets — is disturbing. It suggests to me something more sinister at play — of covering tracks and tying up loose ends. It’s not behavior appropriate for social media — where transparency trumps public relations. And it only generated more outrage — in the news media and on Twitter.

Never live-tweet a news conference regarding a legal matter! Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but who was running the show and decided back in May this was a good idea?

The Ravens’ punctuated an already over-the-top, victim-blaming display when it live tweeted statements made by Rice, and his then-fiancee. The Ravens have answered the question, “Should we live tweet this?” — should it ever arise in team sports again.

From a social media content strategy perspective, legal matters are of interest to a certain point for fans. But because they’re legal matters, teams and leagues can easily stay above the fray by issuing legally-approved and prepared statements, rather than rapid-fire play-by-play.

Just because we use a platform to share breaking news doesn’t mean we have to break all the news on it. The expectations for in-the-moment social media content are not the same — nor are they appropriate for a team or league to share — surrounding legal matters.

The Ravens should apologize — for its handling of the Ray Rice saga and for a lousy attempt at cleaning up a social media mess four months in the making.

Thanks for being a fan.

Four Alternatives to the #RedskinsPride Social Media Disaster

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Redskins logo

Fueled by political interest, the Washington Redskins name controversy sparked a failed #RedskinsPride hashtag campaign. What could the team have done instead?

When will they learn? Social media is not about you. It’s about them. And poorly planned and executed hashtag campaigns that fail, prove it every time. The latest example? The NFL’s Washington Redskins and its brief #RedskinsPride social media debacle.

Unfortunately for Redskins’ fans, the controversy surrounding the team’s name is not a new issue, but one which has renewed interest following a recent effort by lawmakers — including Nevada Senator Harry Reid. He and 49 other U.S. senators sent a letter to the NFL calling for the team to change its name, considered racist and insensitive by many.

Blame the team for more press, too, since it took to Twitter recently to rally support for keeping the Redskins name. It was an unmitigated disaster, starting with a response from team president Bruce Allen, which the Redskins (and some current players) shared via Twitter.

The real problems began when the team’s Twitter content began to look and feel more like a heavy-handed public relations campaign played out in social media than actual social media. The Redskins were forcing traditional (and tired) old media tactics in a new media space, over which they have little or no control.

It didn’t work because these networks — Twitter especially — are the place for self-expression, conversation and engagement. And nothing riles up a crowd — fueled by some good, ol’ fashioned Twitter snark — quite like the opportunity to demolish a poorly designed and executed hashtag campaign disguised as PR. Add in high-profile political figures, and this baby is ripe for the picking.

The campaign really blossomed following this May 29th tweet, supposedly sent to generate a groundswell of fan support for keeping the Redskins name, and a call to arms to use social media — and #RedskinsPride — to push back a tide of negativity that had crossed over from sports into social and political issues.

The reaction was swift and destructive, with sentiment around the #RedskinsPride hashtag skewed sharply negative, according to Emory University research. But it doesn’t take a PhD to see what played out on Twitter was anything less than ridiculously awful.

This is not a new thing in social media. Many brands — sports and non-sports alike — experience hashtag hijacking. As long as Twitter provides an outlet for snark, opinion, humor — call it what you will — these takeovers will continue.

The Redskins failed on many levels, and in my opinion the team needs to re-examine its entire social media strategy. Force-feeding PR into a social media diet doesn’t work. It requires careful balance that often falls flat when the PR parts are poorly disguised. If they’re not already, the Redskins social media team should stand up for its communities, and build a new strategy focused on more authentic content and conversations that drive deeper brand loyalty — not division.

In that spirit, let’s talk about what might have been. Instead of using a PR hammer to split your fans over a controversial wedge issue in social media, I’d offer these four ideas that could have helped the Redskins do right by their communities, and likely would have turned out better than #RedskinsPride.

1. Engage, engage, engage. Find your team advocates and talk to them. What are they excited about following the draft? What do they hope to see from training camp? Who are their favorite all-time players? The Redskins fail miserably at one-to-one conversations with fans (and haven’t done so on Twitter since May 17). Here’s a chance to direct the attention on your community through active and authentic social media engagement. Besides, replies are outstanding sources of future content, and could help humanize this struggling brand.

2. Change the subject. Use social media to showcase your team’s tradition, players and history — using vintage photos in a Throwback Thursday-style content series. Instead of pouring gasoline on a smoldering issue, focus on less controversial, more positive topics. This could also provide user-generated content for the team to re-purpose across its social platforms.

3. Give stuff away. Launch a social media sweepstakes. Free stuff drives fan interest and can drown out detractors pretty quickly, especially if the prizes are worthwhile. Use social media to give away behind-the-scenes access at training camp, tickets or other unique experiences. Focus on what fans want, not what you want fans to hear.

4. Stop talking. Take a social media sabbatical. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, shut the hell up! Stick to day-to-day routines, which this time of year center around training camp, signing draft picks and preparing for the upcoming season. It’s OK to take a day or two off, especially if your brand is under fire — or a microscope. Routine might be boring, but it doesn’t attract as much attention from the Twitter snarks or further damage your brand.

Should the Redskins ever choose to change the team name, social media is an outstanding space to develop a new mascot and fresh branding. Regardless, the team should take a hard look at its social media strategy. It should also find ways to heal the open wounds festering from this controversy, and help its beleaguered fan base find positives in the upcoming season.

Thanks for being a fan.