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.

Four Fan-Friendly Ideas for Making the Super Bowl More Social (and Fun)

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Super Bowl XLVI logo

If you can't watch the Super Bowl with the people you want, social media can help.

Super Bowl. The game doesn’t need an introduction or added fanfare. It’s called “The Big Game” for a reason.

We eat more food watching it than any other time – except Thanksgiving. That includes 14,500 tons of chips. It’s the only time advertising is part of the experience (and why 30 seconds of airtime costs $3.5 million this year). Heck, the average Super Bowl party has a whopping 17 attendees. But why stop there? The Super Bowl can be better, if you’re willing to share the experience with others on Twitter and Facebook. Talk about a party.

By no means am I suggesting you get lost in your phone or iPad during the game. I will argue, however,  social media can enrich the experience – if you’re willing to learn some technology, spend a little time and break out of your shell.

How? Start with these four fan-friendly ideas for making the Super Bowl more social (and fun):

1. Connect with  your favorite players and teams
Better than a static team website, social media offers a chance to join a conversation, to interact directly with teams, players and those who cover them in the media. Getting started is pretty easy. Use the search features on Facebook and Twitter and connect with them. (If you can’t do that, the rest of this post might not be worth your time.)

Pro tip: Start with your team’s list of who it follows on Twitter and other pages it “likes” on Facebook. Many teams, including the New York Giants (see graphic below), have Twitter lists of official player handles and even super-fans.

The New York Giants Twitter lists

The New York Giants have customized lists of official player Twitter handles. The team even includes a directory of its most die-hard fans.

2. Follow Twitter search terms and hash tags
Use a social media dashboard to follow trends, news and activity on Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck help isolate topics and people associated with your team. For example, you can use Hootsuite to track just the tweets from your favorite team or player. Another column (or two) could have your team’s most-used hash tags. Hootsuite offers simple how-to information to get you started. So does Tweetdeck.

Pro tip: Not sure what terms to follow? Do a little digging on Twitter. It won’t take long, especially if you start by following your team, its players and a few die-hard fans.

The Green Bay Packers official mobile app

The Green Bay Packers are one of many NFL teams offering a mobile app. The Packers' selling point for theirs? "Use it to find official Packers bars on your iPhone or Android device." Only in Wisconsin.

3. Download team or league apps
Check your team’s website or social profiles for downloadable apps. Most provide cool stuff you can access anytime, like photos, videos and breaking news. It’s a sweet time killer during that endless pregame show. The NFL and its teams have made great strides this season with mobile. This is something every good fan with a smart phone can do.

Pro tip: If you like email, sign up for a team newsletter. Get news delivered to your inbox directly from your team. Or import a team blog via RSS and catch up at your own leisure.

4. Engage
It’s a social network, folks. Don’t be shy about replying to tweets or adding your voice to a Facebook conversation – event to complete strangers. These communities are filled with good stuff that will get you excited about the game. You might even learn something new about your team and its players. The followers and friends you gain will be there through the NFL draft, the off-season and next fall – ready to talk football whenever you are.

Pro tip: Not all communities are friendly 100 percent of the time. You will encounter spammers, trolls, haters and bullies, so be prepared to unfollow, disconnect or block using tools available on each social network. Get a handle on your privacy settings first. Then know how to deal with social bullies. Here’s what Twitter has to say on the topic. Here are Facebook’s suggestions. There’s also the “ignore” feature, which is not anything you’ll click but can be the most powerful device in your social media toolbox.

Who’s got more ideas? Share them in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Social Media and the Super Bowl: The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of De-Tweet

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Adding this logo to my blog won't help me erase the bad memories of Super Bowl Sunday.

Well that sucked.

My beloved Pittsburgh Steelers lost the Super Bowl. It hurts to type it. Hats off to the Green Bay Packers, whose fans – many of whom I count as good friends – were very kind to me on Facebook, Twitter (and in person) following the game. 

And even though I offered in-game tweeting tips in my last blog post, I found myself too nervous, too into the action – to do the Super Bowl tweet thing. I managed a few meager posts on Twitter and one on Facebook, riding a black-and-gold wave of emotion from quarter to quarter.

I was watching both, though, which got me thinking that the Super Bowl really is the ultimate combination of social media and sports. Not just because of its importance to the sports world – yes, the Super Bowl is the most important, most-watched, most-hyped sporting event around. But the Big Game also combines music, pop culture, celebrity – and this year even politics.

So Twitter and Facebook accounts across the globe were humming with activity on Super Bowl Sunday. Inbetween comments about action on the field, there were just as many – and probably more – pithy, snarky, humorous and tasteless ones about the newest round of Super Bowl commercials, the botched National Anthem and the, ahem, interesting half-time show.

Even for a sports nut like me, it was hard to take my eyes off Twitter to watch the action on TV. There was just as much entertainment flashing on my 4-inch Mesmerize as on the 50-inch plasma. It was surreal to see so much activity in two places at once.

Green Bay Packer fans are fancy on the Tweeters.

After the game, Green Bay Packer fans plastered their Twitter timelines and Facebook Walls with an assortment of woo-hoos and digital high-fives. Pittsburgh Steelers fans consoled and cried with each other, wondering out loud what might have been.

I went to bed.

But I wanted to read more, and first thing Monday morning I was back on Twitter and Facebook in search of the social highlights. I’m not the first to accuse our society of an obsession with technololgy. We (I) have a love affair with smart phones, and TV has become that third wheel, creating awkward moments when we become so engrossed with the social, we forget about the live action.  

Those Generation Y-ers (all you 18-28 year-olds out there) are mostly to blame, spending more time online than in front of the TV. A whopping 42 percent were watching online video at least once per month, according to a 2008 BusinessWeek report. It’s only grown since then I’m sure, and Gen-Xers are catching up fast.

For social media, it means integration with TV, eventually combining one into some usable format that can go with us but be there when we’re home. I’m sure somebody a lot smarter than me is already creating such a device. And that’s good news for sports fans like me who are hooked on social media.

Especially if my Steelers are playing.

Thanks for being a fan.

5 Twitter Tips to Boost Your Fan Experience on Game Day

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In addition to being a social media dork by day, I also throw myself into cheering wildly for my two favorite sports teams – the Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers (who happen to be playing a pretty big game later today).

Just ask my wife and kids – if I’m not watching the Hawks or Steelers (both conveniently don the black and gold, by the way), I’m reading or tweeting about them.

More recently – I’ve been doing BOTH. Sort of like that old Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup commmercial, I’ve discovered Twitter (and sometimes Face book) and live sports go well together. It was this past season when I really began to appreciate the melding of sports and Twitter.

Let me preface by saying this new fan activity is NOT part of any live game experience. So, no, I was not tweeting while in the stands at Kinnick Stadium. Wouldn’t think of it. And as a long-distance fan (I live in Wisconsin) of the Pittsburgh Steelers, social media engagment is a great way to connect with like-minded fans (some of whom also live in Wisconsin, belive it or not).

However, with all social media conversations – especially Twitter – you have to have a thick skin and be prepared to cut through the clutter to find your sweet spot. Live sports moves fast, and so does the fan conversation. Keep up, contribute or get left behind. Or worse – ignored.

Be patient, too. It takes time to find the fans you appreciate – and who appreciate you. There’s a ton of nonsense out there – from every team in every sport.

With that in mind, I offer these 5 tips to get started on your Twitter/fan experience:

  • Create a follower list of your favorite sports teams: That includes fans, writers, coaches and players. Twitter lists are a great way to differentiate any other activities or passions you might share on Twitter.
  • Don’t overdo the RT. Once you’ve joined a team’s following – large or small – you don’t have to RT everything about your team. It becomes downright ridiculous to read the same tweet 25 times.
  • Use your team hashtags (#) when posting. This helps tell your followers – especially those who don’t follow your team – that this tweet is about the #Steelers or #SteelerNation.
  • Send a quick disclaimer if you’re going to be in-game tweeting. Your non-sports followers might cut you some slack if you warn them ahead of the big game.
  • Include a sentence about your team loyalty in your Twitter profile. This gives any potential follower the heads-up that, hey, you’re passionate about your team, and that your tweets will reflect that passion.

Got more tips? Add them in the comments below.

For now, I’m headed to the big screen to watch my Steelers play in Super Bowl XLV. You might even catch me tweeting about the action, too.

Thanks for being a fan.

Some Athletes Should Take a Twitter Vacation

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In an ideal world, social media provides everyone with an engaging way to communicate with people of all kinds.

In the sports world, social media is often a channel filled with ugly, hateful and often ridiculous messages.

I’ve already touched on the Jay Cutler issue from last week in this Fourthand140.com post. And much of the mouth-breathing that happens on social networks around sports – specifically Twitter – comes from fans, as it did in the Cutler case.

But athletes can just as easily make fools of themselves in 140 characters or less.

Enter Antonio Cromartie. Already a defensive back with a reputation for being loud-mouthed, number 31 also uses his Twitter account to talk trash to fans, followers and other players.

In the past week, he’s reached out his 76,000+ followers to:

1) Physically threaten Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck.
2) Belittle and berate followers and fans.
3) Alienate himself from other NFL players as it relates to the fast-approaching collective bargaining agreement. 

Let’s also not forget Cromartie’s public strategy for covering Pittsburgh Steelers WR Hines Ward in the AFC championship game last week – outlined to the media as this:

“Grab his ass by the throat and choke the s— out of him.”

Stay classy, 31.   

Thankfully, Cromartie is headed to the offseason, where his venom will have less impact. But his actions on Twitter are unfortunate for fans and followers alike.

Why use Twitter like this? Perhaps the on-field trash-talking persona feels just as good online for players like Cromartie. Because he’s not alone. Other athletes use Twitter as a tool for intimidation, anger or mean-spiritedness.

Some high-profile examples include the Buffalo Bills Kawika Mitchell and his less-than-enthusiastic welcome to teammate Richie Incognito; the Maurice Jones-Drew/Jay Cutler fiasco, which MJD has backed down from somewhat; and the ongoing team photo fiasco with Green Bay Packers “teammates” Aaron Rodgers, Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley. Many others could make the list…

I’m a social media purist, so when I see this kind of behavior, it’s disappointing. It’s even more so when it comes from athletes who should know better, or at the very least, should take the high road. Cromartie has done neither.

The collision of social media and sports has been a fast and violent one, giving fans unique and authentic views of the lives of athletes. Many times these are glimpses they could never have gotten without social media. Other times, unfortunately, they see very raw, uninspriring and disappointing behavior.

As ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill put it, “Sports thrive on personalities… Twitter isn’t perfect (what form of technology is?) but at least it doesn’t always give us such a one-dimensional view of athletes.” 

Yes, we need those personalities to make the games – and the inevitable off-seasons – more interesting. But that doesn’t excuse decency or kindness. I’m not asking for a sanitized glimpse into their world – just one that has a little more civility.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twittericulous: Fans, Players Torch Jay Cutler on Twitter

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Jay Cutler is not a likeable fellow. But no one deserves this.

Dinged with an undisclosed knee injury during Sunday’s NFC championship game against the Packers, the Bears’ coaching staff pulled their fiery yet controversial starter for Todd Collins.

And ridiculousness ensued.

Following the injury (which the Fox announcers handled POORLY), Cutler was seen sulking on the sidelines… sitting alone on the bench… riding a stationary bike. 

That’s when the bloodbath by Bears fans, Cutler-haters and even current and former NFL players began on Twitter, where the break-kneck speed of 140 characters and no common-sense filter played out for all to see.

I get that Twitter can be a cesspool, no matter the topic. But many of these were Bears fans (presumably) who were throwing Cutler – torn knee ligaments and all – under the bus. DURING the game!

Here’s just a PG-rated sampling of the Twitter nonsense:

“Wow, I bet the fact that Jay Cutler isn’t out on the field fighting with his team is just eating him alive!! #sarcasm #CutlerSucks

“HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart” #Bears #Packers #CutlerSucks

“I’d rather bet that the #Cutler trending topic shifts to #CutlerSucks by the end of the game, than bet on the final score. Takers?”

These were tweets DURING the game. The Packers had not finished off the Bears until late in the fourth quarter. With third-string QB Caleb Hanie leading the way, the Bears came ever-close to knotting the game up at 21.

Following the loss, though, Bears fans took their anger from Twitter to the parking lots surrounding Soldier Field.

Yes, they actually burned Jay Cutler jerseys – presumably the ones they wore into the game. Above is a picture of one such incident – shared on Twitter.

Bears fans quickly forgot why their team was even playing that day. Jay Cutler (and a pretty stout defense) led them to the NFC North title and a No. 2 seed. It was Cutler’s ability to complete passes to a less-than-stellar receiving corps that helped the Bears reach the playoffs.

Still, Jason Whitlock, current and former NFL stars, sports columnists and commentators piled on, and continue to do so despite the knowledge that Cutler tore his MCL and that he was not cleared to play by his coach and team medical staff.

So, I say – enough.

Twitter will continue to be a junkyard that’s 90 percent garbage. With so many users, that’s inevitable. But sports fans don’t need to stoop to the that level.

It’s time for some sports civility on Twitter. If you see it, call these “fans” out on it. Don’t pile on. Unfollow. Block.

Sure, Jay Cutler is easy to hate on. But this time, he didn’t deserve it. And this kind of nonsense has no place in sports – or social media.

Thanks for being a fan.