#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)

 

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.

Space Is Hard and Other Lessons Learned at NASA Tweetup

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Tweetup tweeps didn't get to witness Endeavour's launch, but they earned a valuable and unique NASA experience nonetheless.

My NASA Tweetup experience is just about over. I’m sitting in the Orlando airport about to leave Florida with a suitcase full of NASA swag and souvenirs and a brain and spirit full of amazing experiences.

Of course, as with Endeavour, my departure from Florida is delayed, albeit a few hours only.

It got me thinking about some of the things said and heard around the Tweetup Tent (or Twent) this week, as our crew went from unadalterated giddiness to complete bewilderment, frustration and sadness. Some myths need to put to rest, though, as friends and tweeps alike asked some pretty interesting questions about my experience (post-launch delay).

True: I didn’t get to see Endeavour lift from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center (or the “money shot” as it was snarkily referred to by one anonymous tweep this week).

False: I’m bitter about not getting to see the launch in person.

I still contend being selected to attend the STS-134 launch festivities was like hitting the lottery. I got to see, feel, touch, experience things not many others in the world ever will. And in just a few months time, when the shuttle program is officially retired, this pre-launch party will be placed on a shelf with other NASA rituals.

True: NASA uses Tweetup participants to drive positive buzz about the U.S. space program at a time when public interest and support is significantly wavering.

False: NASA Tweetup participants are pawns in well-choreographed publicity stunt/public relations ploy.

NASA’s public affairs office should get credit for orchestrating a buzz-worthy social event with many moving parts. Each participant is encouraged to speak with their local newspaper or TV station about the Tweetup. I did just that with my local NBC affiliate and major metropolitan newspaper (even if both failed to mention this blog by name).

NASA invests valuable resources providing Tweetup participants with rare, behind-the-scenes access to Kennedy Space Center. The things our group got to see are not on any public tour. We heard from very busy people who were deeply involved in getting Endeavour into space. They took time to talk to our group, and I’ll always cherish knowing that.

But to argue that NASA Tweetup is a PR ploy misses the point of social media entirely. First, NASA selected this group randomly. Had it been more orchestrated, we would have ALL been pro-space program bloggers and tweeters. Before NASA Tweetup, I’d never written or tweeted a word about our space program. Ever.

It also misses the point because Tweetup is more than getting the word out to our millions of collective followers, or getting TV and newspaper stories written about each of the Lucky 150. It’s about building and strengthening a social community that is one-of-a-kind. I met some special people this week, and I won’t forget them anytime soon. We’re already planning a reunion, and the shuttle hasn’t even launched!

True: Space is hard. Tweetup-ers knew the risk of a delay was possible, if not likely.

False: Tweetups are not a good idea given the volatility of launch schedules and timelines.

Witnessing the launch would have merely been icing on the cake this week. I mean, I saw the inner workings of our coveted space program. I won’t forget what I saw. Ever. The visit to the Vehicle Assembly Building bordered on a religious experience. What a technological marvel.

We know, as our gracious host Beth Beck, NASA’s space operations outreach manager said, “Space is hard.” We saw close-up just how hard. So many moving parts. Thousands of workers. Safety checks. Contigency plans. Incredibly detailed project planning.

We were simply fortunate to get a front-row seat to the party. And experience it with 149 others just like us, yet so very different.

NASA has always been a technological pioneer. The same is true socially. Tweetup only strengthens NASA’s trailblazing reputation.

Why else would 700,000 people jam the Space Coast of Florida for a brief glimpse of Endeavour on a cool, cloudy Friday in late April? They want to be part of something amazing, life-changing and inspirational. That’s what our space program is all about. And I was lucky to witness it first-hand, even without a launch.

Thanks for following along on my Tweetup journey.

Publisher’s Note: Look for new FourthAnd140.com posts on the intersection of sports and social media soon.)