Cleveland @Indians Shorten Off-Season for Fans with #TribeFest

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#TribeFest logo

The Cleveland Indians host #TribeFest this weekend but already have fans buzzing about their team, long before Spring Training’s first pitch.

Winter. A cold and grey season dominated by professional and college football, culminating in college basketball’s March Madness.

Major League Baseball is a distant memory by early November, before snowplow blades are even sharpened or salt piled. Hard-core MLB fans begin circling that magical day in February, when pitchers and catchers report. Teams begin talking about the promise of a new season.

And Cubs fans everywhere believe.

In Cleveland, hope springs eternal perhaps as much as in Chicago. Baseball discussions – start around the digital and social media water coolers. They’re first about new players, like the recent acquisition of Nick Swisher. Then the excitement for the season builds. And even as frigid Lake Erie winds pound their city and the Browns flounder in off-season woe, the Indians organization initiates that first crack in the ice before the spring training thaw with #TribeFest

Held this weekend (Jan. 19 and 20) at Progressive Field, the Indians designed the fan-centric gathering around their followers’ interests, based on feedback from previous team events.

“We want to provide our fans an opportunity to have personal interaction with our players, with the ballpark, our broadcasters, and many members of our front office,” Indians’ senior director of marketing, Sanaa Julien, told the team’s blog. “Those personal interactions are what create lifelong memories for our fans.”

#TribeFest gives fans direct access to stadium locations normally closed on game days, and several current Indians players will be on hand, signing autographs and posing for fan photos.

The Indians are working social and digital channels to drum up interest. It’s a winning strategy filled with engaging and fan-friendly activities like a Twitter scavenger hunt, visually-rich social media content and an in-person event with rare access to the team’s players and facilities.

TribeFest countdown on Indians' Facebook page

Simple but impactful images can drive engagement on Facebook.

Using strong visuals in social media, the team is counting down the days to #TribeFest. They’ve been a staple on the team’s Facebook page, driving (at publish time) more than 1,300 likes and 150 shares this week alone. It’s easily the most engaged Facebook content since the team announced the Swisher deal on Jan. 3

Indians fans can also find excitement on Twitter, where the team is curating fan tweets (many female), building more buzz for #TribeFest and the 2013 season. #TribeFest is the latest in a string of activities from the Indians, which expanded its digital reach in 2012 to six social media platforms.

I’m a big fan of the effort and think the strategy – and associated tactics – give fans some of the most socially engaging experiences in all of pro sports. There’s something for everyone.

“We’re cognizant of the importance of social media as a tool to engage with fans,” Indians team president Mark Sharpiro, a frequent in-season tweeter, told MLB.com last season. “We now have the opportunity to directly connect to our fans and engage in authentic, two-way conversations. These connections with fans strengthen our brand vision to create memories, connect generations and celebrate families.”

Part of Cleveland’s digital dominance is the league’s first social media-only space – the Indians Social Suite. In its second season at Progressive Field, the Suite gave fans valuable offline interaction with other suite attendees and brand-strengthening online interactions via social media.

The club’s WiFi-enabled suite at Progressive Field is the hub of social activity, and by all accounts, it looks like the Indians are bringing Social Suite back for a third season. (Note: I’m submitting an application and hope to make a road trip to Cleveland this summer. Who’s with me?)

TribeFest tweet

The @Indians retweeted numerous #TribeFest fan tweets during the past couple weeks, driving interest in the upcoming offline and online events.

“The Indians deserve credit for the efforts they are making to reach out to their fans throughout Ohio and across the country,” wrote Angels’ fan Derek Ciapala, after spending a game in the Social Suite last season.

Yes, they do. And Tribe fans are fortunate. It’s not easy being a baseball fan in the middle of winter, especially in Cleveland. But when your team does more to connect with you, the nights don’t seem as long and the time until pitchers and catchers report seems shorter.

How’s your team staying connected during the off-season? Leave a comment below or tweet me what you’ve seen at @tombuchheim.

Thanks for being a fan.

Baseball Boring? Social Media Begs to Differ

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Major League Baseball is winning over fans in 2012 with its social and digital media strategy.

Major League Baseball fans have it good.

The league leads professional sports when it comes to reaching fans in new and innovative ways. The recent start to the 2012 season — and all the ways in which fans can connect to their favorite teams — proves that.

Baseball is NOT boring. It’s not dead. It’s alive and well and filled with energetic and engaged fans.

“Its traditions fit the fabric of spring and summer like few other elements of Americana,” says Joe Favorito, a veteran sports and entertainment marketing and PR consultant. “No other sport anywhere in the world can find ways to engage the casual and ardent follower for a night, a week or a year.”

Social and mobile drive fan interest and engagement. MLB recognizes this, and has doubled its efforts in 2012.

“Baseball is really a social conversation for us,” MLB.com’s director of new media, Andrew Patterson, told Mashable at the beginning of the season. “There’s a game going on, but there’s a conversation happening too.”

Conversation is important, especially when the season is so long. At 81 home games, the average fan has little chance to see every one in person. So fans watch TV, go online and use social media to follow the action. Specifically, they use social media as the action happens.   

“Sports have the whole social/TV engagement thing on lockdown,” says Josh Wolford, a staff writer for WebProNews. “83 percent of sports fans say they check sports-related social media pages while watching the game on TV.”

MLB recognizes this new and growing trend, and turns its sometimes slow and floundering product into 140-character, bite-size pieces.

“Integrating more social and mobile into the experience isn’t an aberration, it’s more likely to become the norm,” Patterson says. “The idea now isn’t just to package the content we have and put it out on social media — it’s to create content we know works well on social.”

Where is MLB winning the social media experience? Here are some of FourthAnd140.com’s favorites:

Social Media Clubhouse
Every MLB website hosts a Social Media Clubhouse, which is a one-stop shop for social-media savvy fans. For example, the Cleveland Indians’ Social Media Clubhouse makes it easy to connect with players on Twitter, follow all the official social media sites – including new additions Tumblr and Pinterest. The Social Media Clubhouse is somewhat hidden in the templated MLB team site navigation (under Fans>Connect with TEAM). The page is also very much a jumble of images and links, but it’s a start.

MLB FanCave gets bigger
Now in its second year, MLB FanCave boasts nine new inhabitants, who were chosen from a whopping 50,000 interested fans. The Cave uses online and real-life experiences to give fans added value, including musical artists and celebrities who will visit the Manhattan digs this summer. FanCave definitely speaks to the younger MLB fan, which fits well with its heavy social media reliance.

The Milwaukee Brewers take their campaign for All-Star Game votes to Facebook, with these easy-to-add Cover Photos.

Facebook is covered
MLB teams make it one-click simple for fans to customize their Facebook profiles this season with a series of pre-made, highly-produced cover photos. Check out what the Milwaukee Brewers offer fans who want to show team pride on Facebook, including some recent All-Star Game ballot propaganda.

Mobile apps go with you
MLB At Bat is a free app which offers player statistics, box scores and more. Subscribers can pay $14.99 for additional content, including video and live radio broadcasts — all right on your phone or tablet.

My favorite is the location-based MLB At the Ballpark app, a check-in service for those fans lucky enough to attend games in person. At the Park connects fans with other fans, and can track stadium check-ins — complete with win-loss records for the games attended. Users can unlock deals, order food and find seats once inside a stadium.

Tweetups and more
More MLB teams are adding in-game activities for social media-savvy fans, like social media nights or special seating. Cleveland wins this space with its Indians Social Suite — a dedicated box for Twitter-friendly fans, and other teams are sure to follow. (I feel a road trip to Cleveland coming on this summer.)

Where else is MLB winning with social and mobile? Add your favorites in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.