#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)

 

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Twitter Powers Jeremy Lin’s Rise to NBA – and Social Media – Superstar

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Jeremy Lin is dominating the NBA - and discussions on Twitter.

By now you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin. The newest NBA star and point guard for the New York Knicks burst onto the scene this week, scoring a bucketload of points and helping his team win four straight games, including a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Feb. 10.

Lin’s rise from bench warmer to burning-hot superstar is an amazing story. A week ago, he’d never started an NBA game, or scored more than 13 points. Lin is also an Asian-American, something unheard of in the NBA, but also inspirational to many with similar backgrounds. This is a guy who has been sleeping on his brother’s couch!

It’s an incredible story. And you know who likes a good story? People on Twitter.

Since taking the reigns at point guard for the Knicks less than a week ago, Lin’s playing prowess was matched only by his social media status. Want some proof? Just try to keep up with the numbers.

Let’s start with Lin’s Klout score. On Feb. 5, it was a flat-lined and pedestrian 58.77. It ballooned to 73.63 in just six days. During this same time, Lin’s True Reach was just 9,000 before ballooning to more than 89,000. His follower count traced a similar path above 150,000. It’s a number that will look silly at the end of the NBA season, because I suspect it will be six or seven times that come June.

Kloutastic: Jeremy Lin's rise from obscurity to social media stardom - in less than a week.

Lin’s story is not just about follower count, it’s also about the conversation. And Lin dominates the talk on Twitter every time he suits up. According to Trendistic, “Jeremy Lin” was included in as much as 1.69 percent of tweets worldwide on Friday, Feb. 10 (9 p.m. CST). In his previous three games, he garnered 0.12, 0.17 and 0.19 percent of the Twitter conversation, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Lin’s Facebook page swelled above 260,000 likes with off-the-chart engagement levels (107,000+ People Talking About This). Posts as recent as Feb. 4 received 23,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments.

Trend-LIN Topic: Jeremy Lin creates incredible buzz on Twitter every time he plays.

Lin’s rise captivates audiences outside of New York City, which is where Twitter and Facebook fan the flames of “Linsanity” – one of the many user-generated hash tags created to describe him. These variations – along with the regular spelling of his name – dominate Twitter’s trending topics before, during and after Knicks’ games.

Lin’s story has overwhelmed the social media landscape – in just six days. That is unbelievable.

Perhaps it’s also why some say Lin is already a polarizing sports figure, similar to Tim Tebow (who is Lin’s hero, incidentally). Too much Linsanity, too fast, could quickly turn off fans. Others say – like Tebow – Lin’s faith is an issue, and that you either love him or hate him.

I don’t see it that way. What I see is a kid getting his chance and taking full advantage of it. Unlike Tebow, Lin was not a highly-regarded pro prospect. He was undrafted, worked his way up through the NBA summer league but was cut by the Houston Rockets in December. He’s only getting a chance on the Knicks because of injuries.

Lin’s story is compelling and worth talking about, not only to Knicks’ and NBA fans, but people everywhere who just might have found the NBA interesting again.

Where does Jeremy Lin go from here? Follow along on Twitter, and you’ll get a front-row seat.

Thanks for being a fan.

Photo credit: Jeremy Lin’s Facebook page

Coming Soon to Twitter: A Social Media Sideline Reporter

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Phoenix Suns Twitter logo

The Phoenix Suns are hiring a social media sideline reporter. Here are 5 job qualifications the team most likely won't consider (but should).

Someone in the Phoenix Suns’ front office understands today’s sports fan. Not your average fan, but your more engaged, highly active one.

This week, the Suns posted a pretty crazy classified ad on the team website, looking for a “social media sideline reporter.”

The job description? According to the ad: “This unique position will play an exciting new role in the team’s home-game broadcasts on @FoxSportsAZ and @ArizonaSports620, as well as the experience at @USAirwaysCenter.”

It’s a bold move for an NBA franchise, and a good sign for the growth of social media in sports marketing. But let’s hope the Suns don’t fill the position with a predictable choice. With that in mind, here are 5 recommendations I’d give to Suns’ brass if I was choosing the perfect social media sideline reporter.

Choose authenticity over flash. No one spots a social media phony faster than sports fans. Yes, map out a game plan for what you want to accomplish with this position. But let this person be real. It may be bumpy at times, but fans will appreciate it more than a talking head.

Don’t just pick the hottest gal (or guy). Sure, I get it. There’s a certain profile that attracts followers and gains buzz from a large metropolitan community like Phoenix. I’m just saying there’s more to social media than a pretty face. Give those gritty (and less pretty) superfans a chance.

Pay this person a decent salary. Consider the reach of your Twitter audience. (For the Sun’s, it’s more than 72,000 when this was published.) This is not an intern’s job. Find someone with passion who also understands your brand. The first part is not as easy to find. You can teach the second part.

Give this position more than lip service. Social media is still a novelty to some industries – especially sports. But more fans today use Twitter to connect with their favorite teams (and other fans). They live vicariously through their teams in the real world and online. So, let your social media sideline reporter have a true voice in your team’s overall social media strategy.

Hire a writer. While the Suns appear to be going a different way based on the application process (via video submission), I see the job description calling for someone who can write. Providing “quick social media updates” and “giving fans a voice within the broadcasts” requires quick thinkers who also need to be quick, efficient writers.

Now, I doubt the Suns will give me a call when it’s time to hire this new social media sideline reporter. (And, no, I’m not interested in moving to Phoenix.) But I’d like to think some of these suggestions are already on Jeramie McPeek’s radar. He’s the vice president of digital for the Suns, who wants “to try something different,” according to the Sports Business Daily.

Let’s hope so. Because finding a passionate, connected and capable fan for “social media sideline reporter” should be easy. Finding the perfect one won’t be.

Thanks for being a fan.

Shaq Blazes Social Media Trails for Professional Athletes

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Happy retirement to a sports and social media legend.

Shaquille O’Neal retired from the NBA this week after an illustrious, 19-year career. He was a bigger-than-life figure on the court, but perhaps an even larger factor on sports business and social media.

It was fitting he used Twitter to announce his retirement, sharing a 16-second video and thanking his millions of fans.

Today’s professional athletes should thank Shaq for what he’s done for personal branding. I’m not talking endorsements, although Shaq has his share of those. In the not-too-distant-past, it was traditional endorsements using traditional media that enriched professional athletes beyond their player salaries. Shaq is a trail-blazer for athletes and other celebrities who today use their social media star power for financial gain.

Sure, Shaq has done a lot to get where he is today: Hollywood actor. Rapper. Product spokesperson. Humanitarian. He’s not Shaquille O’Neal anymore. His brand name is simply Shaq. In 2007, CNN/Money named him the seventh-best endorsement superstar. And that’s a product of intense, frequent – and often brilliant – personal branding.

He’s created a language all his own – mashing “Shaq” with other words to make them larger than life – or Shaq-worthy. As his Twitter profile boasts, he’s very “Quotatious,” and “performs random acts of Shaqness.”

There’s also that stellar stint in the NBA, where Shaq earned 15 trips to the all-star game, 4 rings and numerous statistical milestones. He was the last bridge to previous generation of NBA greats.

When he wasn’t on the court, Shaq seemed most comfortable in the social media space. It’s the one place he could – and can – truly be himself. The authentic nature of this medium translates perfectly to Shaq’s large, unencumbered personality. It’s no surprise he’s the “most-followed athlete and first verified celebrity on Twitter”, according to his social media rep, Amy Jo Martin of Digital Royalty.

Shaq burst onto the social media scene when it was in its infancy. At nearly 4 million Twitter followers and more than 2 million Facebook fans, Shaq’s following is large for an aging athlete who has spent more time injured than playing the past few seasons.

In early 2009, Shaq shunned so-called traditional media to pimp his latest endorsement deal at the time with Enlyten, a maker of mouth strips that provide athletes with electrolytes. At the time, he had just 500,000 or so followers, but no one had done such a thing using social media. Now it’s becoming commonplace.

Shaq’s retirement announcement on Twitter was, of course, how he wanted to go out. As Martin told ESPN:

Shaquille is the media. He didn’t need a press release so the media could tell the world he’s retiring in their words. He told his millions of friends directly, in his own words. The social influence he has built has given him the freedom to leapfrog the middleman.

Shaq’s using his Twitter following to determine a new, post-retirement nickname. “The Big 401k” currently leads the way, but you can still tweet up Shaq with your idea.

Regardless of what you call him, Shaq remains a social media force in the sports world. Or, in Shaq terms, he’s Shaq-tastic.

Thanks for being a fan.

NBA Makes All-Star Weekend Social with Facebook and Twitter Tools

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NBA All-Star Weekend goes social with new fan features. Now if the game was only a little more interesting...

The NBA has a sixth man for this year’s All-Star Weekend – social media.

Arguably one of the league’s biggest weekends of the season, All-Star 2011 festivities get an added boost this year from heavy social media integration. Already, Twitter’s Trending Topics are dotted with NBA-related comments around the game and its accompanying side-show events.

The high-dollar attraction this year is the NBA.com’s “All Star Pulse”, a real-time look at the social  buzz from the weekend. It’s sort of Trending Topics built for Facebook. Fans can visualize the social conversations or hone in on specific chatter based on topics, people and events from the All-Star weekend.

The NBA is reportedly using Facebook’s open graph technology to capture all the public banter. But not forgotten is Twitter, which is key not only from the aforementioned Trending Topics, but because of its prominence on NBA.com’s live Twitter feed, featuring tweets from players, writers and others.

Nice work by the NBA to integrate so well with social media. It’s a good way to pump up fan participation in a sport that’s seen declining ratings, attendence along with a growing lack of interest and player controversies, to  name a few.

It’s still a pro sport, and on a weekend with few marquis matchups in college basketball, it’s arguably the most interesting of sporting events this time of year.

Personally, these new social tools do make for a more engaging way to follow along with the action – even if I’m not all that interested in a meaningless professional all-star game. Like most fans, the dunks and three-pointing shooting end up catching my attention – as well as generating buzz and Sports Center highlights.  

The NBA needs a shot in the arm, and hitting Facebook and Twitter users with these interactive tools – right on the NBA’s main internet property – is a good move.

My only question – can they create the technology to make Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson each 20 years younger? Until then, the NBA remains pretty far down my list of sports worth watching.

Thanks for being a fan.

Social Media and Sports: A Crazy-Fun Elixir

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It was a collision bound to happen. And no one got fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Social media and sports bumped into each other, way before “Web 2.0” was thrown around. When did it happen? No one can really pinpoint a time – late 90s perhaps – when those first fan forums sprouted. They were led by average Joes who wanted to annonymously rant about their favorite team. You joined these networks of like-minded and not-so-like-minded fans to hear what everyone was saying about a certain player, or last weekend’s game, or the new coach that just got hired.

They flourished and became mainstream. They generated news, sometimes, or buzz at the very least. They got noticed by teams, by the traditional media and by more and more fans.

It wasn’t long before mainstream social networks – like Facebook and Twitter – took hold, and sports piled on like a scrum for a loose ball. Everyone wanted a piece. Everyone wanted to come out holding the ball.

And why not? It was an elixir for today’s uberfan – that perfect mix of jack and coke or cold beer with pizza. Today’s social media channels are souped-up versions of those first clunky fan forums. They can enhance your fan experience and connect you with your favorite team or player like never before. 

Today, sports personalities are tweeting and Facebooking every day. Teams are announcing news on social networks – sometimes before they hit traditional media outlets. And those traditional media outlets are checking social networks and finding news where it used to never exist. 

Traditional fan forums are still around, but they’re being supplemented and enhanced by Twitter and Facebook. The whole sports fan experience has changed – and continues to evolve. 

So what? Well, that’s where I come in. And why I created this blog. It’s here where I’m going to attempt to highlight some of the many ways social media affects the sports world – from the simplest pee-wee football game to a 70,000-seat stadium on NFL Sunday.

I’m not a sports expert. I’m an average fan like most of you. But I do live and breathe social media, and I’ve been a writer for nearly two decades. So, I hope I can provide a different perspective – one that you won’t read anywhere else.

Pretty lofty goals, but give me a chance. And if you have a topic you’d like to see examined here, drop your idea in the comment section.

Thanks for being a fan.