#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)

 

#JetsHunt Takes Fans on a Tour of New York Jets’ Social Media Channels

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The New York Jets executed a rather underwhelming social media scavenger hunt with #JetsHunt.

How do you get more fans to connect with you on all your social media channels? Try a social media scavenger hunt.

The New York Jets partnered with JetBlue to launch #JetsHunt this week. The team posted five questions on some of its social media channels, including Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and Tumblr. One lucky winner was promised “2 VIP tickets to a NYC event” on Saturday, April 28. The catch? Follow clues posted on the various social sites, tweet your guess to the Jets and you’re qualified to win.

The concept is brilliant, especially as college and professional teams in all sports look to connect with fans across emerging social media channels like Pinterest. It could also drive renewed interest into fledgling sites like Google Plus, where teams – and many brands – have had difficulty building communities.

The Jets kicked off #JetsHunt on Twitter, engaging its 366,000+ followers with the first of five clues. The results were … underwhelming by most standards. The tweet, sent April 23, yielded just seven retweets and four favorites.

The Jets posted a second clue on Tumblr the following day. The results were equally unimpressive, where one fan commented and no one shared it or liked it. Yikes!

The Jets took #JetsHunt to Pinterest the same day with this pin. It was re-pinned just once. And folks, the Jets have some work to do on Pinterest with just 52 followers (yours truly included).

The fourth clue showed up on Google Plus April 25 where around 2,000 fans have “circled” the Jets. The post received just six comments, four +1s and two shares.

The #JetsHunt map shows fans where to find clues on the team's social media channels.

The Jets mercifully wrapped up #JetsHunt later that day with a fifth and final clue. It was retweeted just three times. At press time, the #JetsHunt hashtag reached approximately 375,000 Twitter accounts, according to TweetReach. Remember, 366,000 of those are already followers of @NYJets. (And 1,200 of those impressions came from a tweet I sent during the hunt.) Only 45 unique Twitter users actually posted the #JetsHunt hashtag over four days.

Was #JetsHunt a failure? I can’t rightfully answer that because I don’t know what the Jets were looking to accomplish. I can say that if I’d been running this contest, I wouldn’t be happy with the results. I believe there’s merit in the idea – connecting a brand’s different social media channels through one common activity (and rewarding fans for doing so). And I like this tactic for brands of all kinds, especially if it’s delivered with more enthusiasm and cross-promotion. (A search for #JetsHunt on NewYorkJets.com yielded no results.)

Should the Jets be concerned? Again, without knowing the back story, it’s hard to judge. But there’s room for improvement in the team’s Pinterest, Google Plus and Tumblr sites, and I appreciate the effort to help fans connect the dots (pun intended). However, if you’re going to spend the time developing a fan-friendly contest, put your best foot forward. Your fans will appreciate it, and so will the people writing the checks.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Battles Between Athletes Only Push Fans Further Away

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Using Twitter and other social channels to battle is the ultimate #FAIL for athletes.

We really need the NFL lockout to end this weekend.

Football fans are looking at their calendars and counting the days left until the Hall of Fame Game. The gnashing of teeth has fans on edge, and they’re showing it in their News Feeds and Twitter Timelines.

Everyone is to blame from the owners to the players.

Oh, the players. Yeah, they’re doing all sorts of stupid stuff, and social media is only making it worse.

There’s the James Harrison-Ben Rothlisberger tiff that’s been played out on the internet for the past week. Did he really mean what he said about Ben? Was that a sincere apology? As a Steelers fan, it’s turned into Team Ben vs. Team James.

If they were playing football, we’d likely not be hearing about it. This fill-the-time-until-the-agreement-is-signed creates more opportunities for talk that has little to do with football and turns fans off to the game.

Worse than the Steelers infighting was Seattle receiver GoldenTate’s Twitter attack on NASCAR racers. Tate was apparently miffed at Jimmie Johnson’s ESPY nod for best male athlete. The offending tweet:

Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show  athleticism.

And the quick back pedal:

I’m not arguing that the sport isn’t hard … If it was easy everyone would  do it, I’m Just saying he is not the most athletic.

Admittedly, it’s a valid question, but that’s not how Tate posed it. He poked the bear – a term my colleagues and I use when we post something aimed at an individual or group that might be considered controversial.

Tate could have posed the question to his (modest) 20,000 Twitter followers. An even better idea would have been to talk about football and not poke the NASCAR bear and, as a result, their vocal fans who have substantial influence on Twitter, Facebook and beyond.

I don’t agree with Donovan McNabb that athletes should stay away from Twitter. Like playing their sport, they simply need some coaching. As I’ve argued previously, social sites like Twitter and Facebook provide fans with unfettered access to athletes without the polish of agents, marketing departments or news releases.

That’s why athletes need to treat social media with respect. Tweet away. Engage with fans. Tell us about your charity, your kids, your workout. Let us in a little more than we get by just watching you on the playing field. But do so with care.

It’s a learning process, and athletes are beginning to better understand the power of social media. What you say carries weight, and it can quickly get you in trouble. That goes for football players who run fast, and racecar drivers who drive fast.

Thanks for being a fan.

Pro Athletes Tweet About Politics At Their Own Risk

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Democracy in action: Protestors at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

The political situation unfolding in Wisconsin is a powder keg of emotions, and I’m trying not to be swept up by it all.

Friends, family and co-workers will tell you, my calm demeanor is one of my finest assets. I wouldn’t have survived my years in a TV newsroom or as a magazine editor without a thick skin and calming presence.

But certain things hit close to home, strike nerves and get me to break my vow to seldom talk politics on Facebook and Twitter. As a former public employee in my home state of Iowa, I feel for what’s happening to neighbors in my adopted state of Wisconsin. I’ve been there when budgets were cut. I’ve felt their pain. This is deeply personal.

For pro atheletes, that’s a little harder sell. 

Jumping into this – or any – political fight is risky business to say the least. It’s easier – and perhaps wiser – to stay out of it. Opinions are fine, but when pro athletes voice them publicly – especially on Twitter or Facebook – it’s a whole different animal.

Green Bay Packers defensive star Charles Woodson was one of the few to take sides in the debate between Wisconsin’s public-sector unions and its newly-elected Republican governor, Scott Walker. Woodson has sided with the unions, which is not a surprise, given his kinship with Wisconsinites. He might also be banking some goodwill when debate shifts to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

What was surprising was Floridian Paul Azinger’s snarky tweets about the Wisconsin budget battle. I’m a casual Azinger fan when he’s on the golf course. I admired his recovery from cancer and his Ryder Cup leadership. He seems like a nice guy.

I know now that I don’t want to hear what he has to say about politics in Wisconsin. At all. Ever. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk summed it up perfectly:

“When we want a fix of politics, we each know where to find it. When we want to get away from that crap (and, in many cases, it is indeed crap), we turn to sports.”

Recently, I challenged Tiger Woods to step up his Twitter game. But it was to talk a lot more about golf, life and the challenges of his comeback. I want the volume to increase, but I don’t want to hear what Tiger has to say about health care or the deficit.

Mr. Azinger is entitled to his opinion. He’s free to share it on Twitter or Facebook or wherever. I simply contend he is wrong, mostly because he lacks perspective: He doesn’t live in Wisconsin. He’s never been a public employee. 

I let him know so on Twitter:

A zinger for Azinger.

We actually had some interesting back-and-forth in subsequent tweets, and Mr. Azinger even DM’d me a couple times. (If he would only follow me back, I could respond there, too … wink-wink, Zinger.) I commend him for engaging fans (and non-fans).

I don’t deny his right to share his views on this issue. I’d just rather hear his views on Tiger Woods. Or the whacky world golf rankings. Or even pimp his new GolfPlan app. I’m getting that from his stream, too, which is why I’m still following him.

For now.

Sure, I could get nasty and talk specifically about Mr. Azinger’s politics, the current state of his golf career or his personal life. There’s no need for that. I simply believe he’s wrong about what’s happening in Wisconsin, and that as a professional athlete, tweeting about it repeatedly is probably not what his fans want to see.

Quite simply, he has a lot more to risk with those opinions than I do.

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.

Steelers Win Game AND Fan Appreciation With Social Media-Inspired Photo

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Hosting the AFC championship game has become old hat for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’ve done it 15 times now – more than any other NFL franchise.

So how could the Steelers front office make the matchup with the New York Jets any more awesome? How about snapping a technology-inspried, 360-degree, high-definition photo of the entire stadium?

Hats off to the Steelers (and McDonald’s, I guess) for making it happen with the GigaPixel FanCam. It’s a great way to engage fans – not only during the game – but on social networks like Facebook and Twitter (as well as e-mail).

The image itself took between 5-7 minutes to shoot. Fans can “navigate the panoramic image and look around, as if they were standing in the middle of Heinz Field for a frozen moment of time just before the opening kickoff of the 2010 AFC Championship Game,” according to Steelers.com. But the best part is finding yourself in the picture and tagging yourself – similar to how photos are tagged on Facebook. However, with this image, the resolution is a little higher – as in 5 billion pixels high. At publication, several hundred tags had been added to the image.

Nice work, Steelers. Winning games is tough, but innovating with 70,000 people – all at the same time – is even tougher.

Thanks for being a fan.