#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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The Sports and Social Media Strategy of Putting the Fan First

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Here’s a primer for #q1SFE15: The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Whenever I get the chance talk with others about social media, I strongly suggest — sometimes I even preach — that social media professionals should put the fan, customer, reader — first. It’s about them, not you.

The them is what drives social media. It’s a big conversation, and we’re all just lucky enough to be part of it. So, we should respect the dialogue. Listen more than we talk. Engage more than we broadcast. Provide value.

As a social media professional, this approach leads to greater returns — in authenticity, community and social engagement.

Sports teams and leagues don’t necessarily have a social media engagement problem. Their challenges aren’t the same challenges a retailer, financial services brand or small business owner has in social media. Quite the opposite. Sports drives a chunk of social conversation and draws people to social media as much as anything.

What keeps GMs, athletic directors and league commissioners up at night (among other things) is translating that massive social buzz into offline fan actions. (That’s also a struggle for retailers, financial service brands and small business owners, by the way.) Chief among those actions is ticket sales and how to deliver an amazing game-day environment. Along the way, it’s nice to make your sponsors happy. Being creative, leading the way and generating earned media also helps.

These challenges — and there are challenges at every level for every team or league — will drive conversation and curriculum at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Leaders in the sports and social media space will meet for the second straight year to get ideas from their peers.

“I think it’s important to get different perspectives and ideas from around our industry,” says Ben Hunt, director of digital media for the Denver Broncos. “With some of the individuals taking part in the forum and those who are in attendance, it will be a great opportunity to share and network.”

The #q1SFE15 sessions highlight the search for this balance through various digital marketing strategies and techniques, best practices for leveraging sponsorship and branding partnerships. Speakers will also share ideas for building life-long relationships with a diverse and growing fan base.

“While we’ve always known that we had to engage fans in-venue, decision-makers are now starting to see the value of engaging in the digital and social space,” says Mark Hodgkin, assistant commissioner, digital media, for the American Athletic Conference, and #q1SFE15 speaker. “With this comes great opportunity but also challenges. Social managers must balance engaging in meaningful but perhaps ‘soft’ ways with new pressures to monetize those engagements.”

Social, mobile, digital, video, content strategy … none of this is new territory for the #SMsports crowd. But having a timely discussion about trends, what’s working and what’s not, and what some will be pursuing in 2015 — that’s valuable and interesting — to sports and social media pros, but also to sports fans. (Remember, it’s about them.)

“The biggest thing I’ve seen in fan engagement in the last two years or so is the massive growth in mobile consumption of content by fans,” says Brian Costello, director, digital media and editor-in-chief for the Portland Timbers. “Digital, video, written, social…it all comes down to how a fan is able to consume that content on mobile – especially on match days.”

Learn more about what’s being covered at the Sports Fan Engagement Forum here. And be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter. As an official media partner of this event, Fourth and 140 will provide our perspective, too.

“At the end of the day, lots of fans just want something that cheers for their team or highlights a great play or accomplishment – something they can share on their wall or timeline,” says Hodgkin. “We try to be our teams’ biggest cheerleaders and give followers content they can virtually high-five.”

So stay tuned. Listen more. Make it about them, not you.

And thanks for being a fan.

Join Fourth and 140 at #q1SFE15

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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 is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

It’s back!

Leaders from sports organizations, major brands and facilities will discuss the growing opportunities digital and social media provide for connecting teams, leagues and players with fans.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is a who’s who of sports and social media, and Fourth and 140 is on board once again as a media partner for this event, scheduled for March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Learn more about the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference at the Q1 Sports Fan Engagement Forum website. Follow @Q1Sports on Twitter and join the conversation with #q1SFE15, too.

Look for some insight on Fourth and 140 ahead of the event, as well as reporting from both days of the forum.  To register – or learn more about who’s going to be there – visit the Sports Fan Engagement Forum website.

Thanks for being a fan.

About FourthAnd140.com:
FourthAnd140.com gives readers a strategic view of how players, teams and leagues – professional and amateur – use social media to connect with today’s sports fans. Editor and publisher Tom Buchheim was one of the first bloggers covering the curious intersection of sports and social media, using his experience as a social media leader for a Fortune 300 brand (and a sports fan) to examine the trends – and characters behind them – in this rapidly-changing space.

About Q1 Productions:
Q1 Productions designs and develops webinars, training courses, conference programs and forums aimed at specifically targeted audiences, including the life science and sports industries. Through a highly structured production process focused on research calls with end-users and key stakeholders in the industry, our team is able to understand the immediate business concerns of today’s leading executives. Whether focusing on new or pending legislative and health policy issues for the life science industry or upcoming marketing trends in the digital and mobile space for sports organizations, our programs provide solutions to the urgent educational and information needs of our attendees.

CONTACT:
Erica Abdnour
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

#DSFE14 Day 2: Innovation, technology and data

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Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data -- especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data — especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

As the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference rolled into its second day, the fan remained at the center of the conversation. But sports teams and leagues must understand fans better, and offer them reasons to connect in social media, online and at sports venues.

It was another amazing day filled with loads of valuable information. Here are some of the highlights.

Enter the Quack Cave
A leader in social media led off Day 2, as Oregon’s Craig Pintens shared the Ducks’ approach to social media. It’s simple. Be a national brand and activate a social media strategy focusing on heavy engagement, fan-centric and unique content (especially around the Duck’s buzz-worthy Nike uniforms), and creating and amplifying brand advocates.

“Influence is more important than growth,” says Pintens, who launched the first-ever social media command center among NCAA brands. The Quack Cave employs a mix of free and paid technology, including Postano’s social curation platform, to connect with fan advocates in social media, generating added interaction in the Duck’s already vibrant communities.

Rather than hire dozens of full-time social media pros to staff 30-40 accounts, Pintens enlists an army of student volunteers, eager to earn valuable experience and evangelize the Ducks’ brand. Quack Cave captures all things Oregon — across sports — and empowers students to join those conversations and share them. The Quack Cave site provides a one-stop shop for fans.

The Quack Cave even joined the #DSFE14 conversation.

“We want to be your second-favorite team,” says Pintens. “The Quack Cave is about finding Oregon in places you wouldn’t expect to see it.” Which is smart, considering 81 percent of Duck merchandise sales come from outside the state of Oregon.

Second-screen best practices
Teams and leagues see opportunity — and challenges — when it comes to the second screen, especially given 88 percent of fans use one when watching sports. From in-stadium connectivity (an issue WWE faces as it travels from arena to arena) to in-game content, each organization faces similar opportunities when trying to reach fans during the action.   

But, admitting their events are truly scripted, WWE seeks fan input via social media to give them control of the story line and keep them engaged via a second screen.

The University of Oklahoma seeks an idealized fan experience, bringing emotion and value to the second screen. How? Provide what fans can’t get anywhere else: access, analysis and immediacy. And make sure to provide platform-appropriate content, understanding the differences, for example, between Facebook and Twitter communities.

“We customize the content to our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, Oklahoma’s director of digital media, noting the team invested in Bluetooth-enabled cameras to capture and share in-the-moment photos. “Emotion is why people love sports. We want to transfer that feeling to people on their couches.”

#ClubOrange rewards fans
Oklahoma sold out 92 straight home football games, so it’s important for the team to connect with fans who may never be able to attend a game at Memorial Stadium. 
The Phoenix Suns created #ClubOrange to provide fans with things they won’t find inside the arena.

The Suns’ Gorilla delivered pizza — and a unique experience — to Club Orange members.

“Money can’t buy experiences,” says Jeramie McPeek, the Suns’ vice president for digital. Club Orange rewards a variety of fan social media activities, including retweets, check-ins and hashtag usage. Fans earn prizes they can’t get anywhere else, including autographed gear, photos, and exclusive experiences — like a pizza party with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.

The team collects fan data through the program and uses it to stay in touch with current and former season ticket holders via social media. The goal is to retain and even grow season those numbers.

Packers everywhere
By contrast, 110,000 Green Bay Packers fans are on the team’s waiting list for coveted season tickets to Lambeau Field, and only eight to 10 percent of its fans will ever get to a game. So the team built Packerseverywhere.com to create a “virtual Lambeau Field” filled with photos, tailgating recipes and a where-to-watch guide for more than 1,000 Packer-backer bars.  

More than 200,000 fans signed up for the new fan program, and — incredibly — half were not in the team’s existing database. Now the Packers use this portal to bring more fans into their sales funnel while connecting them to other fans through engaging, social media-friendly content.

“Fans become entertainment for other fans,” says Joan Malcheski, Packers media group and brand engagement director. Rightfully so, given Packerseverywhere.com boasts more than 40,000 pieces of fan content from 64 countries. Talk about a global brand!

Sponsors are a crucial part of the fan equation — in digital and social especially. But #DSFE14 panelists urged athletes, teams and leagues to remain diligent in these spaces, keeping content authentic and relevant. 

“Find natural fits for your sponsors,” says Jaime Carlin, marketing director for the Texas Motor Speedway. “Weave it into your story. Social media has a tremendous value. We can’t give it away.”

NASCAR uses sponsor-driven campaigns to continue conversations after race-day buzz dies down. But as Tim Clark, NASCAR’s director of optimization and programming, points out, it has to be genuine.

“Fans are smarter than we think,” Clark says. “They’ll see through sponsored content. If you’re creating something for a contrived reason, you’re probably going to fall flat.” Instead, teams and leagues should look for opportunities to partner with big brands to split costs and work together on sponsorships, campaigns and content that’s authentic to both brands.

There’s plenty more from both days of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, and I encourage you to check out the Q1 Sports event blog, review the conversation from the #DSFE14 hashtag, and read my recap from day 1.

As a media partner for this event, I’m humbled to have been invited and appreciate meeting and hearing from so many brilliant minds in sports and social media — and the powerful sports brands they represent.

As always, thanks for being a fan.

You’re Doing it Wrong: Pro Sports Teams Miss The Mark on Twitter’s Expanded Images

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It’s only been more than a month, but I’m surprised to find professional sports teams are not adapting well — or at all, in some cases — to Twitter’s recent timeline changes.

The blue bird announced Oct. 30 dramatic changes to how it displays timeline images across web and mobile platforms. Immediately, folks like me who do social media for a living began researching what Twitter’s new expanded images meant for our brand, the platform and its millions of users — who do not always embrace change.

Not surprisingly, we created crude pixel measurements predicting the optimized Twitter image — all within minutes of noticing the change. A follow-up email to a Twitter sales rep answered my questions — and got me a handy cheat-sheet. You can download it here, by the way.

What has been surprising in the month or so since this change is the inconsistency and lack of adaptation among pro sports teams. For whatever reason, I’m seeing mismatched and poorly executed expanded images more than I’m seeing well-designed and optimized pictures. More on that in a moment.

Why is this important?

There are strategic reasons teams and leagues should pay attention to the size of Twitter’s images. They matter. Social media scientist Dan Zarrella’s research (which came out before this recent change) found Tweets using pic.twitter.com links (the native photo upload feature in Twitter) were 94% more likely to be re-tweeted. And tweets with image links get two times more engagement than those without, according to Buffer.

Put in simpler terms: Fans are drawn to images on Twitter. And whether you like the change or not, you can’t help but notice tweets with expanded images stand out from normal, text-only tweets.

Large, non-sports brands are jumping on board, adding expanded images to their Twitter creative. But pro sports teams are slower to adapt. It didn’t take long to find some pretty glaring examples. For the most part, all are well-designed, on-brand and slick-looking images. However, executed in Twitter’s new expanded images format, they miss the mark. Sometimes badly.

Here are just a few — shown as they’re displayed in Twitter’s timeline — and as fans would see them in news feeds from desktop or mobile experiences. (You can click through each to see the full image and tweet.)

Atlanta Hawks tweetThe NBA’s Atlanta Hawks misfired with this deal on Twitter. A quick re-size of this image would’ve made for much easier fan consumption.

Colorado Avalanche tweet

#NHLTrophyNight gets cut off — literally — in this example from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

Arizona Diamondbacks tweet

No need to click EXPAND — if Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks had optimized this image for Twitter’s new settings.

Vikings tweet

You can get to know Jeff Locke, but wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jeff’s face? Like a shanked punt, the Minnesota Vikings misfired with this image. 

There are hundreds more just like these — every day — filling fans’ Twitter feeds. Check out my Twitter Custom Timeline for more examples of pro teams doing Twitter expanded images poorly.

So why the inconsistency? Posting images in social media is no longer a one-size-fits-all process. Different platforms mean different dimensions, and until this change, everyone — people, brands, sports teams — could get away with using essentially the same image across multiple platforms.

For better or worse, Twitter’s move means more legwork and a different design approach than images for Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, which generally display best in a square shape, or at least can be cropped using the platform’s native tools.

It’s a new set of parameters and requires extra work, something time-strapped digital/social teams don’t have. In pro sports, they’re busy covering games, player movements and managing promotional content. Designing a whole new set of images for one platform is not an easy sell. (Trust me, I’m dealing with the same issues in my day job leading social media content strategy for a Fortune 300 brand.)

Who’s coping well with change? The reviews aren’t all bad. Here are some examples of sports teams hitting the mark with Twitter’s new expanded images. 

Golden State Warriors tweet

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors are early leaders in the use of Twitter’s new expanded image feature, using it to promote an upcoming game time and viewing/listening options. Trailblazers tweet

Here’s outstanding use of an visually impactful tweet from the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, optimized fully for Twitter’s new expanded image feature. It showcases the team’s #RipCity hashtag. The only feedback here would be to bump up the size of the score so it’s even easier for fans to read (and RT) as they scroll through Twitter.

Ravens tweet

The Ravens have mastered the size of Twitter’s new expanded image size, too, but could better use the space available to add more impact to this visual.

The lessons here are pretty simple, I think. First, I get it. It’s early and we’re all still getting used to this change (especially social media pros). But it’s time to take advantage of the tools available. Create a template. Use it. Rinse and repeat.

Social media platform changes, redesigns and updates are inevitable. Those who embrace — and take advantage of — these enhancements have a better chance reaching consumers in new and innovative ways. Your content will stand out, get noticed, be shared more. Give the fans the best experience possible on Twitter, and that starts with using the platform correctly.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to my pro sports teams Twitter lists to keep tabs on how they’re using Twitter’s expanded image feature. 

Twitter list of NBA teams
Twitter list of NFL teams
Twitter list of NHL teams
Twitter list of MLB teams