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.
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?)
“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.