Social media engagement is rapidly increasing, a trend that is particularly evident in the sports world. Technology is making it easier than ever for an organization to build a network that allows them to communicate regularly with their fans. In particular, many professional sports organizations are using this opportunity to become more accessible, which increases fan involvement and loyalty. Fans are more willing to spend money on tickets and merchandise when they feel a deeper connection to the team. The team can leverage their increased exposure to strengthen their brand and improve revenues for both the short and long-term. New opportunities appear all the time for teams to improve their relationship with fans and attract a larger fans base; several teams, in particular, have been extremely creative and effective in their use of social media to promote themselves.
The New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League have taken an aggressive approach to improving fan access to the team. They have set aside space inside the Prudential Center, where they play their home games, as a Digital Command Center. They call it Mission Control and it is monitored by the Devils Generals, a group of 25 fans that watch social media and networks to help manage the brand. The Devils won an award as the Most Socially Engaged Brand for their efforts. They are discovering how effective managing digital space and connecting with fans can be.
This unique use of resources has helped bring their fans together, increasing the reach of the Devils’ brand. Other sports organizations have executives and staff to interact digitally in some fashion, but the way the Devils do it is particularly effective. Reaching the championship finals, as the Devils have done, creates even more opportunities to connect.
The Devils’ opponents in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Los Angeles Kings, are using the excitement of a championship run to maximize publicity and increase their social media presence. What is interesting is how they are going about it. Professional sports have some primarily unwritten — and now, increasingly, written — rules about social media use that are evolving almost as fast as the technology itself. When the effectiveness of Twitter, Facebook and similar sites as a means of communication became apparent, most professional sports leagues set rules about how players would be allowed to use these services.
There is also a sense that these media are an extension of public relations and that positive, supportive, and polite messages are part of good sportsmanship. The Kings, however, have brought themselves a great deal of attention and added many new followers by using social media primarily as a marketing tool. For example, they have made some antagonistic tweets towards opposing cities that have served to increase the rivalry and exposure for upcoming games. The tweets in question are not necessarily offensive or mean-spirited, but they have entered an area where fans usually take the lead — to the delight of many Kings fans.
There are plenty of other teams that are taking a much less confrontational route, but are still effective in connecting with their fans. The Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association saw the amazing growth on Pinterest as an unexplored opportunity. They have a well-developed account that is linked to Instagram and offers fans a unique view of exclusive moments and pictures from behind the scenes at their games. These are the kind of features that fans tend to particularly enjoy, especially when they are available almost immediately.
Another interesting and unanticipated benefit of using Pinterest is the fact that it is very effective at connecting with women. Pinterest has focused particularly on marketing itself to women, among other demographics. The Celtics had not intended to specifically target any group through social media, but the increased visibility to women from Pinterest has been an unexpected benefit — especially since women are a traditionally difficult to reach group for sports teams since men tend to be more typical or common fans.
The Dallas Cowboys of The National Football League were quick to take advantage of the “Hangout” feature during the launch of Google Plus. Google Plus is still a relatively new social network, but it is developing quickly and its early adoption by one of the best known brands in professional sports is a significant endorsement. Of course, using online video resources is not itself new. Skype has this capability, as do other websites; however, Google has done the best job so far of integrated a video chat function into its social network. This removes another layer of separation and lets fans interact directly with players and team representatives.
Major NFL teams like the Cowboys have some of the highest exposure of any professional sports organization, so their efforts to improve social media engagement have especially effective and dramatic results. The last Super Bowl saw as much as six times as much social media interaction as the game just one year before. This represents a huge explosion in the use of technology and online resources to connect with like-minded people. Those organizations that can optimize their online interaction with fans will have a significant opportunity to add new revenue streams.
5: Chicago Cubs
Major League Baseball is also starting to see ways to increase fan interaction. The Chicago Cubs have started hosting social media nights, with a range of connected interactive online activities. By using special Twitter hashtags for games, they can designate exclusive ticket offers for dedicated fans who are also followers. This also makes it easy to identify significant events for the fans, like birthdays, so the team can individually recognize them. The Cubs sometimes use the relationship between Twitter accounts and ticket seat numbers to leave gifts bags for selected fans. During the game fans also have opportunities to interact online to win prizes and even be identified by the scoreboard or public address system. The Washington Nationals have taken similar actions by letting fans use social media to buy tickets and request songs for a specific game, even offering to improve the seating section depending on the number of participants. The Cleveland Indians have dedicated a luxury box for those who sign up through access to their network.
The Chicago Bulls of the NBA have gone one step beyond trying to connect with fans on an existing social network. They started BullsConnect, a custom network just for their fans. It offers access to forums for discussing the team and sharing pictures and videos, as well as early access to news and exclusive information. Other teams are more comfortable using existing networks for similar functionality, but a dedicated network offers more engagement and exclusivity. A ticket offer on BullsConnect, for example, will target the most dedicated fans. The same offer on Facebook will be seen by both the team’s fans and the extended network.
No matter what the sport, if a team or organization wishes to attract more fans or develop a deeper relationship with existing ones, the key is offering people something they cannot get anywhere else — unique, candid, unexpected content. During the Daytona 500, for example, the race was stopped due to a burning support vehicle. One of the drivers, Brad Keselowski, live tweeted pictures from his smartphone on the track and saw his followers increase by over 100,000 in just one day. This principle applies to participants in any sport.
Guest post contributed by Victoria, for Wish.co.uk . Sheenjoys writing about other leisure activities and upcoming events.