SBJ/May 14-20, 2012/Franchises

In social media efforts, L.A. Kings bring it on

The Phoenix Coyotes had not even finished the ceremonial handshake line with Nashville on May 7 when the opponent awaiting them in the Western Conference final sent a message:

“Bring it on,” was the post on the official Twitter feed of the Los Angeles Kings.

This is @LAKings: irreverent, entertaining, sarcastic and controversial. And while the Kings on the ice have quickly moved through the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, the franchise’s social media staff is having an equally successful spring. Since the start of the playoffs, the Kings have added more than 36,000 Twitter followers, increasing their total to 106,000 — and counting.

The credit goes to the team’s two social media staffers, whose policy seems to be not to take hockey or themselves too seriously. After the Kings swept St. Louis to advance to the conference final, they replied on Twitter to the NHL’s feed, “Who wants all those ‘if necessary’ games anyway?”

“We encourage a sense of humor and, most of all, we encourage interaction,” said Michael Altieri, Kings vice president of communications and content. “Whether it’s Twitter or the team website, the goal has to be engagement.”

The Kings have been among the most progressive NHL teams in the digital space in recent seasons. Two years ago, they hired Rich Hammond, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, as a full-time blogger and gave him editorial independence. Hammond has earned credibility from readers with his objective coverage on the team’s website.

Last summer, the franchise formed a partnership with Let’s Go Kings, a message board founded by fans. Instead of fans talking about the team — positively and negatively — on another site, the Let’s Go Kings forum hosts them on the team’s URL.

The results of the extensions have been profound. Three years ago, the Kings were 29th in the 30-team league in website engagement (average time spent per user). Today, according to league data, they are No. 1.

But it is the team’s Twitter page that has received the bulk of the attention during the playoffs.

After the Kings defeated Vancouver in Game 1 of the first round, team tweeters made reference to a recent poll that said the Canucks were the most-hated team in Canada outside of British Columbia.

“To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome,” posted @LAKings.

The message was retweeted by more than 15,000 people — though not all Kings personnel appreciated the snark.

“It was kind of funny,” Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said. “But I don’t know if we should be sending that out after one win.”

Management later released a statement, apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”

The Kings got some attention, but as Altieri said, “We don’t want to be the story.”

Front-office staffers at every level of sports do not want team general managers to be worried about every tweet. They do not want their coaches and players to have to answer questions from reporters, especially during the playoffs, about something written by a team employee. Discretion is important.

Despite the mini-brouhaha, the Kings are hoping to extend their winning ways in both the conference final and their online community.

“We made a significant investment to super-serve hockey fans’ appetite for content and as a way to differentiate ourselves from other sports teams in Southern California and across the U.S.,” said Chris McGowan, COO of the Kings and team ownership group AEG Sports. “This strategy has helped build our fan base [and] led to record Web metrics.”
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