SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/In Depth

Social experiment

Developing the right formula for success in social media

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Finding the sweet spot in social media continues to test the mettle of sports marketers, whether the goal is brand building, reaching a wider demographic or developing new revenue streams.

No one can doubt the numbers behind sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but how do you reach those consumers? How do you keep them engaged? How do you come across as authentic? How do you build deeper ties by catering to their specific interests?

SportsBusiness Journal looks at some of the efforts in social media that have gained traction with consumers while achieving the goals of sports properties and brands. In the pages that follow, read about some of the ways marketers have put social media to work.


Louisville Slugger
Photo by: Agencies of Change

“Bat Drop”
Louisville Slugger wanted to publicize its BBCOR bats and get more engaged with its core markets of Major League Baseball fans, high school and college players, and softball players. So late in the 2011 MLB season, Dallas firm MePlusYou created a “Bat Drop” campaign for commemorative Louisville Slugger bats in whichever city won the World Series.

St. Louis defeated Texas, and the one-day race was on as MePlusYou reps spread 42 bats around the city and sent out location clues via Facebook and Twitter. The bats were hidden in such places as Busch Stadium, the Gateway Arch and in sporting goods stores.

The result? In one day, Louisville Slugger realized a 143 percent jump in Facebook “likes” and a 161 percent rise in Twitter followers.

“Once we established the fan base, we could send them information about BBCOR,” said Matt Whitaker, vice president of strategy for MePlusYou. He added that overall, the bat company has gone from 15,000 to 126,000 Facebook fans since the World Series.



Miss Sprint Cup
Facebook and Twitter
Miss Sprint Cup snaps a photo of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to post on Twitter.
Photo by: Octagon

Sprint introduced Miss Sprint Cup to report on NASCAR doings in 2008, then launched a Facebook page and Twitter presence around the program in 2010. The response has been huge, with 1.25 million Facebook followers and 45,000 on Twitter.

“We positioned her as the fan’s friend on the inside,” said Nancy Dobratz, group director for Octagon, which runs the program. “She’s using social media to report back: ‘Here’s what I see in the garage; here are insights about the drivers.’”
Monica Palumbo was the first Miss Sprint Cup. Today, three women share the job.

“It’s a soft way for Sprint to approach the fan base,” Dobratz said. “When we talk to fans, they assume she represents Sprint and NASCAR combined. It’s a great way for Sprint to show they’re part of the NASCAR community.”

Said Dobratz, “The biggest thing that we’ve learned is that you’ve got to create that connection to the fan base. Miss Sprint Cup is a voice, someone they can connect to. Fans know the Miss Sprint Cups, see them at the track, follow them on Facebook.”



Xfinity
“The Ultimate Sports Social Media Job”
Photo by: Comcast

Austin Schindel of Washington, D.C., is living the dream of many sports fans: He won a nationwide contest to become a sports reporter for the Xfinity arm of Comcast, and thus gets access to major sports events and reports on them via social media. His stops have included the NFL draft, MLB Fan Cave and the June 9 Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley fight in Las Vegas.

“He has been the personality behind our Xfinity Twitter handle, responsible for tweeting on a daily basis the advantage of sports fans being with Xfinity,” said Matt Lederer, director of digital and sports marketing strategy for Comcast. “We also get him behind-the-scenes access to sports events, and [he brings] content and insight into the social media space that is not done by traditional media.”

Contest entrants submitted videos about why Xfinity should choose them for the paid job. About 1.6 million Facebook followers voted for their favorites. Xfinity then gave tryouts to the top five vote-getters at various sports events and picked Schindel.

During the promotion, the official contest tab on the Xfinity Facebook page received more than 220,000 visits. The contest received more than 11,500 social media mentions such as tweets and posted comments.



Detroit Red Wings / DTE Energy

Brand building
The Red Wings charged DTE Energy’s social presence through promotions that helped the Detroit-based diversified energy provider raise brand awareness and engage with fans directly through new media channels. DTE held three ticket contests on its Facebook page. With the push from the Red Wings, DTE’s page has grown from 1,500 to more than 13,000 followers in two years.

DTE Energy also has used social networking platforms to raise awareness for its “Light the Lamp” campaign, which kicked off last year when the goal lights at Joe Louis Arena were replaced with LED bulbs. When the Red Wings score four or more goals in a home game, the icons on the team’s Facebook page and Twitter feed are replaced with a DTE Energy “Light the Lamp” logo. When the team scores four goals during a Saturday home game, fans tweet the hashtag #LighttheLamp to @DTE_Energy and @DetroitRedWings for a chance to win a four-pack of tickets to DTE Energy “Going Green Night” at the arena.



Chicago Fire / Quaker
Press release in a canister
Photo by: Chicago Fire

To drive social media around the launch of its new Quaker-sponsored jerseys, the Fire and Quaker co-branded a canister that was stuffed with a personalized jersey.

The canisters were distributed to more than 150 local, national and international media outlets, urging them to tweet photos of the new Quaker Fire jerseys. The launch had a total of 597 placements across all platforms and accrued more than 292 million impressions. The canister and jersey were written about in 60 blogs. A pair of live chats on Facebook, including contests to win the jersey, augmented promotion of the launch. The two chats attracted 55,000 engaged users.



Eddie Royal/Detour Protein
Twitter campaign
Here is social media operating at warp speed.

After the Denver Broncos upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs on Jan. 8, Eddie Royal (then a wide receiver with Denver and now with San Diego) teamed with Detour Protein to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to New England for the next playoff game. Detour Protein, based in Oakland, sells protein bars and shakes.

Royal posted a few tweets about the contest, and Twitter followers of Detour Protein soared from 2,000 to 8,000 in the week between games. An ongoing relationship with Royal enabled Detour Protein to jump on the opportunity.

“If we hadn’t done the preparation work, we wouldn’t have had the momentum to take advantage of it,” said Jeff Weiner of ESBL Social Media, which helped Detour Protein with the campaign. “So we put together a really fun promotion to send someone to New England for the game, with Eddie having access to the tickets.”

Campaigns with Royal and other NFL players have helped push the company’s Facebook followers to 55,000 today, according to Ian Davison, senior director of sales and marketing at Detour Protein.



Sporting Kansas City
Create an app contest
With 32,000 followers, @SportingKC ranks first in MLS in followers based on metro population ratios. In April, parent
company Sporting Club used Twitter to ask amateur technology developers for ideas for a game or app associated with soccer that could be played on a mobile device. The contest received more than 100 submissions and will be narrowed this summer to three finalists, who will pitch their idea in front of a Sporting Club panel to decide the winner.

The creator of the winning idea will receive two Sporting Kansas City season tickets for the 2013 season and on-field recognition at a Sporting Kansas City match. Sporting Innovations, a high-tech spinoff company from Sporting Club, will help make the winning idea a reality and aims to launch the app by the beginning of the 2013 season.



MLB All-Star Game
Player tweeting
Last summer at its All-Star Game, Major League Baseball made a major social media statement by turning the Home
Run Derby into the “Social Media Derby,” setting up on-field computer stations where players could tweet and post on Facebook during the event.

After widespread increases in followers for the league and involved players, and high levels of engagement, MLB took another huge step forward this year in Kansas City, expanding the All-Star tweeting and posting concept to the All-Star Game itself.

Players were allowed to tweet and post once they were removed from the game, using a computer station set up behind one of the Kauffman Stadium dugouts. The move was a major departure from regular MLB social media rules that prohibit any type of player engagement during a period from 30 minutes prior to game time until after the game.

“Our research has shown over and over that fans want as much connection with their favorite players as possible. So we’re trying to foster that deeper connection anywhere we can,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business.



Nashville Predators / AT&T
Photo by: Nashville Predators

Behind the mask
The campaign gave Predators fans the opportunity to design the mask of goaltender Pekka Rinne. AT&T, the exclusive cellular provider for the Predators, received strong brand exposure as Rinne made appearances at area outlets and fans submitted their designs. The contest was promoted through the team’s social media channels and blogs.

Designs could be computer generated or hand-drawn, but they had to be original. Fans, ranging from children to adults, submitted 450 entries through Formspring. More than 100,000 votes were cast. The winner was local college student Liz Guilyard. Rinne wore the mask on March 10, when the Predators beat the Detroit Red Wings. Following the game, Rinne presented Guilyard with the mask, and she presented Rinne with a framed print of her original sketch.



Phoenix Suns
fans.suns.com
When it comes to social media, the Phoenix Suns are one of the most progressive teams in the NBA. Consider that the
Suns last season launched a new website called fans.suns.com that incorporates all of the team’s social media channels while allowing fans to post their videos, blogs and other digital content into a single site.

The site, which replaced the team’s PlanetOrange.com site, is sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and represents the latest effort among the team to build a digital community to drive interest in the franchise and create new revenue streams.

“The key element is fan engagement,” said Jeramie McPeek, vice president of digital operations for the Suns. “It is their own place not only to get a lot of information but they can also voice their own opinions, submit videos and blogs. It is a place where they can share their passions for the Suns.”

To help build traffic, fans can accumulate points on the site, and enter contests and other promotions. “There is a leaderboard and the more people are engaged, the more points they will build up,” McPeek said. “Our site is a 50/50 mix of fan content and our own content.”



NBA
Social Media Awards
The NBA frequently touts its expansive reach in social media, with its more than 260 million combined global followers
Photo by: David Holloway / Turner Sports
on Twitter and Facebook when including the league and individual teams and players. The league and media partner Turner Sports last month took another step in that self-celebration, creating the NBA Social Media Awards.

Airing June 20 on NBA TV, the hourlong program honored top social media performers from around the league in 13 categories, such as the most-followed player and team, largest increase in followers over the course of the 2011-12 NBA season, most-shared video highlight, and favorite dunk.

Hosted by TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and former NBA player Rick Fox, the NBA Social Media Awards generated more than 100,000 viewers in its original time slot, and more than 104,000 combined in two subsequent re-airs later that night. Considering the show moved frenetically from concept to reality in only three months, league and Turner executives said they were pleased with the results. A second version next summer is now in the planning stages.

“The goal here is to build a one-of-a-kind annual event, and we think we’re on our way now,” said Christina Miller, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. “This is an important vehicle to amplify and celebrate the connections we’re making in this space.”



Miami Dolphins
Boat giveaway
A total of 25,000 Dolphins fans last fall entered a team contest to win a new boat, most of them directed to the contest
Photo by: Miami Dolphins
website page via Twitter and Facebook. The contest was an integral part of a new social media strategy the team launched last year in an effort to reach fans more through the interactive medium.

The 18-foot Hell’s Bay flats skiff came branded with logos from contest sponsor Bud Light and the Dolphins.

“This was by far the most successful consumer sweepstakes promotion we’ve ever done” in Florida, said Eddy Leal, a regional manager for Anheuser-Busch.

The promotion helped add hundreds of thousands of followers to the Dolphins’ Facebook page, with the current count around 1.2 million, said Wayne Partello, the team’s senior group director of marketing and content. The team has more than 140,000 followers on Twitter.

The boat proved such a big driver of social media traffic that the team plans to do it against this season, with an even bigger and better boat.



— Social media highlights compiled by staff writers Christopher Botta, Eric Fisher, John Lombardo and Daniel Kaplan, and correspondent Bruce Goldberg.
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