SBJ/April 1-7, 2013/Colleges

Deal offers social insights to Learfield clients

Jim Hanchett, a former Oregon State athlete, went back to his alma mater last year in search of interns for his fledgling digital marketing agency. What he came away with was a working partnership between the school and the firm he co-founded, Think Social, to create promotions for the Oregon State athletics Facebook page.

Those promotions became new sponsor inventory and incremental revenue for Learfield Sports, the Beavers’ multimedia rights partner. Now, Learfield is sharing those social media insights from Think Social with the rest of its 50 school clients.

“A lot of schools have a ton of Facebook friends, but how do you keep them engaged? That’s the challenge,” said Joe Ferreira, Learfield’s chief content officer. “What we’re working on now are quick-hitting, one- or two-week promotions that keep the fans interested and drive revenue. … Sometimes athletic departments look at social media as a little bit of an obligation, like the app world. They know they have to have one, but what do you want it to be? Athletic directors are starving for some good, strategic guidance on this.”

That’s where Think Social comes in. Many of the ideas for these promotions
originate from Think Social’s creative team, but sponsors have the ability to add their own twists.

“This all came from a conversation over the school’s social strategy,” Hanchett said. “We’re trying to set the table so fans are constantly engaged on a weekly basis.”

At Oregon State, the promotions have ranged from pumpkin-carving contests to video submissions to polls and sweepstakes. Each promotion has a way of integrating a presenting sponsor. Wells Fargo sponsors a contest for fans to select their favorite Oregon State baseball team: the 2006 NCAA championship squad or the 2007 edition that repeated. Norpac, an Oregon-based processor of fruits and vegetables, sponsored the pumpkin-carving contest during Halloween last football season.

Sponsorships run from $5,000 to $10,000 per campaign, and each campaign typically runs a week or two.

Think Social, a Denver-based company with about 20 employees, provides the software and the analysis with each promotion.

“We don’t have the software to do all of the analytics,” Ferreira said. “That’s where we need help. Ultimately, our goal is to connect fans with brands through media, and central to that is growing our digital business.”

Together, Learfield and Think Social will continue to jointly create sponsorship-driven social media assets for Learfield schools like the ones Oregon State has been running for the past year. During that time, the Beavers’ Facebook page has grown from having 70,000 total “likes” to nearly 150,000. Campaigns require the consumer to “like” the page before participating in the promotion.

Learfield’s 50 school clients include top collegiate brands Alabama, North Carolina, Penn State, Stanford and Wisconsin. Clients Nevada and Colorado have already tapped into Think Social for Facebook promotions of their own.

“The thing we like about it is that the sponsor element isn’t in your face,” said Nikki Pruett, Oregon State’s assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. “We want sponsors on board, we want them to be engaged, but we don’t want them to overpower the Facebook page. We want to keep it about athletics and the student athletes.”

Pruett also said that data collection has emerged as a benefit to the enhanced social media effort. “We’ve grown our email list by 10,000 names from the Facebook promotions,” Pruett said of people who will be targeted primarily for ticket sales. “That’s huge. I can’t set up a table at any event and get 10,000 names like that.”

The idea of sharing best practices with other schools has led Learfield to create the Preferred Solutions Provider program. Whenever Learfield’s corporate office comes across a company, such as Think Social, that offers benefits or business ideas that apply to all of its properties, that company will be added to Learfield’s PSP program.

“What we’ll do is limit the number of companies in each category to just a few,” Ferreira said. “We will canvass all of the players out there and boil down a category to a small subset of companies that are most impressive.”

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