SBJ/March 3-9, 2014/In Depth

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  • Crowdfunding: Social media’s version of passing the hat

    Mike Crowley, chief executive of Ohio-based InfoMotion Sports Technologies, had seed money for his company. But what he needed was a little extra cash to bring his new, sensor-embedded basketball to market, and more importantly, a more dynamic way to tell his story.

    Enter Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding platform.

    Crowley and InfoMotion, makers of the 94Fifty basketball that yields advanced performance analytics, used Kickstarter last year to raise money for final development of the high-tech product and certification of a companion mobile application to the ball.

    InfoMotion Sports Technologies used crowdfunding to raise money and generate buzz for the company’s sensor-embedded basketball.
    Photo by: InfoMotion Sports Technologies
    Given the company had raised several rounds of venture capital funding, including a $3.5 million Series A round last year, it may have seemed odd to be asking the public for $100,000 in increments as small as $15.

    But there was more to the story. InfoMotion raised $130,237, far exceeding its Kickstarter goal. And critically to the company, the campaign set in motion a groundswell of mainstream attention that helped earn 94Fifty a listing within the iTunes App Store, numerous national media placements, and a prominent spot within January’s International Consumer Electronics Show.

    “For us, Kickstarter wasn’t strictly an alternative to VC money, but also a way to help tell the story of our product to the public,” Crowley said of his basketball that carries a $295 retail price. “This is a really sophisticated product, and we often get lumped in with wearables and a lot of other new products not really related to us.

    “So much of the wearables market is about counting things, quantitative analysis. What we’re really about is the qualitative analysis, the quality of your practice, and that story was tough to tell a year ago before we got to Kickstarter,” he said.

    Initially popular in filmmaking and other creative circles, crowdfunding involves using the Internet to pool money
    from individuals for a particular venture, providing a level of speed and immediacy not possible in other forms of fundraising such as venture capital, loans or grants.

    The concept has received its largest amount of attention from Hollywood projects such as a forthcoming movie of the cult favorite TV series “Veronica Mars” that raised $5.7 million on Kickstarter. But over the past year, the sports industry has increasingly looked to crowdfunding platforms to fund projects ranging widely from sports equipment to books, video games, websites, and even the Jamaican bobsled team.

    After an unlikely qualifying in the two-man bobsled competition for the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Jamaican delegation was short of funds to cover travel and equipment costs to make the trip.

    Lincoln Wheeler, a Washington, D.C.-based fan, began a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdtilt, another prominent platform, that quickly caught fire. The effort soon was transitioned over to the Jamaican team itself, and the campaign ultimately raised nearly $130,000 in three days, far more than its initial goal of $80,000.

    “You have a situation here where a fan is directly helping an athlete reach their goal,” said James Beshara, Crowdtilt chief executive and co-founder. “In my view, that’s a lot more singularly impactful than a fan just buying a ticket or a jersey. Yes, I know, the Jamaicans finished last in Sochi. But the competitive dynamic was directly changed by fans that allowed them to be there. I’m still just in awe of that. So yeah, there’s no question sports is more of a focus point for us going forward.”

    Crowdfunding gave the Jamaican bobsled team the money it needed to travel to the Winter Olympics.
    Photo by: Getty Images
    The Jamaican bobsled team wasn’t the only Olympic-oriented entity to look to crowdfunding to help defray the expenses of competition. Several American speedskaters took to various platforms to raise money to compete in Sochi, with Emily Scott raising $49,000 on her own using GoFundMe.com. Similarly, USA Luge last year used Indiegogo, a rival platform, to raise money for Winter Olympics expenses, generating more than $25,000.

    “This was designed as a complement to the traditional sponsor revenue model in [national governing bodies],” said Tim McGhee, founder and principal of New Jersey-based MSP Sports and a consultant to USA Luge. “The money was helpful, and what it also did that was very important was open up an ongoing dialogue with luge fans. Very often in Olympic sports, particularly Winter Olympic sports, there’s the peak of fan interest around the Games, and then a big drop-off. But here, there was a data capture and a new set of names with whom USA Luge can now have a dialogue throughout this four-year gap until the next Olympics.”

    Other NGBs are similarly looking at crowdfunding vehicles, McGhee said, and he is now aiding development of a similar venture for the China Lacrosse Association, a startup venture aiming to expand lacrosse to that country and send a delegation to compete in the World Lacrosse Championships later this year in Denver.

    Another platform, RallyMe, has partnered with six American NGBs, including the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and U.S. Speedskating, to help their athletes raise money through crowdfunding.

    Numbers alone tell a story about the sharp rise of crowdfunding over the past year, regardless of genre. Kickstarter, for one, in 2013 saw $480 million worth of projects gain funding, roughly equal to its funding total for 2009-12 combined, and the company is soon to pass $1 billion in total commitments over its nearly five-year history.

    But Kickstarter is far from alone, and the entire industry is estimated to now surpass $5 billion annually. Among its bevy of competitors are Crowdtilt, Indiegogo, RocketHub, Crowdfunder, RallyMe and GoFundMe, among many others.

    The topical focus of the crowdfunding sites vary widely, with some concentrated on creative or artistically oriented projects, while others hold a strict entrepreneurial bent designed to help get new businesses launched. RallyMe holds a similar topical bent and focuses only on athletes, teams and sports-related organizations.

    The donation structures also can differ greatly, with some sites like Kickstarter operating on an all-or-nothing model in which users seeking crowdfunds receive the money only if the entire target is met. Other platforms such as Crowdtilt employ a more stratified structure in which a minimum level of funding for success, a “tilt point,” is identified that if met will allow for a release of funds, followed by a total fundraising goal.

    The platforms themselves then generate revenue by taking a commission, often around 4 percent, that often increases if projects fail to hit their funding goals, which in turn provides an incentive for success. Donors don’t receive any financial return for their donations but typically receive special perks, such as memorabilia or exclusive content, in addition to helping bring projects to life.

    Regardless of the particular donation structure, the presence of crowdfunding has opened a storytelling component to fundraising not possible in other venues.

    “The crowdfunding, particularly our all-or-nothing model, really lends a strong narrative arc to the whole thing,” said Justin Kazmark, Kickstarter spokesman. “People get really invested in these projects, emotionally in addition to financially. And often, once funding gets to a certain level, there’s a groundswell from the original donors and it takes on a new momentum.”

    Despite the accelerating growth rates for crowdfunding, generally less than half of the projects placed on the various platforms reach their funding goals, and depending on the particular platform, that percentage may be less than 20 percent. Those numbers may soon begin to rise as new predictive models measuring various factors such as social media reception can project with increasing accuracy the chances of ultimate success.

    But even recognized names can find crowdfunding not a sure thing. Veteran baseball writer Peter Gammons and partner TruMedia Networks last summer used Indiegogo to help fund the launch of his new website, GammonsDaily.com. The site is up and running, and Indiegogo was far from the sole funding source for the project, but the campaign raised just $6,830 of its $25,000 goal. USA Luge, similarly, reached only half of its $50,000 goal in its campaign last year. Indiegogo allows listing parties to retain all the money they raise, albeit at a higher commission rate. Still, TruMedia Networks President and CEO Rafe Anderson remains bullish on crowdfunding.

    “Crowdfunding isn’t merely about raising capital for new ideas. It’s a powerful market research tool,” Anderson said. “Services like Indiegogo and Kickstarter help entrepreneurs vet their concepts and receive valuable insight from their most loyal customers.”

    SOCIAL STUDIES: EXAMINING SOCIAL MEDIA HABITS AND ATTITUDES

    Navigate Research and Wasserman Media Group surveyed 8,000 fans across seven sports this year to gauge social media habits and attitudes.

    Below are some highlights from that study, which is scheduled to be released this week.

    Of the MLS fans surveyed, 32 percent said that social media makes them feel more connected to their favorite sport.
    MLS
     
    32%
     
    NHL
     
    24%
     
    NBA
     
    23%
     
    MLB
     
    19%
     
    NFL
     
    19%
     
    NASCAR
     
    17%
     
     
    Brand presence on social media is gaining credibility: 40 percent of sports fans who became aware of a sponsorship via social media are likely to recommend that sponsor’s brand. That compares to 27 percent of those fans who heard about a sports sponsorship through a TV exposure being likely to take the same action.
    Social Media
     
    40%
     
    Website (other than social media)
     
    33%
     
    On-site signage
     
    32%
     
    Radio
     
    32%
     
    TV exposure
     
    27%
     
     
    Social media influences consumption, as fans are enticed most by discounts offered on social media.

    Source: Navigate Research and Wasserman Media Group

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  • These posts are #TheRealDeal

    About five years ago, when Twitter was just starting to get a mainstream following, athletes and celebrities would hire social media gurus to “tweet” for them or post for them on other social media platforms. Social media experts now say the days of celebrities hiring someone to run their social media may be numbered.

    There are many reasons for this trend, including that athletes are just more comfortable using social media themselves.

    Derek Jeter took to Facebook to announce plans to retire after the 2014 baseball season.
    “Some of the biggest trends we’re seeing with athletes on Facebook and Instagram include breaking news, sharing behind-the-scenes content, and directly engaging with fans,” said Brandon Gayle, who manages athlete partnerships for Facebook and Instagram.

    For example, Derek Jeter and David Beckham used Facebook to announce their retirement plans. Dwyane Wade turned to Instagram to announce his engagement to Gabrielle Union.

    “I think authenticity is always going to win,” said Rick Sorkin, business development executive at Creative Artists Agency, who advises athletes, entertainers and other celebrities on social media strategy. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have a team around you. But for athletes who tweet honestly and do it themselves, we are seeing a bigger fan growth and engagement by those fans.”

    Social and digital agencies are still giving celebrities and athletes advice, but that advice includes having the talent speak in their own voice.

    Ryan Ford, vice president of Cashmere Agency, a digital and social media agency that counts as clients current and
    former NBA, MLB and NFL players, as well as entertainers including Snoop Dogg, said consumers are more savvy and can tell when a post is manufactured. Consumers will say, “Oh, this is a tweet that is clearly trying to promote something or show the best version of this person,” Ford said.

    Brands are looking for authenticity, as well, said Darin David, who recently founded brand consulting firm Steel Curtain after working as an account director for The Marketing Arm, which advises brands on sports endorsements.

    “Brands are more willing now to give up control over how the message is presented to appear more authentic,” David said. “On social media, if you sound like an ad, your message can be quickly rejected and there will be backlash.”

    Sorkin and others say the vast majority of athletes and celebrities are on at least one social media platform. Both the number of platforms they occupy, and the engagement between talent and the general population, is growing, he said.

    Dwyane Wade is a regular on Instagram, where he shared his engagement announcement.
    On Facebook, as of July 2013, there were more than 1.6 billion total connections between people using the social media platform and sports entities, including player, team and league pages, according to Facebook. Of that number, more than half of the connections, 883 million, were people connecting to athlete pages.

    At the end of 2013, about 2,225 NFL players were on Twitter, an increase of about 30 percent over 2012; about 588 NBA players were on Twitter, an increase of 28 percent over 2012; 778 MLB players, an increase of about 41 percent from the year before; and 457 NHL players, an increase of 74 percent. Those numbers, reported by Twitter, reflect both current and recently retired NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL players.

    Twitter doesn’t expect the percentages to continue to climb at those rates, as most players in the leagues are now on the platform.

    “At this point, it is no longer, ‘Should I be on Twitter?’ It’s ‘How am I going to use Twitter to engage with my fan base?’” Twitter spokesman Brian Poliakoff said.

    Jaymee Messler, senior vice president of marketing for Excel Sports Management, which represents NBA and MLB players as well as golfers, said athletes’ use of social media has been an evolution.

    “It is through social media that for the first time they have been able to communicate directly with their fans,” Messler said. “Obviously Twitter was first to engage and excite them, and some athletes continue to tweet, while others have taken more to Instagram.”

    Endorsement deals for athletes now include a social media component, but figuring out how to do that and not
    sound fake is also an evolution and something that brands and athlete representatives are working on, Messler said.

    “What is appealing to a company is an athlete’s social media following, but when an athlete starts promoting a lot of products through their Twitter feed, fans start to turn off,” she said.

    Both Messler and Lowell Taub, global head of endorsements for CAA Sports, noted that a number of athletes are increasingly using Instagram to get their messages out versus Twitter.

    While Instagram is about pictures, Twitter is about words, which means it has more potential to get athletes into trouble.

    “It is much safer for the athlete to give their fans a glimpse of their life via photography and not be in the moment sharing an opinion on this or that that can get them in hot water and get all that backlash,” Taub said. “That is far less likely to happen with a photo. And photos are so loved by the fans.”

    Some of the newer platforms that athletes are using involve video. Instagram has a video application and Twitter has one called Vine. Sorkin believes athletes will start to gravitate to those platforms as well.

    “I happen to think that speaks very well to their audience,” Sorkin said of Vine. “It’s difficult to be poignant, or witty or relevant in six seconds, but those who pull that off I think have a really good shot of being, quote, unquote, ‘the biggest athlete on Vine.’”

    Ford doesn’t think athletes and other celebrities are necessarily moving from one platform to another, but are now using multiple social media platforms and using them for different messages. He noted that Kobe Bryant recently used Twitter to express his displeasure with the Lakers for trading teammate Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors. “Not cool with @SteveBlake5 being gone AT ALL One of my closest teammates and psycho competitor GS picked up gem #smartmove,” Bryant tweeted.

    Ford said Bryant could not get that same message across on Instagram. “How are you going to do that on Instagram?” he said. “Are you going to have a picture with a sad face?”

    Although athletes are not using social media experts to tweet or post for them as much, they are still asking for advice about how to use the different platforms as social media evolves. They look to experts not for individual posts or tweets as much as for an overall social media strategy.

    Sorkin said his advice depends on a number of factors, including how much time the users have, how much interest they have, and how much support they have to be on multiple social media platforms. If a celebrity’s time is limited, Sorkin said his recommendation is to try out one platform until he or she gets comfortable.

    “One of the common pitfalls people make is, [they say] ‘OK, I want to be on Twitter, so I will do that on Monday. I want to be on Instagram and I will do that on Tuesday,’” Sorkin said. “But it’s kind of like a garden. If you water a flower, if you only water it once, it is probably not going to be around that long.”

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  • Athletes to follow on Twitter

    Athletes provide some of the most entertaining moments on Twitter, not to mention a few sponsor plugs along the way. SportsBusiness Daily’s Adam Stern, an active tweeter himself (@A_S12), highlights a few you may want to follow.

    Paul Rabil

    Photo by: Getty Images

    Twitter handle: @PaulRabil
    Followers: 42,800
    Summary: Widely regarded as the first lacrosse player to become a millionaire from the sport, Rabil has a laundry list of sponsors and is immersed in the sports business, as exemplified by the fact that he is often tweeting about the topic.
    Recent posts:
    1) “If your commercial doesn’t include a hashtag, hire a new marketing agency.”
    2) “Wow! Should these #EsuranceSave30 tags be #sponsored? Be a massive tell on how engaged the user is with these spots. #SB48 #Howcanyounot?”

    Brad Keselowski
    Twitter handle: @keselowski
    Followers: 465,000
    Summary: Few sports have athletes who are as in touch with the business side of operations as NASCAR. To that end, Sprint Cup Series driver Keselowski is a fascinating follow on Twitter, where he frequently weighs in on issues and controversies facing the sport.
    Recent posts:
    1) “I like king Richard, but I disagree with what he said about @DanicaPatrick She could potentially win at talladega and Daytona. … I also don’t think Richard or anyone in the @nascar community is being intentionally sexist when doubting @DanicaPatrick as implied by many.”
    2) “Those that don’t understand why an arca [driver] would fight over a wreck most likely have never poured every dime they have into something.”

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Rory McIlroy

    Twitter handle: @McIlroyRory
    Followers: 1,830,000
    Summary: Unlike Tiger Woods’ guarded, scripted and often idle Twitter account, McIlroy is frequently tweeting, from showing off pictures of his travels with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki to quick comments and explanations after rounds of play.
    Recent posts:
    1) “On the plane now guys! Thanks for all the questions! Got thru as many as I could! We’ll do it again soon!”
    2) “Mini triathlon done with @CaroWozniacki! Now time for a Nandos and a few episodes of breaking bad! #perfectsaturdaynight. … For everyone asking... She’s got me in the swimming, but the cycling and running were pretty much equal!”


    LeBron James
    Twitter handle: @KingJames
    Followers: 11,800,000
    Summary: While this seems like an obvious choice merely because of his pre-eminence, James is a great follow on Twitter because of his penchant to chime in on hot-button issues going on throughout the sports world. Examples include when he recently tweeted his support to Richard Sherman following the now infamous interview with Erin Andrews, or when he sarcastically decried how much money NBA owners were making after the latest CBA.
    Recent posts:
    1) “So the Kings getting sold for 525M!! And the owners ain’t making no money huh? What the hell we have a lookout for. Get the hell out of here.”
    2) “I don’t know one ‘thug’ that graduated from Stanford and also working on their Masters! Dont judge a book by its cover!”

    Floyd Mayweather
    Twitter handle: @FloydMayweather
    Followers: 4,680,000
    Summary: While Mayweather doesn’t always tweet the most expansive of sports business thoughts on his Twitter account, he does do one thing that makes him a must-follow: He frequently posts pictures of his lavishly exorbitant betting slips from Las Vegas casinos ahead of big games. He even took to Twitter after the Super Bowl to dispute rumors that he bet $10 million on the Broncos.
    Recent posts:
    1) “Somebody lied to you all. If I was going to bet, I would have bet on the Seattle Seahawks. I’m the best defensive fighter, it’s only right to go with the best defensive team.”
    2) “Money Michigan State wearing the Money Green. Rose Bowl Champions! I bet $50,000 to win $112,500 always bet on green!”

    Blake Griffin
    Twitter handle: @blakegriffin32
    Followers: 2,210,000
    Summary: While only a few years into his pro basketball career, Griffin seems to already be setting himself up for his post-hoops life with his frequent attempts at humor on Twitter. Griffin during the most recent NBA lockout took up an internship with comedy website FunnyOrDie.com, and has continued his comedic ways on social media – even poking fun at the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman following his interview with Erin Andrews.
    Recent posts:
    1) “Richard Sherman seems chill...”
    2) “If you’re in LA, pick up my limited edition @redbull can designed by El Mac!”

    Bryce Harper
    Photo by: Getty Images

    Twitter handle: @Bharper3407
    Followers: 371,000
    Summary: As one of MLB’s youngest — and most brash — rising stars, Harper makes for an enthralling follow, both to casual fans and sports business observers. Harper frequently tweets out products he likes to his followers, making him a gold mine for any company eyeing some celebrity seeding.
    Recent posts:
    1) “Thanks chipotle for my free burritos for life card! The best thing ever! I really appreciate it! @chipotletweets”
    2) “Thank you @UnderArmour for all you have done for me this spring! Such a great first day in all my new gear! #IWILL”

    Clay Matthews
    Twitter handle: @ClayMatthews52
    Followers: 665,000
    Summary: Matthews leverages his popular Twitter account to further promote the brands he has endorsements with. During the Super Bowl, for example, Matthews was in New York City pushing his alignment with Campbell’s Chunky soup — and he tweeted out pictures along the way.
    Recent posts:
    1) “Checking out the @campbellschunky food truck. Lookout for it on Gameday Fan Plaza at #sb48 #tacklethecold”
    2) “Mom and I blending in at @campbellsoupco serving @campbellschunky soup #FillsYouUpRight”

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Lindsey Vonn

    Twitter handle: @lindseyvonn
    Followers: 308,000
    Summary: One of America’s most visible Olympians in the past decade, Vonn makes for a worthwhile follow on Twitter due to her interactions with her bevy of sponsors. A recent example is when she posted her support of Under Armour following the controversy surrounding the company’s speedskating suits that were used in Sochi.
    Recent posts:
    1) “Proud to be an @UnderArmour athlete. I’ve been with them for 8 yrs and they constantly find ways to improve their gear and make me better!”
    2) “Not my best interview this morning on the @TODAYshow I was a little off. Going to rehab now and hopefully I’ll wake up after a hard workout!”

    Note: Total followers as of Feb. 24.

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  • Athletes share their likes on social media

    SportsBusiness Journal writer Liz Mullen asked athletes what attracts them to social media. The following are highlights of what she gathered from Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce, and New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira:

    What lessons have you learned on how to use Twitter and how not to use Twitter?

    JEREMY GUTHRIE: I set out to make Twitter as positive experience as possible and with that goal I decided I would always stay positive and only respond to positive tweets instead of engaging in Twitter warfare. I think this has served me well and in addition has deterred more of the negativity that would otherwise come my way.

    PAUL PIERCE: Twitter is great for sharing and for promoting things I am doing off the court that people may not know that much about. I have learned to tweet selectively and not over-tweet. Quality, not quantity.

    MARK TEIXEIRA: I use Twitter as a very efficient news aggregator. I can follow my favorite news or business sites and not have to search around the Internet. I learned very early on that as an athlete, it’s impossible to have a conversation on Twitter. There is too much noise out there and every third tweet is from somebody acting inappropriately.

    What social media platforms do you use and why?

    Paul Pierce uses Instagram to post photos of events, family and road trips.


    GUTHRIE: I use Twitter and Instagram. I use Twitter because I think it is a genius idea and is the way most people prefer to communicate and receive information in this day and age. … I began Instagram to share my interest in shoes and travel, since people on Twitter seemed to be inundated with too many sneaker pics that I posted.

    PIERCE: I am on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. ... Twitter, I’ll tweet when I’m rooting for a game, I always tweet out photos of my family on Halloween or on vacation, and I do use it to share what my corporate partners want to communicate. Instagram is photo-heavy and I use it when at events or on the road taking photos, and Facebook is a combo of the two. Facebook my management team usually manages for me, and they curate from everything that’s on Twitter and Instagram as well as good articles that are being written about me or my team and my foundation.

    TEIXEIRA: As a huge sports fan, my favorite social media platform is SportsYapper. It’s the best way to connect with fans of my teams, especially during games. And they have a great filter system so I can actually have conversations and don’t have to read yapps from obnoxious fans.

    Have you always done your own tweets and other social media posts or did anyone help you with it?

    GUTHRIE: I have always managed my own accounts and made all of my own posts though I do refer to close friends and associates who give me sound advice when I’m blinded by the heat of the moment.

    PIERCE: I’ve always done my own. I like to use it as an inside look into my life — whether it’s posting pictures of my family on Instagram or tweeting out support for my KU Jayhawks. I have always had my Facebook page managed by my agency, with my input of course.

    TEIXEIRA: If there is something very official that needs to be sent out, like a charity press release, I will let my agent handle it. Other than that, I’m the only one sending out posts when I’m having fun.

    What is your favorite tweet or social media post?


    PIERCE: My favorite post is when I launched my Instagram account the day before my press conference in Brooklyn this past summer. I posted a series of my favorite photos from the course of my career as a Boston Celtic as a way to thank Boston fans for everything and make sure they knew how much they meant to me, game in and game out. ... I posted one single photo from the press conference saying #HELLOBROOKLYN right afterwards. I think I got over 45,000 Instagram followers within the hour of launching it.

    TEIXEIRA: My favorite tweets are pictures with witty comments below them. They say a picture is worth a thousand words; you can say a lot with a pic and a tweet together.

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  • Bay area teams lead the way in social push

    The San Francisco Giants have the third-largest total social media following in baseball, trailing only the twin economic titans of the league, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. A fan can follow the Giants via active feeds on Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest, and the club last year opened within AT&T Park the @Cafe, a first-of-its-kind, award-winning space that blends coffeehouse with social media nerve center.

    By the club’s own admission, none of that happened by accident. Enjoying a crucial home-field advantage operating in the global technology nerve center of Silicon Valley, the Giants have fed directly off their proximity to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and the other major tech leaders.

    “We’re very lucky to be a sports team in the Bay Area,” said Bryan Srabian, Giants director of social media. “To have access to Twitter literally within walking distance, that’s absolutely great. And I remember having coffee at Instagram when they were still literally four people just down the street from us.”

    The San Francisco Giants opened the @Cafe that blends the coffeehouse concept with social media.
    Photo by: San Francisco Giants
    The Giants, of course, aren’t alone, and each of their local counterparts also has earned wide notice as a thought leader in sports social media. The San Francisco 49ers last summer gained nationwide buzz with a dual takeover of their Twitter feed during a preseason game by supermodel Marisa Miller and Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, and then successfully collaborated with the Giants last fall to help say goodbye to Candlestick Park via Twitter.

    Two Oakland A’s relievers, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook, last year became the first MLB players to get their hands on the new Internet-connected Google Glass devices. The Warriors the last two seasons have held social media nights featuring players wearing warmups adorned with their Twitter handles, and recently installed an Instagram Wall at Oracle Center featuring a real-time digital display of photos from the club’s official destination on the popular photo-sharing site.

    The list goes on and on with a powerful, recurring theme: When it comes to developing new ways to connect with fans through social media, the Bay Area has become an important crucible.

    “There are definitely other big tech hotbeds — New York, Boston, Austin — and they’re great, and there are lots of teams that do really well in social media. But this business still comes down to connections,” said Scott Kegley, 49ers senior manager of digital and social media. “It’s still about face-to-face communication, and being able to meet with these companies in person makes a big difference.”

    The nature of the Bay Area is a major driver in the social media innovation of the local teams. Similarly feeding off the major local economy, Bay Area residents regularly overindex in their use of technology. And the local teams universally say it’s that hyperconnected fan base that drives them to keep pushing the envelope on social media.

    “The fans here are incredibly engaged. That’s really what’s most helpful to us,” said Amy MacEwen, Oakland A’s marketing and advertising manager. “Whether it’s things like mobile check-ins, use of Vine, what have you, our fans are unquestionably early adopters, and among the leaders in all of baseball. It all starts with that.”

    Executives at Twitter, Facebook and other platforms agree, even as they are by definition neutral and work with any team that wants their help activating a social media campaign.

    “The Bay Area teams in particular tend to embrace technology quickly and to innovate with what’s possible,” said Nick Grudin, Facebook director of partnerships.

    The rewards from all the social media activity arrive in a variety of forms. There is, of course, improved fan affinity and ticket sales. The Giants, Warriors and San Jose Sharks rank among the attendance leaders in their respective leagues and boast lengthy home sellout streaks that team executives in part credit to fandom cultivated through social media.

    New sponsorship inventory also is created, with key examples including Jive Software Inc. buying in last year as a presenting sponsor of the Giants’ @Cafe and Esurance purchasing a similar sponsorship for the Warriors’ social media night each of the past two seasons.

    Labor also plays a sizable role in the social media trailblazing of the Bay Area teams. With Silicon Valley nearby, employees tend to move back and forth between teams and social media platforms. The 49ers, for example, have several staffers reporting to Kegley who have worked at Facebook.

    “We’re not necessarily the first in line for every new thing places like Facebook are doing. It’s more of a case-by-case basis. But having people on staff with an innate understanding of the platforms is huge,” Kegley said.

    What also helps set the Bay Area apart in social media circles is an uncommon spirit of collaboration among the local teams. In many other markets, teams compete fiercely for fan mindshare and revenue, viewing their areas as a zero-sum game. But in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, the vibe is different.

    In executive circles, the A’s and Giants are locked in a years-long cold war over territorial rights to the San Jose market where the A’s would like to move and build a new ballpark. But on Twitter, MacEwen and Srabian are often jabbing at each other in good nature, all for the benefit of the fans. It is also common to see one team congratulating another when a local team or player wins a championship or major individual award.

    “It’s really thinking like a fan and what they want to see,” Kegley said. “That’s really how I start a lot of this, by sort of taking the team hat off and literally asking myself, ‘What would I as a fan want?’”

    Beyond the jocular barbs, the teams frequently join forces on social media projects. Recent examples include the Giants and 49ers rallying last fall behind a #SFUnite hashtag, Warriors guard Stephen Curry taking over the A’s Twitter feed and taking a turn in their broadcast booth, and the Warriors similarly inviting players from every other local team to take a turn running their Twitter account during the 2013-14 season. The most recent example of that involved Oakland Raiders players Rod Streater and Marquette King running the Warriors’ account during a late February game against Brooklyn.

    Twitter data suggests such efforts resonate with fans. The Miller-Iguodala effort with the 49ers, for example, generated a follower addition for the football team twice its daily average during August as well as a spike in mentions for Miller and Iguodala themselves.

    “While on some level we are competitors in this market, those of us on the digital side definitely see ourselves as collaborators in the social space and push each other to do more and do better,” said Doug Bentz, San Jose Sharks director of marketing and digital media. “There is a real generosity around here in terms of best practices.”


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