SBJ/March 17-23, 2014/Media

Execs endorse the value of catering to the connected fan

Bryan Srabian, the director of digital media for the San Francisco Giants, oversees nine social media accounts for the team: Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter and Vine. As all teams and leagues try to improve the game-day experience, Srabian believes that the Giants need to have a presence on every social media platform that is out there, especially in a tech-savvy market like San Francisco.

“We’re just scratching the surface. Generally speaking, it’s more important to reach those fans,” he said. “To get 10 seconds of someone’s attention is extremely valuable. It’s definitely a huge opportunity for us to figure out the right way.”

Srabian spoke on a South By Southwest panel I moderated in Austin, Texas, this month about how to get fans off the couch and keep them going to games. One of the most interesting themes to emerge from that panel dealt with how teams like the Giants are using social media today.

I expected to hear about apps that provide advanced statistics, highlights and team-driven contests.
To my surprise, Srabian spoke more about curating all the social media content about his team than creating his own content for the Giants’ accounts.

Srabian and his staff spend game days at AT&T Park monitoring social media, retweeting fan tweets and sharing fan videos and pictures.

Should teams actively promote fans’ use of their mobile devices at games?
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
“We’ve learned that our fans are savvy and are going to create a lot of great content,” Srabian said. “We want to use that. We want to make them the stars and essentially let them be the brand and the voices. We try to give our fans the platform.”

The SXSW panel was held a little more than a week after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote a provocative column suggesting that increased connectivity waters down the atmosphere at games. “It’s tough to clap when you have a device in your hand,” Cuban wrote on his blog. “It’s tough to yell when you are talking on your phone.”

A pioneer in social media, Cuban acknowledges that fans are using their smartphones at games. He questioned whether teams should promote that use. He wrote: “No question people use their phones and devices at games, but they use them when they are bored.”

None of the executives on my panel agreed.

“I appreciate Cuban’s post. Being with strangers and high-fiving — that’s the unique experience that teams are creating and selling versus something you can get outside the stadium,” said Facebook executive Bob Morgan. “But there’s a balance there if you look at what the fans are actually doing when they’re at the venues.”

As an example, Morgan cited Matt Cain’s perfect game for the Giants from 2012. As the game went into the later innings, AT&T Park logged the most uploads in its history. Even during one of the most thrilling baseball events — MLB has seen only 23 perfect games in its history — fans were eager to use their smartphones to document their experience.

“There were a phenomenal number of people who wanted to share that they were having this experience, tell people outside the stadium that they were here and connect with other people that were here,” Morgan said. “They need the connectivity to do that.”

It’s clear that fans are using their smartphones at games — a habit that is not likely to end. Morgan cited a stat showing that five of the 10 top Facebook check-ins in 2013 came from sports arenas — from Giants games in San Francisco to the Livestock Show & Rodeo in Houston.

From his nine social media accounts, Srabian is figuring out the right voice to use on all the sites. He wants to make sure that the Giants’ accounts on Facebook and Twitter are not posting the same items. He uses Instagram for more artistic purposes and Snapchat for more “immediate” photos.

“I might be the wrong person to run a Snapchat account,” said Srabian, who is in his 40s. “Companies are hiring youthful people to run these accounts. Our job is to talk to millennials.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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