Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 43
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Moving beyond like: How one team monetized Facebook base

In the social media game, the first metric anyone looks at is the number of “likes” a fan page has accumulated. Teams that enjoy followings in the millions are often lauded for being “good” at social media. But there’s more to mastering Facebook than simply building a large fan base.

What do teams actually know about their respective Facebook fan bases — you know, beyond the basic analytics that Facebook provides? Not much? More likely, nothing at all.

The good news? They’re not alone. Overwhelmingly, sports marketers know that they need to spend time and energy on Facebook, but they don’t have the first idea where to start and aren’t willing to make a financial investment. There’s a million startups trying to get rich in the social media gold rush, but teams can’t just drop $30,000 with a generic vendor and expect to suddenly start kicking ass and taking names.

Few marketers are kicking ass on Facebook — but teams should be taking names, along with ZIP codes, phone numbers and birthdays. There’s a mountain of marketing data hidden inside Facebook. All team representatives have to do is ask for it and give their fans a compelling reason to agree to give it to them.

Here’s the reality: It’s great for the Boston Celtics to have 6 million fans — that’s the second-largest Facebook audience in North American team sports — but if we didn’t know anything about any of them, then they’re not really worth that much to us.

How do teams monetize their Facebook audience? There are a few ways to do it, but the most direct method involves gathering data from their fans and then contacting them outside the confines of Facebook. Despite all the hype around social media, targeted email is still the undisputed champion of digital

marketing. That’s where a Facebook application, along with an integrated marketing plan, comes into play.

Our Facebook application, Celtics 3-Point Play, has been a slam dunk. When it launched in October 2009, Celtics 3-Point Play was a first-of-its kind application in the NBA and pro sports marketing.

The premise of 3-Point Play is simple. Fans pick three of their favorite Celtics, predicting a statistic for each player’s performance in the upcoming game. Points are awarded to

fans based on the accuracy and risk of their picks, and the top-scoring fan wins tickets to an upcoming home game. It takes about a minute to make picks, so fans can play the game quickly. We aimed to identify casual fans who may not have been previous ticket buyers. Every time fans play, they’ve got a chance to win, but they only need to play once for us to collect their data.

However, it’s far more complicated under the hood. 3-Point Play is a complex, custom-built database application, and teams can’t develop this type of game by simply buying something generic off the cyber-shelf from that vendor who’s been harassing them for the last few months. They need to seek out a legitimate technology partner and put in the time and effort to do it right. We spent an entire offseason planning and developing the game, digging into details like the scoring system, how fans challenged their friends and other important functionality logistics.

Isobar North America, our partner in developing the game, brought detailed technical expertise to the table throughout the process. Teams will need to outsource this project, and they’re going to have to spend some significant cash in the short term to chase the long-term Facebook ROI.

Speaking of ROI, what exactly is the value of a Facebook fan? Here’s the real question: What’s the lifetime value of a fan in a team’s database? How much will that fan spend on tickets and merchandise? Those are the important ROI metrics. By promoting 3-Point Play across all of our digital marketing channels, we added more than 85,000 Facebook fans to our database over the course of two seasons. Additionally, we sold almost $200,000 of tickets to 3-Point Play players in that time. Our Facebook fans are customers, most of whom were yet to have been identified. How’s that for ROI?

One more important point: Facebook applications don’t work like “Field of Dreams.” If teams build it, they won’t come … unless teams promote it heavily. It’s well documented that Facebook fans rarely return to a team’s actual Facebook page after “liking” the page. More likely, they’ve never even been to the team’s page at all, instead finding the team logo on a friend’s profile or a shared post in their News Feed. So if a team want its fans to engage with its application, it will need to promote that app everywhere it can, utilizing regular status updates, its website, its pregame show and its Twitter feed. Also, the team should ensure that its game includes viral functionality that allows players to challenge their friends, extending the team’s reach beyond its existing fan base.

Facebook is a massive opportunity, but it’s just one of many marketing channels for a team. All of those channels, including the club’s website, Twitter, Pinterest (the latest craze!), contest entry forms, and any other digital marketing platform a team controls, should be driving fans where they belong: into a team’s database.

I can’t say the Celtics have completely mastered Facebook; Zuckerberg and friends constantly change the rules. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow, and every team has different needs. But by applying a basic yet well-conceived strategy to our Facebook practice, we’ve begun solving social media’s biggest riddle.

Peter Stringer is director of interactive media for the Boston Celtics. Follow him on Twitter @peterstringer.