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Volume 20 No. 41


The Bills’ game in Toronto this season is  scheduled for Dec. 16 against Seattle.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The NFL’s international committee could vote as soon as this week to extend the Buffalo Bills’ series of games in Toronto.

The current five-year authorization ends after the 2012 season, but the league, Buffalo and Rogers Communications, which owns the Rogers Centre, are poised to renew the games.

“Our regionalization efforts are vital to keeping our franchise strong,” said Bills CEO Russ Brandon. “We are continuing to work with Rogers Communications to extend our agreement to play Bills games at Rogers Centre. Our fan base continues to grow significantly in southern Ontario, which is a benefit for games played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, as well. Maintaining a presence in Toronto will help our organization continue to strengthen its foothold in the region.”

Under the current agreement, the Bills will have played one regular-season game annually in Toronto and two preseason games over five years. The new deal would largely mimic that arrangement.

The Bills are scheduled to play Seattle on Dec. 16 in Toronto for this season’s game.

A source said that no more than one game annually is necessary to provide the economic boost needed to keep the Bills viable in Buffalo. While attendance has been lower in Toronto than for games in Buffalo, Rogers pays the team a set fee for the games.

NFL owners in March agreed to delegate to the international committee the decision on renewing the Bills series in Toronto. The committee is expected to meet this week.

Rogers Media President Keith Pelley said discussions were ongoing with the Bills about extending the club’s deal in Toronto. “While I am cautiously optimistic, we have nothing to announce at this time,” he said. “We are focusing our efforts on this year’s game and look forward to the Bills returning to Rogers Centre this season.”

The Chicago Cubs on Wednesday will hold their first Social Media Night, and the club will try to add a new wrinkle to an increasingly common event by issuing Twitter-oriented baseball cards.

The Cubs’ cards feature their active tweeters.
The Cubs will distribute a six-card set of Social Media Series baseball cards featuring such players as pitchers Kerry Wood and Paul Maholm, each prominently displaying the players’ respective Twitter handles. In addition to traditional statistics and background data, the backs of the cards include comments on the players’ personal histories on Twitter and how they typically participate on the platform.

The Cubs will sell a $27 ticket to the Social Media Night that includes a general admission ticket to the Wrigley Field game against Philadelphia; access to a pregame social media panel featuring club officials, reporters and Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould; the baseball card set; and several other gifts, including social media-themed Cubs T-shirts.

The Cubs’ Social Media Night, and the baseball cards in particular, represent a move by the club to extend its online social media efforts into offline environments.

“The cards were an idea that initially came from our ticketing department,” said Kevin Saghy, Cubs public relations and marketing specialist, and the point person on social media efforts and the official team Twitter feed, @Cubs. “We spent a lot of time looking at other clubs in social media and our efforts and seeing how we could try to go further.”

A second Cubs Social Media Night is slated for Sept. 17, and a second series of baseball cards is under consideration for that date.

The Atlanta Hawks are looking to leverage their NBA playoff appearance by using a new cloud-based system that aims to eliminate any deal-making delays due to the handling of paper contracts.

The team tested the technology last year and this year signed a deal with San Jose-based Adobe EchoSign. The goal, Hawks officials said, is to increase the volume of premium and season-ticket deals by cutting out the sometimes clunky and time-consuming process of having customers sign paper contracts.

The Hawks want a quick turnaround on their premium-seating sales efforts as they take advantage of their first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics.

The team began using the technology as it kicked off its season-ticket renewal efforts in February.

The Hawks have sold about 70 of the 92 suites at Philips Arena and hope to increase attendance after drawing an average of 15,219 fans a game this year, down about 3 percent from last season.

“We like to do business face to face, but a good number of our business is done over the phone and we found that we were having trouble getting contracts sent back to us,” said Shawn Doss, director of suite sales and service for the Hawks. “Now we are able to upload our contracts, see when they have been opened, and track all the data. It has easily led to about a 20 percent increase in premium-seating revenues, including suites, and season-ticket business.”

The Hawks pay an undisclosed annual licensing fee to Adobe EchoSign for the technology, which processes the use of electronic signatures to streamline the signing of contracts.

Adobe EchoSign also recently signed a deal with the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and the Phoenix Coyotes and is in negotiations with other teams.

“We have other deals in the pipeline,” said Loretta Jones, director of marketing for Adobe EchoSign. “It is a frictionless way to get contracts signed.”

The Phoenix Coyotes had not even finished the ceremonial handshake line with Nashville on May 7 when the opponent awaiting them in the Western Conference final sent a message:

“Bring it on,” was the post on the official Twitter feed of the Los Angeles Kings.

This is @LAKings: irreverent, entertaining, sarcastic and controversial. And while the Kings on the ice have quickly moved through the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, the franchise’s social media staff is having an equally successful spring. Since the start of the playoffs, the Kings have added more than 36,000 Twitter followers, increasing their total to 106,000 — and counting.

The credit goes to the team’s two social media staffers, whose policy seems to be not to take hockey or themselves too seriously. After the Kings swept St. Louis to advance to the conference final, they replied on Twitter to the NHL’s feed, “Who wants all those ‘if necessary’ games anyway?”

“We encourage a sense of humor and, most of all, we encourage interaction,” said Michael Altieri, Kings vice president of communications and content. “Whether it’s Twitter or the team website, the goal has to be engagement.”

The Kings have been among the most progressive NHL teams in the digital space in recent seasons. Two years ago, they hired Rich Hammond, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, as a full-time blogger and gave him editorial independence. Hammond has earned credibility from readers with his objective coverage on the team’s website.

Last summer, the franchise formed a partnership with Let’s Go Kings, a message board founded by fans. Instead of fans talking about the team — positively and negatively — on another site, the Let’s Go Kings forum hosts them on the team’s URL.

The results of the extensions have been profound. Three years ago, the Kings were 29th in the 30-team league in website engagement (average time spent per user). Today, according to league data, they are No. 1.

But it is the team’s Twitter page that has received the bulk of the attention during the playoffs.

After the Kings defeated Vancouver in Game 1 of the first round, team tweeters made reference to a recent poll that said the Canucks were the most-hated team in Canada outside of British Columbia.

“To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome,” posted @LAKings.

The message was retweeted by more than 15,000 people — though not all Kings personnel appreciated the snark.

“It was kind of funny,” Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said. “But I don’t know if we should be sending that out after one win.”

Management later released a statement, apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”

The Kings got some attention, but as Altieri said, “We don’t want to be the story.”

Front-office staffers at every level of sports do not want team general managers to be worried about every tweet. They do not want their coaches and players to have to answer questions from reporters, especially during the playoffs, about something written by a team employee. Discretion is important.

Despite the mini-brouhaha, the Kings are hoping to extend their winning ways in both the conference final and their online community.

“We made a significant investment to super-serve hockey fans’ appetite for content and as a way to differentiate ourselves from other sports teams in Southern California and across the U.S.,” said Chris McGowan, COO of the Kings and team ownership group AEG Sports. “This strategy has helped build our fan base [and] led to record Web metrics.”