NY Rangers, Brooklyn Nets explain social in sports

Social media and professional sports seem to be a match made in heaven. When a team scores during a game, aside from high-fiving fellow fans or booing, people tweet, go on Facebook, or post photos on Instagram.

Social media and professional sports seem to be a match made in heaven. When a team scores during a game, aside from high-fiving fellow fans or booing, people tweet, go on Facebook, or post photos on Instagram.

The fans are already on social media, so the key for sports organizations is to figure out how to engage them in new and exciting ways. That was the center of conversation today at the IPREX Global Leadership Conference hosted by Makovsky + Company.

During the event, Jason Mitchell, founder and CEO of social media agency Movement Strategy, led a panel entitled “Not all channels and content are created equal: How to right-size social activation for powerful community building and engagement.” The guests included Adam Skollar, manager of marketing and digital programming for the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and Jayne Bussman-Wise, digital director for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center.

Mitchell opened the session by saying that sports groups have to push out experiences for fans.

He said the key question is, “How do we activate fans to then activate their friends?”

Movement Strategy worked with the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan to create an interactive social media experience for alums who no longer attend football games or tailgate but still watch every game. The initiative pulled photos from Instagram and live-streamed tweets. It also included an interactive map, where alumni could click on cities and find former classmates who are watching games.

The New York Rangers have aggressively used social media to reach fans in the last few months because the NHL was in a lockout from September 2012 to January of this year. Skollar said that during the labor dispute, fans did not interact positively with the league online.

“No matter what we posted, the fan reaction was awful,” he explained.

Now that the lockout is over, he said the Rangers know how passionate their fans are and how much they missed the team, so they want to take advantage of that.

Skollar said Movement Strategy helped the team make a comeback in social with an initiative that invited fans to take photos that show “the Rangers are back and I'm ready” and put them on Twitter and Facebook. The program garnered about 12,000 photos.

The Rangers also created a microsite called BlueShirtsUnited.com, a team blog that has no sponsors and is separate from the Rangers homepage. Skollar added that the purpose of the blog is to offer fans photos, videos, and other content that they can't find on MSG Network or ESPN and give them inside access to the team.

Soon, the team will launch a campaign with a focus on reaching 1 million Facebook likes, said Skollar, and the initiative will involve Madison Square Garden's jumbotron. Fans will be able to download a campaign app and like the Facebook page while watching a game in the arena and see the ticker of Facebook fans go up live on the screen.

The Brooklyn Nets are also incorporating the Barclays Center into their digital and social efforts, said Bussman-Wise.

She said the goal is to “use technology to enhance the experience” for fans at the game, which means the venue needs to have great Wi-Fi service and offer something new. The Barclays Center app gives fans access to different camera angles of the court, she said.

Since the Nets recently moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, which is becoming an increasingly popular digital hub, Bussman-Wise said the team and the arena want to be on top of social media.

The Nets, which was one of the first NBA teams to use the Vine six-second video app, is always looking at new social platforms and is quick to try them out. She said the main priority is engagement, so if fans aren't interacting with the team on a newer social channel, then she'll put the focus back to where they are engaging.  

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