I swear, I’m not lazy


If you follow this blog, it would be easy to assume that I’ve been lazy lately. While I haven’t posted anything here for a while now, I have been busy writing at sporttechie.com. In case you’ve missed those posts, or if you haven’t given the site a look yet, I thought it worthwhile to post some links to my content there.

MLB recently intensified their partnership with YouTube. MLB has been a partner with YouTube since 2005, but until recently, that hasn’t meant much. You can learn more about the partnership at: http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/05/29/mlb-seeks-global-presence-with-expanded-youtube-partnership/

One of my favorite posts was with Callaway Golf, which has really stepped up their game on social media in the past year. I was able to talk with Callaway’s Senior Manager of Global Communications Scott Goryl and Social Media Manager Chad Coleman about their latest social media campaigns. The takeaways are definitely worth your time. http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/06/24/callaway-golf-interview-breaking-down-their-social-media-strategies/

Finally, in the lead up to UFC 162, I spoke with Marketing & Community Ambassador Brenden Sherratt of Cagerank.com. Cagerank.com uses a technology called Decision Engine to predict outcomes of MMA fights. The site correctly predicts 64% off fights using a pretty impressive database of previous fight data and outcomes. They are looking for suggestions on how to improve their accuracy, so give the article a read, the site a look, and send them any suggestions you have. http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/07/02/cagerank/

I’ll be continuing to write for sporttechie.com, and you can follow my feed there at sporttechie.com/author/stephenapp, but I’ll also have some stuff over here from time to time. I’m currently working on a few pieces about social media loyalty programs that have begun to crop up from sports franchises, and I’ll be posting here throughout the fall on fan identication, which will be the subject of my masters program capstone project.

In sports and social media, there are no “winners”

A few months ago, I read a marketing agency blog post about Major League Baseball (MLB) teams on social media. The post looked at some of the major social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and declared MLB team winners based on follower counts, fans, and pins. When I read it, I considered writing a reaction piece on the choice of metrics used to make these claims, but passed, choosing to spend my time on school and work instead.

Then, last week, Russell Scibetti (@rscibetti) posted an infographic on his excellent blog “thebusinessofsports.com” from a multi-channel marketing company titled, “Fandom in a Multichannel World.” The graphic looked at the most social teams in MLB. Again, I came away disappointed, as many of the barometers of success were follower counts. The infographic called the Yankees “MLB’s most social team” based on their 7,980,000 fans across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

What the Yankees have accomplished on social media isn’t unimpressive. It also isn’t difficult. For sports teams at the collegiate and professional level, acquiring fans and followers is as easy as picking a social network and creating an official account. If you build it, they will come. The real challenge lies in taking social to the next level. The challenge is engagement. The challenge is activation. The challenge is revenue.

Many teams, both in MLB and elsewhere, have created innovative ways to address these challenges. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Indians, Portland Trail Blazers, and LA Dodgers are just a few. Yet, whenever a piece of content is published about the most social teams in sports, it’s follower and fan counts serving as justification for the claim. Why is that? Is it easier to estimate? Simpler to substantiate? Maybe it’s laziness.

Those are plausible answers, but I think there’s a bigger issue at play. In sports, as in life, we’re a society hell-bent on identifying winners and losers. And when we do so, numbers are more concrete than subjective anecdotes. I can claim that the Cleveland Indians, with their Social Suite and Tribefest, are the most social team in MLB. You could claim it’s the San Francisco Giants with their clever content and wired fan base. Neither of us easily “wins” that argument. If you argue that the Giants are more social than the Indians based on their larger number of Twitter followers though, I have no argument. Like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie.

Instead of ranting about the method by which we identify winners and losers in social media though, I want to propose a new approach: let’s stop proclaiming social media winners entirely. Social media isn’t a dragon to be slayed. There is no finish line to cross or mountaintop to climb. And while competition is natural imperative in sports, we need to realize that every team benefits from the gains others make in social media.

So I plea to sports bloggers and agencies everywhere: stop using follower counts and pinning boards as KPI’s to declare champions of a game that doesn’t exist. Start focusing on the innovative teams using social media to do great things. Take lessons from their experiences and share them with others to create a better social community.

If we do this correctly, everybody wins.

My Three Words for 2013

Let’s get a few things straightened out right away. I use this space to write about the intersection of sports and social media. This blog post has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with sports. It has everything to do with getting better in 2013. If you aren’t interested in that, I won’t blame you for closing this page and spending your time elsewhere.

Still here? Excellent.

This may come as a shock to you, but sometime between the recent increase of Boflex TV infomercials and outdoor signage for discounted gym memberships, the idea of New Years resolutions came to my mind. When it comes to resolutions, most people likely fall into one of two camps: either they despise the idea of resolutions, or they set unrealistic resolutions that are difficult to stick with for a month, never mind a full year. Others, like myself, jump from one camp to the other.

This year, I was president of the unrealistic resolutions camp. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to do this year. I wanted to learn instruments and languages. I wanted to earn promotions and more money. I wanted to be physically fit and be a more fit husband. Basically, I wanted to be perfect.

Then I read Chris Brogan’s post titled “My Three Words for 2012.” The premise is simple: Chris picks three words every year that help him better focus his goals and efforts. If you want to learn more about the process, you can (and I recommend that you do) read his entire post here.

Inspired by Chris, I scrapped my long list of resolutions, and in their place, have thought up three words that I want to guide me in 2013.

1) Confidence: Do you know what my first thought was when I originally created my laundry list of resolutions? “I won’t be able to do this.” You don’t have to be a genius to know that’s a bad attitude to have when starting something. For years, I’ve suffered from low self-esteem and a belief that all others are better than myself. But do you know what happens when you believe that? It becomes true. That’s a bad outcome, and it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2013, it won’t. In 2013, I resolve to believe in myself. Believe in my opinions, my efforts, my abilities, and my intelligence. In 2013, I’m going to be confident.

2) Focus: Do you know who multi-tasks? Everyone. Do you know who isn’t very good at multi-tasking? Everyone. Like a lot of people, I think I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, and like a lot of people, I’m wrong. I used to multi-task because I felt inefficient if I didn’t. If you’re not putting 100% of your energy into something though, you’re worse than inefficient; you’re wasting your time. So in 2013, I’m going to focus. I’m not going to answer emails while I write blog posts. I’m not going to check my company’s Facebook or Twitter feeds when someone walks into my office to ask me a question. On the other hand, will I check Twitter while watching sports on TV? Absolutely. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

3) Tebow: TWIST! I bet you didn’t see that word coming. Look, I know Tim Tebow hasn’t played a meaningful role in a football game in over a year, and I know he’s talked about too much by the national media. I also know that’s he’s always handled himself professionally in front of the media, has always seen his larger role in life, and has always been positive when faced with adversity. We could use a little more of that in this world. So this year, I want to be a little more like Tebow. I want to stay above the low level gossip that makes its way into the office on a day-to-day basis. I want to take the high road when faced with a conflict and realize that in the grand scheme of things, it likely isn’t that important. Am I striving to be a saint? No. Even Tim Tebow has his breaking point. I just want to be a better person, with a more positive outlook on life and a bigger vision.

So there you go. Confidence. Focus. Tebow. Three words I plan on using in 2013 to become a better person. Like Chris asked in his original blog post, I’d love to know what three words you could come up with to focus your goals in 2013. If you feel like sharing, I welcome your comments below.

Here’s to a more confident, focused, and Tebowy 2013.

Upon further review, how the NFL mishandled the Monday Night Football controversy on social media.

I’ve been following the NFL for over 15 years now, ever since my dad took me to my first game in the fall of 1994. Along the way, I’ve seen my share of controversies and storylines, especially of late. It started with “Spygate,” followed by a sharp rise in the public’s awareness of player concussions, and the recent scandal known as “Bounty-gate.” For the most part, however, the drama surrounding the NFL has centered on off the field matters.

That changed this year when the NFL locked out the regular referees, choosing instead to use replacement referees for the beginning of the 2012 NFL season. The idea was, by all accounts, a failure, highlighted by the most recent Monday Night Football (MNF) game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. The final play of the game, a Hail Mary by the Seahawks, has been dissected by several angles, and has largely been credited with the recent deal between the NFL and the Referee’s Union that has put the regular referees back in action this week.

Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, NFL, Replacement Officials, Hail Mary

Largely ignored in the wake of the MNF controversy has been the NFL’s social media activity following the game. This has irked me all week, since I took exception to several moves made by the social media managers for the NFL that night.

Soon after the end of MNF, the NFL posted a status update on Facebook that read “Seattle wins on Hail Mary” accompanied by a photo of Golden Tate’s touchdown catch from earlier in the game.

The NFL's first Facebook status update following the Monday Night Football controversy

Within the hour, the NFL had changed the caption for the picture to read “FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 14, Packers 12.” The image, however, stayed the same.

Finally, the NFL decided to drop the entire status update, leaving fans to read the NFL’s previous official update from the game, which were video highlights of the Seahawks eight first half sacks.

So what are the problems here? Glad you asked.

First, the NFL’s social media managers greatly underestimated how big of a controversy this play and game result was. You might say that’s a fair mistake since the game had just ended, but anyone who watched the end of the game and any subsequent post-game show knew that the referee’s decision was going to blow up as a storyline. The NFL should have given the controversy the appropriate amount of attention online.

By posting a status update mentioning the Hail Mary without accompanying it with a picture of the play, the NFL seemingly assumed fans wouldn’t notice the difference or get angry at the misrepresentation. Guess what? Fans noticed, and they got angry.

The second mistake by the NFL was re-writing the update without any mention of the Hail Mary controversy. By doing so, the NFL looked as if it was trying to avoid the subject entirely, whether that was their intention or not. The problem with attempting to avoid the controversy (and really, any controversy) is that the subject was already too big to ignore. This is especially true in sports, where impassioned fans often overreact to plays and game outcomes that aren’t really that big of a deal. Did the NFL really think a game-altering call from a replacement referee wouldn’t result in outrage?

Finally, the NFL’s biggest mistake was deleting the post. Every time an organization deletes a controversial status update or tweet, numerous stories are published offering the reasoning for avoiding such a strategy. Yet somehow, organizations continue to delete entire posts on social networks. This includes, by the way, the NFL’s Twitter account, which tweeted “Touchdown or Interception? #GBvsSEA” and then later deleted the tweet. (Hat tip to Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) for catching that.)

The problem with deleting the post is two-fold: one, when controversy occurs, fans and customers want a soundboard on which to voice their opinion. This was clearly the case with the NFL, as their Facebook status update received nearly 10,000 comments in less than 45 minutes. That number is substantially higher than their other posts, which seem to average anywhere from a few hundred comments to a little over a thousand comments. By taking down the post, the NFL removed a vital soundboard, leaving angry fans to flock to other means to voice their opinions. Two, the deletion of the post furthers the perception that the NFL wanted to avoid the controversy entirely, an action that was neither smart nor even remotely possible at that point in time.

How should the NFL have handled the situation? They should have addressed the issue directly, acknowledging that Seattle defeated Green Bay on a controversial Hail Mary on the final play of the game, along with an image of the actual Hail Mary. Would fans have still written angry comments on the update? You bet. At least those comments would have been in one place though, making it easier for the NFL to manage information and respond if necessary. Additionally, they wouldn’t have been accused of masking the issue or avoiding it.

What do you think about the NFL’s Facebook practices in the wake of the MNF controversy? Should they have deleted the post? What would you have done differently? Do you think I’m overreacting? Please let me know in the comments.

Recapping social media’s reaction to the latest NFL replacement referee controversy

So if you went to bed early like me last night, you missed quite the show…

The NFL Replacement Referees made a controversial call on Seattle's "Hail-Mary" play at the end of ESPN's Monday Night Football.

The NFL Replacement Referees made a controversial call on Seattle’s “Hail-Mary” play at the end of ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

On Monday Night Football last night, the NFL replacement referees made a series of controversial calls and non-calls, culminating on the last play of the game, when they missed an offensive pass interference call by Seattle WR Golden Tate and ruled the result of the “Hail Mary” to be a touchdown, even though it appeared that Green Bay defensive back MD Jennings had control of the football over Tate. The result of the controversial call was a Seattle victory over Green Bay, 14-12.

Announcers, players, and fans alike all had plenty to say about the latest referee debacle, and the situation has dominated the day on social media. While I plan on writing a post on the NFL’s social media strategy (or lack thereof) after the incident, I want to give readers an opportunity to catch up on some of the better rundowns of the social media reactions to the NFL replacement referees mistake.

On Mashable, Sam Laird (@samcmlaird) has a gallery of some of the better Twitter responses by television personalities, professional athletes, and fans. – http://mashable.com/2012/09/25/twitter-nfl-controversial-ending/

On Twitter, CNBC’s social media manager Eli Langer (@EliFromBrooklyn) has a quick recap of the NFL’s bizarre Facebook status updates following the game. – https://twitter.com/EliFromBrooklyn/status/250455838572048384

While most of the Green Bay Packers have withheld opinions on Twitter, Packers Guard TJ Lang (@TJLang70) has done the opposite, sending a series of pretty explicit tweets directed at the NFL. – https://twitter.com/TJLang70?tw_i=250445192577036290&tw_e=screenname&tw_p=tweetembed

The Boston Herald has the story of a Wisconsin state senator who tweeted Roger Goodell’s office phone number. – http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/football/other_nfl/view/20120925wisconsin_state_senator_tweets_roger_goodells_office_number/srvc=home&position=recent

USA Today has a recap of the NFL’s statement following last night’s game, in which they support the call on the field of a touchdown catch by Seattle but acknowledge the missed offensive penalty call that should have ended the game and given the win to Green Bay. – http://www.usatoday.com/sports/nfl/story/2012/09/25/nfl-admits-error-in-seahawks-packers-game-but–upholds-result/57840636/1

Finally, Michael Sebastian (@msebastian) has a rundown on PRdaily.com about the NFL’s reputation problem following the latest replacement referee miscue. – http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/12749.aspx

I’ll be back later this week with some thoughts on the NFL’s social media gaffe’s this year.

Can you make your Twitter account private to gain publicity? MLB proves you can.

Yesterday was a fun day for Major League Baseball (MLB) on Twitter.

Yesterday morning, MLB announced that they were going to make their Twitter account (@MLB) private for six hours between 12-6pm ET, during which time they would be performing exclusive giveaways only viewable to those who followed the account before it went private. In the hours leading up to the promotion, MLB sent numerous tweets with the hashtag #MLBMembersOnly to raise awareness and get additional fans to follow the account so as to be eligible for the giveaways.

Sure enough, at noon ET, @MLB went private, complete with a new profile picture and background image explaining the promotion. Giveaways during MLB’s private hours included 2013 MLB.tv subscriptions, tickets to 2013 Opening Day, and tickets to the 2012 World Series. Twitter followers became eligible to win prizes by retweeting phrases tweeted by MLB, like “Opening Day tix? Yes please @MLB! #MLBMembersOnly”

MLB’s promotion was meant to reward current Twitter followers and add new followers in the hours leading up to the privatization. By MLB’s account, the promotion was a success. Josh Lukin (@coffeeon3rd), MLB’s Director of Advanced Media, cited a sizable increase in Twitter followers, rewarded loyal followers, a trending topic on Twitter (#MLBMembersOnly), and the #1 question on the weekly Thursday Twitter chat #smsportschat. A look at MLB’s twitter stats on TwitterCounter.com backs up Lukin’s follower claims. @MLB gained 12,078 fans on September 20th, a sizable increase compared to the four days prior. They gained 973, 689, 1,466, and 1,727 followers on those days respectively.

MLB on Twitter Counter.com

While the statistics indicate MLB’s promotion was a success, there were some valid concerns brought up on Twitter by established minds in sports and social media. Peter Stringer (@peterstringer), who serves as the Boston Celtics Senior Director of Interactive Media, questioned the move, citing the limitedness of viral promotion (the sweepstakes tweets were private and therefore could not be retweeted), and the policy of what Stringer called “like-gating” overall.

Russell Scibetti (@rscibetti), founder of theBusinessofSports.com, also raised a few concerns in an excellent blog post. Scibetti noticed that the number of @MLB followers was still rising during the time the account was private, leading him to believe (and confirm) that new followers were being approved by hand. Scibetti noted that the practice of manually adding followers after going private damaged the promotion’s reputation of being exclusive and made the promotion more similar to a typical Twitter giveaway. Scibetti’s post is worth a read and is viewable here.

AwfulAnnouncing.com also weighed in on the topic. They identified the promotion’s timing as potentially troublesome, as there were several baseball games that started during the time-period MLB’s account was private, with a large majority of those games involving potential playoff teams. Had something important occurred during any of the games, MLB’s tweets would not have reached the audience size they typically do.

We know how those mentioned above feel. How do you feel about Major League Baseball’s Twitter promotion? Was the promotion a hit? Would you have done anything differently? Weigh in in the comments section below.

A Social Media Reminder from Tony Hawk

Like a lot of you reading this post, I follow brands, athletes and celebrities on social media. I pay attention to tweets, Facebook status updates and Instagram posts. I occasionally comment, retweet or repost on Instagram, and I like statuses that make me laugh. Lately though, I’ve found myself bored with those I follow. The more I think about it, the more I realize why; brands aren’t engaging on social media, they’re broadcasting.

I see the same tactics used across various social media platforms. Promotions and announcements on Twitter, cheesy “like this status if you’re excited for Friday” style Facebook updates, and shots of coffee cups with vintage filters on Instagram. This isn’t engaging. This isn’t social. This is boring.

So when I saw a giant donut with the words “Randy’s Donuts” in my Instagram feed last week, I didn’t think anything of it. When I saw it was posted by Tony Hawk, I didn’t think anything of it. When I read the caption, “Just hid a signed skateboard under the white dumpster here,” I became interested.

Roughly 30 minutes later, Hawk posted another image of an Instagram user holding a skateboard with the caption, “Congrats to @easyuno! That worked quite well. To all future seekers, UNDER the dumpster doesn’t mean IN the dumpster. Ew.”

The posts did well by Hawk’s Instagram standards. Hawk’s first post generated 441 comments, much higher than his normal updates, which fluctuate between 80-200 comments. The two posts also averaged 1200 likes, higher than the average of the previous five posts, which was roughly 970 likes. These numbers say something, although the sample size is small.

I include the numbers, because people will ask about them, but this story isn’t about numbers. I can guarantee you Tony Hawk isn’t worried about the numbers. Businesses and brands, however, are worried about the numbers, and that’s part of the problem. Lately, social media professionals have become increasingly obsessed with ROI and measurement. Marketers have become so concerned with numbers that in some cases, they’ve forgotten that social media primarily exists so people can be…well, social.

I understand the obsession with numbers. If you run a business, numbers matter. Sometimes though, the numbers get in the way of what social media was created for in the first place. Have some fun on social media. You might make an impression on a few hundred fans. You might only make an impression on one fan. The number doesn’t matter.

Only one fan won a skateboard from Tony Hawk, but I guarantee you that fan is a fan for life now. For those followers who didn’t win, no doubt they can’t wait for another giveaway, and I’m sure they’ll be paying closer attention to Hawk’s updates than they did before.

Don’t lose sight of what makes social media so much fun. Engage with your fans. Have fun with your fans. Stop broadcasting. Stop talking at them. Start talking with them. Be social. It’s what these platforms were made for.

We can thank Tony for reminding us of that.

Tweeting Off-Topic

It’s a big week for our country. There is a pretty important election happening in November, and after last week’s Republican National Convention, the Democrats are getting their turn in Charlotte, NC this week. For a large percentage of the country though, there is an even bigger event happening this week. That would be the return of football. Last night, the NFL kicked off its season with the Giants and Cowboys on NBC, while the rest of the league will debut this coming Sunday and Monday. As a sports fan, I can tell you that right or wrong, I’ve been more interested this week in the return of professional football than the pomp and circumstance occurring in North Carolina. I can also tell you that my Twitter stream, the majority of which is filled by sports writers, professional athletes, and other fans, has largely been more concerned with the same matter.

That makes sense to me. After all, you follow personalities and companies online expecting them to tweet about certain topics. I follow Adam Schefter for NFL transactions. I follow Peter King for player interviews and links to his articles. I follow the Boston Globe’s Patriots Twitter feed for links to stories about the New England Patriots. Sure, I might get a personal anecdote occasionally, but I’m ok with that. By and large though, I expect sports personalities to tweet about sports. This week, a large percentage of those tweets have been about the NFL. Adam Schefter has tweeted about player transactions occurring as teams make final tweaks to rosters, Peter King has tweeted his predictions for the upcoming season, and the Boston Globe’s New England Patriots handle (@GlobePatriots) has tweeted links to articles filed by Globe columnists about the Patriots. So you can imagine my surprise a few nights ago when the following tweet came across my timeline:

Like I said, I’m open to the occasional personal anecdote on Twitter. This tweet, however, didn’t make sense to me. Surprised by the total deviation in topic by the Twitter account (that’s obviously not a Patriots Update, as the Twitter handle leads followers to believe), I assumed that the social media manager for the account had accidentally tweeted the link from the wrong Twitter account. It’s not the first time such a thing has happened. The Calgary Flames are probably the most notable example of this happening before. You can find my recap of that situation, as well as my thoughts on sports franchises expressing opinions on Twitter here. Expecting the tweet to be deleted, I quickly quoted it and sent it as a reminder to other social media managers out there. Running personal and business Twitter accounts from the same device, whether that be a laptop or mobile device, is dangerous. Sometimes it takes seeing someone else’s mistake to alter one’s own communication methods.

Yet, hours later, the tweet remained. The following day, the @GlobePatriots resumed tweeting stories about the Patriots gearing up for week 1 of the regular season. That is, until last night, when, during the Giants/Cowboys NFL kickoff special, the following tweet appeared in my timeline.

This second tweet, to me, was a clear indication that the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle was tweeting #DNC2012 topics intentionally. So I sat down and thought about why an account such as this one would have sent these tweets out, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what benefits these types of tweets offer. They don’t contain links that direct back to the Boston Globe, so forget about site traffic. The information certainly isn’t relevant to all of the @GlobePatriots’ Twitter followers, so forget amplification and reach. The tweets don’t even really offer anything of substance. Sure, they’ll get the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle seen by those following the #DNC2012 hashtag, but again, the audience that’s following #DNC2012 on Twitter probably isn’t interested in Tom Brady’s latest conference call transcript or who the new center is on the offensive line.

And so, I’m stuck at square one. I’ve reached out to the Globe, via the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle, in the hope I’ll learn a bit about the strategy behind these rogue tweets. If they truly are accidents, the Globe doesn’t seem to be concerned with pulling them. If they are intentional, I’d love to know the purpose behind them.

Can you think of why an organization would tweet about topics unrelated to their general area of expertise? Do you think this was an accident by the Globe? Let me know in your comments.

What sports stadiums and European restaurants have in common

This past May, my wife and I spent a few weeks traveling in Europe, where we toured Paris, France for a few days before venturing down to Florence, Italy. As an American in Europe, I had very minimal awareness of the restaurant scene in either city apart from a bit of research on Trip Advisor and Yelp before flying across the pond. This seemed to be fairly common. On our first night or two in Paris, my wife and I saw tourists from all countries wandering the streets aimlessly at dinner time looking perplexed at menus written in a foreign language as restaurant employees stood in doorways making sales pitches in broken English.

People Love Us On YelpWhen we arrived in Florence, we were confronted by a different sales pitch. Restaurant upon restaurant with signs in the windows boasting about social network ratings. Signs that read “Check us out on Trip Advisor” or “People love us on Yelp.” In principle, I found this to be a much better sales pitch. The restaurants were allowing their customers, past and present, to do the selling for them.

The problem? Finding these reviews and ratings required an Internet connection, and as a tourist traveling on the budget, I had zero 3G coverage, and thus no access to the Internet outside of my apartment building. The result? Unable to check on recent reviews, my wife and I typically moved on from the restaurant.

At the restaurants we did walk into, we typically had great experiences. This was, after all, Italy. Again though, we were unable to take part in the social conversation about the restaurant by boasting about the restaurant on Yelp or posting pictures of our dishes to Trip Advisor.

These European restaurants had the right idea. They encouraged tourists to use social networks to find out more about them or document their own experiences. They just didn’t consider the necessary steps to facilitate such sharing. The restaurants could have remedied the situation by offering free Wi-Fi for customers to access their ratings. By not doing so, they created missed opportunities and frustrating moments for the me and other customers who wanted to take part in the online conversation featured by the restaurant but was unable to.

What does this long-winded story have to do with sports? Much like food experiences, sports are inherently social. You’ve probably read that phrase countless times if you’re interested in this sports/social media subculture, but it’s only repeated so frequently because it’s true. There’s a reason roughly half of the top 15 most tweeted-per-second events are sports related, including the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and FIFA soccer matches. There’s a reason Instagram photos posted by stadiums in Major League Baseball stadiums are up 400% from last season, according to VenueSeen. There’s a reason Perform sports media group found that twenty-six percept of sports fans were using social media to follow leagues, teams and players in 2012, a number up from 15% in 2011.

The 2nd Screen Viewing ExperienceWith all the social sharing and publishing happening during sporting events, it’s no longer satisfying for a fan to just watch the game. More and more, fans are consuming sporting events accompanied by a smartphone or tablet on which to join the online conversation on Twitter and Facebook or check a fantasy team to see how the latest touchdown or home run has impacted their weekly matchup.

So how does this relate to Wi-Fi? Fans want to watch the game and take advantage of the 2nd screen experience too. Too often though, stadiums are filled with tens of thousands of other fans wanting the same experience, which leads to congested 3G networks that get bogged down and offer unreliable service. As a New England Patriots fan, I can attest to this personally. I’ve attended multiple games at Gillette Stadium in the past year, and can specifically remember failed tweets, Facebook status updates, and Instagram postings that failed at every one of them. I know I’m not alone. Similar reports have surfaced from Citi Field in New York and Amway Arena in Orlando.

The effect of this is that, for the first time since I became a sports fan, the viewing experience is now arguably better for fans at home than at the stadium. This is obviously a problem for teams, who need fans in the stands to create a home-field advantage for the players. The stadiums, in effect, are like the European restaurants I encountered in May. They want patrons to be social and record their experiences, but lack the back-end support system to make it possible or reliable.

NFL Commissioner Roger GoodellSome leagues are jumping aboard the Wi-Fi bandwagon quicker than others. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said he wanted wireless Internet for all mobile devices in every NFL stadium, saying “We want to make sure that our fans, when they come into our stadiums, don’t have to shut down.” One thing specifically not mentioned in his remarks? The price of that Wi-Fi.

As the sports social landscape continues to evolve, it’s up to professional teams to ensure their stadiums offer free access to reliable Internet service, enabling fans to publish their in-game experiences. If they don’t, word will spread, and fans will slowly stop attending games in person. After all, sports are inherently social, especially in a fan’s living room.

Don’t Call it Social Media Night: How the Washington Nationals are using Twitter to put fans in the stands

Since moving to Washington in 2005, the Washington Nationals have struggled with wins on the field and attendance in the stadium. From RFK stadium in 2005-2007 to Nationals Park in 2008-2010, the Nationals have consistently drawn half-empty stadiums while finishing in last or next to last place in the NL East in 2005-2010.

Losing, however, has its benefits. Armed with a collection of highly drafted young talent, the Nationals are competing in 2012 after showing signs of life in 2011. Led by an impressive starting rotation and teen phenom Bryce Harper, the Nationals are 31-22 as of this post and in first place in the National League East Division. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the massive improvement in the team’s win-loss record from recent years hasn’t directly correlated to sell-out crowds. Despite having the third best record in baseball, the Nationals sit at 16th when looking at the average attendance numbers at home games, according to ESPN.

In looking for solutions to the attendance problems, the Nationals have turned to Twitter. Championing the “Natitude” cause, the @Nationals have come up with several different special events to raise attendance, using hashtags such as #ourpark and #natitude to increase fan pride, drive conversation online and sell tickets at a higher rate.

Their most recent promotion, set for July 3rd, is a tweet-up that the Nationals are calling the “Ignite your Natitude Tweet-up.” The event has several makings of what are commonly called social media nights at other stadiums around Major League Baseball. The Nationals will provide a space for Twitter followers to congregate at the game and talk amongst each other, tickets will be discounted, and fans will receive a commemorative poster exclusive for the event. In addition, the Nationals will be rewarding early arriving fans with prizes and pre-game interactive games and giveaways, according to the Nationals official blog, Curly W.

The twist on the event relates to where, exactly, Tweet-up fans will sit at the game. Borrowing on the strategy employed by sites like LivingSocial and Groupon, as well as MLB’s highly successful opening day Twitter promotion, the Nationals are improving the seat location for the game based on how many people RSVP to the Tweet-up using the official hashtag #IYNT (Ignite Your Nationals Tweet-up). Quite simply, the more people that sign up, the better the seats.

We won’t know how well the promotion works until June 22nd, when tickets officially go on sale, and July 3rd, when the Nationals have an official attendance number for the game. So far though, the promotion seems to be a success. Back on May 29th, the Nationals announced via Twitter they were only a few more RSVPs away from upgrading the seat location for fans. They’ve also been diligent about reminding fans to RSVP and responding to fan tweets.

No word on whether or not ticket prices will increase as the seat location improves, but that is something to consider with this promotion. No team wants to price out fans that are well connected on Twitter.

What do you think about this promotion? Would the opportunity for better seats make you more likely to RSVP? Can digital conversation on Twitter lead to more fan pride? Let me know in the comments field below.