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.

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Facebook Cover Photos: Brought to you by the Philadelphia Phillies

When Facebook timeline was announced for brands earlier this year, bloggers and social media web sites correctly pointed out that the switch would enable brands to push content to fans in a more aesthetically pleasing and interactive way. And indeed, since the switch was made on February 29th, we’ve seen a large number of brands lead the way with innovative and creative timeline pages and cover photos, one of the most noticeable differences between timeline and the old profile page layout. Redbull, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Manchester United were among the first to take advantage of the change in layout. Yet one thing organizations haven’t done is release branded cover photos that fans can upload to their personal Facebook profile page. That is, until now.

Major League Baseball isn’t typically considered to be one of the more groundbreaking organizations when it comes to social media. That being said, the Philadelphia Phillies have recently released what I believe to be the first instance of an organizational branded cover photo specifically meant for a fan’s Facebook profile. The Phillies announced the available photos via Twitter and Facebook, and are marketing the images by telling fans, “The Phillies have you covered.” The collection of images include a panoramic picture of their home stadium as well as images of current star players.

The move is a clever one. By releasing branded cover photos, the Phillies can transform fans into brand ambassadors by having them publish the image as their Facebook cover photo. Rarely does a team, or any brand for that matter, give fans a reason to go back to their actual Facebook page after they like the page. However, Facebook users are much more likely to go to a friend’s Facebook profile page. When they do, the cover photo will likely be the first thing that draws their attention, according to Mashable. The popular social media site discovered in late December 2011 via eye tracking software that Facebook users looking at Facebook timeline profiles looked at a user’s cover photo first, and additionally, that it only took a user .5 seconds to look at it. For brands, that means that their brand photo can be the first object a Facebook user looks at, even when they’re looking at a friend’s Facebook page rather than the brand’s page.

Roy Halladay's Facebook Cover Photo

The Phillies may be the first organization to release branded Facebook cover photos, but they assuredly will not be the last. For sports organizations, athletes are an incredible selling point, and cover photos lend themselves well to dramatic images of athletes in action.

What do you think of the idea? Do you think more brands will use this tactic in the future? Most importantly, would you make your cover photo a branded image from an organization, sports or otherwise, that you support?

Voice your opinion in the comments section below, and check out all of the Phillies branded cover photos here.

Three Teams. Three Leagues. Three Social Media Lessons.

These days, every professional sports team has a social media presence. They have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, and more. Lately, teams have even started finding roles on Instagram or Pinterest.  Unfortunately, it seems that most teams’ strategy ends with a presence. Look through Twitter feeds of organizations and you’ll find they’re all filled with links to game previews and recaps, video highlights and team transactions. On Facebook, a team might get fans to ‘like’ them, but rarely do they give them any real incentive to revisit the page. It isn’t that the desire isn’t there. More likely, it’s the result of not knowing where to start. Luckily, a few teams have gotten creative and created a path for other teams to follow. Today, we’re looking at three teams in three different leagues who have achieved success in social media.

The Cleveland Indians

The Network: Blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

The Strategy: Find opinion leaders, treat them well, and let them do the talking.

How they did it: In 2009, the Cleveland Indians were coming off two straight disappointing seasons in an economy that was also trending downward. So when the Indians looked in increase conversation and engagement in the community, they looked towards social media. They transformed a section of their stadium into what they called the

The Cleveland Indians Social Suite

‘Tribe Social Deck.’ The section came with free wireless internet and access to content previously available to members of the press only. The club then invited opinion leaders within the Cleveland Indians online community to invite to the suite. As awareness of the club spread, fans were able to submit applications to be invited. Fans were allowed to bring friends and were encouraged to blog and tweet about their experiences. After the season, the Indians enhanced the club by moving it to a private suite, complete with protection from the weather and an indoor living space designed to stimulate conversation between game attendees. They also renamed the club the ‘Indians Social Suite.’ In an attempt to get some ROI out of the campaign, they added discounts for fans who liked the team on Facebook or followed on Twitter.

The Payoff: Believable third-party endorsements and a more active community. A 214% increase in Facebook ‘likes’, a 699% increase in Twitter followers, and a 174% increase in revenue from social media efforts.

The Lesson: Any team can brag about their stadium or game day experience. It’s much more believable when it comes from another fan, especially if that fan is already considered a respected voice in the community.

The Boston Celtics

The Network: Facebook

The Strategy: Gain better demographic data from fans.

How they did it: When you’re the Boston Celtics, getting fans to like you isn’t a huge problem. That includes getting fans to ‘like’ you on Facebook. But what happens after that? How do you get fans to engage with you? What do you do with the information you’ve gained about those fans? For the Celtics, answering that question involved an initial

The Boston Celtics 3-Point Playfinancial investment, a partnership with an outside vendor and a lot of thought. The end result was the 3-Point Play, a Facebook application in which fans pick three Celtic players and predict a statistic for an upcoming game. Points are awarded based on accuracy and the risk level of a fan’s picks. After each game, the top-scoring fan wins tickets to an upcoming home game. The game is quick and easy to play, and fans only have to play once for the Celtics to gain access to their demographic information. That information gets added to the Celtics team database. Once they have that information, they are better likely to see how much fans are spending on tickets or merchandise, as well as how often they spend on those items.

The Payoff: Since creating the 3-Point Play, the Celtics have added 85,000 Facebook fans to their marketing database. More importantly, they’ve sold almost $200,000 in tickets to those fans.

The Lesson: Give fans a reason to not only like your page but keep coming back. Then promote that reason on every platform you can to drive up awareness and interest. Know what demographic information you want from those fans, and more importantly, how to take advantage of that information.

The New Jersey Devils

The Network: Blogs, Twitter, and ‘offline’ viewing parties.

The Strategy:

1. Use influential fans to create engaging dialogue on game days and off-days alike.

2. Capitalize on that fan engagement by getting area partners to advertise.

How they did it: Despite a long track record of on-ice success, the New Jersey Devils were having a hard time creating a strong fan base in Newark, NJ, where they play less

The New Jersey Devils Mission Control

than 30 minutes from the more popular New York Rangers. So early in 2011, the Devils took a page from the Cleveland Indians social media strategy, and created a social media control center focused on influential fans. They called the center ‘Mission Control’, and gave a 25-person group, called the ‘Devils Army Generals,’ the room, assigned with the task of monitoring social media activity, blogging, arranging Tweet-ups, answering team questions and more. After accomplishing successful levels of fan engagement, the Devils took the strategy one step further. They used the Command Center as a lead in sales meetings, selling advertising opportunities to area vendors. Those partners sponsor online fantasy games and fan contests, rather than sponsored Tweets or posts, which keeps fans from getting force fed advertisements.

The Payoff:

1. Over 70,000 Facebook likes in the first month, and 1,000 new Twitter followers a week.

2. $500,000 in revenue from marketing partnerships in 2011.

The Lesson:

1. Your best fans will volunteer to work for you.

2. Engagement is great, but you can benefit financially as well without inundating fans with ads.

You can find more information on the above campaigns from the following links:

The Indians Social Suite: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=32066#

The Celtics 3-Point Play: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2012/02/27/Opinion/Peter-Stringer.aspx

The Devils Command Center: http://www.badrhinoblog.com/2012/02/how-the-devils-monetized-social-media/