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.

Twitter Handles: Coming Soon to a Uniform Near You

It first happened on the PGA tour in early February. TaylorMade, one of golf’s biggest equipment vendors, stitched the sponsored Twitter hashtag, #driverlove, on the side of hats worn by golfers endorsed by the company. The tag was in reference to TaylorMade’s marketing campaign, which looks to characterize the feeling golfers have with TaylorMade drivers.

Philadelphia Wings Twitter Jerseys

It happened again a few days later, when the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League became the first professional sports team in America to wear jerseys with their Twitter handles on the back in place of their last names. The switch, which was the result of a campaign that sought to increase the awareness of the Wings’ Twitter presence, only lasted one game. The team raffled off the jerseys after the game for charity.

Then it happened again this past week, when Dexter Fowler of the Colorado Rockies tweeted a picture of teammate Eric Young Jr.’s cleats, which featured Young’s Twitter handle, @EYjr, on the heal of the cleat.

If once is an event, and twice is a coincidence, then three times is a pattern; and in this case, the pattern is clear: Twitter is infiltrating sports uniforms.

The reasoning behind the trend isn’t hard to figure out. Athletes are learning how helpful Twitter can be, when used correctly, in becoming more marketable and popular. Influential Twitter accounts can lead to new sponsorship deals, as Kevin Durant can attest to. Durant, one of the more influential NBA players on Twitter, recently partnered up with Nike for their newest product, the Nike+ FuelBand. Durant wore the band at the NBA All-Star festivities, and continues to wear the band today. During the day, he tweets about the amount of fuel he has earned, challenges fans to keep up with him, and on occasion, tweets back to those who have. The result is a powerful brand ambassador for Nike, new fans and followers for Kevin Durant, and a higher level of exposure for everyone.

Moving forward, more athletes and companies will look to create similar bonds as Twitter becomes a recognized platform to endorse products. When they do, companies will look for athletes with Twitter influence. Engaging with fans is the key component to building that influence, but the first step in the process is building a large following to engage with. To accomplish that, athletes need to promote their Twitter handle, and for an athlete, there is no better place to gain visibility then on the field. Hence, the growing trend of Twitter handles on uniforms.

For athletes then, the required task is finding an area on a uniform on which to put a Twitter handle. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Standing in every athlete’s way are league policies that state what can and can’t appear on a player’s uniform. Not surprisingly, for several leagues, the list of what can’t appear on a uniform is much longer and more detailed than what can. These policies force athletes to get creative, as Eric Young Jr. did when he put his Twitter handle on the heel of his cleat. Where else can we expect to see Twitter handles pop up?

Major League Baseball’s policy specifically violates patches and designs relating to commercial advertisements on any part of the uniform. However, one could argue that a player isn’t promoting a commercial entity if it is their personal Twitter handle. MLB also states, “any player other than the pitcher may have numbers, letters, insignia attached to the sleeve of the undershirt.” That would seem to indicate undershirt sleeves are fair game. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a Twitter handle appear on a player’s baseball glove at some point this season.

In the National Basketball Association, players will have to take a page out of Eric Young’s playbook and look to their feet. NBA’s uniform policy specifically states what is allowed in terms of writing on all pieces of NBA equipment, including headbands, wristbands, calf sleeves and arm sleeves. It also states that, “no unauthorized commercial, promotional or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification can be displayed on player’s body, hair or otherwise.” However, the sneaker section stipulates only that the sneakers must be white, black and the colors of the team identify only, and that the left and right sneaker must match. Adornments are also prohibited, so if an athlete wants their Twitter handle on their sneaker, they’ll need to have it built into the shoe design.

In the National Hockey League, the uniform policy doesn’t mention goalie masks or tape on sticks. Goalie masks can get pretty detailed, but I would bet that an artist could find space on there to include a Twitter handle above the facemask, where it would get plenty of exposure. Another area where a player could get their Twitter handle noticed would be on the stick’s blade. A player is allowed to tape the blade of the stick, and could easily write a Twitter handle using a permanent marker on the tape.

No league, however, is tougher to crack than the National Football League.

Steve Johnson Happy New Year undershirt

When it comes to uniform policies, the NFL is as detailed and restrictive as they come. This is, after all, the league that fined Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for wishing fans a happy new year on his undershirt this past season. The NFL includes “every visible item of apparel” in their definition of a uniform, meaning everything from shoelaces to athletic tape to sideline hats is covered. For athletes in the NFL, I suggest you get extra creative and shave your Twitter handle into the side of your head.

Other sports seem more willing to bend on uniform matters. One would think the PGA tour would be open to the idea of Twitter after the success of #driverlove. Nascar is a sport filled with decals, and is fresh off a Daytona 500 that made a significant impact on Twitter. Might they allow a driver to convert their name above the driver-side window to a Twitter Handle?

However and wherever it happens, Twitter handles will continue to make appearances on professional sports uniforms. For players who seek to use the platform as a marketing tool, visibility is imperative, and uniforms offer the perfect platform. Where do you think we’ll see Twitter handles next in sports? Do you think leagues will change their policies to become more accepting of athletes promoting personal Twitter accounts on the field? Let me know in the comments section below.

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/

For Sports Organizations, focus on your reserves

On Twitter, sports stars are king. Kaka, the star midfielder for Real Madrid, has 7,900,242 followers, according to tweeting-athletes.com. Stateside, Shaquille O’Neil leads the way with 4,757,533 Twitter followers. In the NFL, Chad Ochocinco is tops with 3,112,844 followers. If you look at tweetstargame.com, a site dedicated to measuring athlete Twitter influence, measured by Klout, you’ll find a list filled with household names such as LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Kevin Durant, Drew Brees and Dwyane Wade.

For these athletes, achieving a high number of Twitter fans isn’t difficult. Step one is to perform well on the field, ice or court. Step two is to create a Twitter account. However, with gaudy point totals and Twitter followers comes a responsibility to behave oneself online. The microscope is always closer on the “face of the franchise”. As such, rarely do you see these athletes rock the boat on Twitter. Rather, these athletes use Twitter to tweet casual messages to fans or post pictures from the weight room. For sports organizations, this lack of drama is a blessing, and should give them the necessary courage to take advantage of their stars’ Twitter influence by @ replying or re-tweeting athletes on the team.

Conversely, organizations need to be wary of their reserve players’ Twitter presence. Two recent events demonstrate this point. Last week, after the final game of the season, Washington Redskins backup offensive lineman Sean Locklear voiced his displeasure with the Redskins exit meeting after the season. Locklear tweeted “Worst exit meeting ever! No coaches, no front office, just physicals and goodbye to teammates! We did just spend 5 mos together, wow!” Locklear soon after deleted his tweet, presumably after some fan backlash, and tweeted an apology that read “Whoa, I apologize Redskins nation, didn’t mean to cause and stir! Gotta keep feelings out it! #business”

For Locklear, the deleted tweet and subsequent apology was too little too late. The following day, word of the tweet reached coach Mike Shanahan, who obviously was not pleased with the backup lineman’s words. As of now, Locklear is still on the roster, but you can bet the Redskins won’t be afraid to make an example of a player who only started four games, all losses, should he step out of line again.

So why did Locklear make such emotional feelings known on a public platform? Most likely, it was due to him being a backup offensive lineman, a mostly anonymous position, especially on a losing team. I’m sure Locklear didn’t think his tweets would be read and reacted to on such a large scale. It’s here that lies the problem. For organizations, this point must be stressed to all players: on the Internet, and Twitter especially, everything is reacted to on a large scale. Everything is public. Everything is instantaneously available. Star athletes get this. Do you think Rex Grossman or Santana Moss would have tweeted like Locklear? No chance. They have too much to lose. Yet most backup and fringe roster players have their guard a little lower. There are no sponsorships or jersey sales to lose. These players can be lured into thinking that nobody is paying attention.

More recently, Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West took to Twitter in a late-night rant after it was discovered he would not be able to attend the White House for a visit with President Obama, as is customary for the champions of the NBA to do each year. West, a seven year NBA veteran of several teams, was arrested in 2009 on gun charges, when police found guns in a guitar case he was carrying during a traffic stop. Publicly, West was contrite when asked about the incident, telling the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “That’s what happens when you make bad decisions in your life. You can’t go to the White House.” However, on Twitter, West ranted about the incident in a series of ten tweets, some with profanity included, that discussed everything from his gun charges to his sleeping in his car some nights to his salary reduction.

For West, the issues run a bit deeper than with most athletes. In 2009, he missed some time while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers while he battled depression and bipolar disorder, according to bleacherreport.com.  For players with these types of issues, the issue of Twitter use is a more serious and delicate issue. Again, it’s up to organizations – in this case, the Dallas Mavericks – to have an open line of communication with West at all times about his candidness on Twitter and other media platforms. One could make the argument that for the Mavericks, it is of more importance that they monitor West’s Twitter use, despite his less than 17,000 followers, than someone like Lamar Odom, a more famous player with over 2.5 million followers. For Odom, the dangers of Twitter are known. For West, they either aren’t, or he isn’t stable enough to recognize or care about them.

The matter isn’t easy. Organizations must walk the fine line of letting athletes know the dangers of Twitter without scaring players away. If used correctly, Twitter can be a massively effective tool for an athlete to boost his or her popularity. However, when used incorrectly, it can lead to a bad reputation for organizations, and a loss in playing time, lower salaries, a loss in marketability, or even the unemployment line for athletes. Sean Locklear has avoided that pitfall. So has Delonte West. Others will not be so lucky. For organizations and reserve players alike, the reality is that there is a lot to lose.