I have researched and analyzed my fair share of social media, digital communications, and interactive media. While some organizations’ uses of these mediums and multimedia are lackluster, I have never seen any quite as bad as the communities managed by sports organizations. I’m talking to you MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA. In fact, your efforts are all so less than stellar that I find myself wondering why I even bother with subscribing to your feeds or coming to games early in hopes that there will be some cool new interactive media booths.

For some reason there is a disconnect in the sports world when it comes to marketing teams on social media and digital communications. Whether it’s the MLB or the NFL, teams are using Twitter and Facebook like they are media outlets. The traditional articles and videos done for each franchise’s website are simply reposted without any added value. The issue with this is that most of the fans are already reading this content on the team’s website. Not only that, they can get the same stories and analysis on sports segments on the local news, news outlets like ESPN, and sports sections of newspapers and magazines. Since sports fans can get their traditional articles and segments on their teams or favorite players at all these other outlets, they will expect to get something extra on social media and digital media. Yet sports teams do not deliver this to them.

If sports teams continue to operate this way they will alienate their loyal fan bases. Sure, the Lakers have 6 million fans, and the Celtics have 4 million, but this isn’t so for many other teams (More Info). The Philadelphia Eagles (my favorite team) have a little over 700,000 fans on Facebook, yet their real-life fanbase includes all of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Suburbs, and South Jersey. There’s an obvious disconnect between the follower counts sports teams are pulling in on social media outlets compared to the size of the fanbase in real life. Why is this? Because major sports franchises approach social and digital media like they are a news outlet comparable to CNN. This mindset is ludicrous when you consider the idea that social media outlets like Facebook set up pages for “fans”. Yet where is the fan considered in their marketing strategy? Few teams offer special discounts to followers, and even fewer have competitions for free merchandise or tickets. Loyal fans do not even get credit for their analysis of the team and its players, which makes no sense when social media is fueled by the free exchange of opinions. Fans need to have the ability to have major discussions about the prospects of their team.

Social media aside, sports teams have also not realized the concept of incorporating interactive media into their games and events. Kind of strange since sports are part of pop culture, and pop culture feeds off of interactive media. Museums incorporate interactive media more frequently than sports franchises. Case in point number one, I have seen the same style of videos played on the scoreboard since I was five-years-old. Social and digital media can not only spice up your events, but provide easy access for fans to spread positive comments through word of mouth. So why don’t teams have something as simple as showing live tweets on the scoreboard during the game from fans?

Obviously I can’t solve all of the sports world’s woes in one post, but I think there are some quick fix ideas which can boost any team’s presence on the web and even put more butts in stadium seats:

1) Better Utilize Athletes: Especially in the NFL, it seems that sports franchises are afraid of giving their athletes too much freedom on social media outlets. While athletes can have extreme personalities, the thought of silencing them or limiting their ability to be themselves is a bad-business practice when the athletes are the biggest draw in sports. Instead of being afraid of athletes, sports teams need to start incorporating them into the team’s overall marketing strategy. Teams need to start highlighting athletes, building hype around them like the players of old to draw in crowds. To limit the worry, sports teams should be developing a code of conduct for players on how they can represent themselves in the digital world. At the Marine Corps we had a code of conduct for Marines, and even news outlets like NPR have developed outlines for their reporters. As public figures who are under contracts, they SHOULD be required to uphold a code of conduct online. By doing this, they can allow athletes to still communicate online with only a few restrictions. Their social media profiles can then be used along with the team’s to interact with fans. Each athlete should be required to either have a background, or avatar picture with the team’s logo on it. This way branding is consistent across the organization.
2) Allow Fans to be Fans: Living in a city full of exuberant Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies fans, I have learned that a sports fan loves nothing more than to hear themselves talk about their own opinions of the team. Don’t get me wrong, I want someone to understand my stance on Halladay or Michael Vick just as much as the next person, so please do not think I intend to condescend. This means sports teams need to stop trying to be news outlets, and start giving fans the ability to support their teams loud and proud. This can easily be done by starting more discussions on Facebook, creating polls, adding message boards to team websites, creating contests that allow a fan to be a guestblogger or tweeter during a game, and more. Example: Take note from ESPN and allow fans to be featured “Around the Horn” style. Hold a contest where fans can send in their commentary on one of the teams players and their hopes for the season. Have your marketing or social media team choose the best 3 or 4 videos, then post them to Facebook and allow your fanbase to vote on the best commentary. The video that wins will get a special prize or simply the honor of being that week’s biggest fan.
3) Stop Being a News Outlet: It’s a simple as both interacting with the fans, and also giving them behind the scenes access to the players and team dynamic. You need to have something unique, something extra, that adds value to your website. Feature the stories of players on the team, do a video for fans where they can learn to workout like one of the pros, tweet pictures from the road as it is happening. Even let the world know that your social media channels are “[team name here]’s territory” by adding the ability to shop for tickets and gear while still interacting on the same site. Example: After a game, whether it is good or bad, fans are dying to know what happened. If it was a bad game, they want answers. If it was good, they want to know how it felt for the star player to make the winning touchdown or basket. Let them ask by allowing fans to tweet questions or send them in via email or Facebook during post-game conferences. Half the time sports journalists ask the wrong questions anyway, which makes fans lose interest. Allow the fans who really know what’s going on to have some input too by giving them access to something they never could have had access to before.
4) Realize your fans are everywhere: For my three years of college I was a Philadelphia fan that lived in Washington, D.C. When I wanted news about my team I had to wait to learn about it on Google or Yahoo news long after the game finished. I didn’t have special sports channels at my university where I could see games not broadcast in my area, and there was no radio station for me to tune into while on the go. I would have loved to be able to go to the Phillies Twitter and see highlights of the game while they were happening. Yet the Phillies, like pretty much every other major team out there seem to be the only people who conveniently forget the game when it’s happening. Not tweeting about the game while it is happening limits the opportunity to better market yourself since there is already huge amounts of buzz being generated from fans who get most excited about a team during game-time. Example: Currently only the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers have an iPhone app. Sports teams need to develop smartphone apps that will allow fans -no matter where they are- the ability to get up to date news on teams, behind the scenes access, info on games, and the ability to buy tickets straight from the app.
5) Get Innovative on Game-day: Depending on the team, there are many different ways to incorporate cool, and interesting interactive media on game day. It is as simple as live-streaming tweets that use the team’s hashtag on the scoreboard. It can be as elaborate as allowing players to use reality simulation to bat like their favorite player. Getting innovative can also mean incorporating social media other than Twitter or Facebook. Currently only 4 MLB teams, and 2 NHL teams have a FourSquare affiliation (More Info). Loyal die-hard fans should be rewarded for their attendance by having the ability to check-in to their favorite stadiums and arenas. The idea is to make the experience of going to a game more exciting. This can mean running contests where the first fan to spot the mascot in the stadiums during the seventh inning stretch will get a free t-shirt or free goodies from an advertiser delivered to them while they’re still at the game. Example: Some sports teams are lucky enough to have extremely loud and excited fans, and some aren’t. Interactive media can be used to hype up a game. One simple fix for this could be streaming the coach’s pep-talk to the team on to the scoreboard before the game starts. This gives fans a behind the scene look that will get them motivated. These pep-talks can even be extended on to UStream along with a streaming of the whole game live. Example #2: Get creative! Interactive media is no longer simply just adding audio, video, or social media to an event. Companies like Ogmento have created augmented reality games for smartphones that allow users to game in an everyday setting using geo-location. Sports teams can creat augmented reality games to see who is the ultimate fan by setting locations around the city and stadium where fans can fulfill tasks to unlock free goods and tickets. (Check out an augmented reality game created to promote the movie  Paranormal Activity)

Bottom line, sports franchises have sucked at capitalizing on new media trends. They are not creative, they are not innovative, and they do not cater to the needs and wants of their main audience-sports fans. Here’s to hoping they’ll finally take a hint and start adapting their marketing strategies.

(Side note: To be fair, some sports teams are amping up their social media footprint, so they don’t all suck. If you are a fan of one of these teams, my sincerest apologies )