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Storytelling and Sports panel

If you’ve got two hours on your hands (who doesn’t?) check out this panel discussion I did at the recent Futures of Entertainment conference, as we discussed the futures of storytelling and sports.

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10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers

If you work in a marketing capacity for a professional sports team, you’re a target. You’re constantly bombarded by calls, emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests from complete strangers who want to sell you dime-a-dozen virtual products that won’t increase your bottom line, and are largely built on hype.

Countless companies are all selling the same vaporware solutions for problems that most teams don’t even understand, or frankly, don’t even exist. Because there’s a new headline on Mashable every day that tells us about the growing importance of social media, business development reps at vendors around the globe are relentless in their quest to reach new targets as they try to make commissions before their start-up goes belly-up.

The good news for vendors? It’s easier than ever to identify (read: stalk) brand marketing decision makers, as everyone’s got a LinkedIn profile, many of us have a Twitter account, and some even maintain a blog. (Oops!)

Cold Call Phone

Sports and brand marketers are accosted daily by vendors, especially in the digital space, all of whom seem to be selling the same thing.

The bad news? We may be easier to find, but we’re harder to reach. You’re all competing with each other for our limited attention. Our phones ring constantly. And your solution is not unique. I’ve probably been approached by 10 vendors in the last month with nearly identical products. If you’re like me, you don’t answer your desk phone unless the caller ID reveals a familiar name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely unsympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Being a salesman in the social media gold rush is a thankless job. Cold-calling people is no fun. Leaving voicemails is worse. But sports marketing professionals work crazy hours, even in the offseason. Our time is valuable. If we took every call and meeting, we’d never get anything done. So we have to be selective. In that spirit, here’s 10 tips for vendors attempting to pitch sports teams with their cutting-edge social media Swiss Army knives.

Do some research before you cold call. Don’t call a sports franchise with a million-plus fans on Facebook telling them that you can help them grow their social media fan base. Guess what? Big market teams–and even many small market teams–don’t need help with this. They’ve got fans all over the globe, and that fan base is already growing organically. Teams are unlikely to pay for growth when they can just watch the clock and watch their likes grow for free. You need a focused value proposition that you can succinctly articulate. Know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field, and prove you can generate some real world ROI, because we’ve already heard the same pitch from 20 companies just like yours.

Do some more research before you cold call. Don’t call trying to sell us a Facebook application if we’ve already got a Facebook application. Seems obvious, but it happens way too much. If you don’t have the time to check our fan and do some cursory research, why should we waste our time?

Our game schedule is available. Check it before calling. Calling at 4 pm on a game day is the easiest way to guarantee you’ll be leaving a voice mail. The front office is usually very busy on game day, and most of us are headed to the arena/stadium late in the afternoon. Every team’s game schedule is freely available on their website. Look it up. Pick an off day, or better yet, an off day when the team’s on a short road trip. Extended road trips = vacation days.

Keep voicemails and emails short and sweet. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch over voicemail in under 45 seconds, you need a new elevator pitch. Or try another elevator. Which reminds me, one of the best voice mails ever received at Boston Celtics HQ is from a vendor who introduces himself, then pauses, sneezes loudly (!), and continues on with his pitch for about 60 seconds. We listen to the first 10 seconds of this thing on speakerphone like once a quarter, and it always delivers the unintentional comedy goods.

“Hi, Keith…this is…EH…AH…ACHOU!…this is so-and-so and I want to tell you about…”

As for email, if you send six paragraphs, there’s no chance it’s getting read. In the age of skimming, who has time? Keep it short and sweet, and send a link for more info. Use a link to track whether we clicked through. (Um, I shouldn’t be telling you this…)

If we don’t respond after multiple attempts, don’t continue to harass us. Trust me, we got your email. And your voicemail. And your LinkedIn request. And your Twitter mention. There’s no need to forward us your second unreturned email and ask if we got it. If we’re interested, we’ll let you know. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Don’t exaggerate who’s using your product. The sports business is a small community. Most people who work at a team have worked for multiple teams, or across different leagues, and we do plenty of networking. So if you tell us you’re working with other pro teams, and we’re actually interested in your product, you can expect us to place a call to those teams to get feedback. And if by “working with another team” you mean “gave them a presentation” or “had a conference call with them”, we’ll find out in short order.

Last year, one vendor actually showed me a product demo during a WebEx with content customized for an NHL franchise, and intimated that they’d built a solution for said team. When I followed up with the hockey team, they were shocked and told me they’d never heard of the company. Needless to say, that’s where my conversation with said vendor ended.

Go to networking events and conferences. If you really want to get in front of a sports marketing executive, go to a conference where they’re attending or speaking. You’ll probably be able to meet them in person, and if nothing else, have a beer and chat about your product. People at conferences expect to do some networking, so it’s much better environment to try to make a connection. That said…

Manners are important. Don’t interrupt when we’re talking to someone else. I’ve had this happen multiple times after panels or presentations at conferences. I’ll be speaking directly to someone after a session, and a vendor who’s in a rush to leave the conference with my business card will interject – because their time is apparently more important than that of anyone else – and give me their card, expecting mine in return.

I always try my best to prevent the interruption (even if I can feel the intrusive stare from a vendor who’s looking for a chance to interrupt), but it’s an awkward situation for everyone and leaves a terrible first impression. It also usually earns your business card a trip to the circular file.

Teams spend big money on players, and small money on marketing technology. So teams aren’t going to drop $20,000 on a social media tool that they didn’t know existed yesterday. Sports teams operate with lean staffs on leaner marketing budgets. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there willing to work with teams for free or nearly free, because being able to put a team’s logo in your sales deck is worth far more than the $20,000 you’re trying to squeeze out of us for your “must-have” social media solution.

Try to do a deal with the league. Many successful software vendors who have multiple team clients managed to convince the league office that their software is unique and valuable, and cut a deal with the league for all 30 teams to have access to their software. If your product is truly unique, and has scale, you might be better off trying to approach the league first.

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Q&A on Sports and Social Media

The following Q&A was conducted by Paul M. Banks (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) for and was published on October 26, 2011.

Congrats on keeping the Celtics site within the top 5 most trafficked (among NBA sites), what’s the key to that success?

Stringer: When I first joined the Celtics in 2005, our team was not a championship caliber squad on the court, yet was typically ranked in the top 10 NBA websites. Having a brand with 60 years of history, and now 17 championships, means that fan interest will always be strong.

That said, when I took the job, I made the decision to change our emphasis to content and started covering the team myself, something wasn’t doing at the time. Most teams weren’t doing it either. But I think that decision paid off and gave fans a reason to come to us for regular content about the team.

In ’05-’06, we really started delivering content, news and information to our website as soon as we could post it, and we were routinely beating the local papers with team information. It forced them to adjust, and they initially weren’t happy about it. Six years later, Twitter has taken that 10 steps further. Sports journalism has evolved drastically since I started with the team.

So true. Sports media has changed so much in even the past 2-3 years, the last 5 even more so. How has the 2008 NBA championship provided long term benefits for your organization’s: online presence, social media presence, ability to market offline, size of fanbase? What percentages of growth have you seen?

Stringer: There’s no question that winning the NBA title in 2008 gave us a huge boost in terms of fan interest. We had our biggest season ever on in terms of traffic in 2010-11, and yet we only went two rounds deep in the NBA Playoffs. That said, before last year, traffic was trending downward, yet our social media audience was exploding. The reality is, fans are spending less time seeking out team websites and spend more time following your team via social media. So we need to be constantly providing news and information to fans on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where they’re spending and increasing amount of their time online.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook, what are your most useful/favorite social media sites. What do you find to be the best/worst aspects of: Digg, Stumble Upon, Delicious, Reddit

Stringer: I use Twitter as my own content curator to find things I’m interested in, and almost never use any of those other sites you mentioned here. Twitter always turns up great content for me, and I rarely go to or other websites anymore. I go to Twitter to seek out content from my peers and industry leaders, and I make an effort to share content that I think my own personal followers will find compelling. That’s why Twitter is so important to me. It’s completely reinvented how most of us are consuming information.

Couldn’t agree more, Twitter is really the only one I use, and I check it like 10-12 times a day.

What’s your best advice to the web entrepreneur that seeks to use social media mostly to build traffic, not to build online relationships? Just posting links to the site isn’t an advisable practice is it?

Stringer: You can’t expect social media to deliver huge traffic numbers to a website, and if your economic model is based around page views, it’s time to rethink it. People want headlines first and foremost, and rarely want to click and read. Unless you’re the first to provide some exciting breaking news or unique content, you’re not going to see click-throughs beyond 2-3% on a regular basis. We’re in the age of skimming right now; attention spans are getting shorter all the time.

I still enjoy reading and find plenty of great content on Twitter, but social media is not going to instantly deliver traffic to your website. You have to develop a pattern of delivering quality content on a regular basis, and should be working on creating ways to monetize your growing social audience because your website traffic will almost certainly drop if isn’t already.

You do a lot of public speaking, what are some of the hottest topics of NBA discussion right now?

Stringer: Every time I speak about the Celtics’ social media efforts, I always get asked about generating ROI in social media. It’s the number one question on people’s mind. It’s something I spend a lot of time working on as well.

What are the basic requirements for any web company’s Social Media Strategy and Social Media Marketing plan?

Stringer: First things first: Have a strategy. Far too many companies are doing social but can’t articulate a basic strategy. And second, I’d say you need to be constantly reading and learning about it, because this business is quickly evolving. Companies like Facebook are changing the rules constantly. What was true in social media last week may not be true next week. It’s your responsibility to stay current, and I spend a lot of time keeping up with the industry.

What would you change/add to that answer in regards to Sports Marketing and Sports Brand Management?

Stringer: I’d say that sports marketing and branding is increasingly becoming a technology issue. We reach millions more fans in the digital arena than we’ll ever reach in the physical arena. So teams need to invest a lot more time, energy and strategy in digital as they look to market their team to fans all over the globe for the long term.

Tell us what SES attendees should expect during your panel session ”Social Media and Sports” with Scott Reifert, Bryan Srabian and Jamie Trecker.

Stringer: I’m looking forward to the panel. I met Bryan a few months back in San Francisco when I was in town, and I’m looking forward to connecting with Scott and Jamie as well. While I’m sure we won’t agree on everything, it’s always great to exchange ideas about this stuff, and it should be a great discussion. We’ve all had unique experiences with large sports brands in great sports cities, so we’ll all be bringing informed perspectives to the table.

Finally, athletes tweeting: pros and cons?

Stringer: What did Spiderman’s uncle say? “With great power comes great responsibility.” Athletes have a unique opportunity to connect with fans on their own time and in their own way with social media, but the pitfalls are dangerous and they’re inevitably going to make mistakes.

At this point, you’d think they’d realize that anything they tweet is fair game, but it seems like every week athletes are re-learning this lesson. We live in a new age of transparency, and the walls that used to separate the star athlete from a common fan are quickly falling down. Used correctly, social media can be a great tool for athletes. But it’s very easy for them to make a damaging mistake if they don’t take it seriously.

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What Is the Value of a Facebook Fan?

I’ve done a bunch of social media panels, and a favorite query at these events goes something like this: “How much is a Facebook fan worth?” Depending on which study you read, you’ll see estimates ranging from a few dollars each to $120 dollars a head. And I always tell people, if the answer is anywhere near that $120 figure, I need to ask for a raise.

A large raise.

I can’t give you a figure that tells me what each of the Boston Celtics’ 5.5 million Facebook fans is worth, and honestly, if you’re trying to write an algorithm that will answer the question, you’re wasting your time.

Becoming a Facebook fan takes one click of the button. It’s not a commitment of time, energy or money. Not all Facebook fans are created equally. Some will complain you don’t post enough. Others will unlike you once you start bombarding their News Feed with updates. And most will never even see your brilliant status updates thanks to Edge Rank, the formula Facebook uses to determine exactly what makes it to your News Feed in the first place.

Multiple studies suggest that most Facebook fans never return to your Fan Page after they’ve “Liked” your brand. I’d argue many of them probably never even made it to your page at all. According to our Facebook Insights data, last month, only 13 percent of our new Facebook fans liked the Celtics from our Fan Page or a shared News Feed update. Seventy-three percent liked us from their own profile (organically, while filling out their interests) or saw our logo on a friend’s profile and hit “Like” there.

The point is, your fans are coming in from many different angles. But profiles tend to be the leading source of “Likes”, so who likes you already has a large impact on who will to decide to “Like” you today and tomorrow. So a Like from a celebrity’s page or another brand itself is probably far more valuable than one from Joe Schmo.

So what’s the true value of a Facebook fan? Here’s a better question: What’s the lifetime value of a fan in your marketing database? How much will they spend on your products? You probably already have a metric for those database questions, and frankly, I think those are far more informative and important ROI metrics.

Still, since Facebook is the newest toy on the shelf, brands and their CMOs are more focused counting “Likes”, because it’s an easy comparative metric. But digital marketers should really be focusing their energy on collecting demographic data from their Facebook fan base, regardless of its size.

What data can you glean? Insights is a good start if you haven’t already looked, but it only tells part of the story. If you want some quick feedback, try posting a Facebook question to your fan base. If you want a more robust dataset, set up a Survey Monkey account, give your fans an incentive to fill out the form, and compose a survey they can complete in 5-10 minutes.

If you need still more data, you can go through the process of buying a Facebook ad, and start targeting your potential ad with various parameters, and Facebook will give you a real-time estimate of how many fans you reach. Make sure you’re sorting by fans who are already fans of your brand. You don’t have to actually buy that ad, but the targeting process is a quick and dirty way to figure out things like where your Facebook fans live, or get a percentage of their marital status. It’s not exact, and it’s a little clunky, but with a bit of digging you can unearth some advanced metrics that Insights doesn’t currently provide.

Finally, there are a few vendors out there who are working on aggregating data from multiple fan pages, and may be able to help you get a better picture of your overall Facebook audience.

Rather than worrying about the size of your fan page, or the value of a Facebook fan, why not spend some time learning about that fan base instead? In digital marketing, a little data goes a long way.

This piece originally appeared as a guest blog for the Social Media Club on November 4, 2011.

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AdAge Interview on Facebook Marketing

Before presenting a case study of the Celtics Facebook game, 3-Point Play, at the DMA conference in Boston last week, I was interviewed by Christine Bunish for a perspective piece in AdAge’s DMA section. The following is a transcript from that interview that appeared in the magazine.

“Digital technologies and social media have only recently become marketing tools for the Boston Celtics, but there’s always something new to learn about them.

“We got on board early with Facebook and Twitter, and built large audiences around them: Our 5.2 million Facebook “likes” is the second-largest audience in North American team sports; and at 220,000 Twitter followers, we rank the third-highest in the NBA. We’re out in front because we got there early and made social media a priority for communicating with our fan base all over the world.

“We were the first team in the league with a Facebook app—and among the first in pro sports—when we launched in October 2009. That app, Celtics 3-Point Play, allows us to identify fans on Facebook and get them into our database. It’s a simple fantasy game that enables people to predict players’ stats before every game and get awarded points.

“We can identify fans and collect basic marketing information through 3-Point Play, and then we can turn these fans into customers who buy jerseys, tickets and—the ultimate goal—season tickets. In the two seasons we’ve had about 180,000 people play, and we got marketing info for about 85,000 who live in New England. Our existing email database was about 250,000. So we experienced a huge percentage growth to our overall email base.

“When people sign up for 3-Point Play, we can find out if they’ve bought tickets in the past. We sold $150,000 in tickets to fans who played last season. Some would have bought tickets regardless, but it tells us that Facebook fans do come to the games and want to become customers.

“Overall, there’s more social media integration on our website. We’ve seen traffic drop on, but we’ve had dramatic growth on our social media. People want you to come to them as they spend more time on Facebook and Twitter and less time surfing the Web. You have to be where your fans are discussing your brand and engage them with a constant presence and dialogue.”

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