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Sports marketing done right: The Tribe Social Media Deck

Last week I had the chance to attend a Cleveland Indians game and sit in the new “Social Media Deck.” I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived because I had only heard a limited amount about the team’s new media project.

Basically, I knew I had free tickets. And that I should use social media during the game. I thought I could handle that.

I was initially invited to an Indians Social Media Deck because of a blog post that I wrote for CNBC about ways that teams and organizations could better use social media to connect with their fans. Someone with the Indians saw my blog, and invited me to attend.

In my blog, I discussed the importance of sports teams using social media, saying,

Organizations need to use these outlets as a way to start the conversation. Get fans to interact…Ignoring those outlets is a missed opportunity for teams to reach their audience in their realm of communication.

The Cleveland Indians Social Deck is exactly what I meant when I wrote that blog.

As a quick description, the area has 10 seats, which allows each person plenty of space. The location is quality and the deck has a nice flat-screen television in the corner, allowing for instant replay.

The section actually is a deck (like a small version of one you might find in your backyard) at the base of the left-field bleachers. Banners decorate the section, creating a somewhat VIP-feel, definitely making the area stand out in the ballpark.

I think that is the idea.

As people walked by the section, they started discussing what it is and what it takes to sit there. Just looking at the section gets people talking.

Again, I think that was part of the plan.

During the game, the guests were treated well by a member of the Indians PR staff who delivered each person a press packet, identical to the one handed out to the media. The small gesture by the team made sure that the guests felt welcome, giving us a connection to the organization and creating memorable viewing experience. No matter how small, these kinds of efforts can go a long way in winning over a fan base.

Once we were in the ballpark, what we did with social media was up to us. Despite what some might think, guests at the Social Deck are given no instructions or expectations about what to say or post. We could share as much, or as little, with our audiences as we wanted. That was up to us.

Some tweeted. Others used Facebook. A couple checked into the Foursquare. I wrote a blog. But none of us had to do any of that. All of us chose to participate, engaging with our audiences and talking about the Indians franchise at a time where we might not have much to say about the team.

That is well worth the cost of a few bleacher seats.

The program accomplishes a number of goals, at a cheap price and in an efficient way.

Most importantly, it gets people coming the stadium and talking about the team. In a year where the Indians have struggled, simply putting people in the stands—even if it is only 10 free tickets—is a place to start.

As the guests enjoy the ballpark, they will naturally talk about the game, using the social media tools to interact with hundreds, even thousands of people about the Tribe. Suddenly, the discussion about the game has extended far beyond the confines of Progressive Field.

At the start of the season, people had to receive an invitation to be part of the deck, allowing the Indians to hand pick the initial participants. In recent weeks, the team has started to open the section to people who apply online, but the organization still has the control to pick the participants. This strategy takes advantage of the team’s most loyal customers and utilizes those with an established social media audience.

Another benefit of the program is that it encourages continued interaction between fans and the team. The day after I was guest at the Social Media Deck, I received a tweet from the team, telling me that I could get $10 tickets for the next game because I was a guest the previous night.

I thought, “for 10 bucks, why not?”  So I went to the game the next night, too.

Had I not received that tweet, I’m not sure I would have attended the game. That kind of offer gave me a reason to stay connected with the team through social media outlets, and I continue to monitor the team’s Twitter feed and website.

I’m not sure if the Indians organization considers the program a success, but it is hard to imagine it wouldn’t. Here’s some simple math to show the potential value of the Social Media Deck:

The Deck has 10 seats and the Indians have 81 home games. For the sake of discussion, let’s go with modest numbers and say that each guest of the Deck has 100 Twitter followers or 100 Facebook friends.

If different guests attend at each game, then that is 810 guests throughout the season. If each of those 810 guests send just one tweet, or make one Facebook post to their 100 friends/followers about attending the Indians game, then those messages reach 81,000 people.

That is 81,000 additional people reading, seeing and discussing the Cleveland Indians.

If it weren’t for their friend’s experience at the Social Media Deck, who know if they would have even thought about the Tribe. That is how your use your most loyal fans and followers to share your message.

To me, that works.

Category: New Media Thoughts, Social Media, Sports Marketing

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