#FearTheDeer: Social Media and Professional Sports Teams

The Milwaukee Bucks finished in last place in the National Basketball Association for the 2013-2014 season with a record of 15-67. And as a Wisconsin native and Bucks superfan, I must sadly admit that the Bucks were not very good at basketball for this last season. Luckily, as a fan of social media, I get to follow one of the best in the league. The Bucks bring creativity, intuition, fan engagement and fun to twitter. And in my completely unbiased opinion, they are the best there is. I love them and they love us:

So what can a fan expect from a social media account for his or her favorite team? Well I’ve boiled that down to a few primary ingredients:

  • Live-tweeting of any given game, giving score updates and recounting highlights. Scores at the end of a period of play are a must. For me, while studying abroad in Australia last fall, I wasn’t able to watch too much football. So every Monday morning when I woke up, I would check my Twitter for the Packers’ tweets from the game. I would read them from start to finish, and I watched the game vicariously through that timeline.
  • Providing the links for any relevant or popular articles about the team. I’m a sports maniac. I will read just about any sports article you send my way. If you send me an article with a sports metaphor, I’ll read it. I can’t get enough. So when there are articles about my teams, I want to read them. A good marketing team alone will understand this.
  • Marketing promotional material from both the social media network and the business perspective. This summer, the Bucks featured a few ways to keep fans entertained during the off-season. From giving away a signed soccer jersey to simply promoting several ticket deals, the Bucks have done well to add business value through social media.
  • Engaging fans in new and innovative ways. Some pretty entertaining hashtags have surfaced over the summer. During the long off-season, NBA teams have engaged in some online trash talking and promotion. #NBAFastFood, #NBADramas and #NBABedtimeStories are a few of the weekly trends that several NBA teams take part in to keep the fans interested. The results are pretty hilarious. Moreover, the Bucks have been very active in the community. With a Snapchat account that posts daily stories and an active presence on Reddit, the Bucks will try anything. As Professor Kane said in his blog, it’s about finding the right clubs to play a round of golf. You don’t need them all, but just know how to use the ones you have.
  • Instilling a sense of fan ownership. Quite simply, make the fan base excited for the future. The Bucks do that. A unique #OwnTheFuture campaign puts a positive spin on rebuilding a once feared franchise. And even just creating videos like this to inspire the fans.

The Bucks aren’t the most followed team in the league, in fact, they are one of the least followed. But they are still my Bucks. While I won’t quite indulge in using the “royal we” while referring to the Twitter account’s activities, I feel a sense of pride in their tweets. Social media enables this sense of pride. On social media, the statistics do not determine the bottom line. The posts don’t affect the game, they don’t change the lineups and they don’t really matter to any sort of outcome. But they matter to the fans. It gives fans a forum to be heard. It provides the fans with a chance to communicate with one another, to reminisce about how that one shot nearly went in. It isn’t just cheering from your couch with your friends, it’s cheering from your phone with a few thousand of your closest online counterparts.

Social media cannot be viewed in the same lens as an actual contest or season. It’s not a question of whether or not a superstar will have a fantastic day on the field because at the end of the day, only one team in the league will win the accumulation of a year’s worth of goals: the championship. In real life, practice, conditioning and studying the game will build your team. On game day, team must focus to win the day. And every minute counts. For the worse teams, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook level the playing field. On Twitter, it is different. On Twitter, every day is a game day. Every team has 140 characters. And every tweet helps to win social media. Fear the social Deer.

9 comments

  1. Hey Dan, really enjoyed your post! I thought you used a great job of providing specific examples. I feel for you, it is hard to love a team that just can’t win the games. I am a New York Mets fan myself, so baseball season is always tough for me. The Bucks are sure smart in keeping their fans interested though! No matter if you have three million or three hundred thousand followers, you have people that are listening. If marketers get discouraged by the competition, fans would get discouraged by their teams. I’ve gathered from your insights that the combination of social media and sports is all about rallying enthusiasm and genuine love for a team. I’d say the Bucks have done a really good job of strengthening their core fans, and building a personality that might just help them pull off a good season one day!

  2. Growing up in Boston, we are incredibly spoiled when it comes to sports. Not many other cities’ sports teams have won championships, yet we have managed to pull it off in baseball, hockey, football, and basketball over the span of a decade. While Boston sports teams may have millions of followers in Twitter, what about the teams with a smaller fan base? I completely agree with your comment that social media can level the playing field for the less skilled teams. At the same time, as you mentioned, it gives fans a forum to be heard. So maybe the Bucks aren’t the best out there. Regardless, to be able to create an online community for fans to come together and discuss the team is priceless. Great blog post, Dan!

  3. This reminded me of the LA Kings Twitter handle! If you’re not familiar, I would definitely check it out (starting with this article: http://sportsgeekhq.com/social-media/20-awesome-tweets-from-the-lakings-in-run-to-stanley-cup/). I’m from Colorado and a big fan of the Avalanche. I could care less about the Kings and definitely wasn’t rooting for them in their run for the Cup but loved following their journey, nevertheless. The account is informative, engaging, and, most importantly, hilarious. It has real character. Not many registered NHL handles chirp at the other team or gloat pointedly. There is relatively no filter – it’s as if you’re following an extremely well-informed superfan with exclusive access. Part of what I love about these accounts is how they seem to be run by fellow fanatics, and not a stuffy exec in a suit. This is the way it should be and I hope other accounts take notice! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thought I’d return the favor since you made a great comment on my post last week. Great job here.

    The live tweeting of a game is an excellent point. I too had an abroad-related appreciation for live tweeting. Studying in Rome, I became a fan of AS Roma, the Italian Serie A soccer team. Whoever runs that SM account is truly a wizard, as they live tweeted each and every game in BOTH Italian and English (and all tweets fell within the same minute, never a lapse for translation time). It was cool being able to learn a bit of additional Italian that way, especially about a topic that was a bit more of a passion than “what’s your favorite color”. I also commend the team for recognizing that its fan base included enough English speakers that they felt it necessary to tweet in both languages. I wonder if some day the majority of professional teams will have a twitter account in major countries and live tweet all games in a variety of languages! Talk about some reach…

    Looking forward to more athletic posts! Just stay away from those silly cheesehead teams, everyone knows Wisconsin’s West Coast is its Best Coast ;)

  5. Sorry about the Bucks. Sounds like a rough season. Social media and sports has been a fascinating story over the past few years. It’s not just the leagues and the teams, but each player has their own separate brand, and they are often competing with one another (i.e. team and league) for attention. Creates some really interesting situations, which companies may have to face as employees develop their own brand on SM.

  6. This is a very informative post, and really shows the value of social media in professional sports. It’s something that is relatively simple, but can give the team a face instead of the stereotypical greedy, rich franchise whom employs greedy, rich athletes. It’s refreshing in a way.

    On the flip side of the @Bucks I remember earlier this year the Cleveland Cavaliers, (who up until this year have had a rough couple years themselves), had a massive Twitter fail. The team signed LeBron James. Their hometown hero returning to Cleveland. Yet for some reason, just minutes after the announcement, they tweeted THIS: (https://twitter.com/cavs/status/487643018212966401). As you can see by the reply tweets, people were obviously pissed. It was as if the team had nothing planned for arguably the biggest moment in their history since drafting LeBron. They followed up shortly with a “Welcome Home, @KingJames” but no graphic, no announcement, no press release or anything. Chalk it up to a giant missed opportunity on social media.

    It should be noted, that when Kevin Love was signed a few weeks later, the team was adequately prepared: (https://twitter.com/cavs/status/503241955242164224). Live and learn I suppose, but great read about the Bucks, nonetheless. I follow a lot of team accounts on Twitter, and you’ve presented a team I’ve never even thought about (sorry!) here on the East Coast, but am going to have to follow now after reading your piece.

  7. alliemanning · ·

    Dan, great post and something I have also been interested in writing about. I have had some experience with social media for the Red Sox and having worked there this past season, I saw a lot of what went in to their social media accounts. Although the Bucks are a smaller team, I see a lot of similarities to the Red Sox and how they handle their social media. On Instagram especially, the Red Sox account tries to engage their fans in different contests, encouraging them to use hashtags. Additionally, I have noticed that the Sox try to engage with their fans on Twitter, making an effort to reply to those they see fit. Id be interested to learn more about other smaller teams, like Lauren suggested. Great job!

  8. This has been discussed, but sports and social media really do go well together. SM is a great way to get in-game updates, news, and, as you mentioned, to catch up on a game the day after it’s played. Professional sports are businesses after all, and teams that use SM well can better engage with customers (fans). Looks like the Bucks are doing a pretty good job of this…

  9. Nice post Dan. Your love for the team really shines through here, especially since the post is so well organized and thorough. I really like the point that you make about the Bucks not necessarily being the best team, but they are the fans team. Social media provides an outlet and a forum for fans to express themselves, their frustration, and their loyalty to the team. As a few others have commented here, social media is a great way for different sports teams and individual athletes to engage their fan base. Thanks for sharing!

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