Monday, January 12, 2009

Uncase Study: The Boston Red Sox

The Premise

I recently spotted a blog post from Kipp Bodnar, who has a series of "Uncase Studies" about deconstructing a brand and generating ideas about how the brand could leverage social media. Before you roll your eyes on the nature of this post showing up here, I thought it would be appropriate to use the BP crew to start a brainstorm for four reasons:
  1. Many of us are involved in social media for a living. What better way than to combine passions and interests with love for the Sawx.
  2. Jim, Bryan and I met with a contact in Dallas in October at a business conference. He is trying to start a business based on extending sports fans' passion with technology during games and has some cool ideas. We had a great brainstorming dinner over some serious BBQ, but that's another story.
  3. The folks who are not involved in social media here can be a sounding board and keep us grounded.
  4. Many of us already live out some of the enjoyment for the Red Sox on various media platforms. I've had conversations with more than one of you about "Wouldn't it be great if..." Let's capture that. Who knows who is reading or who will have access to talk to the folks at Fenway - we can use this to make it count.
Background

The Boston Red Sox are one of the most well known brands in baseball. There are already substantial Sox-related blogs, communities, forums (my fave is SOSH by the way) and other programs out there to galvanize the masses, however a majority if not all are fan-initiated. On the flip side, MLB controls most if not all of the digital assets for redsox.com in a federated model. To change redsox.com (at least, technology-wise) you have to go through the mlb.com folks in New York, although I believe they have some flexibility as federated publishers.

The Question(s)
  • How can the Boston Red Sox leverage and sponsor social media initiatives?
  • Should the Red Sox front office bother investing in new social media programs, or does the fan base 'have it covered'?
  • How would you handle the challenges between branding, revenue, and digital asset control between the Red Sox and MLB?
Have at it gents - I have some ideas but wanted to get this out there to percolate...Open to suggestions on how we package it up too.

5 comments:

Jim Storer said...

Great topic Adam and one I've been thinking about for a while. I wrote a post over a year ago (link to follow since I haven't finished cross-posting my historical posts from my days in the hive) about how NASCAR was completely outpacing (pardon the pun) the other major sports with the way they were catering to the fans. I also had a great conversation with Shannon Paul with the Red Wings organization a couple months ago, which only got me thinking about this again.

So back to your question(s)... I'm going to focus on "access" in my response. IMHO, fans would love to have greater access to the Sox, whether it's players, former players, coaching staff, and/or Fenway Park. I'd create a series of "programs" that happen on a regular schedule and live on the web (vs NESN). A few of the low hanging fruit.

1. SoxChat: Host a monthly (weekly in season?) chat with one a player/coach/management/former player that gives fans the opportunity to ask questions and get answers. Imagine a session in May with Theo, giving fans a blow-by-blow, behind-the-scenes take on the hot stove, with the opportunity to ask questions.
2. Clubhouse Cam: Give fans an opportunity to interview their favorite players and air the interviews as part of a regular series. The combo of an actual fan interviewing the players/coaches should result in much more interesting conversations than you'd get with professional talent (no disrespect of course).
3. Dirtdog Diaries: Have players write (or recite and have someone else write) regular blog posts on redsox.com. Players could commit to 2-3x/year and you'd have enough content/posts for the entire season. Use 38pitches as the model (I'm still blown away by the public exchange between Schilling and Millar on this blog).

So this is answer "how" they could do it, but more important is "why" they would/should do it. They already have two gazillion people on the season ticket waiting list and while MLB doesn't release merchandise sales figures, I've got to imagine the Red Sox are near the top. So why?

I'm gonna let you guys take that one up and I'll comment later (taking Adam's lead).

Bryan Person said...

Adam:

Great post, and about time someone raised it here on Big Pap.

FanChatter.com
Marty Wetherall from FanChatter.com is the guy from Minnesota we had a brainstorming dinner with (yes, that was an interesting evening - here's a photo: http://budurl.com/MeatPhoto). We should include him in our pitch to the Red Sox.

Islanders Blog Box
Here's a model to think about:
* The New York Islanders run a program called the Islanders Blog Box (see David Meerman Scott's post about it from last summer: http://budurl.com/IslandersBlogBox), where about a dozen bloggers are given press credentials to several games per year). I know the Fenway press box is crowded, but maybe for an occasional mid-week game against a lousy team, like the Kansas City Royals?

Connect with Boston.com?
Or what if we went another route? What if we tried to raise visibility for our efforts with a mainstream media outlet, like Boston.com They're certainly experimenting a lot with liveblogging (including using CoverItLive during games and allowing readers to join in).

As an example, we could point to what the Austin Statesman did during UT football games this year. It aggregated all #UT tweets and sprinkled in posts from their sports writers and editors on this page: http://www.statesman.com/sports/content/sports/longhorns/twitter_bevobeat.html

I recently friended Boston.com's Chad Finn on Facebook, so I might raise this topic with him there to see where it goes.

Would like to see this discussion continue!

@BryanPerson

FanChatter said...

You guys are awesome, and so was that Dallas BBQ. I'm once again amazed by the power of social media. (I only wish I would motivate and blog more, or even tweet more. More good stuff would happen I'm sure.)

I always rave about how well organized the #redsox fans are on Twitter, and when you factor in the Red Sox Nation of blogs, to your point, you all are doing a very good job of covering yourselves.

MLB has a tight grip on every team's online offering. That's why the gallery resulting from our Scoreboard Photo Sharing feature with the Twins (http://twins.fanchatter.com) doesn't live on the Twins' site.

And since your Sox are sold out until forever it makes sense to target other channels that may be more motivated, like NESN or Boston.com.

FanChatter has some great ideas in the works for our as yet unscheduled, unfunded .com redesign, and when it's finished it will be something teams can use to aggregate and amplify real-time fan sentiment. Bryan, much like the Austin Statesman idea but (we think) better.

And of course, Scoreboard Photo Sharing would look great on the screen at Fenway!

Jim, what you wrote reminds me of the "Sports Fan Reality TV Show" I did with my buddy from 2003-2005. It was all about real fans interviewing the players and coaches and sharing our unpolished, unfiltered feelings and ideas. Check out http://theshowtobe.com for a time capsule of what were doing (and note how KG was one of our biggest fans).

Then when I saw Fitzy at townienews.com I thought, this guy takes it to another level! But he's pretty well connected and it would be nice to give more fans the chance to be themselves with the Sox, Pats, Celts, etc. using more of the tools that social media provides.

DM Scott's Islanders example is very cool, but I think microblogging offers the potential to involve more fans more of the time.

So let's keep this conversation going. And thanks for bringing up FanChatter on the Big Pap!

Much love to the chowds. Talk soon...

Marty
@fanchatter

adamcohen said...

Sorry it's taken awhile too but wanted to put some thoughts out there.

First, to Jim's question on "Why?" It's true the Sox have a bazillion fans and they have to be near the top for merchandise sales. Two World Series wins in the last 5 years helps a lot. Two reasons for the Sox to expand: 1) It's still good for business and 2) Responsiveness to crises.

The good for business part - merchandise sales, advertising opportunties, etc have to be good, but there is always room for improvement. I am guessing there is some impact from the economy, evidenced by a lack of raising ticket prices this year. More connected fans will generate more revenue, and give people ways to interact directly with the organization outside of ticket sales and the usual.

Responding to crises is more and more key. I loved it when John Henry was on SOSH during the A-Rod trade speculation days. While it can be risky and needs to be managed, I think the Sox can do a lot more than hide in a gorilla suit when a crisis comes up, and they can avoid the "anonymous source" stuff to manage when fans rebel. The virtual waiting rooms for tickets were a cluster this year. I understand the biz of baseball prevents too much being revealed to jeopardize negotiations, but much could be improved with sharing of information (interviews, blogs, twitter, etc) from the organization.

More to come on ideas for "how" soon, but man, wouldn't you love a @shannonpaul counterpart for the Red Sox organization?

FanChatter said...

Glad to see this thread come alive again...

I've just returned home from the National Sports Forum in Phoenix where I gained a ton of insight into how sports teams are looking to use (or not use) social media. It's not unlike other industries -- they're beginning to appreciate its power and they see it as something to leverage but there's uncertainty about how along with the usual amount of skepticism/fear.

More and more teams are hiring people like @shannonpaul as well, including most notably @PhoenixSunsGirl.

I also have a contact with the Red Sox and I mentioned this thread to her (though I haven't forwarded it yet). She was quick to cite the team's Red Sox Nation network of "Governors" and all the blogging they're doing, so from the organization's standpoint I think they feel like they're already opening up more than most.

Other teams (like the Colts and Cavs) have full scale social networks, but I wonder whether that's as compelling for the fan as organizing where they already are via Facebook groups, Twitter, etc. But the teams like them as a platform for centralizing content, identifying and rewarding fans, and especially data mining.

RE: the Sox, I could reach out to my contact about setting a meeting but I imagine you chowds may know some people on the inside as well. In any event, let's keep the conversation going...

Marty
@fanchatter