6 Ways Twitter Helped Build the NFL Brand in Canada

Posted on Mar 12, 2014 by

Social media has revolutionized the way the world looks at marketing, especially the sports world, and Twitter is at its core. Live tweeting major sports games has become nearly as commonplace as the events themselves. Why yell at the TV where only your terrified neighbors can hear you, when you can yell at Twitter where the world can “hear” you, right? Nowhere else in the world can a fan interact digitally with the players, coaches, sportscasters and businesses directly involved with the game(s) they love—and occasionally hate—so much. We at Sports Media Challenge analyzed social media throughout the course of the NFL season on behalf of our client, the NFL in Canada (@NFLCanada). Engagement and a Canadian voice was at the core of our strategy. With that in mind, there are some pretty common themes associated with gaining traction and momentum that may be universal to most (if not all) sports-related social media.

Timing is everything—this doesn’t just apply to your relationships
This concept is basic, but it’s not always applied. It’s not usually difficult to understand that big media events are the primetime for tweeting, so as a supplement to the specific times of competition that you’ll hopefully be live tweeting, staying on top of your latest breaking sports media news is a must. In order to do this, you’ll want the quickest access to said news if you’re not running a news media related account in the first place. Personally, we use The Score app for iPhone. Ever since we’ve switched from ESPN ScoreCenter to that, we find ourselves receiving halftime scores before we’ve even finished the first half of a game. There are also peak times of day for tweeting, as well. Intuitively, these usually fall around lunchtime (we’ve personally perfected the art of holding a sandwich in one hand while scrolling Twitter with our other). According to this specific infographic, traffic is best from 1:00 to 3:00pm and at its worst throughout the night. [1]Twitter times - seth blog For our specific account, the times with the most traffic were 2:00pm, 3:00pm, and 6:00pm, which are likely attributed to the time of games. The infographic to the side can be used as a rule of thumb, but ultimately, your own analysis will determine the most effective times for you, and allow you to cater your tweeting specifically to your fan-base. The following are some apps designed to allow tweets to be scheduled that may be worth checking out:


Grammar Rules Reversed—if “@” starts your tweet, then a period should start it instead
This is extremely simple, but can have the potential to vastly improve your traction as a social media sports marketer. We’ve found that there are many experienced social media marketers who are either unaware of this principle or simply don’t utilize it. However, if your tweet begins with an “@” symbol without a period before it, only the person tagged in the tweet and their mutual followers can see it. This simple mistake kills your reach immediately, reducing potentially thousands of impressions to only one. It’s like choosing a sandwich for lunch just because you didn’t know steak was an option. Subsequently, if you’d like to directly monitor the growth results of social media impressions by switching to this best practice, TweetReach.com is a great tool to use.

Don’t Be a Stranger—being the quiet guy in the corner is for real life, not social mediaistock_000016754124small shy woman
One of the most unique things about Twitter is that it’s not uncommon for professional athletes and their organizations to interact with their fans. From personal experience, just this last year, a good friend dressed up as Joe Kelly (the break-out Cardinals’ rookie pitcher) for Halloween. Of course, he had to document it, via Twitter, and when you can, why not tag the athlete in it? So he did. Needless to say, Joe Kelly “favorited” his tweet, and what followed was a bit of fan-girling so extreme, a 13-year-old on a blind date with Bieber would have been caught off guard.

(http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/fangirling-gif – via Tumblr #fangirling gif.)

It is the inclusive nature of Twitter that makes it so appealing. Your fans already see you, Twitter gives them the opportunity to hear you.

#Strategically #Hashtag
Twitter makes it possible to literally communicate with the entire world, but just like getting creative with your resume in order to stand out in a pool of job applicants, you’ve got to figure out how to effectively stand out in an even bigger pool of tweets (and if we’re talking swimming pools, then this a planet sized one… literally) What makes Twitter different, though, is that you don’t necessarily want to stand out by #UsingAHashtagLikeThisOneNobodyWillSearch. Recently, Twitter Data explored components that triggered fan engagement in sports. Hashtags were second on the list for improving the chance of a retweet by a whopping 37%. By the way hashtags weren’t nearly as important engagement triggers outside of sports. So when you post that sports related tweet, take a second and think of a creative hashtag. Bottom line, the key is to optimize not only the 140 characters you’re given with great content, but to also optimize the relevance of any hashtags you may use in your tweet. Here are 3 popular tools to help you do that:


Avoid Being Redundant, being redundant, being redundant, being redun…
Just imagine a world where the SportsCenter Top 10 Plays only changed once every month. Is that really a world you want to live in? Watching Blake Griffin posterize Chris Humphries every single day for a month in the SportsCenter number one spot is like eating cake for every meal for weeks on end: from mouth-watering to miserable in only a matter of a few meals. See, just try it. Watch this 38 times in a row without getting too bored.

(GIF: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/832585500.gif) via Washington Post

Now let’s apply this same concept to your Twitter timeline. Take a look at what you’ve done, like a scolded child, and objectively ask yourself, “Would I want to follow me?” If the sports portion of your timeline is a mixture of “Wow! What a play!” and a few “Lol! Can’t believe he made that catch,” peppered with a couple Milwaukee Bucks basketball retweets, the unfortunate answer to that question is probably no.

Laughter is the Best Medicine—if @CommonSquirrel can do it, so can we
This directly follows my previous statement to not be redundant, and that is no accident. One of the easiest ways to break up the redundancy is to never neglect humor. There is literally an account called @CommonSquirrel with over 100,000 followers: and this is what it tweets.Common Squirrel - seth blog If @CommonSquirrel can do it, so can sports marketers. Laughter ages much less quickly than strictly-business-related or nonsensical Twitter content does. There are many accounts that are sports-related that are dedicated to nothing but making people laugh, which is one of the joys of social media. However, it doesn’t go without note that these specific accounts are some of the most followed accounts on the Twitter platform. Even @EvilMikeTomlin has 63,700+ followers. Now, these accounts aren’t specifically tied to any organization, but the principle that humor works is universal. Don’t neglect that.

Remember, as wide spread as the appeal to sports is, it is world in and of itself. So when building your sports brand strategy, target carefully to this niche audience, because like in sports, competition is a way of life. Make no mistake about it, you must compete fiercely for your fans attention.

For more information on how we can help you build your brand via social media, contact us at info@sportsmediachallenge.com or reach out via Twitter @KathleenHessert or @BuzzMgr.

Research and humor for this post were provided by our standout intern, Seth McCurley, a MBA candidate at the University of Missouri. Seth loves crunching numbers.

[1] http://socialmediatoday.com/brianna5mith/1453951/best-times-post-social-media-infographic

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BILLS IN TORONTO: The NFL on the ground in Canada.

Posted on Dec 04, 2013 by

NFL fans are everywhere and their ranks continue to swell, in part because of games played on international soil. Though games played in London have received the most attention lately, fans just north of the border have a game of their own. The Bills in Toronto series was played as a home game against the Falcons on Dec. 1, 2013. The Falcons won in overtime by a field goal 34-31
Checkout our infographic  which highlights the Atlanta vs Buffalo match-up and how Canadians access the League’s assets via digital and social platforms the rest of the year.  By the way, the Falcons also beat the Bills on the social media front as well as on the gridiron.
Click Image to view full infographic

Click Image to view full infographic

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The Role of Fan Forums: Sputtering & Almost on Empty

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 by

The use of online for “all things sports” has grown exponentially and even overtaken conventional media in its legacy forms  as the fans’ go-to information source. The growing appetite for sports online, and consolidation of online consumption, added to even greater growth of the use of mobile devices and social media has created a whole new world of information sharing. It would be impossible not to see and acknowledge a major shift in where and how people consume, and share their opinions, passions and sports preferences. Despite their past prominence when wanting to feel the pulse of sports brands and in particular, college sports brands, fan forums have lost their luster.


Increased Social Media use may be the primary reason to the decline in fan forums.


Stats of Significance

Worldwide, Facebook grew from 900 million monthly active users Q1 2012, to 1.11 billion Q1, 2013. Facebook Mobile has 751 million active monthly users. From June 2012 to March 2013. Twitter grew 44% to 288 million monthly active users. Monthly active users increased 94% in the United States. According to Neilson, YouTube reaches more US adults, ages 18-34, than any cable network. Instagram has grown from 80 million active users in July 2013 to 100 million users in February of this year.

The growing trend of platforms celebrating the use of photos and video also, in our opinion, adds to the decline in value of forum discussions where the visual is an add-on as opposed to the draw. More fundamentally, forum discussions remain contained in relatively small bubbles and authors remain largely anonymous.  Whereas in social media, the sports fan’s canvas is as large (worldwide) as they wish. The fundamental transparency of social media also enables everyday fans with strong and sometimes well-informed opinions to become influential rock stars of once unimaginable magnitude. Everyday fans who can artfully turn a phrase in 140 characters, send a passionate digital sticker, a poignant Instagram photo or 6 second Vine video can, and is regularly quoted in the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal or on the front page of USAToday and SportsCenter lineup.

So the question becomes, as brands continue to seek vital business intelligence about their fans, prospective fans, critics

Are Fan Forums Still Relevant?

Are fan forums still relevant for business insight? Or are they just a bunch of characters?

and competitors, do fan forums count? Are forum discussions still major indicators of the pulse of the fan as comments on Deadspin, Bleacher Report and Sports Nation fan the flames of sports passion? Has the isolated nature of closed, subscription-based forums significantly affected their traffic and relevance for brands  searching the voice of the fan? In the college market in particular, fan forums used to be the preeminent water cooler for spirited conversations about our favorite teams, players, and  issues associated with sports. However, those traditional niche communities seem to be going the way of the 32 cent postage stamp. Where do fan forums fall as the volume of sports discussion grows and opinion is amplified and shared like a tsunami swallowing up the coastline?

The Sports Media Challenge |BuzzMgr™ team took a deep dive into discussion regarding some of our client brands *All results were based on a slice of overall online word of mouth and exposure monitored and aligned with specific brand related searches. The results were telling.

The use of forums as discussion vehicles for one major unnamed  client and related, monitored issues decreased significantly over the last year.  And the decline of forum discussions went in the exact opposite direction of social media discussion. In our opinion, it’s fair to say, that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. have drawn the more pedestrian fans away from posting in forums, leaving a small minority of fans to use forums as their primary platform for discussing their favored university athletic program, rivals and issues of the day.

 Forum Posts vs. All Conversation:

In one case, last year, the volume of forum posts relative to total conversation monitored decreased by 47.7%. Since college football is king on forum discussion threads, the offseason could have significantly  contributed to the decrease, but it couldn’t have been the primary reason for such a dramatic drop off.

Fan forums simply aren’t nearly as influential as they once were. Social media networks, news articles and blogs, drive more of the online conversation. Forums are still important to keep an eye on and ear to periodically but I personally wouldn’t make any significant brand decisions based on the way the wind (or hot air) blows there.  Give us your thoughts please. Do you or your fellow fans spend much or any time in forums or have you gone elsewhere?


Images courtesy of graphicsfuel.com &  footballforum.com

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Posted on Aug 09, 2013 by

Whether man or woman, when you first realize that  your hair is thinning,  there’s a sense of panic. ” I need that hair!”. Then you run to the store for hair products that promise to thicken every precious strand and root boost products to make what you do have, stand up a little straighter. All it is, is an attempt to rearrange and camouflage the truth. Nobody’s scalp looks particularly good, and more visibility is not better. You’re probably thinking about now that I’ve lost it, but stick with me, and I promise I’ll connect the dots.Don't-Lose-Hair-Or-MarketShare Last week, a long time client of ours took the jump from just lurking and measuring what we monitor on social media on their behalf, to engaging in a big way.  “Kathleen,  it’s not just counting the people, but  getting the people that count”. “Alleluia!” So The challenge begins, expand their meager and very loosely connected  fan base  into a true community of advocates prone to generously share their passion about the sport and ultimately enrich the brand- not for a short lived campaign, but for the long run. The easy approach is give their fan base a dose of what my hairdresser calls a special cocktail of  “root boost” and hair thickener. For the casual viewer, that could camouflage what is little more than a scalp trying to look like a full head of hair. BEST PRACTICES BEGIN, NOT END WITH LISTENING However, we start engaging fans in an authentic manner by following best practices: first find, then listen, engage and only then lead them toward fanatic devotion to the brand. The intent is to galvanize a community of fans that will use social and digital media as consistently and passionately as a minister preaches from his bully pulpit, then take that passion offline


Actively engage your brand’s advocates.

to influence even more people. Then the cycle begins all over again. We’re not looking for the typical celebrity influencer, but for everyday influencers who hold court with their peers   and lead them to act in ways no brand is capable of achieving on its own. A little root boost? We could buy a mass of twitter followers that would make the client’s bosses think the job is done. Remarkably enough, people still buy followers and friends as comfortably as Tiger finished out his round at 15 under at theWGC Bridgestone Invitational, Jimmie Johnson is seemingly cruising to his 6th Sprint Cup Championship or Bama clobbered my beloved Irish in last season’s National Championship. We would NEVER buy fans/followers because they aren’t real. They don’t care or engage in the long run. VANITY METRICS Thickener? That’s the equivalent of just broadcasting via social without listening to the fans you’re drooling over. But what the heck, the posts you create internally and hope to trigger some form of engagement with does create evidence of more so called conversation. Your post count goes up. But in the offline world, would you call a one-way “blah, blah, blah”, a real conversation? Doesn’t that require at least two people to participate? In the words of the authors of Lean Analytics, they create nothing more than “vanity metrics; numbers that make you feel good, but seriously mislead”.


Make sure your Digital Street Team members are as passionate as you are.

DIGITAL STREET TEAMS HAVE CAPABILITY TO IGNITE YOUR FAN BASE I’m truly excited about moving this client from listening to real engaging and ultimately leading the brand to a new level of fan affinity. Instead of just being the hundred pound gorilla in the marketplace, our client is enlisting real advocates, igniting a digital street team to carry its banner in cyberspace and in stadiums, family rooms, and sport bars across the country. Now that’s fan engagement that deepens the bond with avid fans and helps move casual fans toward a more serious brand advocate! Oh, and if your young enough not to sweat over thinning hair just yet- just wait!

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100K #CollegeFootball Photos: College Conferences Missing Out on Instagram?

Posted on Jun 14, 2013 by

Pictures sell.

The use of and engagement with photos and videos are driving a growing engagement trend in social media in 2013 .Think about all those likes, comments, shares, retweets, and improved engagement with key stakeholders and if all it takes is a photo, what’s stopping brands? Images tell more of the story than simple text does. Visually appealing social media

Smokey Bear Instagram

Even Smokey the Bear Uses Instagram

posts have caught on like wild fire. So much so, Smokey the Bear literally has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

All kidding aside, there is real value for businesses and brands to increase social media content with visual components.

HubSpot recently conducted a study analyzing 8,800 Facebook posts from B2B and B2C companies. Posts with a photo generated 104 percent more comments than a post with just a link or text. Those posts also generated 53 percent more likes than the average post.

To adapt to the growing visual appeal Twitter and Facebook made efforts to incorporate visual components into its platforms which seem to be having significant effects.

Visual Components

  • Facebook rolled out Timeline increasing the size and emphasis on photos.
  • Facebook and Twitter both added cover photos, providing another visual dimension to user profiles.
  • Twitter bought Vine (6 seconds video platform) enabling users to directly integrate the video into a tweet just like Instagram photos used to be.


Because of the fast adoption of the Instagram photo app, Facebook doled out $1 billion to make it it’s own. Instagram reached 100 million followers far faster than either Facebook and Twitter. The photo sharing app also tried something new, allowing users to share photos across multiple platforms. Needless to say, it worked. Many users currently use these platforms in sync.

A study conducted by MarketingLand.com concluded that “Brands shared 98% of their Instagram photos to Facebook, while just 59% of their Instagram photos to Twitter. The difference equates to a 66% more Images heading to Facebook than Twitter.”

So why haven’t some brands taken advantage, especially sports brands where color, pageantry and visceral appeal are baked right in?

First, a little background.

Instagram’s 100 million active users post 40 million photos a day. They generate 8,500 likes per second. PER SECOND. With these staggering numbers, Instagram attracts 59% of the world’s top brands according to SimplyMeasured.com.

Snap Chat

SnapChat has grown on the tails of the same trend. However, “snaps” last only up to 10 seconds, then disappear. According to a recent USA Today article, “150 million ‘snaps’ sent daily around the globe, more than doubled the 60 million daily in February.” According to Snap Chat CEO Evan Spiegel, the service “satisfied a real primal communication need for teens to share something more emotionally engaging than a text message, without the permanence of a staged photo.” He goes on to say “You want to have this place to hang out and be funny.” Some sports leagues and teams are taking full advantage of Instagram and its reach to the casual fan.

Thanks to our Intern Matt Patton with Florida State University Sports Management Masters program for doing this heavy lifting on the following stats.

NBA on Instagram

The NBA’s Official Instagram

Professional Leagues

  • NBA – 1 million followers, 1142 photos
  • NFL – 450K followers, 1,110 photos
  • MLB- 315K followers, 1639 photos

Which leads us to College Conferences, yes I mean you B1G, Pac-12 and SEC.

The ACC and Big East are the only Collegiate Conferences to have official Instagram accounts. Even then, they have minimal followings of 451 and 542 with 102 and 108 photos, respectively.

Then there is the Big 12. The Account that links back to the Conferences’ website is private. Purpose behind a private account? Beats us. This completely misses the mark by not allowing the fans to interact and engage with the brand. With no official Instagram accounts, college conferences are missing opportunities to engage fans who are already using these hash tags:


  • #SEC- 100,318 Photos

    SECFOOTBALL on Instagram

    Instagram search results for SECFOOTBALL

  • #Pac12- 19,472 Photos
  • #BigTen- 13,104 Photos & #B1G- 6,354 Photos
  • #Big12- 14,035 Photos & #BigXII- 1,136 Photos


  • #CollegeFootball- 100,477 Photos
  • #CollegeBasketball- 25,174 Photos
  • #CollegeBaseball- 6,202 Photos

Tops Sports By Conference

  • #SECFootball- 4,219 Photos
  • #SECBaseball- 582 Photos
  • #ACCBasketball- 379 Photos


College Athletics present highly visual experiences on and off the playing field which clearly inspire fans to capture and share. But the Conferences are leaving that passion on the table. College sports teams and conferences already have huge followings that live and breathe to support their brand and although allegiances are clearly with teams over conferences, there’s plenty of room for Conferences to join the parade. And I do mean parade because there’s so much more than the  competition itself. Hardcore or avid fans may hone in on the competition but there are millions of casual fans looking for different experiences to share with friends and family online and off. Why aren’t they high priority targets to fill the fan funnel to replace aging college fan bases?

The ease with which Conferences can capitalize on social media is amazing. Sharing pictures of games, tailgates, mascots, they can reach millions of Instagram users, promote the ideal brand image and capture the coveted attention of Moms who won’t paint their faces but will buy the decal and prominently display it on her child’s cheek.

Difficulties with Instagram

The app is formatted for the most efficient use on a mobile device. According to Businessinsider.com “Instagram (7,302,000) surpassed Twitter (6,868,000) for daily active mobile.” On the website fans can’t look up hash tags or other users. And Instagram doesn’t have verified accounts. It’s almost easier to search Facebook or Twitter to verified accounts, then find linked Instagram profiles through these platforms.

Continuing, often, fan accounts may have more followers than the “Official Leagues/Team” accounts. For example, in searching “Alabama” on Instagram, there was difficulty finding official accounts.

  •  ALABAMAFANS has 7K followers and 92 photos
  •  BAMAATHLETICS has 10K followers and 132 photos
  •  ALABAMAFOOTBALL_ has 8K followers and 138 photos
  •  ALABAMA_FOOTBALL has 3K followers and 70 photos

None of these accounts claim to be official Alabama Athletics accounts. Some are obviously fan operated. In addition, individual team accounts have larger followings than conferences they belong to. For example:

  • FSU- 5911 followers vs. ACC- 615 followers
  • UCONN- 7480 followers vs. Big East- 474 followers

Numbers too easy to ignore? Apparently not.

Activating the Casual Fan

The hundreds of thousands of photos that college conferences can and should be taking advantage of, are listlessly left for others to share and that’s only counting the already engaged fan. Instagram presents a tremendous opportunity to reach casual fans who would otherwise not spend a second thinking about those brands.

Imagine how a casual fan might react to seeing a top picture of the day from a conference sporting event that captures what it’s like to actually be there. Imagine a bold shot of throngs ready to see their teams square off. Or making a Mom a fan for life simply by capturing a player taking a moment to talk to a child or as is the case of USA Football, give parents props for Fathers Day just by sharing a pic of father and son.

Visuals have already made a major impact on how fans view social media and the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. College Conferences need to get on board and connect back.

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