Q: Can Minor League Teams Build Social Media Followings?
Recently, Sports Networker reader Todd E. Jones wrote in with a great question. He asked, “Do you think it is possible to use social media to build or grow a fan base for a minor league sports team? A few hundred or even a couple thousand fans on Facebook is good, but if a team needs several thousands, is it possible?” Todd brings up a good point. We talk a lot about how established sports organizations (leagues and teams) and players, with large and passionate fan bases, can utilize and capitalize on social media. But what about teams and players in the minor leagues?
Current Success in Minor League Baseball
According to an article by Josh Leventhal on BaseballAmerica.com, “social media have become the perfomance-enhancers of teams’ marketing campaigns, except instead of being frowned upon, social networking is becoming accepted as the best and fastest way to get a message to your fans.” Leventhal continues, “Direct mailing campaigns are being replaced by Facebook and Twitter pages, where fans can actually interact with the team. Streaming video gives fans more access than a basic Website or message board ever did.”
Matt DeMargel, who markets the Durham Bulls (AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays), says that while using Twitter, Facebook, and (now) Ustream hasn’t yet resulted in a direct monetary profit, the team is seeing some great results. The Bulls have nearly 2,000 Twitter Followers, and over 4,000 Facebook fans. They are utilizing social media to inform and gain followers, and enhance the experience for their fans. For the Bulls, it’s about building a community now, and hopefully monetizing down the line.
How The NBA D-League Has Benefited
One minor league that has done a great job is the National Basketball Association’s Development League. Granted, the NBA has been a social media powerhouse, but they are finding ways to make their minor league relevant. On Twitter, the D-League has 146,981 followers. On Facebook, they have 87,762 fans.
The D-League has 17 teams. Each of them has a Twitter account, and most have Facebook fan pages. Of the 17 teams on Twitter, 6 have more than 1,000 followers. And of the teams on Facebook, two have more than 1,000 fans (Reno Bighorns – 2,397 and Maine Red Claws – 4,296). Through consistent updates to fans, interaction, and campaigns, these minor league teams have found ways to engage current fans and earn new ones.
Getting Back to the Question
Todd asked, “Is it possible to build or grow a fan base for a minor league sports team?” The answer is yes! Obviously, the minor leagues, their teams, and players are all at a disadvantage (compared to the major leagues) because of their underwhelming existing fan bases. However, think about it this way: compared to the “Average Joe,” they have a massive head start!
While the fan base for your typical minor league team is probably low, you would assume that these teams have thousands, if not tens of thousands of built-in fans. In 2009, the Lake Elsinore Storm of the Class A Advanced California League received a season-long attendance of over 235,000 people (throughout 68 games). That means, they averaged nearly 3,500 fans per game! I have zero clue what the Storm are doing in terms of social media, but do you see the potential there? Here’s a thought: Set up a couple of computers throughout the stadium, and have people sign up to become fans or followers of the team, in exchange for free tickets to a future game!
Social media doesn’t cost a dime, but for a minor league team (in any sport), it can be a tremendous asset. For players, it’s a bit harder, since they have a hard time attaining visibility. However, in a world where a wine guy can generate 850,000 followers on Twitter, a professional-caliber athlete should have no trouble gaining a following should he (or she) put his (or her) mind to it.
The bottom line is that every brand (league, team, or player) has a story to tell. And social media gives all of us that ability to tell our own stories. Between the built-in fan bases, the talented athletes, and the exciting stories, there is no doubt in my mind that minor leagues, teams, and players all have a great opportunity to build sizable social media followings.
How have you seen minor leagues, teams, and players utilizing social media? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve said in this post? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section!
If you want to keep better tabs on teams, players and employees in minor league sports, I've compiled a few lists on Twitter (and have followed each and every official team page I know of on Facebook). The most comprehensive one is of Minor League Baseball. I'd love to hear your input on both the list and the tweeters on it. If I'm missing anyone, please let me know!
In regards to the teams utilizing social media best, most of my experience has been through Twitter. The Trenton Thunder (@TrentonThunder) is probably the most interactive of the baseball teams, and the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL (@griffinshockey) is the best hockey team to chat with.
Nick, thanks for the comment. You've put together a great resource! I don't think we pay nearly enough attention to the minor leagues, which is part of the reason I put this article together. It wasn't so much to talk about who specifically is doing a good job, but more of an awareness article for sports fans, which I hope will be able to help some minor league teams with their marketing efforts in the future.
Chattanooga FC has averaged around 2k fans for a NPSL (Amateur) soccer league. They pounded the pavement old school, but also have been extremely active using social media. Compared to the rest of the NPSL teams, they dominate in terms of attendance.
The main drawback for many minor league teams is the lack of resources, mainly time. The counterargument to that is 'well, social media is really worth it, you should make time' but the fact of the matter is, it's extremely hard sometimes.
The teams who take a chance on it and focus efforts towards the cause reap benefits, but most teams will not cut someone selling season tickets or sponsorships in lieu of something to 'do' social media, especially with the lack of understanding in many minor league franchises.
Ryan, you make a great point. That's something I didn't address in my article, but a lack of resources is definitely an issue. Ideally, there are social media savvy people in every organization who are willing to put in the effort after hours, but I completely understand your argument. Just not a priority for a lot of teams right now.
Social networking would be great for minor league clubs. It would add to the “local” conversation and branding for them. I believe it has the potential to continue buzz in the off season, which is something these organizations would need. This is because most are located in small-market cities.
Well, since I am the inspiration, and since Lewis asked, I will throw in my two cents. I have run a website covering semi-pro football in Dallas-Fort worth (http://www.dfwfootball.net) and am now working with the Arkansas Diamonds indoor football team. I have seen some strides since working for about a week on their web and social media efforts.
The biggest challenge is for the teams who are not a part a farm system and do not have the organizational resources of a professional team because they may not think they have the money to invest in this medium. I think that social media is an awesome way to build your brand locally and a fan base too. Several teams do a good job at this level, and one team in which I have begun a social media friendship is the Austin Turfctats (@austinturfcats). We had a “twitter war” of words going on before our recent game and it was an example of how teams could generate buzz for a game.
I have compiled a list on twitter of the non-NFL football teams to follow although I am sure I have missed some teams. You can see it here http://twitter.com/tejones/semi-pro-football and feel free to follow the list or make recommendations.
By the way, the women's football teams are engaging in social media really well.
Thanks Sam and Lewis for the post!
Interesting piece Sam and the arguments in favour of minor league teams using social media to increase their visibility are compelling.
Like Ryan above however, it really is a question of time. In the UK their are a few amateur soccer sides who have a presence on Facebook and Twitter but their pages are usually updated by volunteers giving up their spare time. The updates are irregular and cater for existing fans of the teams. It would be too much work to go out looking to attract new fans.
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