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!