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The Sports Industry Obsession with Meaningless Numbers

This is a guest post from Max Wendkos.

This past Sunday, the Atlanta Braves hosted “#BravesBash” – a broad social media effort in which players and team executives interacted with fans on a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Skype. Kudos to the Braves; this was a great idea and it was executed very well.

According to a Braves press release, over 13,000 fans tuned into the team’s live streaming Facebook broadcast, over 2,200 fans took place in a conference call with Braves players, and Braves players made and received over 100 Skype calls. And check this – the Braves gained over 16,500 Facebook “likes” and 3,000 Twitter “followers,” and the team believes that the #BravesBash hashtag reached 438,993 people!

Sweet, right? Well, maybe, but we really don’t know yet. Those new likes and followers didn’t accomplish the Braves’ business objectives (namely, making money); they just established a larger potential audience for the team’s future social media initiatives. And that total reach number? Well, it was calculated by multiplying each participant’s number of tweets by his numbers of followers and then adding up all of the products. (In case you don’t see it, this methodology is seriously flawed.) So we can’t possibly reach a verdict on #BravesBash until we see how well the Braves follow up and capitalize on this more captive audience.

Facebook “likes” don’t carry nearly as much value as teams would like to believe. Most of a team’s Facebook “fans” only “like” that team so that its page appears on their profiles. The team is part of the identity that they wish to publicly reflect to others and Facebook pages are primarily a mechanism for saying, “Look, I’m a fan of Team X!”

Though Twitter followers are certainly more valuable to a team than Facebook likes (because the teams can consistently push content to these followers), “total followers” is still a deceptive statistic. A team’s true reach for a given Twitter post isn’t equal to its total number of followers; it’s equal to the amount of people who actually see and pay attention to it. Those numbers are very, very different once you account for spam accounts, people who have an account but never log on, people who just aren’t looking when the post is made, and the fact that Twitter posts are competing for attention with all of the other accounts that the teams’ followers follow.

In a recent SportsBusiness Journal article, Bill Sutton asked a series of worthwhile questions:

If 2,387 people “like” you, what does it mean? Why do they like you? How much do they like you? What about the 986 people who don’t like you? Why don’t they like you? What would it take to get them to like you? What was it about the Groupon offer that they liked? Have they come back without an offer, or are they just butterflies looking for the next bright flower? Do we know if there is a place for a “toll booth” to monetize our efforts, and do we know the best location for the toll booth?

While Sutton doesn’t claim to have the answers, his questions should serve as an important reminder to sports franchises. “Likes” and “followers” alone are not indicators of an effective social media presence. While it is true that they serve as the foundation for potential relationships with fans (and more revenue for franchises), the franchises must understand that they don’t carry any value until this potential is fulfilled.

“Likes” and “followers” really aren’t new concepts. They’re just the fancy Web 2.0 way of saying “fans.” And until teams start making money based on their number of fans (as opposed to the number of fans who pay them), those statistics will remain meaningless.

Max Wendkos is the founder of Fanbeat, an early-stage startup aiming to provide sports fans with a social experience that connects them to their favorite teams and other like-minded fans.  He previously worked for MLB Advanced Media, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and the Penn State Athletic Department.  Follow him on Twitter @MaxWendkos.

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4 Responses to The Sports Industry Obsession with Meaningless Numbers

  1. alexgroomy August 24, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    @glenncritchley we have valued our page at £800 per post on media proof’s recommendation. thats based on 1 post per day. #dodgy! 🙂

  2. glenncritchley August 24, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    @alexgroomy What is the methodology behind that?

  3. alexgroomy August 24, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    @glenncritchley not entirely sure. we hit 9,000 impressions av. per post so need to value it somehow. sooner someone nails it the better

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