4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 2

I continue to look back on four years and 100 episodes of gleaning knowledge from some of the best and most thoughtful social media and sports pros,, doing my best to sum up key points. It is an attempt to give back to the community that continues to give so much to me. See part 1 here and stay tuned for parts 3 and 4!

  • Brand perception can start on social media and then go beyond; articulate your persona

    In many ways, social media is the front porch of the organization. Where fans most frequently and consistently encounter the team and engage with it. It is, therefore, the place where a personality is perpetuated, a brand is built, and a look and feel is fostered. The power of the platform must be acknowledged and utilized. The best guests I talked to could clearly and thoughtfully describe the voice and the brand behind who they wanted to be on social media. Can you?

  • Make content easy to consume and digest

    Take the time. Take the time to eliminate any effort or friction for your fans, when it comes to content consumption. (Well, everything, really) That may mean using the proper specs for images, not squeezing in text that necessitates a pinch and zoom, not making a 5-minute video that would be better as a 45-second video. Those that take the time to consider this with their content are making it easier for fans to engage.

  • Your players are your brand ambassadors – issuing mini press releases daily

    This came from my conversation with Kevin DeShazo, who is thankfully leading the crusade against social media fear tactics, while espousing the need for us all to realize the power of the platforms, for good and bad. Whether it’s the 10-year veteran in the pros or the freshman hotshot in college, everyday players are representing their team, issuing mini press releases, as DeShazo put it in one response on our podcast. This is not something to fear, but to be harnessed.

  • Focus and foster the good on social, don’t use fear and focus on the bad

    The above very much relates to this concept, as well – the perils of the platforms are vastly outweighed by the good and the value. This idea, in many forms, has come up in my conversations over the years, and oftentimes, like in social media, it comes back to stories and FOMO. Convey to those uneasy about the power of social and win them over with examples – stories of how others are using it (and how you can) and instilling a little FOMO can move the needle in the office, too.

  • Focus on use cases and the path to wins

    If there’s one piece of actionable advice for any social/digital and sports pro to take from many of my podcasts, it’s this one. You want to prove social media is worth caring about and investing in? Show it. Because not everybody ‘gets it,’ and not everybody can believe in metrics and reports that are new to them. Celebrate the small wins, showcase the success stories, and boast and brag when something blows up in a good way.

  • Teams are providing content fans seek

    This seems so simple now. But it wasn’t that long ago that teams were still mostly glorified PR houses. Then the content improved, but in many ways still remained ‘close to the vest’ [and still does in a lot of places]. But a fascinating trend from teams has been them becoming the primary content destinations for fans. Many realized they were losing engaged eyeballs to other sites that were willing to entertain reports and rumors, and content that wouldn’t typically come from a team. Some hired insiders, others aggregated links. It’s one thing to produce awesome content, another to be a resource for fans, too.

  • Novelty doesn’t last long

    Remember when Snapchat revolutionized social media with ‘Stories?’ Or when Meerkat made it so easy to go live on mobile? Ever wonder why it feels like nary a month goes by without a new feature being introduced to your favorite platform or app? Fans expect incremental improvements and newness now. They expect ‘updates’ all the time. It’s no longer good enough to bank on a singular innovation, a culture of progress and improvements and breaking things quickly prevails now more than ever.

  • Capture data to provide value

    Perhaps no field has grown more in social and digital in sports than data and analytics over the last handful of years. All of a sudden it became feasible to collect all sorts of fan data. But the theme that prevails among the best in the business is that data is not just a source for measurement and quarterly charts – it leads to adding value for the fans and for the organization. It’s important to diagram it out and design the path from data to action to value, and not just ‘doing big data’ just to say you are.

  • Start with objectives and reverse-engineer; empower

    It’s always easier to define social media ROI when you ask the question about the factors that comprise the ‘R.’ A major reason a lot of the pros I spoke with have success in their roles – they talk to their colleagues. They determine the objectives of every department in the organization, they learn what others value, so they can use the social and digital tools at their disposal to help and create and drive that value. Particularly in the college space, where there are several teams and hands in the social media cookie jar, along with coaches that each their idea of objectives, it’s just as important to empower others, teaching them to use the tools.

  • Value the deep connections and engagement

    Engagement as a catch-all terms has always given me pause. There are so many varying degrees of engagement that it all can’t be captured with just a single word. But it’s easy to recognize a deeper connection with a fan when it happens. Something you know will stick with them and become a part of their identity. Chasing the deep engagements can be just as valuable, if not more so, than trying to maximize that nebulous engagement rate. Cultivate super fans with deep engagements.

  • Social has led to more thirst for content and information, led to 365 nature of sports

    I’ve had the chance to speak with folks in the media about how social media crept up on them and then vastly changed and amplified the way media and content producers live and work. When it became easy to get the score, fans wanted stats and play by play and audio. Then headlines came with a click, so fans wanted to know the rumors and the instant reactions and analysis. Then that came about, so fans wanted video and even more details into the dealings of the day and the lives of athletes. If it feels like pro sports are all relevant 365 days/year, that’s because they are. The content firehose of social media has made it such, because fans always want more.

  • Not every team has the same goal

    Ask three social media managers for sports teams for the list of goals on social media and there’s a good chance each will be different. It should be. The teams that turn the lights on and fill out a stadium or arena have far different needs than the team constantly under pressure to put more butts in seats. It’s so important to realize that, and to operate and learn and emulate appropriately. The key is to appreciate and understand the objectives and to realize that, as one’s career or the team’s status quo grows, the goals will change, too.

  • It’s hard to get an increase from ‘free’ when it comes to sponsored social

    It’s really not that long ago when social media sponsorship meant deals that included ‘x’ number of Facebook posts (yes, that generic) over the course of the contract. Social media was, and for some still is, a throw-in. The icing on the cake for a partner already paying plenty for more traditional inventory. Well, a common theme and lesson is that it’s easy to dilute the value of social media when one treats it as more a bonus than an asset.

  • Leverage social and UGC to amplify the team’s own brand

    Creating a brand is not just coming up with a catchy slogan and hashtag. It all doesn’t amount to much unless the fans get it and if the fans propagate it. That’s a big reason why user-generated content is so integral. Fans trust real fans, and are affected by them, so much more than brands and the official team account (though that is evolving, too). When you can drive a fan to participate, to proselytize, and to perpetuate, that’s a brand being built.

  • Twitter is a snapshot, not the entire universe

    While it’s so cool to be able to hear from fans, it’s important to realize that the social media sentiment on each and every platform is a subset and a small sample. That doesn’t make it insignificant or not insightful, it just means, you have to remind yourself, that is only a fraction of the whole. Small things can seem like a big deal, generalizations can be made from a couple tweets. It’s important to find the balance of following what active fans are saying and doing on social media, and studying the fan base as a whole on all platforms with which they connect, engage with, and encounter the team or the story or the brand.

Social media gives everyone their own distribution channel

This thought has obviously come to the forefront over the last few years, in which players and teams and bloggers and personalities have been able to disseminate their content and messages seamlessly, to a worldwide audience. It means there is a lot of incredible content being produced, it also means there is a lot of “absolute shit” content (as Richard Deitsch put it in our chat) being produced, as well. While the crowd is bigger, the best still stand out. Standing out with quality content is a necessity, even as it becomes more difficult every day.

Episode 100 Snippets: How Garrett Downing Develops Content Fans Want

On episode 100 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Garrett Downing, Social Media Manager and Digital Host for the Baltimore Ravens.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 1

A labor of love. Building connections. Learning from the best. It has been four incredible years of the doing the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, now up to 100 episodes and counting. It’s hard to put into words the gratitude I have for those willing to speak to me. My goal has always been simply to learn, to have great conversations, and to hopefully help share the insights and lessons with others.

This is part 1 of the lessons and insights that stuck with me over the years of doing the podcast and chatting with some of the most talented people in digital and social media and sports. [Listen to podcast episodes here].

  • Social media ROI goes beyond numbers 

    Social media is the most consistent, authentic way to reach and hear from fans. There is great ROI just from gleaning the insights of listening and of conversations that can inform and improve all aspects of the organization. There is true value there when it’s harnessed and communicated well.

  • Interaction in any form is the name of the game 

    Ever had a celebrity or star athlete or team ‘like’ your post on Instagram or Twitter. Ever felt the rush of having a star you look up to reply directly to you? The smallest engagements and interactions can increase a fan’s avidity from surface-level to emotionally transcendent. And it can happen with a single click.

  • Re-allocate resources based on goals 

    Social media didn’t really exist 20 years ago. For decades, teams had established departments, responsibilities, budgets, and manpower. Then social came along and teams either resisted or adapted. But then some started to realize that what used to feel like obligations years ago weren’t the best use of their resources today. Changing times means evaluating whether your allocation of resources is best suited to get bag for the buck, given how things are today. Fight inertia.

  • Build brand ambassadors – superfans 

    Not all fans are created equally. There are a select few that, while not employed by the team, might as well be. They’re always talking about the team, talking them up, suggesting others go to the game or watch the game. The more super fans you can build, through engagement and empowerment, the biggest your base of brand ambassadors can become. Focus on fangelists and you’ll have voluntary marketers all over talking up your product. And they’re not on the payroll.

  • Collaborate with data folks 

    We all now realize that data can improve decision-making, processes, and outcomes in just about every aspect of the organization (from player performance to your most recent post on social). But it’s not easy. The key is to be willing and ready to welcome those that do analyze the data and be willing to listen, even if it’s not what you expected or wanted to hear. Data don’t lie.

  • Make the team cool 

    This is a goal that was true four years ago and remains true today – you want to build a brand that fans want to be associated with. That fans want to be proud of. You want to be cool. It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to actually execute. Being cool means having confidence, not attacking others, associating with other cool people and things, and creating stuff that fans would describe as ‘cool.’ Then, fans will want to come hang out with you more often!

  • Earn the right to market to fans 

    This sage statement came from James Royer, who now oversees digital and social for the Kansas City Chiefs. Social media is not a marketing channel. It can serve marketing goals, but fans don’t follow you or come to you to be marketed to. That right must be earned by winning trust. Give fans content they want, first and foremost, and don’t undermine the value of their attention with blatant marketing messages. Fans know how to buy and that’s not the first thing on their mind when they’re flicking through your feed.

  • Embed social throughout the organization 

    Remember, it’s not about being good at social media. It’s about being good at business and using social to help do that. Look at every department of the organization, enumerate their goals, and figure out how social media can effectively help serve those goals. Fan development, sales, service, sponsorship, CR, game operations, PR, marketing, and the list goes on. Social isn’t a tactic, it’s a new way of doing business.

  • Partnership = all parties win 

    The word partnership often gets used interchangeably with sponsorship. But there are clear differences. A sports partnership is one in which everybody benefits – the team/organization and their fans, along with the partner. If an activation doesn’t satisfy these criteria, then reevaluate it and adjust it until it does. That’s how you can pile up partnership wins.

  • ROO is just as important as ROI 

    We always focus so much on ROI, return on investment, and not enough on ROO, return on objective. These are two distinct things, yet are often treated as one in the same. It’s not always a tangible, set number and equation. Focus on the ‘goal’ of the partner or the campaign and how you can help accomplish that objective. We are getting increasingly better at quantifying, well, just about everything, but the important thing to be cognizant of is that an objective is not just a number.

  • Identify ownable elements and assets 

    It used to be easier with sports sponsorships. You have so many billboards and media timeouts to fill. But now social has forced us to kind of blow up the rate card. But old habits die hard and most brands and salesmen find it understandably difficult to go out and ‘sell social.’ But there are content and activities taking place every day in sports. The key is to identify and enumerate these things. Then you’ll have something for a salesman to sell and for a sponsor to eye.

  • Go beyond the score 

    It’s always funny to see a score go final or an injury get announced and tons and tons of social media feeds all echo the same news. Information is more accessible than ever, but more transient and diluted in value than ever. The trick for a sports media is to go beyond just the information and give something more – context, fun content, multimedia. It’s so much more than just the stats and scores.

  • Dominate a couple places > stretching thinly everywhere 

    It’s hard for teams and media not to want to chase every channel. The more eyeballs the better, right? The answer is not so black and white. It’s certainly not the case if it means more eyeballs on substandard content. One is better off being known as great or the best on a couple platforms than being seen everywhere, reeking of mediocrity. It sound logical enough, but many still find it hard to resist the siren call of being, well, everywhere.

  • The goal is not to turn every fan into a STHer 

    We know season ticket holders are the most valuable fan to a brand, in the most basic sense. But it’s simply not feasible for every fan, for every sales lead to become a season ticket holder, whether for lack of time, money, or imply being located too far away. It sounds simple, but too often the sales process and sales spectrum still aspires to turn that single game buyer into a season ticket holder. Focus on the optimal outcome for each fan and each lead, informed by data, and not some arbitrary goal that is not appropriate for all.

  • Fan data goes beyond that tied to sales and numbers 

    We’re deluged with data, and that’s a beautiful thing. But that just means the non-quantifiable “fan data” is more valuable than ever. It’s great to know that a fan went to ‘x’ games last month and usually buys beer at every game. But how about knowing their kid is about start playing soccer at college next year or their wife is allergic to gluten? It’s the type of “data” we take for granted in every day relationship with friends and family that can vastly enhance the relationship of fans with the team (and their account reps).

  • Tech as a differentiator and revenue producer – more screens, more integrated techWe’re in the midst of an arms race when it comes to stadium and arenas – more and faster WiFi, more screens, and more apps. A key factor is to consider how tech CAN differentiate your experience from the alternatives, how it can make your team stand out for the better. The difficult maze continues when it comes to not making investments in tech in a silo – make it integrated into more aspects of the fan experience, to add value. More integrated screens and tech can optimize sponsor activations, as well – more extensive and effective takeover, a greater ability to enhance the fan experience, and the chance to reach more eyeballs and leave an effect on fans.
  • Social holds the keys to what fans want the most, it has the most consistent eyeballs – monetize it 

    The revenue pie hasn’t changed as dramatically as the fan attention pie has. But the ones trying to stay ahead are paying attention to this shifting paradigm more and figuring out how to effectively monetize. This was an early insight four years ago and one that is more acknowledged, if not fully realized today.

  • Promoting promotions in an engaging way 

    Marketing/promotional messages and engaging, quality content for fans do not have to be mutually exclusive. All those content:marketing ratios can be thrown out the window when content exists to get fans excited about the players, the teams ,and the games.

  • Understand the platform audience and the culture, across the world 

    It’s easy to click once and cross-post on all social media channels all over the world. But it’s naive to think these audiences are all the same, consume content the same, way, and even get excited about the same memes. The stories and messages can remain consistent, but it’s not just important, but more effective to post the way fans on the platform want to consume the content and how they speak to each other. These principles remain important as teams expand their social media to foreign audiences on Sina Weibo and WeChat.

  • You can crush it between 7pm-2am if you want it bad enough 

    Gosh, this sentiment and line from my chat with Peter Robert Casey (which he was relaying) has stuck with me. While it’s tempting to binge on Netflix and sit back and relax each night, there is nothing stopping you from working toward a passion and a dream.Stay tuned for more parts of lessons I learned in four years of doing the podcast!

    Listen to podcast episodes here.

The World Surf League’s On-Site Partner Activations Add to the Fan Experience

Describe the ideal sports sponsorship activation.

It adds to the fan experience in some way and leaves them feeling positive about the team/league and the brand. It effectively activates the brand, so the message and the what/why is communicated to the fans. It helps create a pathway to a lifelong customer of the team/league/sport and its corporate partners.

It’s not easy, but there are a lot of properties out there doing it well.

The World Surf League is an entity that has existed and thrived for decades, and is seizing the moment now, fueled by more exposure and opportunity with the growth of social and digital. They stage events all over the world and give fans that attend the competitions an experience that engages and immerses them with the sport lifestyle and the league’s partners.

I recently visited the Vans US Open, a World Surf League competition held over the course of a few days in Huntington Beach, CA. My day was full of watching some surfing, and having my experience enhanced by WSL’s partners. Here are a collection of partner activations and integrations that did make for memorable, effective experiences.

I was thirsty…

And there were two partners happy to help. I had my own bottle, so didn’t need a Hydro Flask (but I could still play some Jenga and Skee-ball to spend some time around, and enter to win Hydro Flask product). Right next to that was a setup from Flow Water, an environmentally friendly water provider. I filled up a bottle multiple times and remembered Flow Water fondly for it. And read their messaging on the machine each time I filled up.


Lifeproof helped protect against the elements

An accessory designed to help protect one’s phone, surely a need for the surfing or boarding audience on hand (but anyone, really), Lifeproof was showing off their product. But their messaging was enhanced through a value-add, offering fans a respite from the heat with a cooling area, complete with misting fans to surround you. They also had a social sharing photo element, as well as product on display, to engage fans while they were cooling off.


Another way to beat the elements, while featuring a brand

World Surf League gave enormous exposure to their featured sponsor for this event, Vans. It was the Vans US Open, after all. Among the many ways Vans was featured all over was on tons and tons of umbrellas out on the shore, to give fans some shade while they took in the surf competition. One of many effective ways to inculcate the Vans Off The Wall brand to fans all day and all event long.



Michelob Ultra facilitated a good time

You head out to check out the World Surf League event with some buddies. Well, Michelob Ultra was there to provide some good seating to see the surfing, as well as some fun games to compete amongst each other. Helping to provide a memorable, fun social experience.


Hungry? WSL has the perfect food for an active fan – courtesy of Clif Bar

I began noticing a lot of fans chomping on Clif Bars as soon as I got to the event. It was already evident on the signage that Clif was a prominent partner. And before long, I walked by their setup, which featured a surf-themed backdrop for photo opps, and, yes, free bars being handed out featuring a new flavor, Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter. They satiated a lot of famished fans and in doing so won a little of good will and perhaps the taste of fans to come back to Clif for more.


Absorb the culture and the brands

Throughout the day, I was continually exposed to all aspects of the Vans brand – from its logo over and over, eye-popping imagery with huge ads, shoes to wear and shoes to pose next to, and aspects of their brand’s involvement in surfing, BMX bikes, skateboarding, and, yeah shoes and apparel. Vans was ubiquitous, and the strength of their impression upon fans was commensurate. And throughout the parts where their brand was seen, something of value was there – the actual competition, a screen, the official store, a photo opp.



Need an energy boost? There was a brand for that

Red Bull and action sports seem to always go together, and the World Surf League competition was no exception. They had a couple of promo team members going around handing out free cans of Red Bull product and even had a kind of isolated vending machine that stood out like a sore thumb, in a good way.


I could also relax in the lounge area

There were ping pong and foosball tables, bean bag chairs, and food. A little piece of home on the beach. While I did not see Airbnb branding here (I did see they were a prominent WSL sponsor), I couldn’t help but think of the brand, kicking back on a beanbag chair.


Surfers and athletes need to keep track of time

While I’m not a surfer myself, I do imagine it’s easy to lose track of time. And sometimes you gotta go to work. Or you at least gotta spend some time out of the water. The WSL has a watch partner for that, and G-Shock was showcasing their brand, including helping to keep time for each round of the event. They also had a setup with product on display for fans to check out.


They helped hook up an experience in the surrounding community

The WSL worked well with the city of Huntington Beach and some of the surrounding businesses to also make for a better fan experience. I was able to park at a school and jump on a public shuttle running to the event, which was made for a really smooth transit and ingress/egress for the event for me. Then, on the walk from the shuttle stop to the beach, I saw lots of businesses, retail and restaurants, featuring deals for WSL fans, including convenient, beach-friendly takeout meals to bring down to the event.


Focused on building fans

While the WSL could have filled more space with sponsors and more signage with advertisements, they are still focused on cultivating fans, and it showed. The WSL logo was plastered all over – from banners and signage to buoys and airplane banners. There were also several opportunities to buy WSL merchandise, with no shortage of deals and variety. The WSL had put a lot of inventory to in-house use, driving merchandise sales, and no doubt driving a reinforcement of the brand.


The World Surf League is a young brand that is beginning to grow beyond endemics, as its fan base grows all over the world and its events get bigger and bigger. Activating partners for such an international audience can be difficult, but when value is being added, brands are being activated, and fans are taking it all in, enjoying the experience – well, that’s something for which you can hang ten.

(Check out a gallery of sponsor activation at the WSL Vans US Open)

Episode 100: Garrett Downing Crafts Content and Voice for the Baltimore Ravens

Listen to episode 100 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Garrett Downing, Social Media Manager and Digital Host for the Baltimore Ravens.


61 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

A Sports Biz Tour of the World Surf League Vans US Open

On August 6, 2017, the World Surf League Vans US Open held its final day out at Huntington Beach, CA. The event attracts thousands of visitors and many more viewers online.

There were activities, merchandise, sponsors, and surf out in full swing. Come on a trip with me around the event with a sports biz lens. Check it out!


Episode 99 Snippets: Delmondo’s Mike Metzler Knows How to Play and Win the Snapchat Game

On episode 99 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Mike Metzler, Director of Client Strategy for Delmondo.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn