If you consider yourself a sports fan and have been on Twitter in the last month or so, chances you are have, at least once, noticed a curious hash tag being used: #bucciovertimechallenge. It has been tweeted nearly 120,000 times in May and will likely continue in June as the Stanley Cup Final begins tonight, June 3.
It’s not new, having first been tweeted over four years ago. What began as a fun exchange between ESPN’s NHL2night anchor (and now Sportscenter anchor) John Buccigross and his fellow hockey analysts (Yes, ESPN once had a hockey show) has become a staple of Twitter every hockey season, magnifying to even bigger levels during the annual run to the Cup. Fans simply tweet to @Buccigross using the hash tag #bucciovertimechallenge with their predictions for who will score the sudden death overtime winner (one selection for each team) and some number of correct predictors win.
At first, the “prize” was just the chance to earn a retweet from Buccigross (now up to ~ 275K followers, himself), but, soon, the unofficial hockey guy among Sportscenter’s main anchors turned #bucciovertimechallenge into a way to help the sport and related charities. A line of #bucciovertimechallenge shirts blossomed as prizes for winners and were also sold to fans, with all proceeds benefiting charities. From t-shirts, the catalog expanded to beanies, caps, koozies, and more. #Bucciovertimechallenge had become far more than just a social media meme. And brands began taking notice.
Admirably, Buccigross didn’t give the #bucciovertimechallenge business interests to his ESPN overlords, nor did he necessarily work with those brands looking to shell out the big bucks, instead partnering with brands that his fans would care about and that tied in with his mission. Look at #bucciovertimechallenge today and brands like Hockey Soda (energy drink), Bauer (hockey manufacturer), and TiqIQ (sports ticket dealer website) are integrated with prize offerings and more. A true social media/sports metamorphosis, organically, into sports business.
So what can sports and social media pros learn from the story of #bucciovertimechallenge (now joined by his #cawlidgehawkey term, too)? The key insight is that monetizing social media, particularly a given feature or hash tag, can’t come first. Community and engagement comes first. This is how Buccigross did it and any major team, brand, or business can, too —
1) Develop a genuine + engaged community around shared passion. In this case, it was, simply, people with a passion for hockey.
2) Measure, track, focus, optimize, report. While Buccigross, himself, likely doesn’t dive into Twitter analytics much, himself, it’s clear he has some support (from ESPN or otherwise) helping him track and measure these hash tags. And he takes care to make sure fans use it, know the popularity, and know what it all means and stands for.
3) Identify top posts and interactions – reach and engagement, consistent + predictable. It soon became clear #bucciovertimechallenge wasn’t just a one-time meme or something that only exploded for nationally televised Rangers-Kings games, but a true, valued part of the social media and sports community, that delivered reach and engagement time and time again.
4) Identify partners that tie in to your community’s passion. This was thoughtfully done, as described above, as it was only brands that also championed hockey and its community who were invited to participate with #bucciovertimechallenge.
5) Fit activations to those the community appreciates + helps partners. When a #bucciovertimechallenge includes a Bauer hockey stick, Hockey Soda energy drink, or TiqIQ tickets to a NHL game, it’s a perfect fit for the brand and the hockey fans they’re trying to reach through this strategic partnership with Buccigross.
6) #SMSports becomes #Sportsbiz. Voila!
So what do your team’s / brand’s fans and community care about? What posts do you do on social media that predictably, and consistently, garner great reach and interaction? What brands will be those your fans will care about and feel have a genuine tie to their community and passion?
Buccigross never started #bucciovertimechallenge with the intention of it becoming a way to make money (for charity), but that became a positive possibility after the organic growth of the “movement” took off. Therein lies the best lesson of all.