5 Ways the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights Have Made the Most of their Historically Successful Inaugural Season

It’s a well-known fact that we can’t control wins and losses. Despite the entreaties of so many fans on social media, the staff behind the accounts and digital content can’t do much about the record.

But every once in a while, or if you’re in Golden State, Pittsburgh, New England, or New York just about every year, you get dealt a winning hand. The question is – are you prepared to maximize the winnings, to take home the biggest pot possible.

This was the scenario facing the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights as their hot start to their inaugural season just kept going and hasn’t stopped all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Their story would’ve created pub and love, regardless, but the team has turned those pocket aces into something more, seizing their opportunity to amass winnings that can last for years and generations to come.

How did they do it? There are plenty of articles to read, there will be case studies to come, but here are five ways the VGK have played their hand wonderfully in 2017-18.

 

They embraced their newness

From day 0, the Golden Knights milked all the amusement and content they could out of being a team that was being created before our eyes, with no brand or legacy to speak, a true blank slate on the ice and on social media. From poking fun at having no roster (projected lines: guy-guy-Reid Duke [their first player], guy-guy, etc. etc.; Reid Duke playing pregame soccer with no companions to pass to) to celebrating one first after another to trying to wrap their heads and fans’ heads around what they’ve done all season long – the Golden Knights became the unlikely team that was easy to love and to root for. They’ve been playing with house money all season (you better believe that pun’s intended!) and have used such leeway to create an underdog, approachable, witty voice that has endeared them to fans.

They made their games into a show

By now, it’s likely you’ve seen, heard about, or read of the incredible pregame festivities before Vegas Golden Knights home games. It has been called a cross between Medieval Times, Hollywood, Disneyland, and Cirque du Soleil all mixed into one and it has created pregame theater that further adds to the excitement around the team and the hot ticket that is their packed home games at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights are the first major pro sports team to call the entertainment capital of the country home and they fit right in on The Strip with their spectacular pregame shows. Adults and kids will come away from these games with such bewilderment stamped into their minds and memories.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Vegas sure knows how to put on a show! 🤩 <a href=”https://t.co/v2uGfgJ7r8″>pic.twitter.com/v2uGfgJ7r8</a></p>&mdash; NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) <a href=”https://twitter.com/NHLonNBCSports/status/1001258101826342912?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 29, 2018</a></blockquote>
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

And they’ve made sure the whole country knows about it, too, especially as their Cup run necessarily created a national storyline. Stick taps to the Golden Knights’ PR team for getting write-ups praising their pregame show in publications like ESPN, the New York Times, and NHL.com, among others, not to mention tons of videos and mentions across social media. Textbook work to amplify what the team is doing.

They became part of Vegas

It has quickly become lear – from the packed arena to the justas packed practices – that the city of Las Vegas has more than embraced its hometown team. The club has helped foster this fan fervor and has continued to throw gas on the fire by integrating themselves into the city. Following the tragic shooting right at the start of their season, the team became a beacon in the community, making visits to hospitals, schools, and emergency workers. Their winning only enhanced the emotional investment from fans, giving them something to cheer about amidst the mourning. From day one, the team made sure to promote the importance of being #VegasBorn and it’s pretty cool to look around the city and see the Golden Knights everywhere – from New York New York’s Statue of Liberty to Julius Caesar at Caesar’s Palace, and much more, the team is part of the fabric emotionally and physically with the city. The team’s home, T-Mobile Arena, is owned and operated by MGM Resorts, and the hockey club has made good use of this relationship, engaging those friends of the family to help support the team. The team has also made inroads with celebrities in the area, too, from hometown boy Bryce Harper to rapper Lil Jon, who gave a free concert outside the arena prior to game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

IMG_1106

They engaged fans in Vegas and all over the world

The Golden Knights have had an instinct for embracing their fans and creating opportunities to engage them further. As fans began popping up not just in Vegas, but all over the world, the team did something about it – and the #VGKWorldwide movement was born. It’s not just a hashtag, though, it’s a mindset – that social media is meant to be social and the best way to build a brand is having fans tell the story for you. Whether it’s soliciting photos of fans all around the world or inviting two-way conversation and user-generated content, the Golden Knights have made fan engagement a active strategy, and not just paying lip service to an engagement rate backed by three second video views. Just look at the responses to this tweet, asking for fans to provide pics to prove they saw this Cup run coming.

They have helped fans fall in love with their players

Think about the signs of a super fan. They probably wear their teams gear a few times a week, they always know when the next game is, and they probably talk about players not using the names on the back of their jerseys, but their nicknames. Nicknames are a lost art in hockey, but every NHL player uses them all the time in practice and in the games, and helping pass on this vernacular to the fans, marrying them, really, can be so key to creating fan connections. So now fans know all about Wild Bill, Flower, Real Deal James Neal, Marchy, and the rest of the fellas.

realde

Moreover, they have turned their practices into opportunities to further engage their fans and help them build relationships with players? How, as simple as facilitating autographs. A lot of practices in the NHL are closed to public, even more don’t have any organized autograph sessions, it’s typically more so fans hanging out in the player parking lot hoping to get lucky. While the Golden Knights made some waves with restricting autographs at practices to ‘kids-only,’ just turning their practices into true fan events, and not team events that fans are allowed to observe, they gave fans more opportunities and reasons to connect with the club.
[Related note: They have also done a good job with player-driven content and social media takeovers, even into the playoffs, and have done Facebook Live pregame shows just about every night]

 

One of the most important lessons in social media and sports, and sports business in general, is to have a plan to make the most of the good content and the good times. Because just about seat the table will eventually get dealt a winning hand. The question is – will you know what to do with it?

 

Related: Listen to the Vegas Golden Knights’s former Senior Writer and Twitter voice Dan Marazza talk about the team’s early approach to voice, engagement, and content.

Tyler Moorehead of FOX Sports on Strategically Using Social Media to Build a Brand with Fans

On episode 120 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Tyler Moorehead, Director of Social Media for FOX Sports.

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

The Power of Tradition and Community Fuels a Fantastic LAFC Game Atmosphere

A lot has changed in sports over the centuries and decades, but a lot of the same principles still remain. I’m reminded of that every time I walk into a live sports event and you just…feel it. That’s what makes sports special.

The sound of a crowd all cheering or gasping in unison, the echoes of passion permeating the air, and the look of deep memories being made by the minute. These are the ingredients to growing and sustaining a fan base, the elements that can turn an outing into an experience, a casual fan into a diehard.

I felt that familiar twang as I attended my very first (and one of their first) LAFC game at Banc of California Stadium. The new Major League Soccer club, which entered the market trying to win over fans in LA who for years have had the Galaxy, is creating fan connections with what feels like a cultural phenomenon. And it starts with creating a live experience that elicits emotion and demonstrates the devotion of the community, makes you feel you can be part of something greater than yourself.

It starts with the player introductions. I’ve seen this at a Galaxy game, too, and I love it – the call and response interplay for player introductions. For LAFC, the PA announcer would say the first name of the player and the crowd would reply with the player’s last name in unison. Sure, not every fan will be part of it, but it’s hard to tell because it sounds like most are and it makes others want to be part of it, too.

IMG_0869

Another favored tradition, which prevails in most of the soccer/futbol world – kid escorts for the players coming on the field. This is not something only LAFC does, but it remains an effective part of the pregame nonetheless, offering a memorable and share-able experience for young fans, while getting them and their families out to a game. The more individual, super-memorable experiences you can create for kids, the better. That’s creating at least a dozen and a half fans for life, with a story to tell at school the next day.

 

 

And after the anthem is played and the pregame ceremonies are complete, the raucous crowd starts up again – the supporters group. If I were a sports team, heck – I’d be willing to pay groups of fans to bring the noise (literally) and the enthusiasm, passion, and pageantry to the game. In the reserved Supporters’ Section behind one of the goals, there are drums going, flags waving, and a handful of chants boisterously recited the entire 90 minutes plus. It makes you feel like you’re at a loud party the entire time, conjuring what we hear (and I’ve experienced) about the European experience, where soccer isn’t just a pastime, but a way of life.

IMG_0986

It inspires others, too. On the other side of the stadium, where I was sitting, there were about a dozen attempts from a dozen sections to get The Wave started. All the while the game on the pitch was going on and the only times it interrupted the fans were known by everyone getting on their feet when LAFC got the ball into the opposing box or had a chance on net. The whole scene reminds one of being at a college game, where the marching band and cheering squad is bringing it all game long and passing that energy onto you, making each opportunity to cheer more enticing.

I try to study each game I attend. To catch something clever with their sponsorship or game presentation, identify something unique or innovative for fan engagement. (You can see a slideshow here!). But the the thing that stuck with me for LAFC was simply that special energy that made me feel like I had gone to a party, where everyone was invited. Where, win or lose, for 90 minutes, you’re part of something great. And that’s what sports fandom is all about.

Content and Marketing are Not Mutually Exclusive: See How the San Jose Earthquakes Do It

It’s a new era and there’s no turning back. The attention of fans can’t be taken for granted. The saying that continues to stick with me years later, from James Royer – then with the Tampa Bay Lightning and now with the Kansas City Chiefs – is that we must earn the right to our fans.

Some preach this more than practice it, but the encouraging reality of today is that most have come to realize that more quality content leads to more engaged fans, who are more receptive to ads. More marketing dilutes the message, so content must lead the way.

This is the path the San Jose Earthquakes are treading, as they seek to foster and grow a fan base, while selling tickets, of course, and building a soccer community in San Jose. Quality content is the ‘bait,’ so to speak (though bait fans enjoy, regardless), and fans are driven to their website or social media posts, where, the Quakes hope, they convert. They notably use their real estate more so for messages from the team to their fans, as opposed to selling it to ads or sponsors.

““We rely heavily on web ads for our website. We have the leaderboard banners…(with) ticket-based ads (as opposed to selling that space to sponsors),” said Paul Dewhurst, the team’s Digital Marketing Strategist, who I recently spoke to for an interview. “It could be click here for the match guide, for tickets…On our website, we really drive fans to a match guide, a ticket link, a four-pack – to make sure they’re informed…”

marchguide

But Dewhurst also discussed the falling traffic coming straight to the website, while seeing increased referrals from social media. However, when fans are consuming on social media, as opposed to the Quakes website, they’re not getting easy access to ticketing nor salient messaging from the club. This brings up a conundrum many teams will face — how much to ‘give away’ on social media with native content consumption versus driving fans back to your own real estate, your website, to consume it there.

“It’s a balance of both. We do want to provide readily (consumable) content for our fans…We also see the benefit of driving people back to the website for ticket opportunities and more information on the web that they won’t get on social media…,” said Dewhurst.

So when the Quakes unveiled a new feature content piece for this season, What Would Jimmy and Joe Do?, featuring former players and now team personalities Jimmy Conrad and Joe Cannon interacting with players, the club faced that very question of providing it in full for native consumption or giving fans a snack on social, and driving them back to the website for the full meal. Twitter’s video length limit, too, made this a fairly easy call, as the Quakes released a shortened version of their first episode on social media, and drove fans back to the site for the full version, where they’d also be exposed to the match and ticketing info the Quakes want to get in front of their fans. The nature of Instagram Stories and its swipe-up feature also fit the philosophy well, as Dewhurst noted the success there.

Dewhurst explained: “That’s definitely a big conversation for us is taking original content pieces, cutting it down, and redirecting fans back to our website [for the full piece]…In an effort to drive more fans to our website, where there’s so much more information that can help them out.”

Why do we create content? It’s a question that’s taken for granted, but there’s a reason for all of the social media posts, videos, interviews, GIFs, and graphics. Sure, it’s to inform and entertain, but it’s really about developing fans and driving those fans to take actions that ultimately lead back to the bottom line – business, sales, marketing.

Celebrate the viral posts, the content that gets great reach and engagement, but engineer pathways to the end goals. It’s not going to happen on a linear, direct path, but it’s not going to happen if you don’t help lead fans in that direction. So, yes, earn the right to market to your fans with great content and engagement, and then, well, expose them to marketing. The paradigm has changed and we’re all better for it.

LISTEN TO MY FULL CHAT WITH PAUL DEWHURST

Paul Dewhurst and the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes are building a brand and driving social and digital ROI

On episode 117 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Paul Dewhurst, Digital Marketing Strategist for the San Jose Earthquakes MLS club.

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

What UMBC Athletics Reminded Us About The Genesis, Growth, and Importance of Voice On Social Media

Think back to the early days of social media. When trade announcements sounded like mini press releases. Compare that to the free agent signing of Michael Crabtree by the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens announced in a tweet with an emoji of a crab and an emoji of a tree.

So, yeah, things have changed.

And this was manifested marvelously by the performance of the @UMBCAthletics Twitter account, led by Zach Seidel, as the Retrivers captured the country’s attention, becoming the first 16-seed to ever defeat a #1 seed in the Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament, stunning fans of March Madness. Seidel didn’t ignore the haters tweeting skeptically about the UMBC team, didn’t ignore what was playing out in front of him and millions watching, and, most importantly, didn’t speak like a formal press release.

The evolution on Twitter (where voice is most defined on social media for sports teams) from PR to personality has surely been gradual, but most veterans of this space will point to one seminal tweet and one magical title run that started it all. It was the spring of 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings ousted the favored Vancouver Canucks in an opening playoff series. The Kings took the opportunity to sarcastically (snarkily) tweet “To everyone in Canada outside BC, you’re welcome,” addressing fans all over Canada that didn’t feel to fondly about the club in Vancouver. It struck a nerve. It was different. Many didn’t know how to react – was it okay to showcase a bit of tongue-in-cheek personality? Was this befitting of a professional team and its official Twitter presence speaking on the organization’s behalf?

Articles were written, discussions were had, but, as is quite evident today, it only progressed from there. Soon, several team Twitter accounts were trying to elicit laughs and smirks, and trying to create copy that would strike a similar nerve and get fans to feel like their team was cool, and they were cool by association. Over time, more emotion was infused — teams were smartasses when things were going good, they weren’t sugarcoating an awful loss, they exhibited the same ups and downs and jokes of the fans — they were talking and experiencing with them, not at them.

umbc4

So what happened when UMBC realized they were doing what no one thought they could or should be doing? When all the attention was on their team and their school? They chose not to ignore the obvious, not to appear oblivious to what madness was clearly happening on the court and all around them, including their website. When CBS College Basketball Analyst Seth Davis tweeted his trademark “Sharpie” (game over) right after tip, they fired back because it’s what their fans would’ve wanted to do – and UMBC doesn’t need to adhere any no-cheering-in-the-press-box like rule when it comes to Twitter.

When TweetDeck started showing a ton of fans mostly saying ‘Who the heck is UMBC?,’ they didn’t shy away from it, trying to act proud enough that people would and should know them. They seized the opportunity to connect, to engage, and to even introduce themselves to the world. And when their website went down, likely as much a source of pride as frustration (too many visitors is a good thing!), they didn’t offer some PR-laden statement like “We are aware of technical difficulties and working to resolve…,” they acknowledged the issue like a human, demonstrating authenticity, playfulness, and even smart messaging reinforcing the long ‘line’ of fans trying to get onto umbc.edu.

umbc3 umbc2umbc2

UMBC Athletics suddenly became the life of this March Madness party, on and off the court. More fans followed, more Googled UMBC, more became enamored with a personality that talked to them like a human, that reacted to the madness ensuing in front of them.

It conjures, for me, some of the work I do with teams at Hopscotch who welcome automated score alerts — Final Score: [Team Name] x, [Team Name] x. But others choose to do them manually – they want to convey the epic comeback or sold-out crowd or identify the hero.

As artificial intelligence and increased automation becomes possible, it’s important to appreciate the value of the human voice, and the capacity to express emotion. Some Messenger bots are getting smart, sure, but no bot could’ve reacted to the moments like Seidel and @UMBCAthletics did.

A social media presence can’t be devoid of emotion,