Getting Social with Sports TV

When is the right time for social media?
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BALTIMORE—Too much? Not enough? Or just right?

Those seem to be the key questions concerning the proper use of social media, not just by the public, but by sports networks during sporting events and other programming. Some employ it so often that they also air actual programs dedicated to the day’s posts and comments; others pick-and-choose moments, programs and moments in programs when it’s time to go social.

So, the approaches by the various sports nets can be… well, varied, just as there are a variety of companies that provide software for distribution and aggregation to the market.

DRIVING TRAFFIC

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia has a partnership with Oracle, and thus employs its Social Relationship Management product. “We use information we glean from the software to digest the analytics created by posts and traffic on our web site,” said Todd Berman, senior director of digital media for the regional sports network. Additionally, the RSN uses Hootsuite “to monitor what people in our market are talking about,” Berman said, and to find out what might be trending and for security management.

The strategy at CSN Philly is two-fold. “We want to drive traffic to our web site and people to our broadcasts. Social is a huge part to what we do,” he said, noting that the sports net even airs a program, “End Game,” specifically to address posts and trends on social media. 

Berman said his department even created an account for Philadelphia Flyers fans on Twitter “so they can get exclusives from behind the scenes,” including still pictures, graphics and questions. “We also send scoreboards out during the games, so if a fan isn’t in front of their TV, they know what’s happening,” he said, “and when the Flyers introduced their new coach, fans could watch on TV or on Periscope,” an online streaming tool.

How important has streaming become at the sports net? “Every show we have incorporates social media, in some way,” he said, noting “This landscape is evolving very quickly.”

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Fox Sports North believes in a measured approach to combining its sports coverage with social media, saving it for special events like "Hockey Day Minnesota."

True, but not every RSN uses social media as frequently. Consider the case of Fox Sports North in Minneapolis, where Trevor Fleck, the coordinating producer, spoke of the more reserved approach.

“We save it major events, like opening day and the playoffs,” said Fleck, looking back to last year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which was held at Target Field in Minneapolis. “We did it on the nine days leading up to the event. We also integrated social media into coverage of Hockey Day Minnesota, from 9 a.m. until about 2 a.m. the next day,” he said. “That’s been our biggest day of using it. Our second channel was totally dedicated to social media that day.”

Fox Sports North employs ChyronHego’s Duet for graphics, likewise for its social media platforms. On Hockey Day Minnesota, it also incorporated Spredfast, which aggregates various feeds.

Fleck feels that the occasional use of social media heightens its impact. “There’s a fine line between using it to enhance your broadcast and overdoing it,” he said. “It can be planned or happen organically, if a play goes viral,” etc.

So for now, it’s a case-by-case situation. “We had a social media reporter a couple of years ago,” he said, “but now she’s just a regular reporter, since all of our reporters are up to speed with how to distribute social media.”

A HAPPY MEDIUM

At Root Sports Northwest, Executive Producer Jon Bradford and company seem to have found a happy medium with the RSN’s approach. “We just do a couple of things,” said Bradford, “because we want to interact with, rather than push or pull from, our viewers.”

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Roots Sports Media, the regional sports network for the Seattle Mariners, conducts a "Twitter Tuesday" contest with fans.

That includes Twitter Tuesday, when the Seattle Mariners’ broadcast team of Dave Sims and Mike Blowers conduct “Inside the Game” and ask fans to share their baseball knowledge. Then also ask one trivia question during the pregame show and four more during the game; that results in 500-700 hundred responses that are sorted via hashtags.

Root works with software creator/social media aggregator Tagboard on the “Ask Root” segment, where viewers are queried about where they are and what they’re doing during the broadcasts; and the “Ultimate Fan” segment, where the team polls viewers from states in the Pacific Northwest as to why that might be them.

Speaking of pushing and pulling, Turner Sports works with several large platforms, including Virzt, as well as startups. And like Root, they seem to have found a good place in the social media world by picking their spots, too.

“Sports and social media have a very natural, symbiotic relationship. Nothing is forced,” said Morgan Dewan, senior director of social media for Turner Sports. “Our producers [understand] how to weave social media reactions, commentary and content into the broadcast. Our goal is to never do social media integrations for social media’s sake. We want to enhance the storylines and provide compelling content for our analysts to react to.”

Most of Turner Sports’ social media integrations happen during its studio shows, including “Inside the NBA,” when it’s easier for the host to [address] the conversation taking place across social, according to Dewan. She adds that she and her crew have learned a great deal from “Bleacher Report,” another part of the Turner Sports portfolio. “They’re exceptional at this and have built a very impressive push/pull system, which connects their social properties to their app and [web] site,” she said.

Dewan stressed that, as a sports media company, it’s important for Turner Sports to understand where, and how, fans are consuming content. “We break down type of posts by day of week and time of day,” she said, “so that we can be more deliberate in our coverage and publishing cadence.”