Should Dodgers Look to Social Media to Reinvigorate Brand?

The purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion, plus millions more for improvements may be good news for sports teams as it appears valuation continues to rise but the team needs to resurrect its standing among the LA sports world.

It seems that any group that can pay roughly two and half times the previous high for a MLB team and five times what its previous owner did will pose a great deal of trouble for the Giants and the rest of the National League as the supposedly bottomless pockets of the new owners will create a New York Yankees West type of team that will dominate at least their division for years to come.

Even while the purchase of the team for such a massive sum, and monetary resources that seems to have sent shivers through the beat writers and columnists for the San Francisco Giants it faces a different issue in its own town.

The team has had declining attendance and seen growing antipathy in a fan base that used to fill the stadium with 3 million strong year in and year out. Watching a Dodger game a decade ago and it was sure to have numerous close shots of stars and almost stars in the stands. No more. The Dodgers are no longer the talk of the town.

It seems that this is a perfect time for the team to expand its outreach to include a variety of social media tools, and not just have a presence on them but to aggressively promote the team on them. Baseball has been at the forefront of using the Internet and other social media for its teams, but in some ways it is a cookie cutter solution, they all look alike. Baseball is looking at putting networks for fans in all of its parks, and that is great, once the fans are in the park.

However sports like Tennis, as exemplified at the Australian Open and Hockey with an aggressive push by the Boston Bruins are looking at new ways to reach out to fans and make them feel like they are part of the family. Why not have caption contests and pinterest reviews?

Everybody, and probably not a few pets, has Facebook pages, so what? Make it special so that it is worth visiting on a regular basis rather than after a great win or a heartbreaking loss. I do not doubt that the team will recapture Los Angeles, but it seems that it has a great deal of tools that are left unused, while it will rely on the almighty dollar to do its marketing for it.

Money does cause fear
John Shea, a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle has a piece entitled “Can SF Giants afford to keep pace with Dodgers?” in which he worries that they will become the NY Yankees or Red Sox West. However he then tempers his article by pointing out how flawed the execution of previous team managements.

Henry Schulman, Giants beat writer reports that the deal means that future Giants free agents, particularly star pitcher Matt Cain will see their potential future earnings increase as the Dodges come knocking with an open checkbook. I suspect that it the first few years this will be true since Magic Johnson, the front man for the new ownership group, said that he would personally be doing the calling.

Mercury New columnist Mark Purdy’s “Giants fans should be concerned about the deep-pocketed new Dodgers owners” brings up that the controlling owner’s business has $125 billion in assets, three times actually. Also post the theory that the team might move elsewhere in LA and a new stadium for football could be built there.

While the execs that now own the team have a great deal of financial assets, they may be able to get more revenue from the team without further investment. If the rival Angels got a 30 year $3 billion television rights deal it will be interesting to see how the Dodgers do since their current rights are now up, and Fox has expressed not only an interest in the rights, but rumor has it that it is seeking to establish itself as a sports broadcasting powerhouse, so the signs are looking good.

Dollars do not always win out however
First of all, despite buying the team with almost no cash and then using it as a personal ATM for the last few years previous owner Frank McCourt always seemed to field a fairly competitive teams showing that sound on-field management and a solid minor league can help offset any shortcomings of an owner, at least in the short run. The owner he bought from, Fox, spent more and made a number of high profile mistakes, yet he had more on field success.

Yet if the Washington Redskins and other well heeled teams have shown us is that just because you have money does not mean that you can buy championships. Also just because you have money does not mean that you will be spending tons of it on your team, look at David Glass, owner of the Kansas City Royals which he purchased for $96 million in 2000.

Do they want to spend?
The truly staggering amount that was spent on the team makes it possible that the new owners will be laboring under a great deal of debt and will be siphoning off money from the team much like McCourt was reputed to do. Instead of financing an opulent lifestyle the new owners will be servicing debt.

The Economist has an interesting piece explaining how this is likely to happen and how a lack of investment by McCourt could very well cause issues going forward. Heck they did not even get all of the parking lot for that price. A good conversation on the details is available over at Baseball Think Factory.

Being a somewhat of a baseball conspiracy theorist believer I greatly believe that the Baseball Commissioner and most of the other team owners, at least the ones that truly seek to win, do not want a team driving the price of free agents sky high.

MLB was fine with the McCourts’ way of doing business until the owners divorce unleashed a wave of scandal. It seems quite happy to leave the Mets alone with all of their problems- short of cash means no free agent bidding, as they were doing prior to the Bernie Madoff scandal. Maybe the Dodgers have an under the table agreement not to drive prices above a certain level? Maybe I should stop drinking ten cups of coffee in the morning.

CBS Streaming Top Rated SEC Games this Weekend

Broadcaster seeks to grow success from LSU vs Alabama Game

CBS Sports, coming off a very strong viewership of its live streaming broadcast of the LSU vs Alabama game several weeks ago is now touting its live streaming of the game between #3 Arkansas vs. #1 LSU as well as broadcasting the “Iron Bowl” between #2 Alabama and #24 Auburn.

The event will follow a familiar format for viewers that have experienced previous broadcasts from CBS Sports. The game will be broadcast live at CBSSports.Com/SECLive and for users of iPads, iPhones and iPod Touch I can be found by using the CBS Sports Mobile app.

The games between all of these top ranked teams has the extra incentive for the teams in they all compete in the same division and so that the winner will capture the SEC West Championship, a sure stepping stone to a top BCS Bowl game.

The LSU game will be played Friday, Nov. 25th at 2:30 ET while the Alabama/Auburn Iron Bowl game will be played Saturday, Nov.26th with a starting time of 3:30 ET. Both games will be followed by the “5th Quarter with Gary Danielson”, an interactive show that is available at or can be followed on Twitter at @DanielsonCBS.

The LSU vs Alabama game, which pitted a #1 vs. #2 drew 214,560 viewers to its online broadcast earlier this month. The number includes an impressive 42,912 viewers who partook via a mobile device and the sites CBS Sports mobile app for Apple iOS devices.

While the game was touted as a game of the century, as if we don’t get on of those every year, it was a bit of a disappointment. Missed opportunities coupled with missed field goals left an unsatisfactory feeling for many fans.
Still CBS Sports said at the time that it believed it to be the biggest audience to watch college football on-line, although ESPN claims that it has the title from the National Championship game last year that was broadcast on ESPN3 and drew 690,000 viewers.

It will be very interesting to see how the attendance for this game compares to the first. All of the SEC fans that I know are among the most fanatical football fans I know. Yet the first game was not quite what it was billed to be in terms of scoring and excitement. Will the fact that so many are traveling this weekend spur additional mobile viewership or will it detract? Just have to wait until Monday to see the numbers from CBS to see how it pans out. From there it would be nice to see this as a growing trend in the industry.

One question for fans of either LSU or Arkansas. Is the game still officially called “The Battle for the Golden Boot”? I did not see any mention of it this week.

How-To Twitter: 5 Winning Sports-Biz Game Plans

Editor’s note: While some people still think there is room to debate whether Twitter matters or not, many participants in the sports arena have already fully embraced the microblogging service and are already using it to a business advantage. Here are five sports-business outlets MSR editors already see using Twitter to a great advantage, for self-promotion, fan engagement and as a way to stay in the front of the competition.

1. Jim Rome (@jimrome) and The Jim Rome Show: Clone input, Sports Bro-mance and a quick way to follow

Jim Rome, host of radio's The Jim Rome Show and ESPN's Rome is Burning

To the “clones” who call in to his popular radio show, Jim Rome is known by handles like Van Smack, Romey, and many other permutations. But the one trending in popularity is @jimrome, the official Twitter address for both Rome and his show, due to both Rome’s adept adoption of Twitter culture as well as an out-front business decision to use Twitter to drive traffic and increase audience engagement.

As someone whose show has a motto of “have a take, don’t suck,” it is probably no surprise that Rome & Co. excel at Twitter’s short-message format. Even when he’s not on the air Rome brings his brand of “smack” to sports via @jimrome, typically best when there is a big nighttime TV event where he can chime in on Twitter with a Rome-flavored take second after it happens.

Rome also uses Twitter actively to promote the show, tweeting links to audio clips from guest visits, a great way to engage an audience outside of those who listen live. Rome also salutes, links to and promotes guests and other sports figures on Twitter, especially relevant as more and more professional athletes use Twitter as a sort of public/private communication channel.

And both the radio show and the ESPN show encourage listeners and viewers to engage with Rome via Twitter, reading tweets on the air and using them to help select topics to cover each day. True to the confrontational nature of the program you can get “run” if your take happens to suck but in sports and Twitter that is part of the fun of playing. By fully embracing Twitter as just another way to take “a call,” Rome and the Jim Rome Show are giving themselves an excellent chance to ride the Twitter bandwagon to bigger audiences and better business. With just more than a half-million Twitter followers, @jimrome is clearly out in front.

2. ESPN: Everyone in the Twitter Pool

While it’s no surprise that ESPN is all in when it comes to Twitter, we have to say that there are two surprising uses of the service that might seem at odds with ESPN’s overall business plan: First, the network apparently has few restrictions on what its reporters can post on Twitter, which can raise questions about where ESPN breaks news — on its own site, or on Twitter? Second, ESPN has fully embraced Twitter as a way to bring viewer comments into its shows, even broadcasting Tweets with Twitter handles — which could seem at odds with ESPN’s own user registration system, which conceivably drives business by getting people to consume more ESPN content.

Though we haven’t had the chance to sit down with anyone at ESPN yet to hear whether or not such strategies are debated, it’s pretty clear that ESPN is not letting its own business concerns keep it from also benefiting from Twitter’s groundswell among sports fans. And by allowing its “talent” like Adam Schefter and John Clayton to post volumnous updates on Twitter at the very least ESPN is keeping its brand at the forefront of Twitter simply by letting its reporters do what they do best — deliver breaking news and analysis. Points to ESPN for doing Twitter first and leaving the business stuff to figure out for later.

3. Verizon Wireless: Twitter ‘chats’ Promote NFL Mobile Service

Even if you don’t have a Verizon Wireless cellphone and therefore can’t use the company’s NFL Mobile service, you can still get on the Verizon bandwagon thanks to Twitter, where the company regularly hosts “chats” or live Twitter conversations with NFL athletes as a way to promote the service. No way to tell whether or not Verizon’s Twitter chats are helping sell any more iPhones or HTC Thunderbolts, but at the very least Verizon is doing a perfect job of using Twitter to leverage its exclusive cellphone agreement with the NFL to establish its brand as a fan-enabler. That can’t hurt when it’s time for Twitter followers to upgrade their mobile device.

4. Tour Tracker: Using Technology to Bring Twitter Users Along

For bicycle racing fans who weren’t near a TV there was no better way to follow some of the best action this past summer than via the Tour Tracker application, which was licensed and sponsored for some events by team sponsor Radio Shack. What made the Tour Tracker (or “Shack Tracker”) especially cool during events like the Quizno’s U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge was the app’s ability to incorporate fan tweets on the fly — a great way to use technology to bring fans closer to the event and to bring a layer of community to the coverage that simply hasn’t been available before. At MSR we expect to see more Twitter incorporation during 2012 — perhaps even a live Twitter crawl during a major event? If so pioneers like Tour Tracker will reap rewards for paving the way.

5. San Francisco Giants: A Full Twitter Embrace

@SFGiants & Twitter from TwitterHQ on Vimeo.

There couldn’t have been a better season for the hometown combination of Twitter and the San Francisco Giants than 2010, when the underdogs in orange and black won the World Series. Though the team’s Twitter strategy didn’t help it win any games it’s safe to say that there might not have been a fan base more ready to embrace a full-on Twitter strategy than the folks who fill AT&T Park. The video above is a good recap of how the Giants embraced Twitter fully, and how now its fans expect to be able to see highlights, get news and other information simply by following the Giants on Twitter. And Twitter, likewise, uses the Giants’ plan as the starting point for its list of ways sports organizations can use Twitter to help themselves. Never too late to start!

Fans, Teams Win With AT&T Stadium Wi-Fi Push

Fans and teams may be the big early winners in the cellular industry’s nationwide push to bring better phone reception to crowded places, an effort currently led by AT&T’s aggressive plan to build localized Wi-Fi networks inside major sporting venues like San Francisco’s AT&T Park and Chase Field in Phoenix.

To alleviate the bandwidth crush caused by the relatively new phenomenon of fans who want to shoot and instantly share pictures, videos and text messages from their seats, AT&T is partnering with teams and schools to build Wi-Fi networks directly inside the stadium walls, providing a better, faster Internet connection to those in attendance. Atlanta’s Turner Field, Stanford Stadium and Minute Maid Park in Houston have also received AT&T network attention, part of a Ma Bell strategy to improve cellular coverage by bringing in Wi-Fi and other network improvements right to the fans in the seats.

“The dynamic of what fans are doing with their phones has changed dramatically just over the last year,” said Dennis Whiteside, assistant Vice President for marketing and technical sales in AT&T’s Wi-Fi group. “People want to share the experiences of being at the game as it’s happening. And, they also want ubiquitous cellular coverage wherever they are.”

As anyone who’s ever attended a big trade show or a sporting event in the past knows, cellular coverage often deteriorates rapidly whenever a big group of folks congregates in a small geographical area, like a stadium or convention center. But the explosion of fans with smartphones like Apple’s iPhone, Whiteside said, has created a unique phenomenon of mobile use: At many games now, fans send out more cellular data then they receive, putting a whole new demand on networks that were never designed to handle big chunks of mobile video and picture-sharing in both directions.

“The whole social media phenomenon of instant sharing has led to us seeing instances where upload traffic from stadiums is greater than the download traffic,” Whiteside said. “That was something we didn’t see even just one year ago.”

While AT&T and other cellular providers are constantly upgrading and adding regular cellular towers to improve performance, the sheer numbers of fans inside a stadium makes it nearly impossible to provide sustained connectivity via the regular cellular network. Not only is it extremely costly to build out regular cellular towers — each location can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — but even if you put antennas everywhere including on the goalposts, the physics of wireless spectrum at celluar frequencies still wouldn’t be able to keep up with the bandwidth crush of tens of thousands of fans all wanting to update their Facebook page.

Enter Wi-Fi, which solves the local bandwidth problem by allowing network providers to build fast networks with many inexpensive antennas and access points, using unlicensed spectrum. The best news for fans is that since almost every device made these days has a Wi-Fi chip, their phone or pad will probably connect without any modification or upgrade needed. And, in most cases, the Wi-Fi access is free, especially if you are already a paying customer of the provider running the network.

“Wi-Fi is great because it provides capacity where we need it most, either in the walkways under the stands or in the tight bowls of the stadiums,” Whiteside said. “And for the customers it’s great because using Wi-Fi doesn’t count against their [cellular] data plans.” AT&T also uses a technology called Distributed Antenna System, or DAS, to bring a greater number of smaller cellular antenna endpoints closer to crowds. Traditionally used inside buildings, DAS is now making appearances outside as well and is often used by AT&T as part of an overall network-improvement strategy.

For many new smartphone users, just figuring out how to switch to Wi-Fi can be a challenge given all the new buttons, screens and icons they have to learn. That’s why AT&T and other providers like Verizon are doing their best to make it easy for users to switch over to Wi-Fi, even automating the process in some cases. In AT&T networked parks, Whiteside said, AT&T customers can configure their devices to switch automatically to a Wi-Fi network if one is available, a kind of simplicity he said is becoming the expected norm.

“Our customers expect us to deliver great wireless access, and they don’t want to have to figure out where that is,” Whiteside said. “Awareness of Wi-Fi as a feature is very high — people know they can use it at home or when they are on the road. But letting them know exactly where they can go and where they can use it in non-standard places [like stadiums] is still a challenge.”

For teams and schools, the benefits of a souped-up stadium network may just be emerging in features like the ability to communicate with fans at the game, to offer wireless concessions orders, show instant replay video, and maybe just to help with ticket sales.

“People want to be at the stadium and have the game-time experience, but they also want to be able to communicate,” Whiteside said. “The competition for buying a ticket is usually the home theater or the couch. For owners of stadiums, having a solid network is a great benefit.”

Fanatic Fans: An Insider’s Look at Mobile Applications for Live Events

Brian Holmes, a driving force behind Calibrus' breakthrough Fanatic Fans application

If you ever wanted a good look into the infancy of sports social media, you could get it by taking a look at Calibrus Inc. Fanatic Fans application.

Fanatic Fans debuted at Arizona State University home games last month, and today fewer than a thousand people have it on their smartphone or other mobile device. Yet that’s enough momentum to convince the 26-year-old developer of the application, Brian Holmes, he’s on to something big – a concept that could fundamentally change the fan experience at live sports events and concerts.

“We feel there is a real opportunity to tap into this marketplace to grow a significant brand with large numbers of users,” Holmes told

 Indeed, Fanatic Fans marks one of the most aggressive moves to date by a major college athletic program to mirror sports social media innovations occurring in the NFL, according to The Miami Dolphins are among the leaders in pro pigskin with an application developed by Mobile Roadie LLC, but the college market is wide open. Beyond ASU, Fanatic Fans is now being made available to University of Grand Canyon and University of Denver sports fans. Calibrus also sees Fanatic Fans as potentially a big winner in the live music space, Holmes said.

While ESPN, CBS Sports, SB Nation and numerous others have won big user numbers for mobile sports applications that provide news and buzz, applications that facilitate live event experience are just emerging. Indeed, the implications of mobile sports applications at live events are often misunderstood even by the experts, as evidenced by the South Eastern Conference’s recent decision to revise such impossible-to-enforce social media policies as the prohibition of mobile devices use at games.

For business, Fanatic Fans and other applications are promising because they can be used to provide offers to consumers at the moment they are ready to buy whether that’s before, during or after and event, according to Fast Company.

Available for Android and iPhones, Fanatic Fans works this way: Users download the application, and log in with user name and password whenever they go to a game. At present, check-in at a game qualifies them for prizes. At University of Denver games that includes a seat upgrade, and at ASU games there’s a $500 cash prize. During timeouts, fans are also prompted to respond to scoreboard contests via text. At ASU, that’s currently a contest to name the MVP of the game. Ultimately, applications like Fanatic Fans can be used by fans to interact with other fans when they are tailgating or at the stadium.  

Fanatic Fans took shape quickly, and the speed with which it went from concept to in-game experience underscores how nimble companies and sports teams will need to be in order to capitalize on the growth of sports social media. Fanatic Fans began to take shape in February, when Holmes took the idea to Calibrus management.  At the time, Holmes was working as a project manager on a website called JabberMonkey, which allows people to post questions, videos, pictures and articles that others can respond to via chat, webcam, email or VOIP. Calibrus used its development team in Saudi Arabia to turn the idea into a reality, and quickly won the support of ASU. Its business model is to create an avid user base for Fanatic Fans, and reward affinity marketing points for sports fan participation, Holmes said.