In my four-part blog series about how new media is changing the world of sports, I interviewed professionals in the field to get their perspective.
In part one, to get a better idea how athletes were utilizing social media to further their online image, I spoke to Amy Martin, the founder of Digital Royalty, a company that guides athletes to create and manage their online brands. A relatively young marketing group in a relatively new field, Digital Royalty opened their doors in April of 2009. Martin has years of experience working in the sports marketing field however, having helped create the online presence for the Phoenix Suns (Planet Orage). More recently she was instrumental in Shaquille O’Neal jumping head first into Twitter. Other clients include the UFC, the Chicago Whitesox and golfer Bubba Watson.
According to Martin, Digital Royalty creates an effective online marketing strategy for an athlete with a three-pronged approach.
- Help athletes build out their social media presence and influence by humanizing their brand.
- Build in endorsement deals so the athlete can offer additional value in order to monetize their influence
- Help the athlete become their own kind of media outlet.
Additionally, as Digital Royalty works with more and more corporate brands, the next layer in online marketing is putting them together with athletes.
iMedia Confluence: Is there a line you won’t cross with athletes using social media as a marketing tool? How do you make sure these athlete/corporate partnerships are authentic?
Amy Martin: One of the first things has to be that the athletes really back up the product. The fans would know if they weren’t authentic in their endorsement. It has to be natural. The other thing is not to hide the fact that they are endorsing a product, but to expose the authenticity of it–have it happen naturally. Finding ways to naturally integrate it into their day.
Another element, of course, is humor. If you have an athlete that has an affinity towards a brand, you can find ways to inject humor into the promotion. But it has to be truthful. That’s really the number one thing.
iMC: What are your feelings on many professional leagues and even the NCAA putting limits on the use of Twitter by players/coaches/media etc?
AM: For teams there is a fear. A lot of teams are playing not to lose versus playing to win. They see it as this evil trend that isn’t going away so they are saying “ok, we will have to do something in order to have an online presence.”
When you look at the league level, they have so many different components within their economic model that don’t lend well to social media. They have deals with broadcast partners and those rights are worth 7 or 8 figures. When those deals were done when social media didn’t even exist. So now there is a big discrepancy as to who owns this type of behind-the-scenes content. They are wondering if are they no longer getting the value out of their deal that they used to. So the league is trying to protect these deals from that umbrella level, which leads to brand management issues. I even experienced it with the Phoenix Suns, during my time there. When humans start interacting with the fans and when you put more power into a specific individual’s hands, like on Twitter or Facebook, it gets scary for upper management. Because you have to worry about brand management, with social media and social tonality, lines start to get blurred when someone speaks on behalf of the brand.
It depends on the team. I think the coaches are another hurdle. Take the Clippers for example. The team isn’t allowed any social network activity while they are on the property.
So if we look at the league level, most of the rules are pretty similar. The NFL is probably the strictest. It’s written into the rules that traditional media outlets have access to the athletes pre and post game before they can speak directly to their fans.
Again it goes back to the economics–where their revenue is coming from–and they want to protect their digital rights.
iMC: Do you think these teams and leagues are being shortsighted with their handing of social media?
AM: I do see that they are short-sighted because all the leagues have dedicated training that they do with their athletes in regards to traditional media. For some cases with rookies and new guys they do need it. But in a lot of cases; for example, do Lebron James or Shaq need another year of media training? Probably not. What they do need is social media training. It would benefit the league if they would give their athletes the education and tools to be successful within the space because it will only help their brand.
I’m surprised more teams are not doing training. We do that with all of our clients in regards to corporate policy with our corporate social media 101 camps. My team will go in and train. That is helpful strategically as well as technically. We will show them how to use certain things on laptops and hand held devices; show them how the things really work.
You flip to the other side of the coin, like with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship)–they are embracing social media. We just trained 200 fighters how to use it to their advantage and to build a brand. You will see this a little more with other individual sports, but it depends on the economics and the structures of the league.
iMC: Can you describe further what you do with your clients in regards to social media training?
AM: Personalities are very important. We have to access that and tailor what we do with their interests and life outside the sport. Working with Steve Nash is very different than working Shaquille O’Neal, for example.
We identify where things reside in their current state and decide where we went to go as far as influence and presence. We then start to build out a plan for them conceptually from a creative standpoint and also strategically about their marketing partners and endorsement deals. We then sit them down and show them enough that they get the big picture. One of the hardest things is convincing these guys that social tools are worth their time.
Then, based on the mobile device that they have, we show them the proper applications to leverage their influence, inform them of the peak times that they are most likely to catch fans, and take advantage of that. Also it is important to show them the power of sharing behind-the-scenes video and photos in building relationships. We also discuss crisis communications. If you have a situation; how to respond? If to respond? Who to respond to? Does it even make sense to respond?
iMC: Do you think micro-blogging is just a fad or a communications tool that will be around for a long time?
AM: One thing that we truly believe is that influence is transferrable. To think about what’s next, whatever is around the corner, the same players (no pun intended) will always have the kind of rank and overall authority. Micro blogging, in whatever form is so convenient, especially for celebrities. It’s the most conducive way to communicate with fans.
When athletes started to blog 5-6 years ago, it seemed like such a great idea. But how many really kept blogging? They’d normally write maybe one or two posts, but then agents or publicists had to start ghost writing. Then it became inconvenient and then it died off.
But to be able to do it from your phone and have enough brevity that it’s attainable. It’s pretty perfect. It’s definitely a nice match for their lifestyle.
iMC: Do you have any predictions on what is next on the horizon as far as sports and social media and marketing?
AM: What’s happening with the iPhone and Verizon eventually providing service to it; that’s going to be very big from a technical standpoint. It’s going to open the door to so many more people to have access to these applications. There is a big difference with social media on a blackberry versus an iPhone or even Droid. It’s going to be more attainable to people, so we are going see a big spike as that opens up.
With brands right now that are able to connect with their consumers directly, I think in that digital space, and traditional of course, it is going to start shifting where ad dollars are spent. Brands are becoming their immediate channels and they are able to reach millions of impressions in new ways. In addition, they don’t have to spend as much and it’s more authentic. By no means are the more traditional channels going away, but I think there are going to be tough times for ad networks, including digital ad networks. We see it already with our traditional media and with print.
Sports and entertainment are two aspects that are the most natural fit for social media. The idea of live and real time is becoming more and more important to fans and consumers. We are an instant gratification type of society. You can’t get enough real-time. It used to be that things were posted that evening. Now were are getting games streamed live. We want a response during half time. Fans just want it more and more, quicker and quicker because if they already read about it somewhere else, it’s old news; even if it happened ten minutes ago. The nature of real time is something really powerful.