By Matt Rudnitsky of Abrams Research Sports
The sports world is wising up to social media, realizing that its sole purpose is not just to get athletes in trouble. Savvy franchises and leagues are beginning to use sites like Twitter and Facebook more effectively, generating interest and enhancing their brands.
There are a ton of new, successful campaigns out there, but a lot are just run-of-the mill. Here’s a ranking of the three smartest, most innovative social media campaigns launched in recent times:
Honorable Mention: Real Madrid Fantasy Manager
Real Madrid is the second-most popular sports franchise for social media use, only trailing rival club Barcelona.
But while Madrid has lagged behind Barca on the pitch, it is way ahead in the social media innovation department. The club has its own fantasy game, Real Madrid Fantasy Manager, in which fans compete to see who can do the best Jose Mourinho impression.
There are prizes for the top players, including a grand prize that includes free tickets, a meet-and-greet with players and a tour of Bernabeu Stadium. Over 300,000 fans have played the game through facebook, with plenty more joining the fun on their mobile phones.
Created at the start of the 2010-2011 season, it was the first such fantasy game created by a sports franchise, a genius idea in our fantasy-sports obsessed world. It seems like a no-brainer, but nobody beat them to the punch.
3. UFC Undisputed Fight Nation Game
America’s Big Four Sports Leagues (in order): The NBA, WWE, UFC and NFL. Wait, what? Well, according to their number of social media followers, that’s the truth.
UFC has done a great job in social media, especially with its UFC Undisputed Fight Nation Game, accessible via the league’s Facebook page. Nearly one million fans have played the free game on facebook, where you create your own fighter, train him and compete, ascending to different levels as you improve.
Wisely, UFC didn’t stop there, giving players some extra incentive (other than its intrinsic addictiveness) to keep playing. Currently, users who get to level five and enter their email address on the game’s homepage get a chance to win tickets for UFC 131 in Vancouver.
Each time someone plays the game, they think about UFC and the brand’s image is enhanced. The relatively-new sport keeps growing and growing, and with wise creations like this, it will continue to do so.
2. PBR’s Ochocinco Stunt
Before last week, PBR to sports fans was just a cheap beer. Thanks to some smart marketing and Chad Ochocinco’s charisma, The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) have gained a lot of exposure.
Ochocinco accepted a challenge to ride a bull at a PBR event in Atlanta, claiming that he could last the entire eight-second standard. Unsurprisingly, Ochocinco failed, with a time of 1.5 seconds.
The event was nothing but good publicity for PBR. Anyone who thought bull riding was easy realized how tough it really is. Ochocinco is a world-class athlete, but he nearly wound up hospitalized. He legitimized the sport, got it some rare airtime and even had the sports world focused on bull riding for a short period of time.
You’re not going to see Monday Night Bull Riding on ESPN any time soon, but Ochocinco’s stunt won’t do anything but help the sport. After the event, PBR now has over 20,000 followers on twitter.
1. New Jersey Devils “Mission Control”
The Devils, despite being one of the most successful teams of the past two decades, have always resided near the bottom of the NHL in attendance. Partly due to the close, overpowering presence of the New York Rangers — who sell out almost every game – and partly due to their Bellichickian secrecy over team operations (not to mention their boring, defensive style of play) New Jersey has never been the most fan-friendly team out there.
But this year, owner Jeff Vanderbeek set out to change that. The Devils launched a new social media campaign, which includes Devils Mission Control, an office in the Prudential Center where die-hards sit and scour TVs and the internet for the latest Devils chatter. They tweet anything of interest out to their almost-25,000 followers. The volunteers, or “Generals” of the “Devils Army,” interact with other fans, doing everything from asking and answering questions toblogging on the team’s current coaching search.
The campaign hasn’t suddenly transformed the Devils into the Dallas Cowboys of the NHL, but it has increased fanfare for a team that has always struggled for support, even in good times on the ice. And it’s especially commendable in an area that houses a team isn’t exactly embracing emerging forms of media.