Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cleveland Indians Social Media Deck..New Sponsorship Opportunity?

Cleveland Indians Reaching Out to Social Media Users via “Tribe Social Deck”

While calling it “progressive” may be a cheap play on the name of the stadium in which they play, the Cleveland Indians are making a move this season that not many of their peers have even considered. With the Internet and social media being ignored by all of the NFL and much of the NBA, the Indians have decided to roll out an initiative solely to cater to those using the emerging mediums.

Two forces likely coming together allowed the team to get the proper approvals to roll out what they are calling the Tribe Social Deck, an actual physical wooden deck with two rows of stadium seating for 10, located in left field between the bleachers and the standing room only area. The primary reason is to engage with fans via social media, an audience that is widely overlooked when it comes to marketing by professional teams. Another reason, that some may even rank above the first, is that the Indians are likely going to experience a down season when it comes to attendance. Engaging said social media users is a way to add additional interest in a team that, quite frankly, has seen a strong decline in fan support with the success of the Cavaliers and relative invincibility of the Browns.

A prime place for a home run ball, those seated in the deck area also have a television monitor that allows attendees to view scoreboard graphics without having to turn 180 degrees to their left. Banners hung to the right and behind the deck allow privacy, and the stairs leading up to the deck provide intrigue by fans that are heading to their seats in the bleachers. Several fans were spotted asking ushers about the cost and attainability of the deck seats – something that was likely an awkward conversation between both parties due to the nature of the endeavor.

But what are the ultimate goals of this fancy looking Social Deck?

Essentially, the team is well aware that there is an entire audience having a discussion about them and they want to be a part. To do so, they have added a member to their public relations department that is strictly responsible for social media – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. A consultant helped the team target specific individuals that are considered “influences” on the various mediums, and from there they hope to reach out and build awareness and interest in the team.

“We envision this area as sort of a press box for the social media users,” said Indians PR representative Rob Campbell.

While the play on the field and the additions of big name players may not exactly be “Progressive,” the endeavor to cater to users of social media definitely is. It is a great way to meet the people that one engages with on a daily basis and allows for further network building at a professional level – something that may not always be discussed freely on the Internet.

One complaint that may be heard from others that attended the Social Deck is the lack of mobile connectivity. While this may not be a problem in subsequent games due to attendance figures, the home opener provided next to zero mobile signal, making use of social media relatively difficult. Long term, the team plans on providing exclusive Wi-Fi access to the 10 individuals on the deck – something that they will be able to do through Time Warner via their sponsorship of the area. Assuming this is rectified, attendees will be free to do their very own play-by-play or sharing of in-game experiences.

Of course, one can also complain about the lack of a grill or a stocked cooler on the deck, but what can you do…

While the idea will depend soley on execution, the positives are that the team is willing to entertain a faction of fans that were typically excluded prior to now. The Indians are well aware of the fact that this is a bit of a risk on their part, offering tickets to random Internet users and all, but realize that it is something that can help them get a small leg up on some of their peers when it comes to fan interaction. Director of Communications and Creative Services Curtis Danburg claims that general manager Mark Shapiro has been behind this initiative almost right out of the gate and was a big player in getting the deck approved.

While public relations staff says that they will likely not be using the deck for every game, they fully expect to be reaching out to several other users of social media throughout the season. All in all, it is a terrific way to have a niche group of fans attend games that would otherwise be tuning in from home. Said niche is one that is growing exponentially year over year and one that the team is able to recognize as an integral part of increasing discussion of the team.

The willingness to take on a new initiative like social media should be applauded. Given that the deck was constructed in about a weeks time, the efforts to get this endeavor rolled out were very strong. What the future has in store for the Tribe Social Deck remains to be seen, but through one game, all signs point to progression.

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