Kevin Durant may very well be a superstar, but basketball has always been a team game. The 30 franchises that make up the league have generated a revenue pie in excess of $5 billion. The digital age has enabled this game to reach its worldwide audience anywhere, anytime. Teams can build up their own local fan base through the sundry of platforms available.
Much like our #NFLTechSeries, this time SportTechie delves into the digital strategies – from web, social media, mobile apps, and any other technological connection–of each team and analyzes them, including insights from some of the digital executives involved. Today, the #NBADigitalSeries 2013-14 continues with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Stay tuned to SportTechie this month for ongoing coverage of the #NBADigitalSeries.
Oklahoma City may not be the biggest market in the NBA, but what the Oklahoma City Thunder lack in fan quantity, they make up for in quality. With a team loaded with talent, fans have made the Thunder one of only eight teams in the NBA with home attendance figures at or above 100%. Much of that fan loyalty can be attributed to the Thunder’s dedication to fan engagement on digital and social media. The Thunder have a robust presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram like every other NBA team, but also publish an impressive collection of original content on YouTube, a rarity among American pro sports teams. The team also runs what it calls the Blue Alliance, a group of super fans committed to spreading team spirit across the state of Oklahoma, and new this season, a Watch and Win loyalty program that rewards fans for engaging with the team during and after each game. Social Media The Thunder lean heavily on the use of imagery to engage with fans on social media, a smart strategy considering recent research that has noted higher engagement rates for content with images. The Thunder post regularly on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with a focus on game results and behind-the-scenes content. The team has made infographics a focal point this season, posting infographics after each game that contain an image from the game, a player quote, team statistics, a key stat from the game, and the turning point of the game. When not posting infographics, the team features behind-the-scenes content, with a heavy focus on the players and the team’s charitable endeavors. This week alone, the team has posted collages of the team visiting kids at the St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, a Thunder Fit clinic with the Oklahoma City National Guard, and a shopping spree for a local family compliments of Thunder star Kevin Durant. YouTube While the Thunder’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram content is engaging and interesting, it’s not altogether different from other NBA teams. Where Oklahoma City starts to differentiate itself is with YouTube. The team is incredibly active on YouTube, often posting multiple times per day. Game highlights are a common upload, as is a segment called “Calls of the Week,” which features some of the best highlights from the past week’s games complete with broadcaster calls. The team also frequently posts original video content on the team, including practice reports, post-game press conferences and interviews, news stories on player charity events, and a series called “Thunder Insider,” which has more than 600 shows to date. Blue Alliance Many professional sports teams have fan clubs these days, and the Thunder are no different. One thing that is different with the Thunder’s fan club, called the Blue Alliance, is the reliance on super fans to act as official brand advocates while managing online groups of fellow Thunder fans. While other fans clubs are made up of groups of fans that all receive extra content and perks from their favorite team, the Thunder have several individual chapters of the Blue Alliance across the state. Each chapter has a Blue Alliance Captain that runs the group. If a town or county does not have a Blue Alliance chapter, fans can apply to start a chapter and become a Blue Alliance captain by submitting a video, photo, or essay to the team. Each Blue Alliance captain must act as a brand advocate on behalf of the club. They are responsible for organizing Thunder watch parties for chapter members, monitoring a community fan page through Facebook, and assisting with promotional initiatives in their hometown. By creating a hierarchy of members in each charter, the team is better able to identify their super-fans and activate them to spread excitement for the Thunder through offline and online platforms on behalf of the team. Watch and WinFor the 2013-2014 season, the Thunder partnered with notable fan loyalty agency Lodestone Social to create the Watch and Win program. The Watch and Win program is similar in nature to other rewards programs in professional sports, in that fans are rewarded points for engaging with the team on social media. Those points can then be redeemed for prizes. However, the Thunder put a new twist on the rewards program by adding in-game interaction to the mix. During the pre-game show, fans are given a code word to get access to the site. During the game, trivia questions are posted on the Watch and Win website. The faster fans answer the trivia question, the more points they receive and the more entries they get into that game’s prize sweepstakes. Additionally, the team posts two “calls of the game” from each game and lets fans vote on their favorite call, earning points for their vote. Until this program, most real-time interaction between the Thunder and its fans occurred in the arena, but these two features add a new element of interaction between and team and its fans watching the game on television. The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a force on the court for the past few years, and they are capitalizing on that success in the digital and social space as well. Eventually, however, every team’s level of success (except the Spurs) drops off. When that time comes in Oklahoma City, the Thunder’s current digital and social efforts should ensure that fans stick around through the tough times.