At the beginning of the year, The Washington Post hosted a “Business of Sports” symposium and invited the owners of all the local sports teams’ owners in for a talk.
What they got was an earful on how new media has shifted the conversation, according The Washington Post’s D.C. Blog, which wrote about the event.
“I think this new media is like oxygen,” said Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals. “Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what you would write. Now, I don’t care.”
There used to be clearly defined lines between the role of the media and that of the leagues and teams. Reporters covered the teams and the teams, in essence, provided them with content. As The Post heard that day, teams no longer see it that way.
“We’re in the same business [as The Post],” Leonsis said. “When someone goes to find out something about me or a team or a player, and they go to Google and they type that in, I want to learn how to get the highest on the list, and I’ve done that. I don’t want The Washington Post to get the most clicks. I want the most clicks.”
The Capitals are not alone. Professional sports leagues, college conferences and individual teams and schools realize they can be the media.
As we head into 2012, the question is not who is the media, but how far will leagues and teams go to get the most clicks.
A month before that symposium, Vanderbilt hired a new football coach, James Franklin. What was notable about the hire is that the school decided to announce the hiring on its business, using its Facebook page.
It created a bit of a stir with the media, who didn’t like being cut out of the information dissemination bloggers didn’t embrace the move. John Taylor, who writes for the now NBC-owned College Football Talk website, ridiculed the announcement: “We’re assuming that Franklin will announce his offensive and defensive coordinators via Twitter, while he’ll name the remainder of his coaching staff during a private CoverItLive chat.”
Vanderbilt leveraged the one thing it had – information – and disseminated it on its terms, on its platforms, to its audience.
The other major “news” commodity that leagues and teams have figured out they can leverage is exclusive access. While professional leagues, most notably Major League Baseball, have centralized and controlled game highlights, there is so much more content that can be leveraged if teams and colleges are willing to share it.
For example, you can find Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari’s pregame, locker room talks with his team on YouTube. It’s a win-win for the school: exclusive content rabid UK fans want and an excellent recruiting tool to show how the coach interacts with his team and prepares.
At the same time those D.C. sports owners were telling The Washington Post how they are embracing new media, the Denver Broncos were wrapping up one of the most impressive forays into leveraging unique content.
Two days after that D.C. symposium, the Broncos announced that John Fox was their new coach. What was remarkable is what they did leading up to that announcement. The Broncos veered away from the traditional protocol of shrouding their coaching search in secrecy.
They not only told you who their finalists were, they showed you. As the finalists flew into Denver for interviews, denverbroncos.com posted videos recapping their day – from arriving at the airport to meeting with vice president John Elway. And they posted them as they occurred, before they named a coach.
This summer, at a conference of college athletics administrators, I told about what the Denver Broncos did. Content, I pointed out, is now determined by those who used to be covered. The Broncos not only gave their fans who came to their website exclusive content, they were able to demonstrate unparalleled transparency.
I asked a room of more than 100 administrators if they would ever do something like that with a coaching search. Not a single hand went up.
Apparently that is too far for many colleges. But that doesn’t mean they will not try new things.
Last month, Arizona hired a new football coach, Rich Rodriguez. Athletic Director Greg Byrne, announced the hiring on his personal Twitter account – by posting a picture of himself with Rodriguez and his family.
A year after Vanderbilt announced its coach on Facebook, Arizona’s Twitter revelation drew was deemed worthy of discussion by ESPN.com. “Knowing an announcement before it’s made is nothing new in the world of college athletics, but it doesn’t usually come via a photo tweeted by a university’s athletic director,” Maria Burns Ortiz wrote.
Social media experts were quoted: “It was innovative,” said Jeff Weiner, who works as a social media coach and strategist for a number of NFL players. “It got them some buzz, probably more so than if they’d just made the announcement via a traditional press conference.”
Others are watching – and learning. Last week Akron told its fans to watch its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts: “Zips Athletics plans to officially unveil its next coach through these social media outlets and will also provide information regarding an open reception to meet-and-greet the coach for all donors, season ticketholders, fans, University faculty and staff, and students. The introductory press conference will also be streamed right here on GoZips.com.”
To paraphrase Capitals owner Leonsis, they all want the most clicks.
Ronnie Ramos is the managing director of digital communications for the NCAA. Before that, he spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, splitting his time between news and sports at five newspapers, including The Miami Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter.