Past The Press Box

Twitter at the ballpark--curation and geolocation could be key for teams

For me, getting scorched in the dome with a foul ball borders on being inevitable. See, when I go to Mariners games I usually sit about 20 rows up from third base and spend an inordinate amount of time on my phone because, in-between batters and innings, I am constantly checking my Twitter list of Mariners writers and bloggers.

Now, I'll be the first to acknowledge that if Ray Kinsella were sitting to my left, and Terrence Mann to my right, they would not approve. But in today's age, how different is this than keeping score? I'll admit it isn't as traditional or romanticized, but it keeps me engaged in the game and gives appropriate context to eveything that's going on. Whenever I tell someone about this practice, someone who also utilizes Twitter a bit, they give it a shot and usually enjoy it. It's such a great addition to the game, like those people who listen to the AM radio, but it's better. It makes the games more enjoyable and it makes me a better fan. The obvious question then is, how can marketers spur this kind of behavior?

I recently started thinking a little more about this as I took part Wednesday in #sbchat (sports business) on Twitter, where I conversed with Caleb Mezzy of 5MSports regarding in-game promotions. "Conversed" is probably a little kind, you can see the transcript here. While I understand the need, I personally despise many in-game promotions. I cannot stand the wave and that's not even a promotion so computer-animated hydroplane races are out of the question. So, I pressed Caleb to see how they could be done tastefully, without turning off some of your better fans while still offering something of value. Because of some projects he was working on, it was left someone else at "Tweets on big screen."

Well, that alone doesn't get me. Not only does pulling up random fan-generated Tweets seem a little like social media for social media's sake, I know Safeco already displays texts and pictures from fans through a Verizon promotion.

So what can we do to really incorporate Twitter into the gameday experience? After a four-paragraph lede, let's get to those two things I mentioned in the title.

Curation

This concept is very basic. You take the best stuff and put it in one easily-accessible place. It's exactly what I do with my own list of bloggers and writers. I only want the best stuff. This is why I monitor this list more fervently than a search column for the word 'Mariners'. So, what if a team threw their brand behind an official list, except one that was better with mine? I can't find the example now (believe they're oddly deleted) but the folks at NBC would put together a Twitter list for each Sunday Night Football game. It consisted of prominent writers, personalities, etc from each side. The same could be done for each series in baseball. It'd be great to see not only the various beat-writers and bloggers covering the M's, but those of the other team as well. And then, after you do something like that, you show "Tweets on the big screen". You introduce people to that list through mentions in the stadium. You explain how easy it is to follow, you don't even need to be on Twitter because you created a short at.mlb URL redirect and pull that up on the board. Now anyone can track it on their phone. And you know what? They'll be looking for that list when they're watching at home too. And if they're not, you can always remind them on the telecast.

But, you say this doesn't engage the fans at the stadium. How can they participate? Well...

Geolocation

The idea of combining geolocation with Twitter first piqued my interest when MLB updated its mobile AtBat app to include check-in functionality along with the ability to see Tweets from the ballpark and surrounding area. However, each of these carried its own problem. First, you just created a new geolocation service when there's already enough out there. Foursquare is the elder geolocation-centric application while Facebook Places is the most used. With the 'nearby Tweets' functionality in the MLB app, users have to actually turn on the geo-tagging of their updates. Many people don't. So what now?

I think you utilize Foursquare and Facebook Places. Foursquare is excellent for this because, when checking to see who else is there, Foursquare pulls up their Twitter account when available. From the Twitter accounts on there you, either manually or through API ninja work, turn those check-ins into a Twitter list. And now you show "Tweets on big screen" to highlight those who are participating and cue in those who haven't yet. "Oh you don't have Foursquare? Just check in on Facebook Places with your Twitter name as a comment and we'll be sure to get you added." Now this list is promoted at games using the same tactics as the previous list, likely in the same promotion. Fans not on Twitter can track it by going to a certain URL. Maybe the teams create a specific page displaying both side-by-side; it wouldn't be difficult. While this is great for those people at the game, to converse with fans across the ballpark, how cool would this be to track at home or from across the country? Sounds like fun to me.

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So, give it a shot sports marketers. If you're looking for a way to engage your fans and incorporate Twitter into the gameday experience, then really do it. Don't utilize social media just to be hip or offer customer service when there are so many other ways it could offer value to your most passionate fans.

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The American Sportswriter_