I've long advocated for sports teams to launch their own independent publications. Independent from their websites— distancing content marketing intended for the most passionate fans from the overt marketing—and independent from other social media ventures. Other social media efforts would be integrated, of course, but this would be stand on its own. A hub, so to speak.
In looking for examples, KnicksNow immediately comes to mind, as does Duke's Blue Planet. They're highly focused, they are deeply integrated with Twitter and Facebook, they produce a wealth of interesting content (especially video) and they're powered completely by professionals associated with their respective teams.
That last note, though, has some downside as it limits the amount of content being published. The cost of each piece of content is equal to the internal resources required to produce that piece of content.
Gawker's Jalopnik recently rolled out a new design, and with it a completely new content platform that is, at least partially, driven at least by the readers. Tim Carmody breaks it down for The Verge:
A new commenting and posting platform, called Kinja 1.0, debuts on Jalopnik, but if it does well, expect to roll out to the rest of the Gawker Media network, which includes Gawker, Gizmodo, io9, Lifehacker, Jezebel, Kotaku, and Deadspin. "Yesterday, you were a reader and a commenter," writes Hardigree. "Today you can be a writer, an arbiter, an editor, and a publisher."
Essentially, the commenting platform now works much more like a personal blog. Every user gets their own subdomain at yourname.kinja.com where they can see a stream of their posts, follow or block other users, tag and upload content — the works. Users can also create themed blogs of their own, on any topic they wish; some of the existing forum features within Jalopnik are being migrated to sub-blogs of this type. Each of these blogs can, in turn, repost articles from Jalopnik (and eventually) all Gawker Media sites.
Jalopnik also promises to hoist the best user content onto the main site. "If we do republish something you created you'll get the byline, the credit, and it'll be clear where it came from," writes Hardigree. "To paraphrase Valve co-founder Gabe Newell: Giving control of the network to its users is the only logical choice."
The downside, of course, is that you lose some sense of control over what's being published—on your site. Even if it isn't promoted, it's still there, and if this is being platform or one similar is deployed by a sports team, you run the risk that said content is critical or even hostile towards the organization.
Honestly, I think it's worth the downsides. You can flag inappropriate content as such and have it taken down, you don't have to 'promote' the negative stuff to a main feed if you don't want to and allowing negative opinions builds the site's credibility. If there isn't room for dissent, how is it any different than overt marketing copy put out for the team?
But that's looking only at the negatives. Teams stand to create a significantly more engaging relationship with their most-dedicated fans, they tap into the opinions of these fans (this would be a great listening tool) and they get a wealth of content that'd aid in educating and engaging more individuals who suport the organization.
On Gawker's platform for Jalopnik, the readers are incentivized to create content because it the Gawker platform will give them more exposure and, you never know, if they're good enough maybe they'll be called up to be one of the site's real authors.
Teams can do more than that.
Imagine a system in which the platform's top authors are rewarded with money for the team store, comped tickets or even—for those have built an audience on the platform—press passes. That, to me, is the most alluring part: the ability for a team-owned platform to truly create community and enable fans to build their own audiences.
The Harvard Business Review recently had an interesting article by Bill Lee on how customer communities can create a wealth of value for businesses. He said it required reaching what he called a "Level 4 Value Proposition" in which "you're helping customers build their social capital — that is, helping them to build and expand valuable support groups and communities." And he listed four ways companies are doing this:
- Help customers build their reputation
- Help customers build their affiliation networks
- Help customers build status in the community
- Give them a say
Though all apply to sports teams in some way, his example for the first strategy fit especially well:
When Jeff Bezos made the controversial decision to allow customers to post reviews of the books they bought on Amazon's site — a seminal event ushering customer-based marketing into the online world — he reasoned simply that ordinary reader reviews were what buyers wanted. To encourage more of this, Amazon now designates top reviewers on the site and a reviewer Hall of Fame (based in part on ratings from readers), lets reviewers set up their own pages showing their reviews of other books, provides them with a distinctive badge for their pen names, and more — all of which builds their reputation in the book buying community. Top Amazon reviewers are often more powerful than traditional media reviewers.
There are a wealth of reasons for why this could work and why it'd be valuable for teams, starting with the potential for much a deeper and faster-growing library of content and going far beyond that. Now, more than ever, fans are inclined to voice their opinion on sports. Why shouldn't teams give them a place and incentives for doing so?