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Chicago Bulls Strive to Digitally Innovate While Honoring Their Past

The Chicago Bulls’ digital department is constantly finding the balance between creating fresh, new content and paying homage to the team’s rich history.

Bailey Knecht

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One of the club’s most like photos of all time. (Image via @chicagobulls/IG)

The Chicago Bulls have 3.8 million Instagram followers and four million Twitter followers. Eighteen million people like the Bulls on Facebook and more than 100,000 people subscribe to the Bulls’ YouTube page. Across all social platforms, the team has a total combined following of 28 million.

For a team with such a massive reach, the Bulls can’t afford to take their digital strategy lightly.

“We feel a responsibility to honor the brand,” said Dan Moriarty, the Bulls’ digital director. “Some other NBA teams that can be a little more tongue-in-cheek, more irreverent, but we know that’s not our brand. The Bulls are an iconic brand, a gold standard, and a global franchise. That comes with certain responsibilities.”

“It’s bigger than just social content,” he added. “Social content is the voice of the team, and that has implications beyond putting a tweet out that gets thousands of likes. It frames what your brand stands for to all of your stakeholders.”

Moriarty described the Bulls’ content as polished and deliberate. To achieve that specific tone, he said his team follows a framework they refer to as HITTID, which stands for human, iconic, timely, thumb-stopping, inclusive, and differentiated.

One specific piece of content that he said hit all of those pieces criteria last season was a video of Lauri Markkanen showing off some soccer skills after practice. The video — filmed by BullsTV — showed Markkanen’s fun side, and because it wasn’t a traditional highlight video, it caught the attention of viewers.

“It was a piece of human content,” Moriarty said. “No one else had access, so it was thumb-stopping because you have this nice, polished video of a basketball player doing soccer kicks… [BullsTV] was there at the right time, they captured it, and they got it over to us — it was such unique content, and it felt human.”

SEE MORE: How the Seattle Storm Social Team Pulled at Community Heartstrings

When it comes to digital content, the team also takes advantage of the pride that courses through the veins of the city of Chicago. The Bulls’ 2018-19 schedule release featured the CTA map, for example.

“Obviously, we are a city that’s pretty proud of itself, so we bring that to life,” Moriarty said. “We want to make sure our content reinforces that we are Chicago’s basketball team and reflects the attributes of city.”

Beyond the city aspect, the digital department also plays up the team’s rich history.

“We’re not just another NBA team,” Moriarty said. “We were a dynasty in the ‘90s, and we had one of the greatest NBA teams of all time and the greatest NBA player of all time…We lean into that.”

Highlighting the team’s history without coming across as outdated is a delicate balance, according to Moriarty.

“We make sure we’re keeping pride in our heritage from a city and team perspective, and we talk internally about using that as a springboard for the future, rather than an anchor to the past,” he said.

Some of the Bulls’ content, like branded pieces, are pre-planned months in advance. Other content is conceptualized in the moment, like the organization’s most engaged tweet of all-time, which was a recent quote tweet of Korean pop group BTS performing at the United Center, with one of the members rocking a Bulls’ jersey.

“For us, it’s being ready as opportunities present themselves,” Moriarty said. “We just have a team that knows when this stuff emerges and knows what our brand is, and we activate and move pretty quickly.”

One example of content that takes more time to plan out was a creative collaboration with Sprite. A Markkanen dunk video was cut into hundreds of individual frames, which were desaturated and printed out for fans to illustrate. The illustrated frames were then stitched back together to create a new video.

For all the different types of content that they put out, Moriarty said it’s important to be mindful about which pieces are published on each specific social platform.

“We have fans of the team for different reasons,” he said. “Some want to just see the basketball side, and some want the entertainment and brand perspective…We find that all of that content has a home, and we’re getting a lot better at understanding what works where and understanding the implications of certain platforms.”

The Bulls’ digital strategy and innovative content has earned the department a number of awards, including the inaugural NBA Team Digital Content Award in 2016 and the Best in Sports Social Media award at the 2017 Sports Business Awards.

“We’ve been lucky to win a few awards — not that we do it for recognition — but it is recognition for our content team, who really put their hearts and souls into those pieces,” Moriarty said.

SEE MORE: FanSided Turns to Emojis to Help Differentiate NBA Coverage 

This season, Moriarty said there is extra emphasis on sponsored content, from the new Angry Birds Eye View Cam with Rovio Entertainment to “Rising Player” content with Calamos.

“[Sponsored content] has really been performing at a level above and beyond, and it’s really nice because it continues to tie in the content we’re proud of, with partners we want to be associated with,” he said.

Moriarty also mentioned that the digital staff is aiming to further develop the Bulls’ mobile app, so that it is better customized to individual users.

“In the past, we’ve struggled with how to create a content experience for someone who’s never going to come to a game but also an in-arena experience for people attending,” Moriarty said of the app. “If you’re based outside of the U.S., we want to serve you a different app experience than a season-ticket holder… We’ll make the app a more personalized and useful experience because everyone has such different needs out of it.”

Even with the success it has had so far, the Bulls’ digital department is proving that it can continue to grow and innovate, providing unique content that can’t be found anywhere else.

“There are a million and one places to go to for Bulls content, so why would you go to us?” Moriarty pondered. But then he proceeded to answer his own question.

“We go above and beyond what media brands can do. We have different standards, quality, and access.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Digital Media

Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social With Angela Welchert

For Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM, paid social has become an intregral part of her job and the company’s overall strategy.

Front Office Sports

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On February 22, a handful of digital media professionals from across the industry will converge on New York City for the first in our Huddle Series. Participants will get the chance to learn from these speakers and grow their knowledge of five specific areas within digital media: paid social, content distribution, platform strategy, monetizing social media, and vertical content.

In the buildup to the event, we’ll be introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise. Today, we begin with Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM. She will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Pay to Play: Executing Better Paid Social Campaigns”.

Welchert describes herself as a professional who does her best work focusing on the bigger picture.

“I like to focus on looking at the grander scheme and really drilling down into opportunities that are executable,” Welchert stated. “Throughout my career, I’ve heavily contributed to driving forward social presence for companies and organizations.  Now leading paid partnerships for IBM, I’m focused on identifying opportunities for us to really optimize social.”

Welchert also describes her current role with IBM as the highlight of her career. Prior to landing that job, Welchert graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she studied business administration and marketing.

Before moving to New York, Welchert jumped into the world of social marketing at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as a social media strategy consultant. In 2011, Welchert migrated to the Big Apple to become the director of social media at Berkeley College before joining IBM in 2014 as its global social business manager. In 2018, she was promoted to the social media partnerships lead.

“In the first six months or so that I’ve been in this role,” Welchert remarked, “I’ve spent a large portion of my time reevaluating how we’re executing and strategizing when it comes to paid social, which is a very heavy investment for IBM. I pride myself on bringing a multidisciplinary attack to the way we’re approaching paid social.”

Over the course of her career to date, Welchert has become very conscious of the multi-faceted nature of social media marketing. In order for other young professionals to find success in the field and specifically in paid social, she recommends that they do the same.

“Social marketing is both an art and a science. The science side of it with targeting, reporting, and optimizing is important. However, you still need to be very cognizant of the art side of social media when it comes to content creation.”

READ MORE: Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle Series at Bleacher Report

In her brief time at IBM, Welchert has already made a significant impact for the organization. Specifically, her changes to what platforms the company invests money are paying dividends.

“IBM is a massive company, with over 400,000 employees globally. Sometimes change can be slow moving. So I believe the most impactful thing that I’ve done so far in this role is bring together our leadership team including social, paid media, corporate advertising, and our agency of record to change the way we do paid social.”  Welchert states. “we are now in the process of deep diving into our paid social investments, to create a new process that will better position our paid media teams for success. By doing this, we will see significant cost savings for IBM, but we will also improve the return from our investments.”

Meet Welchert and hear more of her thoughts on the current digital landscape at the Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle presented by Opendorse in New York on February 22. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Digital Media

DC United’s Broadcast Deal Could Further Demonstrate Digital Media Potential

FloSports’ broadcast deal with D.C. United exemplifies the company’s mission to raise the profile of sports outside the Big Four leagues.

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Photo via DC United

A positive in increasing segmentation of sports media could be the corresponding rise in the popularity of sports outside the Big Four.

That’s what digital streaming service FloSports has in mind for a variety of sports, most prominently soccer in the United States. The company recently secured a multi-year agreement with MLS side D.C. United for coverage.

“We’ve always had our eyes on trying to get into soccer,” said Mike Levy, FloSports vice president of global rights acquisition. “Strategically, it really only made sense if we could do it with a really good, smart, strategic direction. We held out until we felt like we found it.”

FloSports started in 2006, largely with wrestling and track and field content.

READ MORE: How Wayne Rooney Added Millions of Additional Brand Value for D.C. United and MLS

Most of D.C. United’s home and away games will be aired on FloFC.com, the provider’s 25th sports vertical. The broadcasts will be in both English and Spanish. Also included in the deal with D.C. United is rights into original D.C. content, like behind-the-scenes programming.

“D.C. United is committed to providing fans with an innovative and high-quality viewing experience for all of their regionally broadcast matches,” said Sam Porter, D.C. United senior vice president. “Our deal with FloSports presents a new and unique opportunity for fans to get behind-the-scenes access to the D.C. United first team … while also providing a world-class broadcast production for viewers.”

Levy said the reason major professional sports have captured the American mindset is because of the previous media efforts and marketing. He said the future of other sports is up to the marketing and media opportunities presented to them — and soccer is in an ideal spot with its global popularity and U.S. youth participation.

Traditional media properties like NBC and FOX provide excellent live soccer coverage, Levy said, but there’s a deeper opportunity with the off-hour programming to explore and become a content destination.

“We believe you have to figure out how to create an emotional connection,” Levy said. “You have to do a lot more than just broadcast live sports. Any given Saturday night, there’s a thousand sporting events to choose from in the linear and digital stratosphere. And that’s just sports; there’s general entertainment and news too.

“All these types steal attention spans. So, we look for opportunities where fans aren’t getting that deep level of attention these sports deserve.”

Levy said FloSports will continue to seek other soccer rights deals to further prove soccer deserves the attention level the other major professional leagues receive from traditional media.

Other sports, along with wrestling and track and field verticals, FloSports has zeroed in on include Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fast-pitch softball, and rugby.

FloSports also has rights in basketball with the Euro League and Australian and German professional leagues and is a large platform for high school hoops.

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

“We’re looking to expand the international pro game in the U.S.,” Levy said. “Basketball is something we’re excited about.”

Football provides a large challenge as it is dominated by traditional media, but Levy said FloSports is seeking deeper penetration in high school sports, as well as some collegiate opportunities. Levy also said he sees tremendous opportunities in baseball at every level outside of Major League Baseball and currently broadcasts a variety collegiate games.

The proliferation of the internet and streaming services has provided the ability for platforms like FloSports to grab serious viewership in sports that previously saw almost zero coverage, even ESPN’s famous off-hour programming, in the past. Sports fanatics will devour content in their preferred sport if it’s available.

“There’s never been this level of fragmentation with this movement to digital,” Levy said. “Through that, we believe all sorts of sports have the opportunity to rapidly grow them as they get passionate viewers, and we can do our part to feed into it.”

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Digital Media

A Pivot Back From Video Feels Unlikely for Sports Media in 2019

The pivot-to-video experiment produced mix results for some, but don’t bank on sports publishers turning a hopeful gaze toward long-form written content in 2019 and beyond.

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For the better part of the last few years, sports media outlets shifted a lot of resources from written content to video.

FOX Sports was arguably the most notable example of pivoting to video — and still to this day only publishes video content on its website. Initially, the result of the drastic alteration in content strategy was an 88 percent drop in web traffic.

To further complicate things, it has since come to light that Facebook’s video metrics may not have been completely accurate. Long story short, the trend of the pivot to video was not a successful one for the industry.

This being said, a full transition back to focusing on true long-form written content is not something that many industry professionals see in the cards for the near future.

LISTEN: Addressing the Challenges of Working in Social Media 

“Personally, I remain skeptical that long-form written content will really take off as the primary offering for most major sports publications,” said Jared Kalmus, assistant manager of SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty. “The fact remains that web publications depend on clicks to drive their revenue streams, and the effort and writing talent required to publish long-form content is prohibitive when compared to quick-hit ‘click-bait’ posts.

“The ideal approach is likely to have some type of matrix between long-form features and quick news updates, but this requires a staff expansion for most publications. That’s a big ask as most publications are struggling to even pay their existing talent a living wage.”  

The ease of publishing what are essentially small stories in a series of tweets or other social media posts further complicates things. At least this is how Joe Serpico, a reporter for Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM in the DMV area, sees it.

“It pains me to say this, but I don’t see written publications being any better even with video not taking off as planned,” Serpico said. “That’s mainly because of social media. When breaking news happens, we rush to Twitter and Facebook to get the information. A lot of beat writers give most of the information they’re putting into their story in tweets or Facebook posts. These days, we see writers incorporate tweets into their articles too.

“The video experiment did seem to backfire, but I don’t think it will help written publications be the primary focus again. It is social media that has changed journalism most.”

READ MORE: 3 Predictions for Sports Digital Media in 2019

In talking with other writers throughout the sports space, you’ll find many who share a similar opinion. Creatives with a writing background continue to be unoptimistic about the state of the space, especially with stories like that of former Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, who published an account last month of his transition to a full-time job delivering packages for Amazon, becoming more and more common.

This is not to say that other types of creatives are doing anything wrong.

The social media space has given rise to a massive number of talented videographers, graphic designers, animators, and so on. It does spark interest about the time we live in as media consumers, however. The space shifted to a massive focus on something, it was a statistical failure, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to change things all that much.

Could 2019 prove that feeling wrong? We’ll have to wait and see. 

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