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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.

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NBA, Instagram and New Era to Deliver Shoppable Championship Moment

As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sports fans are most likely to open their wallets and make an impulse purchase after their team wins a championship. As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer either Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear as they’re popping champagne.

Here’s how the digital “tap to shop” promotion will work: The minute the buzzer sounds ending the 2019 NBA Finals, Instagram will instantly offer a $50 cap/t-shirt bundle for the winning team via New Era. The combo will be exclusively available on Instagram for 24 hours after the game’s conclusion. After that, the gear may go on sale at NewEraCap.com.

The 37.7 million followers of Instagram’s NBA account just have to tap on the post for details, then tap again to buy. Instead of being sent elsewhere they can handle the entire purchase within the app.

As the “authentic cap” of the NBA, New Era is currently selling Warriors/Raptors hats emblazoned with the gold “2019 NBA Finals” logo. The NBA, Instagram and Fanatics offered a similar “shoppable moment” after the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals.

“As the Authentic Cap of the NBA, we’re excited to honor the championship team with the official New Era Authentics: Championship Series Cap and Team Celebratory Tee Bundle exclusively available through the NBA’s Instagram,” says John Connors, New Era’s director of basketball. “This partnership gives us an opportunity to reach fans and provide them with product that helps them celebrate their team’s NBA championship.”

Paige Cohen, a spokeswoman for Instagram’s tech communications, notes fans “want to be part of” the winning team’s celebration. “They shop the gear, they get all decked out,” Cohen says. 

Cohen has a point, according to sports retail expert Mike May. Capitalizing on the thrill of victory can create a “financial windfall for those who have the right product at the right time.”

It can even inspire couch potatoes to put down the clicker and play the sport they’re watching on TV.

“When (fans) emotions are high there’s often a disconnect between common sense and spending — and spending just takes over,” says May, who consults for PHIT America. “It’s an interesting day and age that we live in. It gets faster. The immediacy of Instagram just adds to the festivities — and the spending.”

READ MORE: Canadian Craze Carrying NBA Finals Viewership

Instagram and New Era previously partnered with the NFL to offer a digital shopping experience during the 2019 Draft in Nashville.

The ceremonial act of young college football stars putting on the cap of their new NFL teams has become part of the NFL Draft day ritual. A photographer shot photos of the players in their New Era caps. The photos were shared to the NFL’s Instagram account, complete with shopping tags, driving fans to NFLShop.com. The caps sold for $30 to $38.

The NBA can tap into a huge pool of hoops fans on social media. The NBA’s Instagram account boasts the most followers of any pro league account. The account has drawn 11.8 billion views, and 1.3 billion engagements, this season alone. And Instagram’s new role as a digital mall keeps growing.

In March, the social media giant launched a “Checkout on Instagram” button that enables users to shop and buy products without leaving the app. Users enter their name, email, billing information and shipping address.

Over 1 billion people use Instagram every month, according to Hootsuite, with 500 million on the platform every day. Roughly 60% utilize Instagram to discover new products.

READ MORE: NBA and Twitter Team Up to Bring “Virtual Sports Bar” to Life

Sam Farber, the NBA’s vice president of digital media, said the Finals offer the league an opportunity to “test innovative initiatives” during its biggest event of the year.

With the Raptors leading the Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the series returns to Oakland for Game 6 Thursday night. If the Warriors survive, the Finals moves to Toronto for Game 7 Sunday night.

“We’re excited to partner with both Instagram and New Era to bring exclusive merchandise to fans in a new way.”

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Stanley Pup Correspondent Fetches New Fans for NBC Sports & NHL

According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason.

Ian Thomas

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Photo Credit: NHL

The multiple-month grueling road to the Stanley Cup Final annually catches the attention of the sports world. This year, one of the most dogged chroniclers of that journey has helped the league gain even more traction – Sunny, the Stanley Pup correspondent.

The idea for a Stanley Pup correspondent was the brainchild of Matt Ziance, manager of consumer engagement at NBC Sports. After seeing the way that Sunny, a labrador and guide dog in training, had captivated audiences as the official Today Show puppy, the idea of having a dog being a continued part of the network’s coverage of the NHL playoffs was spawned.

“Each year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re always searching for new, organic ways to stand out in our overall marketing messaging,” Ziance said. “While looking at successful campaigns across our properties, we saw a strong connection between our fan base and utilizing puppies in our campaigns.”

That led NBC Sports to incorporate the Stanley Pup across its broadcasts and social posts on a weekly basis. Across the playoffs, Sunny traveled more than 10,000 miles across the country while attending games in Boston, Denver, San Jose and St. Louis, as well as appearing at the network’s studios in Stamford, Connecticut – creating unique content while also finalizing his guide dog training by working in high-volume areas and new surroundings.

That content has been a boon for NBC Sports, the NHL and the reach of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason across collaborations with The TODAY Show, the NHL, the We Rate Dogs Twitter account and the Guide Dog Foundation – an audience that includes many who are connecting to the Stanley Cup and the NHL in a new way.

Dan Palla, director of consumer engagement marketing at NBC Sports, said the network spends significant time in the build up to the launch of the playoffs each year thinking of “every single way we can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs bigger than it has been before.”

“The tagline we use is ‘there is nothing like playoff hockey’ – there is an inherent truth to that and every hockey fan knows that,” Palla said. “It’s also about growing the game and making the Stanley Cup Playoffs resonate off the ice, and thinking of new ways to draw people into the compelling games and the culture.”

Palla said when he first heard of the idea of bringing Sunny onto the hockey team, he said “it’s hard not to smile when you think of a Stanley Pup correspondent – we knew it was an opportunity to bring hockey to audiences in a different way that felt like a shot worth taking.”

The NBC Sports team worked with the Today Show staff to understand what worked well with Sunny in terms of content, as well as with the Guide Dog Foundation to ensure that the experience would also be beneficial to Sunny’s training.

READ MORE: Like Novak Djokovic’s Outfit? NBCUniversal Wants To Help You Buy It

The ability to capture hockey-related content with Sunny has allowed the two NBCUniversal programs to have cross-company promotion on-air as well as on social media, while also having hockey content reach new audiences. For example, the Stanley Pup correspondent was featured on the popular We Rate Dogs Twitter account, which has more than eight million followers. That also helped spark user-generated content coming from hockey fans and dog lovers alike on how their own ‘Stanley Pups’ were enjoying the playoffs.

Palla said NBC Sports has made it “mission critical” to help raise awareness of the sport and the NHL outside of the traditional ways of marketing hockey, something that he thinks has helped viewership. The NHL 2018-2019 regular season averaged 424,000 viewers across NBC Sports’ TV and digital platforms, up 2% from the previous year.

Both Palla and Ziance said the network has been thrilled with Sunny’s contribution to this year’s playoffs. While Sunny is now leaving the NBCUniversal family to become a full-time guide dog, Ziance said the idea of another future Stanley Pup Correspondent is something the network will consider not only for the 2020 playoffs, but potentially for the regular season as well.

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Twitter Doesn’t Want Sports Rights

Front Office Sports

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

You can count out at least one social media company from the TV sports rights game. 

According to Max Mason of The Australian Financial Review, the company is not interested in battling for major sports rights, but wants to partner with rights holders, such as TV broadcasters, to extend their audiences and bring in more money.

Friend, not foe…

While Twitter does have deals to broadcast games on its platform with leagues like the WNBA, NWHL and more, the goal for the platform is not to be a linear TV broadcaster.

“The way that we’re approaching our business and our partnerships in the space is not to compete with rights holders. I don’t want to be a linear television broadcaster.” – Kay Madati, Twitter’s vice-president and global head of content partnerships

Bigger together…

Instead of competing with one another, Madati and Twitter want to serve as a way for traditional linear broadcasters to be able to amplify their content and drive new revenue.

“We’re here to make those events bigger by marrying the conversation that happens on our platform around those things. We’re here to actually come to them and say ‘we can make your event, your investment in this property that much bigger and that much better’.” – Kay Madati

More video is good for Twitter…

According to Mason, video has become the dominant source of revenue for Twitter, comprising 50% of money coming in.

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