Steven Goldfried knows that these are not normal times. Since the NBA temporarily suspended its season on March 12, he has tried to make the abnormal appear anything but.
“That’s very hard to do because there aren’t games being played,” Goldfried, the Houston Rockets’ director of digital content strategy, said. “These are not normal times, but if we can give them something that is a little bit comforting in terms of basketball content, then that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Adjusting to life without basketball has made the Rockets look to deepen their relationship with their fanbase, Goldfried said. Early on, the team is leaning on fans to help decide what it should be posting across its various social media platforms.
On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the Rockets have created more posts that allow for fan opinions to be seen. Their first fan-friendly post asked followers to name the location and year of an in-game photograph featuring Clyde Drexler. The Rockets then opened a “Clyde Drexler Flashback Friday Signed Poster Giveaway” sweepstakes for fans to enter and win a signed poster from Drexler. Two winners were ultimately chosen from Facebook and Instagram.
Days later saw the Rockets use social media for numerous paid partnerships. One post had the team and luxury watchmaker Tissot asked fans to vote on which James Harden outfit they enjoyed most during the season. Another piece of content with phone maker Rokit was a tribute to Toyota Center visitors thus far with the caption, “We miss our fans! We’re thinking about y’all & hope you’re staying safe. Thank you for being the best!”
“We know they missed basketball, and we miss them,” Goldfried said. “Getting them engaged as much as possible has been sort of the high-level idea and trying to give them as much sense of normalcy as possible.”
The Rockets are bringing back a past social media campaign to interact with their fanbase in 2020. Beginning on March 26, Houston will host its weekly #FanArtFriday challenge, where fans submit their art using #RocketsArt for a chance to be featured on the team’s Instagram profile.Created during the 2019 offseason, the best pieces from #FanArtFriday were then recreated by Goldfried and his team and placed onto electrical boxes outside of the Toyota Center, the Rockets’ home venue. It then turned into a four-video YouTube series titled, “From IG to IRL,” which included Rockets Graphic Designer Sandra Lara and Houston-based artists Fernando Aragon and Franky Cardona as they each detailed the design process behind their murals.
“I see different people posting about it, and it’s just good to see how much Houston has not only accepted these boxes but accepted art,” Cardona told Front Office Sports in January. “I feel like Houston’s already accepting the art scene, but I feel like it’s going to be the next city to accept it even more, so it feels good as an artist to see people appreciating the artwork.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has caused a decline in social media engagement for nearly every sports team, the Rockets have not suffered as much from the absence of games.
Since Houston began posting again on March 18, it has posted more than 65 times on social media – tenth-most in the NBA – and will continue to rise as it lengthens its content calendar, Goldfried said. As a result, engagement across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have exceeded 987,000 during that same stretch, third-most in the league, according to Goldfried.
It has also been able to cultivate a wider following in spite of the circumstances. Across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it has added more than 424,000 followers, second-most in the NBA. It has also seen the second-highest increase in YouTube subscribership since March 18, bringing in more than 9,500 subscribers to the platform.With most people stuck at home, for the time being, Goldfried is using this as a chance to drive more video content. Coming soon, one of the Rockets’ team trainers is going to lead a video series on workouts and exercises that people can do indoors.
Another content series will involve the Rockets’ dance team leader, who will host multiple dance tutorial videos. While both series will be produced by the team, both the trainer and dancer will be shooting everything themselves.
But still, the fans’ opinions during this time will not go unheard.
“We’re really just trying to have an actual conversation back and forth with them because we miss basketball too,” Goldfried said. “At the end of the day, we are people who run these accounts, we’re fans of the game, and we miss it as much as they do. So we’re trying to have that conversation from the standpoint of, ‘we’re all basketball fans.’”