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How the Winnipeg Jets Tell their Story in Midst of Historic Year

With a renewed dedication to its digital voice, the rewards have matched the commitment.

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The Jets have relied on a commitment to digital storytelling to boost their online brand, (Imagine via NHLJets on IG)

*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of FOS 

In 1996, hockey fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba watched as their beloved professional hockey team, the Jets, was relocated to Arizona before winning an NHL playoff series. The region kept their passion for the sport, however, all through the NHL’s absence until 2011 when Atlanta’s franchise was relocated to Winnipeg. Now in 2018, that passion is on full display after the Jets’ defeated Minnesota in the opening round and continue their march through the playoffs.

There to capture the energy and fervor of Jets fans and the team they cheer for has been the organization’s digital team, led by True North Sports + Entertainment’ Director of Digital Andrew Wilkinson.

“We’re the smallest market in the NHL, but we have always had some of the loudest and most passionate fans in the league,” Wilkinson explains. “Obviously losing our NHL team in ’96 left a mark on our community (including myself) but it has been amazing to not only see how this city has been reinvigorated with the return of NHL hockey but to also have a key role in helping write this new chapter. There is a storied history of hockey in this city and it has been thrilling to not only see how our longtime fans have embraced the team since its return in addition to welcoming the new generations of Jets fans to be a part of it. We’re fortunate in that we don’t have to encourage our fans to show their passion for our team, most of the time our goal is to amplify what they’re doing already and show the world how great the city and our fans are.”

The intensity of Winnipeg hockey fans has been personified in the Jets’ social content all throughout the season and especially in their playoff slogan: “We Are Winnipeg”.

“Our slogan is really meant to speak to the pride that we all have in the city and that we’re proud of who we are, where we live and the values that we and the team embody,” said Wilkinson. “And you can clearly see that in our fans and how they consistently communicate that.”

It has also become a tradition for Winnipeg fans to whiteout the arena (and now street party) in order to show a collective unity while adding an intimidation factor to visiting teams. The white is also meant to match the aesthetic of the snowy weather that is common during Manitoba winters. This look has also beautifully bled over into the Jets’ digital presence.

“From its start in 1987, the Winnipeg Whiteout has really taken on a life of its own and it’s a tradition the city revels in,” added Wilkinson. “Fans dress in the most outlandish, fun, crazy outfits they can find or make that incorporates an element of white into it. We’ve seen everything from people wearing polar bear suits, wedding dresses, and everything in between, you name it and a fan has probably thought of it. We love to see their creativity.”

No shortage of white at the #WPGWhiteout Street Party!

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On the same level as the fans, Wilkinson and Social Media Manager John Delaney have made sure that the city of Winnipeg itself has remained a star in the heat of the Jets’ exposure by highlighting fan events throughout the city including the official street parties that have seen as many fans cheering the team on outside the arena as inside.

Strong video content is a big reason why since the start of the 2018 season, despite being the smallest market in the NHL, the Jets are in the top five growth rates for the league on both Facebook (3) [+3.32%] and Instagram (5) [+14.89%], and the top five interaction rates for Instagram (4) [3.01%] compared to the other 30 teams in the league.

This is also thanks in part to a stronger emphasis on pre and post-game live shows produced by Director of Hockey Content Ryan Dittrick and his JetsTV team.

This live content recently peaked in game five of round one vs the Minnesota Wild at 64,000 viewers of their post-game show. That number jumps to 98,000 when you include the pre and post-game show for game five. The Jets stream these shows through WinnipegJets.com, the teams Mobile App, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

Since expanding their digital team to include people like Delaney as well as shifting their strategic focus, the Jets’ numbers across all of these platforms have reaped the benefits.

“Our focus has really been quality over quantity,” said Wilkinson. “We saw the changes in a lot of the algorithms of the mediums and we made a conscious effort to focus on the quality of what we’re putting out there and making sure that whatever we did we were measuring and making sure that it was content that was overperforming. A lot of the credit also has to go to Creative Services Director Josh Dudych and his team who continually create amazing looking still and motion graphics that are true to our brand and marketing campaigns.”

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The Jets have a renewed devotion to their Twitter voice as well.

“With Twitter, we’ve always had the same goals and we’ve tried to stay true to our voice. We always want that voice to be fun, positive, and authentic. We realize that we are in a hockey market that is very knowledgeable of the sport so we always want to make sure that we were authentic in our approach to it,” said Wilkinson. “Our challenge, like most teams, is balancing professionalism and being humble while finding opportunities to add personality where we can as we know that’s what many fans enjoy. That’s something we’ve really focused on this season, to add a little more playfulness into our account and John has been great with walking that line.”

To add to that authenticity, for the Jets WE ARE WINNIPEG playoff campaign they incorporated some locally born influencers to get fans excited about the start of the Playoffs and grow their social audience, including WWE wrestler Chris Jericho, musicians like Tom Cochrane and Chantal Kreviazuk as well as Amazing Race Canada Host and Olympic Gold Medalist Jon Montgomery. This has included video messages and tweets in support of the team as they continue their march through the playoffs.

While the Jets are now able to continue their social growth with a full creative services team, they turned to Team Infographics (TI) in years past in order to create and maintain a consistent brand image for themselves.

Team Infographics was great to work with. They were very open to marrying our brand and all the elements of it into the templates that they made for us. They were very open to feedback as we evolved, and that makes you feel comfortable using them as an extension of your team and brand,” said Wilkinson. “At the time, we had a very small digital content team who didn’t have a lot of time or experience with creative graphics from scratch, so TI allowed our team to be able to do that as part of their daily routine without having that background. We also knew that any challenges that would come up, they were very quick to be there to support us.”

As the Jets get set to face Nashville in the second round, fans in Winnipeg and all over Manitoba and Canada continue to rejoice as their perseverance is rewarded for the years without a team and struggles to get deeper into the postseason. As young digital professionals all over the world continue to work toward their dream jobs in sports, Wilkinson reminds them that perseverance pays off.

“I find there is not always a lot of opportunities open in sports compared to other industries because I think individuals that end up in these roles have a deep passion for sports and don’t always want to leave once they are in. For those that can get a foot in the door in any organization I would encourage them to put in the time, continue to learn from those around you, and earn the trust and respect of their colleagues by being willing to do whatever needs to be done as working in sports isn’t as glamorous as some think And most importantly, remember to have fun, even on those 14 hr. days with multiple deadlines and pressures I try and always remind myself how lucky I am to get to be working for such a great organization and in sports.”

Follow the Jets on all social platforms as they continue their playoff run @NHLJets.  

*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of FOS

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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“I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

Amidst the spring football league’s collapse, countless vendors are still waiting to get paid for services rendered.

Robert Silverman

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Ultimately, it was the little things that best told the story of how dire things had gotten for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an ex-team social media manager said. Starting in Week Five, social media managers no longer traveled with the team for road games. Even before, they’d doubled up on hotel rooms. The final bit of penny-pinching was the most bizarre: For the eighth and final AAF game, social was told Getty’s photographers would not be in attendance. Instead they would have to rely on “generic images,” making the job vastly more difficult.

Less than a week later, on April 2, the chaotic, short-lived lifespan of the spring professional football league, launched in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of venerated TV producer Dick Ebersol, came to an abrupt end. A little over two weeks after that, the AAF filed for bankruptcy, as first reported by Front Office Sports.

In the aftermath, stories like the social media manager’s have become ubiquitous. A  former player was sent a medical bill for treatment received during training camp. Scores of others reportedly had to cover their own airfare or were sent four-figure bills for hotel rooms. There was the class-action lawsuit filed by two players, claiming that ownership misled them about the league’s long-term fiscal solvency. Founders pointed fingers at one another after the debt-ridden league came crashing down. All manner of now ex-employees, from team officials to players,  learned they were out of a job thanks to social media.

The league’s bankruptcy filing revealed that $48.3 million was still owed to a variety of creditors against a $11.3 million in concrete assets, a scant $536,160.68 of which remained in the league’s bank accounts. Moreover, the AAF informed the thousands of creditors that any attempts to recoup their losses would be pointless right now, because, per Sports Business Journal, its coffers are entirely bare… “If it later appears that assets are available to pay creditors, the clerk will send you another notice telling you that you may file a proof of claim and stating the deadline,” the filing states.

But like the social media manager, many of those selfsame creditors began to suspect the AAF was on rocky financial ground long before the league officially pulled the plug.

Shortly after Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who built his financial empire on the backs of subprime auto loans, bought a majority share of the financially-strapped league, he started to cut corners, looking to pare down expenses by any means necessary according to a report by Sports Illustrated. “As soon as Dundon took over, our f——— expense reports were getting approved out of Dallas,” where Dundon Capital Partners’ office is located, a former mid-level AAF employee told the magazine. (Dundon did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via the Carolina Hurricanes. The form to contact Dundon Capital Partners on their website was removed at some point in the past few months )

With the AAF bleeding millions each and every week it remained in existence, per USA Today, Dundon deemed it necessary to scrimp and save wherever possible including on the margins. So vendors—companies that supplied locker room supplies, traveling equipment and more—were approached hat in hand and offered less than the full amount owed by the AAF.

READ MORE: AAF Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

While AAF officials served as the point of contact, two sources involved with the negotiations told Front Office Sports that the debt-clearing plan was conceived and ordered by Dundon’s financial team. If that meant exploiting AAF officials’ pre-existing relationships with vendors and playing on the faith placed in the league, so be it. As one former AAF official told Front Office Sports, it was “just a shit situation.”

Some of the companies did take the lowball offers, but others refused to accept less, insisting on full payment. It didn’t matter. Both paths led to vendors getting stiffed by the AAF. Dundon’s financial team kept stalling, promising the equivalent of “the check’s in the mail,” right up until the moment when the AAF closed its doors for good.

Now those vendors have been reduced to poring over the bankruptcy filings. They know all too well that, despite being out five or six figures, they’re way at the back of the line, trailing giant conglomerates like MGM and Aramark which are owed millions. And they’re not happy about it.

“I definitely feel scammed,” one vendor said.

(more…)

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Team IMPACT Aims to Make Bigger Ripples in College Communities

The eight-year-old nonprofit has big plans to continue impacting children, their families and college communities throughout the country.

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Photo Courtesy Team IMPACT

Team IMPACT has already connected 1,700 children to more than 600 schools and 50,000 student-athletes, but there are even bigger plans on the horizon for the nonprofit that works to alter children’s lives.

Team IMPACT  began with the goal of influencing the lives of children suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, with an eye toward creating a ripple effect within their communities. Team IMPACT partners a child aged 5-through-16 with an athletic team for at least two years to help increase their confidence and reduce stresses like anxiety, depression and social isolation that often accompany their illnesses.

Founded in 2011 by Dan Kraft and Jay Calnan, the organization has come a long way, and now Team IMPACT CEO Seth Rosenzweig said it’s time to elevate the program’s mission to the next level.

“We’ve done a lot to evolve the program from a nice organization to a truly impactful one,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s in our name, so we should be able to live by it.”

READ MORE: 26 x 26 Targets Unprecedented Philanthropy for 2026 World Cup

To that end, the organization now has three target populations: the children, their families and college athletics. For the children, the program hopes to build confidence and establish a sense of belonging. For families, it’s meant to decrease anxiety and foster a supportive environment. The athletes, meanwhile, are taught empathy and civic mindfulness.

“If we do it right, we get a win-win-win,” Rosenzweig said.

Children are matched with teams throughout the year, with visits at games and hospitals several times during the season as well as during the offseason. The University of Michigan drafted Larry Prout, who became a national story and Team IMPACT’s most visible effort in 2017. Prout is a perfect example of how the children become part of the team and affect an entire collegiate community.

“They really become family,” University of Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel said. “They become a part of the team. And when you’re a student-athlete and you think things are so hard in life, it just puts it in perspective and just helps our student-athletes understand that their connection and the way that they give to the community is so important.”

Overall, Team IMPACT Director of Programs Amy VanRyn said there are nearly 1,500 NCAA and NAIA schools the program potentially can partner with to become a default piece of the athletic program.

“The approach we’ve taken is holistic,” VanRyn said. “We want to build a relationship with an entire campus as much as we can.”

VanRyn believes that, as Team IMPACT’s mission becomes ingrained in a school’s athletic community, it will continue to build organically as a piece of the program’s culture. Schools like Merrimack, UMass-Lowell and UConn all have nearly a dozen children matched every year.

“Once the baseball team is matched, the softball team wants it,” she said. “The competitive nature of athletes hasn’t once hurt us. That’s really how the partnerships on a campus-level start.”

VanRyn says the next step is at the conference level. Team IMPACT announced a partnership with the East Coast Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference on Tuesday, who will undertake a “combined effort” to support the organization annually.

“This is a great opportunity for our lacrosse-playing schools to highlight our men’s contests, bring some more attention to Division II Men’s Lacrosse and contribute to Team IMPACT, an outstanding organization that is helping so many young people across the country,” East Coast Commissioner Robert Dranoff said in a statement.

Team IMPACT has also launched a fellowship program for its student-athletes through Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. VanRyn hopes the program can serve as both professional and personal development opportunities for student-athletes who miss internships and study abroad opportunities while in-season. The fellowship program will also grow Team IMPACT’s influence, she said, and potentially foster more inter-campus and inter-conference collaborations.

An inter-school partnership of sorts has already emerged, as Merrimack and UMass-Lowell have established an annual home-and-home hockey series for the Team IMPACT families. “A lot of these families identify within a disease community or a hospital,” VanRyn said. “This gives them a different community to be a part of.”

Increasing the organization’s geographic footprint might be its greatest goal of all. Originally founded in Boston, Team IMPACT’s presence is still largely restricted to the Northeast. Rosenzweig said a large majority of the funding comes from the Boston area, including its annual Game Day Gala, which brings supporters like New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and wide receiver Julian Edelman and University of Michigan men’s basketball head coach John Beilein.

Rosenzweig hopes to take Team IMPACT national with an eventual $60 million budget, which would represent a massive increase over its current $5.5 million number, which itself is a sizable step up from its $1.25 million operating budget in 2015-16. The target budget includes $2,500 per child for Team IMPACT’s 3,000-child goal by 2022, with an eye toward continued growth.

READ MORE: Oklahoma Baseball Use Effective Communication To Create Positive On-Campus Experiences

To do that, Rosenzweig knows the organization likely needs to look at diversifying and increasing its corporate, university and medical institution partnerships. Team IMPACT has also piloted four regional staffing infrastructure plans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. Within the next five years, he’d like to add seven regions, including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Denver and Kansas City or St. Louis, with the growth then projecting into sub-regions.

“We’re at an exciting moment as an organization,” he said.

It’s an ambitious one, too. But Team IMPACT is ready to live up to its name. 

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