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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.

Digital Media

Overtime Brings Billboard And Investment News to NBA All-Star Weekend

Overtime, the digital media brand specializing in high school sports, put some of the top teenage basketball players on a billboard in Charlotte.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo via Overtime

NBA All-Stars don’t want overtime on Sunday night. It’s clear 48 minutes is enough for them.

But the All-Stars and the NBA can’t avoid Overtime off the court in Charlotte.

Overtime — the digital media brand specializing in high school sports, not the extra period after regulation — has established its presence at NBA All-Star Weekend. Fans entering the city this weekend are driving right past Overtime’s “All-Stars of the Future” billboard, which features 10 of the nation’s top high school players — LaMelo Ball being the most recognizable — split between East and West (see full list at bottom of article).

“They’re true superstars in their own right,” says Overtime President and Co-Founder Zack Weiner. “I think there’s sort of this love for them that’s insatiable. When you first read about it, ‘Whoa, a high school kid on a billboard,’ it sounds weird and then you’re like, ‘Wait, it makes sense. These guys are global superstars. Why should they not be on billboards?’

“For our audience, it’s just cool. It’s these guys they’ve been watching for the past couple of years and to see them in Charlotte, around the NBA All-Star Game, when obviously, they’re going to be All-Stars in a few years, people that recognize them, it’s why they love Overtime. You feel like you’re on the wave before it’s taken off.”

Weiner, 26, and Overtime CEO and Co-Founder Dan Porter, 52, don’t look like traditional media executives at NBA All-Star Weekends. For the interview, the two walk around The Westin Charlotte in Overtime hoodies, showing off the brand’s merchandise in a hotel full of NBA brass.

“We want to be everywhere,” Porter says. “We want them to be like, ‘I see you guys everywhere. I see you on my Instagram feed, I see you on YouTube, I see you on television, I see you on the billboard.’ We’re building the biggest sports network in the world.”

Kawhi Leonard happens to walk by during the interview. He says hello to the Overtime duo and flashes what some might consider a rare smile.

“He recognizes Overtime,” Weiner immediately says.

“You see Trae Young walk through the tunnel in his Overtime sweatshirt,” Porter adds, referencing a recent game entrance by the Hawks rookie. “We out here.”

Before starting Overtime in fall 2016, Porter served as Head of Digital at WME with Weiner working on the digital team. In early 2017, Overtime raised $2.5 million in seed funding and in February 2018, the brand announced another $9.5 million in funding, with capital coming from Kevin Durant, among others.

Just this past Thursday, Overtime revealed it has received $23 million in Series B funding, which includes investments from current and former NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Baron Davis and Victor Oladipo. Porter told Variety the company has a valuation of around $100 million.

“I would say that that we’re very strategic about almost everything we do,” Weiner says of the investment announcement corresponding with NBA All-Star Weekend.

Davis can give some perspective as an investor.

“They’ve kind of got their finger on the pulse and these guys are doing a good job of growing that community and looking to be disruptive,” he says, when asked about the billboard. “You don’t find too many young companies like that.”

Just over two years into its lifespan, Overtime is starting to see some of its former high school basketball subjects reach the NBA level (it should be noted Overtime considers its four current main verticals basketball, football, soccer, and esports). Players like Young tip their cap to Overtime, which was on their stories before they were household names.

“When Dan and I started a company that wasn’t something that we proactively thought about,” Weiner says. “I’ve realized that it’s happened. I think it’s taken off even more than we thought in terms of filling content with them, them repping our gear, them retweeting us, posting on Instagram. They definitely recognize sort of the implicit partnership that we’ve had throughout their careers, starting in high school.”

You might have been introduced to Zion Williamson this season, but Overtime fans have been watching Williamson’s dunks for a couple years now. 

For the players on the billboard, this is part of that conveyor belt. Other than Ball, this is a huge boost to these teenagers’ PR campaigns. Overtime is the brand investing in youth basketball content at a grassroots level.

“Some of the guys are more well-known and some are less,” Weiner says of players Overtime covers. “But a core value of what we do is bring recognition to these kids and help build their platform. I mean those guys [on the billboard], I believe will all be in the NBA, but there are some players that we’ve covered that won’t and there’s a lot of value in them growing their social followings and building their brands.”

One of the players, Anthony Edwards, is among the top senior high school recruits in the country, but Mikey Williams is an eighth grader, just starting to get his name out there.

In Charlotte, Overtime is credentialed for all standard NBA media events. One could argue Overtime is a rival to the NBA and its partners, from a content perspective. After all, they draped a billboard over the city hosting the NBA’s premier tourist event.

Porter and Weiner don’t see it that way.

“With retired commissioners, we have an amazing relationship,” Porter laughs, referencing David Stern, who invested in Overtime’s seed round.

“In terms of a formal business partnership, there’s nothing right now, but I was talking to people at the league and they love Overtime,” Weiner says. “They understand the importance to the young community. I think it’s about timing when and if there’s something to be done officially.”

READ MORE: Overtime’s Pop-Up Showcases Commerce Potential for Digital Brands

It might take a few years. Maybe when the players on the Charlotte billboard are in the NBA, that’ll be the time for Overtime and the NBA to partner. After all, those players will remember who brought them to NBA All-Star Weekend first.

For reference, these are the players included on Overtime’s billboard, with their descriptions, as provided by Overtime:

Mikey Williams – Mikey Williams is the best 8th grader in the country. He’s from California and is known for his crazy dunks and LeBron comparisons.

Jalen Green – The most athletic junior in the nation! Jalen Green is from California and dunks on everyone.

RJ Hampton – The Texas point guard can do everything on the court. People say he could play in the NBA right now!!

Cassius Stanley – Cassius is a senior from California. Since 9th grade he has been throwing down viral dunks. He legit floats in the air.

LaMelo Ball – The son of LaVar and brother of Lonzo Ball. LaMelo is a senior at Spire Institute in Ohio. He is from California. LaMelo is the most famous high school basketball player ever. He played professionally overseas last year.

Cole Anthony – The son of NBA player Greg Anthony. Cole is a point guard at Oak Hill Academy in VA. He’s from NYC and is regarded as the best point guard in the country.

Jalen Lecque – Senior at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Jalen is from New York and committed to NC State. He is the most athletic player in the country.

Anthony Edwards – From Georgia and committed to Georgia. Anthony Edwards has bursted onto the seen as a top guard in the nation. He could be the #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Scottie Lewis – From New Jersey and committed to the University of Florida. Scottie Lewis is super talented and has gotten comparisons to Kobe Bryant.

Aidan Igiehon – Aidan is originally from Ireland. He has become famous for his power game and his nickname “The Irish Hulk”. Aidan is committed to Louisville.

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Digital Media

Channeling Napoleon Dynamite a Success for Blazers All-Star Campaign

A video featuring Blazers guards CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard helped secure Lillard a place in the game and exemplifies the team’s content strategy.

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ content team is hoping to extend its connection to the team’s fans with this week’s NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte.

This weekend will provide an opportunity to dive deeper into some Blazers’ lives, including guard Damian Lillard, said Aaron Grossman, the director of content for Portland.

The All-Star campaign started with a video to get Lillard and teammate CJ McCollum voted into the All-Star game. Ultimately, Lillard was voted onto the roster and team captain Lebron James selected him in the All-Star draft.

Grossman said every team seeks a way to creatively promote their players, but it sometimes seems like each team uses the same concepts over and over.

This year, the Blazers sought out a workaround to come up with a different way to promote McCollum and Lillard for the All-Star Game. The pair are good friends in real life and staples on the court in Portland.

READ MORE: How West Virginia’s Digital Team Created a Blueprint for a Heisman Campaign

“They both took to the idea and were very receptive to it from the beginning,” Grossman said. “It didn’t require a lot of back and forth, we presented the concept and during the shoot, they were willing to do things above and beyond what we expected.

“The commitment to their roles and personality really shine through and that’s why it was as successful as it was.”

The video showcased the pair’s friendship and competitiveness as they campaigned for each other to make the All-Star roster, culminating with McCollum dancing like Napoleon Dynamite.

Grossman was happy with the performance and said it was difficult to compare to previous All-Star campaigns as the voting procedures have changed. The video had more than 700,000 views across the Blazers social channels and more than 80,000 engagements.

“Comparing isn’t apples to apples,” he said. “But the views and interpretation of it, the actual commentary and appreciation, was certainly better than in years past.”

The success was in large part because the players were cooperative and wanted to see each other be successful, Grossman said. The content team often tries to showcase the players’ individual personalities and the All-Star campaign video was an extension of the normal strategy. Grossman still credits the players with their commitment to cooperate beyond the normal commitments.

“It was something they could have chosen not to participate in,” Grossman said. “We try to entertain in a unique voice that represents our city and team. The All-Star is a great opportunity to promote for a specific reason and cause.”

The Blazers social team met this week to prepare for the on-the-ground strategy in Charlotte. With two players in North Carolina for the weekend, the team is preparing for a more in-depth look at players lives beyond game day.

READ MORE: How Rakuten Is Leaving Its Mark on Steph Curry’s Underrated Tour

The content team will have three people at the All-Star Game, a social representative, sideline reporter, and videographer. Lillard will be in the main All-Star Game, while Lillard will be joined by teammate Seth Curry in the 3-Point Contest.

Grossman said two players in a single place for multiple days gives the content team the chance to share stories they haven’t been able to in the past. He’s excited to continue the All-Star campaign into this weekend.

A focus of the content will be on Lillard and his interactions with the NBA’s other stars in Charlotte.

“He’s our guy and it demonstrates his place with NBA’s greatest players and any of his interactions will be important to capture,” Grossman said. “He’s earned the respect of the best players and coaches and media and anyway we can capture where he stands with his peers is really important to showcase the player he’s become.”

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Digital Media

Bleacher Report Is Focused on the Second Generation of Social Media

As consumer habits continue to change, the company is looking to take advantage by blending content with experiential and commerce opportunities.

Adam White

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As Bleacher Report gears up for NBA All-Star weekend, the publisher sees itself in a position to take what is digital and make it physical.

This starts with the company’s House of Highlights activation in Charlotte, where there will be everything from a studio and a gaming room, to a basketball gym and live video programming.

The first large-scale activation of its kind for the sub-brand, the opportunity comes at a time when Howard Mittman, CRO and CMO of Bleacher Report sees a shifting landscape when it comes to the digital media space that he wants to make sure they take advantage of.

“This activation is based on this sentiment that I’ve been increasingly more interested in when it comes to how we take things from the digital world and create experiences in the physical world.”

Last’s year’s activation at the All-Star game in L.A. was the first example of this shift and one that started what has become a multistep process of rolling out B/R’s experience practice and their series of live events.

While the goal is to take the digital and make it physical, they will also be taking the physical and making it digital.

“What we are essentially doing is building out this enormous footprint to serve as a physical set that we are using to just capture social content,” said Mittman talking about what their content strategy looked like over the course of the weekend. “Although we expect more than 4,000 people to show up over the course of the day, we are focused on how we can use the space to create content that will manifest itself online to our 40 million or so social followers.”

READ MORE: GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

Not only has the live experience side of the business powered content, but it has also helped when it comes to partnerships with brands like Intel, Ruffles, McDonald’s and more.

No longer just trying to sell digital assets, they are able to bring what Mittman calls a “holistic set of solutions” to the table for partners.

In just a few years, they’ve been able to change the conversation from trying to pitch partners to finding solutions for partners.

“We find ourselves in the position now where we’re going to ask them (partners) what their challenges are, what their needs are, and then almost reverse engineer from where it is that they want to get to at the end of the campaign,” added Mittman. “This allows us to pick and pull the different aspects or elements from inside our arsenal that work for them or that they’re interested in.”

It’s this process that has allowed the company to more than double the revenue for just its All-Star activation alone.

Along with the House of Highlights presence, the company will also be showcasing its new World Tour line, of which it just recently dropped the first collaboration of the line with Dwyane Wade.

Mittman declined to say how many units the collaboration had sold, but added some color saying that it “blew up” and that between this collaboration and others they have run with The Roots, 21 Savage, and Vin Staples has created an “interesting mix of content and commerce” for the brand.

With content powering the engine, Bleacher Report and Mittman, in particular, see commerce as an additional revenue opportunity that allows them to not only provide athletes with a whole new way to create buzz, but also gives the publisher a whole new content experience.

“A traditional content experience allows you to capture content and sell against it. This allows us to capture content, sell ads against that, and then share in the revenue opportunities with the athlete or celebrity.”

Mittman believes that this type of opportunity will change how athletes approach some of their marketing and press opportunities.

“If you’re an A-list celebrity or athlete and you’re doing a press tour, do you want to do a magazine shoot where they don’t pay you or do you want to do a content and commerce shoot where you have more exposure and have the opportunity to monetize it.”

This has caught the eye of others too. Mentioning that he received multiple emails from groups outside looking to sell the merch alongside B/R inside their activation, becoming some evolution of a DTC company isn’t out of the question.

“If we can start to be known as a shop that is able to offer DTC connections and consumer experiences not just with the content we make but with the commerce we can drive, I have a sense that it will probably start to evolve out into an entirely different category of business relative to what a traditional sports and commerce experience looks like.”

As more of these opportunities pop up, they become reasons in which consumers either have to get the B/R app, experience it, and even purchase in the app.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report’s New Revenue Streams Showcase Publishers Capabilities Beyond Its Digital Walls

And while Mittman is bullish on the experiences and the commerce revenue opportunities, the platform remains B/R’s biggest focus thanks to what they feel can be the gateway to the second generation of social media.

“For us, the biggest bet we are making is that the first generation of social media was about connecting you to the world and that the second generation is about connecting you to your world. That’s what we are trying to do. We are not going to be Facebook, we do not want to compete with them, but we do firmly believe that we have the chance to create a more niche-based platform for people who love sports and crave it in different forms.”

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