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Kings of The Court: How Duke Basketball Has Continued To Excel On Social Media

Through a renewed investment in digital, the department has become a content powerhouse.

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Image via @DukeMBB Instagram

There are few brands, if any, in all of college athletics more recognizable than the Duke Basketball program. That’s certainly in part due to the five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 14 ACC Championships since 1986 under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Over the better part of the last decade, however, the basketball program’s digital team has added significant equity to the Duke brand with their efforts on social media.

In the past year alone, the @DukeMBB Twitter handle has seen its impressions almost double from 17.6 million to over 34.1 million. Just prior to this, Duke’s athletic communications department made the decision to simplify their social media approach by merging their recruiting/fan engagement voice known as Duke Blue Planet (DBP) with the voice of their sports information accounts. As a result, @DukeMBB is the most followed team Twitter account in all of college sports with 2.24 million followers. Deputy director of athletics/operations, Mike Cragg, the former SID and 31-year veteran of the athletics department, explains the process of merging those two different presences into one.

I think the merger into one entity helped immensely. It is a better strategy for having just one with better collective thinking and better content. We had great stuff, but I think working together, we now have got a pretty robust team.”

“We are seeing that benefit in the numbers – but more importantly with a unified message and delivery. We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve in a lot of different ways such as being the first school to ever have a .com website. Now our social media approach is the latest and gives us an even more direct voice to our fans around the world.”

Cragg goes on to explain the added benefits of merging DBP with a more traditional voice.

“We had a lot of meetings asking ourselves – ‘what is the core question’. And that core question was ‘how do we best represent our basketball program and our athletic department and university – together. So knocking down some of those walls if you will and combining the age of video with the age of the written word, I think were the biggest challenges. Having one voice – across different social media platforms – allowed everybody to contribute to our social media world. It came with some growing pains, as expected, but I think that it was definitely the right step to take and it definitely paid off.”

“I’m really proud of this group and they have done a great job.”

Duke Basketball’s social media operation is headed up by director of basketball operations David Bradley. Bradley graduated from Duke in 2004 and has been on staff with the Blue Devils since his undergraduate years. In all of that time, Bradley has been instrumental in helping the basketball program embrace social media.

Together 🔵😈 #HereComesDuke

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“I think we realized that social media was going to be big in some respects before many other college programs did. We’ve always prioritized it and had great support from our staff. Over the past couple years, we’ve definitely become more organized internally. One of the great challenges with social is navigating resource allocation around a crucial entity that wasn’t even on many athletic department radars eight years ago. We have a great team in place now so we’re able to produce high-quality content on a daily basis and remain a trendsetter in college athletics.”  

Because of his reputation as an old-school kind of coach and his very serious courtside manner, fans may be surprised to hear that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been so supportive of social media utilization. But as Bradley can attest, having the support of the head coach of your program is crucial when developing a social media strategy.

“Coach K has believed in and trusted our social media team to deliver since day one. We might think that social media is the most important thing in the world, but we can’t build a staff, have a comprehensive content schedule and produce top-notch content without the backing of the coaching staff and athletic department. We’ve definitely been fortunate to have that from Coach, our coaching staff, Mike Cragg, Jon Jackson and Dr. White.”

One of the biggest indicators of Duke’s recent digital success has been their Instagram metrics. In November of 2016, fans viewed videos on the basketball program’s official page 1.73 million times. A year later in November of 2017, that number grew to 8.45 million. Bradley and the social team have given special priority to creating content for Instagram and the audience that dwells on it.

“When we make a video, we consider whether we’re making it for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and discuss where our priorities lie. All those platforms have different audiences and serve different purposes.”-David Bradley, Director of Basketball Operations. 

“We’ve decided that Instagram is our highest priority right now, so we’ve made sure we have top-quality videos posted there in a length and format that appeals to the IG audience. All of our recruits and players are on Instagram, along with so many of our younger fans. It’s obvious attention spans have waned so we keep our content short and on brand, catering to that demographic. We attract some of the brightest student-athletes in the country to Duke, and definitely enjoy using those guys as sounding boards for what types of content and music they like to see on social media.”

A large factor that has gone into Duke’s Instagram growth has been their commitment to both consistency and simplicity in their content.

“One thing that I’m proud of this year is how our consistent we’ve become in branding our content.  We created a comprehensive style guide and all of our video, photos and graphics have a consistent look where you know it’s from @DukeMBB. The overall quality has ramped up as well, as we benefited from the great video skills and creative talents of Stephen Broome and Nolan Elingburg.  Also, our athletic department made a fantastic hire in landing staff photographer Reagan Lunn. We have the best sports photography in the country on our social channels because of Reagan. Overall, with a great team in place we’ve been able to get way more into the weeds on content strategy.”

For occasional help with graphic design and animation, the social team has turned to agencies like Team Infographics and Uncommon Thinking. This helps reach fans with even more striking and informative content during games that can be created and shared quickly.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind Duke basketball’s social media success has been their ability to showcase the unique personalities of the student-athletes that have played for the team over the years. This practice seems to have begun with former All-American Nolan Smith. Smith played at Duke from 2007 to 2011, then had a four-year career in the NBA before returning to the Blue Devils, where he now has a role within the program assisting with digital content as well as coaching basketball. Bradley credits Smith with being the first player to show the program how important embracing social media would be.

“Nolan showed that you can have a really good personality, have fun and still win big. Particularly in our National Championship season in 2010, he was front and center for us as social media was really taking off. We let him do his thing and show his personality. He might have been the original sports vlogger, where he’d actually go out and film for us. We’d just give him the camera and he’d come back with compelling, authentic footage. It was a little bit raw, but that was the point. People were able to see Duke Basketball in a completely different way. Now, he’s on our staff so he’s still involved more as an advisory role. He’s had such a tremendous impact on our program in so many ways both on and off the court.”

Just as the basketball team will continue to find ways to be in national championship conversation, Duke basketball’s social team will continue to find ways to innovate in the digital space. If other programs and athletic departments hope to follow suit, it all begins with placing greater emphasis on social media strategy as the Blue Devils have been able to do.

“We’ve certainly seen athletics departments devote increasing resources to video, photography and graphic design in recent years. The programs doing the best work on social have prioritized it across every level, from the coaching staff, to the student-athletes, to the sports information department all the way up to the senior staff and athletic director.  We’ve been lucky to that have support here for awhile and it has paid off for us.”

*Duke is a client of Team Infographics and Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports.

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

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

After a successful 2018, Bleacher Report has plans to continue to leverage the power of its platform to drive revenue in unique ways.

Adam White

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Like many publishers in today’s media landscape, events have become a key way for Bleacher Report to create additional monetization opportunities for partners, as well as new ways to bring a brand that is inherently digital, into the physical world.

Hosting six events in 2018, the strategy behind the events was finding ways to capitalize on the biggest sports moments of the year.

Their latest event, while somewhat in the “pop-up” side of things, is an opportunity for fans as well as influencers to connect in real life over their love of Kicks.

Finding success with the events they hosted in 2018, Ed Romaine, B/R’s Chief Brand Officer, sees events going forward for the publisher falling into two separate categories: editorial driven and partner-driven.

Their last event of the year, B/R Kicks x The Drop Up, is an example of what an editorial-driven event for the brand looks like.

Spun out of the event, B/R will launch “The Pre Heat” and “Sneaker Shock,” two new content editorial franchises that will be connected to this celebration with seamless values of giving fans experiences that they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to get their hands on.

“Our tentpole franchise events like this will remain in 2019, but I think you will see us do more advertiser-driven events that are based on in-store retail opportunities,” said Romaine.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report Takes Next Step in Evolution With B/REAL

Executing opportunities like this are what Romaine credits to B/R being able to see revenue growth up over 44 percent year over year. It’s also part of how media companies like B/R are finding ways to diversify their revenue in an age of digital ad dollars being dominated by the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

“All content providers now are tasked with being a solution center for people who invest in them. Whether it is through media agencies or through client direct buys. Being a 360-degree solution for partners like Levi’s has helped us win business that we probably wouldn’t have been able to win.”

What exactly did B/R do this year to grow its revenue in new ways outside of events? Romaine points to multiple key initiatives, including thought-leadership capabilities and a newly established influencer marketing platform called “B/R Squad.”

Through the thought leadership platform, B/R has worked with different companies and brands in the industry build custom solutions to pressing research or industry questions that they are having trouble answering.

All of the new initiatives come down to one thing according to Romaine: staying competitive.

“I think if any content provider wants to be competitive, then they need to have a comprehensive set of solutions that they have in the marketplace that people can tap into.”

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With the “Drop Up” and events like it going into the future, Romaine is most excited about B/R being able to build out opportunities that focus more on cultural moments and not just sports moments.

“I’m excited about the ‘Drop Up’ because it’s the second time that we’ve expanded beyond just the sports moment and started focusing in on the journalistic culture moments that we’re creating throughout the calendar year. Where you’ll see an evolution from us or where you’ll see a more comprehensive set of events will actually come more from the editorial vision that we continue to dig into.”

While being a media company in 2018 has its challenges, B/R is an example of what can happen when you are able to leverage the attention that you have on your brand.

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Digital Media

How College Football Teams Celebrate Bowl Eligibility on Social Media

Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and FIU offered a handful of examples on how social media departments can capitalize when their football teams become bowl eligible.

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Vanderbilt celebrated their bowl eligibility with a slick graphic. (Image via Vanderbilt)

At the start of every college football season, one of the main goals of most FBS teams is to reach a bowl game. These high-stakes events are not only a chance for the program to accrue more revenue, but players get one more chance to compete on the field while fans have one more opportunity to see their team before preparations for the new season begin.

In many cases, the excitement from a team qualifying for such a game can provide inspiration for great graphics and social content. Teams like the Vanderbilt Commodores all over the nation churned out striking posts on Twitter celebrating that all-important sixth victory that qualifies teams for bowl eligibility.

That win kicked off a host of festivities centered around the Commodores getting to a bowl, which, in turn, provided the digital team with even more chances to make content.

While reaching bowl-eligible status is an achievement that on its own is worth celebrating for many teams, some programs have the opportunity to celebrate a streak of consecutive years achieving this milestone.

READ MORE: ‘Ask Amelia’ Puts Customer Service in the Palm of Fans

Wake Forest, for example, celebrated its team reaching bowl eligibility for three straight seasons. This was just the second time in school history that the Demon Deacons were able to do this.

Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Dan Wallace explained the specific design elements and parts of the school’s expansive style guide (which recently underwent a rebrand) that went into creating these graphics.

“The black and white was something that we’ve been using for a lot of the score graphics this season. For a couple of years, we really put a lot of emphasis on using the black backgrounds; so this year, we went with the white backgrounds instead. Now, you look at the content going out on our social media accounts all year and you will see a very similar theme. From there, we try to use certain elements that can make each one unique, but still you can recognize that it’s a Wake Forest graphic when it comes out.”

The Demon Deacons now know that they will face the Memphis Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl on December 22.

In the final weekend of the season, many teams learn their fate in terms of going to a bowl game or not. Some programs, however, learned specifically which event they would be attending immediately following the game. This was the case with the Florida International University Panthers, who discovered they would be heading south for the Bahamas Bowl.

FIU Athletics Director of Marketing Scott Yogodzinski explained the thought process behind the design of the announcement posts for the Panthers’ bowl game on December 21 against Toledo.

READ MORE: Will Snapchat Still Be Useful in 2019?

“We wanted to make it look bright and tropical-looking. We’re in Miami — already somewhat of a tropical climate anyway — but we just wanted to push that this is a reward for our team. We have eight wins this year for the second year in a row and just the third time in the program’s history. This bowl is a reward for achieving that.”

Through these specific examples, it’s clear that bowl games can provide a university’s social media department plenty of extra opportunities to drive brand awareness and showcase immense creativity.

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MLB Network Completing the Cycle Towards Opening Day With Winter Meetings

Baseball’s iconic network continues to roll out fresh content throughout the off season starting with the annual Winter Meetings

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There truly is no offseason in the sports world.

For Major League Baseball, the offseason is a chance to fine-tune rosters, revamp on-field protocol, and solidify new strategies and areas of focus heading into the next season. No event plays a bigger role in this than the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Held in Las Vegas from December 9-13, the 2018 Baseball Winter Meetings provide an opportunity for club managers and general managers from throughout the league to congregate. Player signings, potential trade deals, and shuffling young prospects through the farm system are all topics for discussion.

Former Colorado Rockies general manager and current MLB Network studio analyst Dan O’Dowd has leaned on his former experience in the majors when talking to current team officials. He noted that there is a certain energy to the Winter Meetings that makes it a distinct event from the rest of the offseason.

“It is the one time a year where the baseball cycle doesn’t stop for an entire week,” said O’Dowd. “Everybody in the game gathers under one roof to talk baseball.”

With teams sending their lineups of general managers and roster decision-makers to the meetings, the goal of the Winter Meetings is to help ensure that each team’s roster takes shape. Agents, on behalf of individual players, meet with team executives as contracts are negotiated and terms are discussed.

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“Clubs talk amongst each other but there is a bit of competitive tension,” said O’Dowd. “Every club has suites within the hotel where they talk strategy and meet with agents. With personnel sometimes traveling from one side of the hotel to another to meet with various representatives and clubs, it is usually a flurry of activity.”

In today’s social media landscape, news is breaking at a record pace, ultimately allowing MLB Network to share that news to the baseball world.

“For general managers, it is very difficult to contain their plans regarding free agents and trades,” said O’Dowd. “It is more about controlling the outcome as it will find its way into the media one way or another. Everyone is looking for news.”

Due to the amount of breaking news and storylines to keep fans updated on, MLB Network utilizes a full crew and new show segments to keep the public engaged. With over 45 hours of live, on-site programming from the beginning of the Winter Meetings to the end, there is plenty of content for fans to digest.

From live coverage provided by Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci amongst others, to interviews with managers and insight into club strategy with O’Dowd, Dan Plesac, and the rest of the MLB Network crew, there is no shortage of communication and planning that goes into the day-to-day operations for the media outlet.

“Our team is excited to get to Las Vegas to cover the Winter Meetings,” said Dave Patterson, SVP, MLB Network Production. “The adrenaline of our analysts and production staff will be pumping for four straight days because the next big transaction could come at any time from any club. We’ll be on our toes and ready to change direction at a moment’s notice.”

What’s new this year? Coverage of the Winter Meetings across all of MLB’s media platforms will be presented by the advisory, assurance and tax firm CohnReznick. As part of the collaboration, MLB Network will produce a new series, “Business of Baseball.”

The series will go in-depth within the issues that surround clubs both on and off the field. The first episode of the series will begin on Saturday, December 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET and feature general managers Alex Anthopoulos (Atlanta Braves), Rick Hahn (Chicago White Sox), Dayton Moore (Kansas City Royals), and Mike Rizzo (Washington Nationals) whilst being moderated by O’Dowd and MLB Network host Brian Kenny.

“During filming, there was such authentic communication amongst the managers,” said O’Dowd. “Those guys were so transparent with their thoughts when we were discussing topics that were not easy to be so vocal about. We talked for over two and a half hours discussing everything from analytics to general manager/club manager relationships.”

MLB Network’s content doesn’t stop after the Winter Meetings either. Directly after the conclusion of the meetings, MLB Network Presents will roll out with its latest program, “Eck: A Story of Saving.” Hosted by Bob Costas, the original series, which launched in January 2015, covers some of the most iconic moments and players of baseball from MLB Network’s own unique lens.

Weekday programming staples such as “Hot Stove,” “High Heat with Christopher Russo,” “MLB Now,” “Intentional Talk,” and “MLB Tonight” will continue to provide expert analysis and captivating debates throughout the offseason.

And with the start of the new year marking MLB Network’s 10-year anniversary since its debut, content will reflect the best of what the network has to offer. The “Top 10 Right Now!” series returns for its ninth season after the new year. The series, which ranks the top MLB players at each position, will be followed by the six-part series “Top 100 Players Right Now!” which reveals the pecking order of the best players in the game.

READ MORE: Through New Company, Former Pitcher Hopes to Change Baseball

While there will be plenty of discussion highlighting today’s elite players, MLB Network will also take time to honor baseball’s greats as it announces the results of the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on Tuesday, January 22. The network will also air the first interviews with the new electees. This will transition into the start of spring training and the beginning of another edition of regular-season coverage.

MLB Network certainly keeps busy throughout the year; highlighting the build-up towards the playoffs and breaking down highlights throughout the postseason and World Series are staples of its programming. Yet, the network has continued to keep fans informed of offseason headlines, roster reshuffling, and new content to surely fill the craving as we look towards Opening Day.

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