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Inside the LPGA’s Social Media Strategy and Execution

The LPGA uses a variety of social tools to tell its players’ stories to the world.

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*Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

The LPGA showcases the best female golfers in the world with nearly 40 events per year all over the globe. The stories of these golfers and their triumphs are then told to over 1.5 million people every day through the organization’s social media outlets.  

Leading the charge in telling these stories is Tina Barnes-Budd, the organization’s senior director of social media marketing/communications.

Barnes-Budd worked in marketing and promotions for the tour in the early ‘90s and had various stops at marketing agencies for 10 years before returning to the LPGA as the director of marketing in 2004. In 2008, at the dawn of the social media, Barnes-Budd quickly embraced its benefits. That being said, that process was an uphill battle at times.

SEE MORE: Why the LPGA is Investing in a Social Media Tool to Help Golfers Build Their Digital Brands

“In those days, five to 10 percent of my day was dedicated to social. The rest was dedicated to the traditional marketing needs to promote the LPGA,” Barnes-Budd recalls. “As years went on, more and more of my day was being taken by social.  Some thought social media was a fad and wouldn’t last, but I saw it as a great opportunity to push out our great stories.”

Barnes-Budd quickly realized that information and interesting stories about their players could be pushed out to the public without solely having to rely on traditional media to tell their stories for them. Soon after, Barnes-Budd and the LPGA saw how social could be a valuable tool for their athletes to build personal brands. As a result, the LPGA quickly began hosting education workshops on the subject for the players.

SEE MORE: LPGA Helps Golfers Build Brand Muscle on Tour

“In 2009, we had a player meeting, with a segment on social media,” Barnes-Budd stated. “I asked the players how many of them used Twitter, and about a handful of them raised their hands. One of them was Christina Kim. I asked her how she found Twitter beneficial, and she said that it’s a great way to converse with fans, but also a great way to give props to her sponsors. At that point, I think a light bulb went off with a lot of the players. Following that meeting, a ton of players signed up for Twitter and started utilizing it in that manner.”

Following the social media rise with LPGA players and beyond, plus a change in corporate philosophy that came with Mike Whan becoming LPGA commissioner in 2010, social media quickly became a much bigger part of Barnes-Budd’s role.

“At first, Mike Whan admitted that he didn’t understand the power of social media, but what he did understand was that I thought it was a good way to share the LPGA love. I moved from marketing into communications as we felt that it was important to share one voice. That system has seemed to work well.”  

Commissioner Whan has now been on Twitter since 2013 and clearly understands the benefits it can bring to the LPGA. 

This new emphasis on social also led to smaller changes that have had a big impact on the LPGA’s digital efforts. For one, you’ll see things like caddies wearing their player’s Twitter handle on their bibs, thus giving more exposure to the players’ profiles.

SEE MORE: Executive Buy-In Helps Propel Dallas Stars’ Digital Strategy

Plus, the LPGA goes the extra mile with educating players once again through weekly sponsor information that helps players identify correct hashtags and sponsor handles when posting about tournaments. The information also includes the companies’ goals and objectives to help guide the content of the players’ posts. What’s more, nearly every sponsorship that the LPGA has sold recently has contained some element of social media inclusion.

“For most official marketing partners, we have some type of social component. For example, with Kia, we produced 12 ‘Kia Clubhouse Ride’ features where we interviewed players while they were driving a Kia Sarento. We placed four GoPros in the car and conducted a rapid-fire Q and A with each player.  These features are a win-win for both Kia and the LPGA. Kia receives product exposure while we continue to personalize the player’s brand. We typically meet with the sponsor where we learn their objectives and then develop the social ideas. We develop those ideas and then create it, post it, and analyze it for the sponsors. It’s a three-step process.”

From a distance, it may seem like handling all of this, along with covering events, is something that demands a significant amount of manpower. However, the LPGA has just two staffers handling its social presence. One social team member is on site at every domestic event, as well as all majors. 

“We get on site Monday afternoon; Tuesday we hit the ground running with pre-tournament press conferences and special events going on Wednesdays, and then Thursday play starts and continues through the weekend. We cover it to the very end.”

Making the most of a small team is where using certain tools and services come in handy. Notably, the LPGA has partnered with Team Infographics to help streamline part of its content creation process.

“Team Infographics has been absolutely wonderful to work with. What I like about their team is that they really listen to us and what we were looking for. Throughout the years, we’ve created our look for the Tour or specific events and they’re able to take those elements and guidelines and create motion graphics for us that continue our brand look through social. They strive to make it easy for us when we’ve got a thousand other things going on during our tournament coverage. They build a program that’s really user-friendly and quick to use to make a great content.”

They’ve also added the software opendorse to help distribute player content. Opendorse allows Barnes-Budd and the LPGA to deliver rich content to players that they can quickly read, edit and push out to their personal social channels. Content includes video, LPGA.com features, motion graphics and more.

“By using opendorse, we’re able to send players their round highlights, infographics, video features and more.”

This is just one other way that fans will find the players at the heart of the LPGA’s social strategy and, really, at the heart of nearly everything that they do.

*Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

For more examples of the LPGA’s work, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Meet the #Rising25: Adam Johnson of ISM Raceway

Meet Adam Johnson, Digital Content Manager for ISM Raceway. A 2016 Grand Canyon grad, a talent and passion for storytelling landed him in this year’s class.

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The #Rising25 class of 2019, presented by AB InBev, represents some of the brightest young professionals in the sports industry. Over the next several weeks, we’re proud to introduce you to this year’s winners and highlight some of their achievements to date.

Today, meet Adam Johnson, Digital Content Manager of ISM Raceway.

A 2016 graduate of Grand Canyon University, Johnson began working at ISM Raceway (then known as Phoenix International Raceway) as a volunteer tour leader.  It was in his college days that Johnson saw the possibility of building a career in sports. As a college student, he also gained experience with GCU athletics, the Arizona Rattlers, and the Jerry Colangelo Basketball Hall of Fame Golf Classic.

“Growing up, my discretionary income would go towards sporting events. Now, I make my income from working behind the scenes at sporting events that I’d love to be attending as a hobby,” Johnson says. “As a kid, I consumed a lot of information about my favorite teams and leagues through the television broadcasts and through social media in high school. I loved the idea of being the person who gives today’s kids that information about their team. Being able to share my passion with the next generation made a lot of sense to me.”

Johnson credits much of his professional development to the education he received as a student and employee at GCU. During his time there, the athletic department transitioned to Division I, which provided an ideal learning environment. Johnson then joined ISM Raceway full-time shortly after graduating from GCU.

In 2017 and 2018, the raceway underwent a $178 million dollar renovation. Some racing fans weren’t thrilled with the idea of a track that had basically remained untouched since 1964 now going through a major change. As part of the digital content team, it was the task of Johnson and his cohorts to win fans over with access to the stadium’s new additions.

“I can confidently say that well over 90% of our fans who had doubts are satisfied with the product now thanks in large part to our storytelling,” he says. “Winning over old fans who were skeptical as well as gaining some new fans for the raceway was my career highlight so far.”

Johnson has already held a number of roles in his short career but says that, irrespective of position, authenticity and having a strong character are essential for success. 

“If people are going to talk about you, make sure that it’s something that you would be proud to hear,” he says. “Be yourself but be cognizant that people are always watching, especially when you work in something like social media.”

Johnson advises those looking to shift their sports careers into the fast lane to take networking seriously and not be intimidated to reach out to others.

“You’d be amazed what can happen if you just reach out and ask someone to coffee,” he says. “That goes a long way because everyone has been in that spot before where they don’t know what their next move is. Take that step out of your comfort zone and ask people if you can pick their brain.”

Meet the full class of 2019 here.

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Inside Locked On Podcast Network’s Quest to Provide Fans with Daily Updates

David Locke started a short-form daily podcast to bolster his job security and now he’s built Locked On Podcast Network across the NBA, NFL and, now, MLB.

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Photo Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The year was 2011, and all David Locke wanted was job security.

Locke had just become the Utah Jazz’s radio play-by-play man, replacing longtime announcer Rod Hundley. It was a dream gig but one without much stable footing, so Locke decided he needed a side hustle. It ultimately came by way of launching a short-form daily podcast to further connect with fans and cement his place in the position in the organization.

Eight years later, the plan worked out better than he could have imagined. Locke is still with the Jazz and, in 2016, Locked On formally became an entire podcast network built around daily 15-minute podcasts in the NBA and NFL. This week, it launched an MLB component to deliver further content to an audience that averages more than 5 million listeners a month. Locke believes baseball content is a natural extension of the network’s vision.   

READ MORE: Inside CBS Sports’ Innovative Podcast Strategy

“The natural rhythms of baseball match the network in ability to get a team update in 15 minutes,” Locke said. “I’m a big San Francisco Giants fan, but I haven’t watched a game in forever. I don’t have three hours often, but now I listen to Locked On Giants and I know a lot more about the team all of a sudden from 15 minutes a day.

“In that sense, it has a chance to be really successful.”

Locked On Podcast’s MLB network launched with 20 markets, but Locke expects it to soon scale up to all 30 teams. The goal is to someday rival the network’s success with the NBA, whose aggregate weekly listenership was only once surpassed by its NFL content. “There’s a soap opera element to the NBA,” he said. “It’s as popular or more popular in the offseason.”  

Several polls and studies on podcasts have shown the best format podcasts are shorter, like the 15-minute format Locked On Podcast Network has chosen. The research firm IDG Connect found the ideal time for a podcast is 16 minutes in a study finding users want short, digestible content no matter the format.

Likewise, more Americans are listening to podcasts, as a 2018 Edison Research study found an estimated 48 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly. The same study found podcast awareness among Americans had grown from 46 percent of the total population in 2012 to 64 percent in 2018.

As the network grows to encompass more teams and league, Locke says the next step to improve the network’s content will be to continue to search for high-caliber podcast hosts, the best of whom are often writers already on the respective team’s beat. “There’s no real consistency [in hosts],” Locke said. “Two parts have to happen. They have to care passionately about the team and sport and the ability to deliver daily podcasts. It becomes a bit self-selecting in what we’re asking.

“It brings high-level people naturally by what it is.”

Those hosts aren’t being asked to contribute for free, either. Locke was tight-lipped on his revenue model but said the monetization of his network provides the hosts with a modest payment.

“We’ve had really good revenue growth the past two-and-a-half years, and some of our guys have really successful shows,” he said. “We’ve found a way to bring revenue to all our hosts. We’re really proud of that piece. We’re finding mechanisms to allow podcasts that have not been able to monetize, monetize.”

READ MORE: The Ringer’s ‘Winging It’ Podcast Offers Sneak Peek Into Life in the NBA

Locke’s biggest-picture goal is that Locked On PodcastNetwork can open doors for young talent hoping to make a name for themselves in the media world. He worries radio is providing fewer and fewer avenues, something that he hopes Locked On can both compensate for and, ultimately, benefit from.

“There is a real chance to developing the next age of talent, and not just for other people,” he said. “They can develop and then stay with us and hopefully there’s no reason to leave. I hope that’s something we can be for people.”

The next frontier of growth is already on tap. This fall, Locked On Podcast Network will roll out NCAA teams, an arena the network has dabbled in but never fully committed to. With a format that is scalable to any league, Locke hopes to continue filling fans in with his quick-hit podcast format.

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How Access Has Changed The Conversation Around Digital Storytelling

Athletes share more of their lives than ever before, leaving content creators to grapple with how to deepen the message in the stories they tell.

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Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Athletes are sharing more of themselves than ever before, putting the onus on sports content producers to develop thoughtful stories to better connect with audiences. A South by Southwest panel on storytelling in sports discussed how to cut through the noise as a documentary filmmaker and sports storyteller.

“Athletes now have their own crews, cameras constantly around documenting their own lives,” said Gotham Chopra, co-founder and chief creative officer of Religion of Sports, who is currently finishing up a documentary on Stephen Curry entitled “Stephen vs. the Game. “For us, we try to cut through the clutter. It’s not about the access, not just a commodity, but what am I trying to say? Why are we doing this? Unless there’s clarity around that, I don’t think it’s worth doing.”

When linear television networks ruled the roost, almost any sort of athlete-related access motivated viewers to tune in to see a slice of an unknowable world. Social media opened the floodgates, however. Now that visibility has exploded, and fans can connect directly with athletes, there’s a need to tell bigger, bolder stories.

READ MORE: ‘We Are LAFC’ Shows Off Exclusive Content Opportunity for MLS, ESPN

“There’s a lot of stuff out there, a lot of access,” said Libby Geist, vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films & Original Content. “That’s just not enough anymore. There has to be stakes. The bar has to get higher and higher. We need to stay in our lane and not get stars in our eyes. A big name isn’t enough anymore.”

For ESPN, one of the biggest answers has come by way of longform documentaries, most notably its 30 for 30 series. Today, it ranks as one of the network’s most critically acclaimed imprints. But Geist remembers a time, not too long ago, when stakeholders were wary of viewers making time to watch hour-plus-long programming that sometimes strays off the beaten path.

“It was a risk to commission 30, hour-long docs,” she said. “Now we know they can sit for a long time. Not just for sports stories, but director-driven. Not just moments in time, not just a Super Bowl or big game, but much more layered cultural stories.”

The culmination of those efforts came in 2016 with ESPN’s Academy Award-winning, five-part miniseries on O.J. Simpson, “O.J.: Made In America.”

“The conversation around that was a ‘step back moment,’” Geist said. “People were not just talking about sports, the buzz around the level of discussion.”

That buoyed a new wave of production. Not only does ESPN have 15 to 20 new 30 for 30 projects in the works, according to Geist, but many of them are “big tentpole films,” like an upcoming 10-hour Michael Jordan project.

In addition, Geist and ESPN also have another platform to work through and deploy new content on thanks to the introduction of ESPN+. Though still less than a year old, ESPN+ is already paying dividends by providing new avenues to tell stories. Geist used the example of the docuseries, a medium she was once loath to push due to the headache of scheduling against billion-dollar live sports rights on ESPN. Now, though, they can be uploaded and binged at a viewer’s leisure.

The number of media platforms like ESPN+ and the plethora of other streaming services have posed the question to independent filmmakers like Chopra of how to make compelling content and draw in viewers. He said he’d prefer a small audience deeply engaged in the message of the project rather than a larger, passive one.

“The new platforms have really raised the game of accountability,” he said. “How do I invest? Whether [in subscriptions] or time, you have to earn that. It’s pushed us as creators.”

Ultimately, however, access does matter in the sense of finding subjects willing to offer up more substantial parts of themselves. Dexton Deboree, co-founder of Los York Entertainment, credits the NBA, in particular, for being a forerunner among organizations within sports that push a coherent message and let players tell meaningful stories. That encourages storytellers like Deboree to embrace athletes’ narratives as a microcosm of humanity to spur serious discussions and connect with like-minded people. Last year, Deboree released “Unbanned: The Story of AJ1,” which tracked the cultural influence of Air Jordan shoes.

READ MORE: Here to Stay: Generation Z’s Impact On Sports Content Strategy

“If I’m not into basketball, but I realize there’s a connection, suddenly, there might be something to that community,” Deboree said of how a personal story can create new fans. “I don’t know that we’re changing minds. We just strive to stir the pot and get people to talk about stuff [that] maybe they weren’t.”

From Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell to today’s athletes like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James, athletes have always had the power to spark social dialogue. Chopra recently finished “Shut Up and Dribble” with James, the title taken from a Tweet James received from Fox News personality Laura Ingraham.

“What an amazing time to be alive in this political climate,” Chopra said. “It was conceived from the most popular player in the world literally getting into a social media war with the president of the United States. We went back to the 1950s, and this isn’t new.”

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