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Thread: Pirates, Pens & Steelers Using Social Networks To Break News

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    Default Pirates, Pens & Steelers Using Social Networks To Break News

    Local professional teams 'like' social scene
    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    In-depth Pirates
    It's July 31, minutes before Major League Baseball's trading deadline. A news alert flashes across your iPad that the Pirates have acquired Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn to platoon at first base. You see it first on Twitter, but you also get a Facebook notification, a text-message beep and an instant feed to an article on the team's website.

    You're fully informed of the big deals by the team, maybe even before the team tells newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and bloggers.

    Sound far-fetched?

    The trades might, but that straight-to-your-cyber-doorstep method of news delivery is taking hold now.

    Nearly all professional sports teams, including all three in Pittsburgh, are ramping up efforts to communicate with their followers through social media, even if that means bypassing traditional media. The Penguins have even begun breaking news on their website and Twitter and Facebook accounts, then sending press releases as much as a half-hour later.

    "It's time to start thinking of ourselves as a media outlet of our own," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications. "The traditional media is still immensely important to us, but this allows us to go straight to our fans. There's huge value in that for us."

    The new way

    Europe's premier soccer clubs have led the way on this frontier: FC Barcelona has more combined followers on Twitter and Facebook 20.3 million, according to than any other sports franchise in the world, followed by Real Madrid and Manchester United. tracks more than 278 million fans who "like" teams on Facebook and more than 39 million who follow teams on Twitter. On the local level:

    The Steelers, as one might expect given their global brand, fare well: Their 2.7 million followers rank 17th worldwide, eighth among North American teams and second in the NFL only to the Dallas Cowboys.

    The Penguins do almost as well in their own setting 56th in the world and fifth in the NHL at nearly 690,000.

    Only the Pirates are lagging, though improving. They rank 27th of Major League Baseball's 30 teams at almost 230,000 followers. But ranked the Pirates as MLB's ninth-fastest growing team in the past week with about 6,000 new followers.

    In addition to their social media prowess, the Steelers are pushing an initiative to connect their widespread fan base through Foursquare, a mobile application that tracks through GPS technology where a willing participant is and what he or she is doing. If one searches for Steelers fans, the display might show a handful at a nearby bar.

    "It's important to keep up with the ever-changing social media world," said Burt Lauten, the Steelers' communications coordinator. "We want to engage our fans as much as possible as well as allowing our fans to connect with each other."
    The Steelers employ two full-time reporters for their website, though they mostly leave breaking news to traditional media. They tweet and post on Facebook occasionally, albeit not intensely. Not that it matters much: The Steelers could put out a lawn sign, and word would spread within their fan base faster than a LaMarr Woodley pass rush.

    The Penguins, by comparison, have made an all-out power play. They formed a social media department last month to oversee all initiatives, from two full-time reporters for their website to fast uploading of video and audio clips to sharing it all online. They also have Penguins HD Radio, an online network so dedicated to diehards that even morning skates get play-by-play.

    "Our fans want it all," said Jeremy Zimmer, the team's director of new media.
    The Penguins have kept higher-profile events to their own devices as well. One was a video of Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby taking the first skate at Consol Energy Center last year. Another was of Crosby hitting a batting-practice home run out of PNC Park. The team got hundreds of thousands of views for the clips, in part because no traditional media was invited to either event.

    "Neither of those scenes would have been the same if they were major media spectacles," McMillan said. "We have special access, obviously, and we used just our couple of people to share that with everyone."

    The Penguins' use of social media extends to text alerts for 10,000 subscribers to their Student Rush discount program and, in the broadest sense, instant research from the nonstop conversation. One tweet last year asked fans what they thought after the unveiling of the deep-blue Winter Classic sweaters.

    "That meant so much to us from a marketing standpoint," McMillan said. "It's not scientific. We know that. But it's still a great tool. We knew right away how fans felt about the Tyler Kennedy signing, too. And the Jaromir Jagr situation. We look at all of it."

    The Pirates' website features a full-time reporter employed by MLB Advanced Media; their free E-Bucs newsletter has 100,000-plus subscribers; and their monthly online chats with team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington have been followed closely by fans. But they were slower with social media.

    They started on Twitter a year ago, and 105 losses combined with sparse tweeting kept numbers low. But on-field improvement has been accompanied by more online activity, including lineups as soon as they're posted, Twitter participants winning seat upgrades and select tweets shown on PNC Park's scoreboard.

    "Our fans can get insider access and have a direct line to the organization," said Brian Warecki, the Pirates' senior director of communications. "The feedback has been extremely positive."

    Generally, teams do not profit hugely from their websites, but the figures are on the climb: MLB Advanced Media, for example, made enough money that each team received a payment of $6 million from it in 2010. But the primary goal, especially with Twitter and Facebook, is building up the brand.

    The old way

    Just two decades ago, teams would type up press releases and fax them to newspapers and broadcast outlets. It was out of their control from there. The story might get a big headline, get ignored or be misinterpreted.

    Not anymore.

    "Social media has become a way for teams to engage their fans directly, a way to retain fan loyalty as well as a key selling tool," said Maury Brown, president of Business of Sports Network. "Fans get news about their favorite team from the team itself, which then can control the message."

    That raises the question of traditional media's role in this new world. If reporters aren't the middlemen, why should teams even bother with them?

    Ken Davidoff, veteran baseball writer for Newsday and president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, said he sees value in new and old media.

    "Obviously, when the team issues information, it's going to make the team look as positive as possible," Davidoff said. "Whereas, when you look to a paid journalist you trust, you're hoping to get a more balanced take, a truer filter of the information."

    Take MLB's recent takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the ensuing bankruptcy. On the day of the latter, the Dodgers' website had a thorough, fair account by reporters, but the main headline on the site was about outfielder Andre Ethier's offensive tear. The bankruptcy story was well down the list.

    Although ends articles by stating they are "not subject to approval" from MLB or its teams, reporters for that site long have spoken of a rule that any article even mentioning a team owner must get special approval before being published.

    Similarly, local stories such as Ben Roethlisberger's assault accusations last summer, the Penguins' handling of Crosby's concussion and the Pirates' profits received scant attention on those teams' sites.

    McMillan's stance has been that the Penguins welcome even negative coverage, so long as it is fair.

    "Clearly we're not going to criticize ourselves," he said. "Sometimes that's what the fans want. If we're not doing well, I actually don't want people to be happy. The worst thing is if they don't care. Fans don't want things sanitized."

    There is another factor in play, one that might surprise some. Traditional media still dominate. A Pew Research Center study this spring showed that 83 percent of Americans get their news from mainstream outlets in print or online. That's a historic high. Comparatively, multiple studies show that 42 percent of Americans participate on
    Facebook and only 7 percent on Twitter.

    "We'd never want to limit what the media gets. We're not looking to replace that," McMillan said. "But we do want to be part of it. If people aren't coming to our site, that's not good for the team, either."

    Read more: Local professional teams 'like' social scene - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
    The Standard Is The Standard and The Pittsburgh Sports Forum Is The Standard

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    I will probably do this myself.
    Remember, that which hath not killed you, will try again...................

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