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Electric Blue

The New York Giants are set to defend their Super Bowl title, but the team is already winning at social media

In the years since, he has been instrumental in helping the Giants achieve numerous firsts among NFL teams—among them, plugging tweets into game broadcasts and orchestrating augmented reality campaigns. In an example of the latter, the Giants last winter teamed up with Tiffany’s to allow fans to virtually “try on” a Super Bowl ring via the team’s mobile app. Consumers could also create images of themselves posing (virtually speaking) with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. All told, fans posted 50,000 images to Facebook and Twitter by way of the app.

Shah also directed the team’s social-driven 9/11 tribute last season, inspiring 22,000 Facebook and Twitter messages and creating a mosaic that honored New York’s police and fire departments. When a crowdsourced image of defensive end Justin Tuck wearing a firefighter’s helmet hit the Web, tweets from fans of other NFL teams and places as far-flung as Scotland populated the Twitterverse.

As the digital and social director of a marketing department of fewer than a dozen people, the 28-year-old Shah serves as the team’s community manager. Unlike many of those with a similar role for other brands (see the accompanying story, “Social Anxiety”), Shah has been given great autonomy by his bosses: Giants CMO Mike Stevens and executive producer Don Sperling.

“I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” says Shah.

Indeed, he has had a front-row seat to two historic championship runs and has witnessed—and helped—social media turn football marketing on its face-masked head.

“All the sponsors want in on social now,” Sperling says, sitting with the communications staff in the Giants’ multimedia-studded meeting room. Adds Shah: “The way sponsors used to want in on an email blast, they now want in on Facebook and Twitter.”

The marketing team huddles with a number of brands to foster compelling digital and social game plans.

Party City, one of the Giants’ largest advertisers, is expected to resurrect a promotion that was a huge success last Halloween. The costumes retailer partnered with the Giants on a contest that let fans vote for which Halloween costume linebacker Mark Herzlich would wear to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. The New Jersey hospital visit by Herzlich—a bone cancer survivor prior to his pro football career—was featured on all the Giants’ digital channels, captured with photos and video, and posted on Facebook and Twitter before speedily matriculating around the Web. By the time it was over, the campaign had garnered 1 million impressions, according to the Giants.

Fashion retailer Andrew Marc is another marketer to take advantage of the Giants’ social media savvy. The client receives exclusive mentions during the team’s daily audio/video Webcast, called Big Blue Kickoff Live. Its sponsorship also plays out with copy and images on the Giants’ Facebook and Twitter pages.

“Social media opportunities are very important when we go into discussions with them in regards to the team sponsorship,” says Ernest Bannister, Andrew Marc’s marketing lead. “[If] a fan of the Giants sees our ad running during the Big Blue Kickoff Live show and wants to know which jacket was just broadcast and where they can purchase it, we can respond immediately and have a conversation with that fan that we may or may not have been able to have before them seeing the ad.”

So much of what the Giants offer advertising partners today is tied to the three-year-old MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., a state-of-the-art digital playground for marketers—providing infinitely more opportunities than the old Giants Stadium. “That was an analog stadium—the cost of our communications alone in the new stadium is 20 to 25 percent more than the entire cost of the old stadium was to construct,” says CMO Stevens.

At the recent Bears game, the Giants asked Twitter followers to tweet tailgating photos to #NYGfanPhoto. A promotional tweet read: “Yours could be one of the @Adorama Fan Photos of the Game today!” During a timeout in the second half, fans in the stadium turned their attention to a video promotion for Adorama, a New York-area camera retailer, complete with pictures from tailgaters @CurvyInTheCity, @TheDeuce22 and @Deitch13. When the images posted to Twitter, retweets with the @Adorama handle floated into newsfeeds.

“We don’t want to just slap a sponsor on social media,” as Shah explains. “We want to come up with creative ideas that will get the fans engaged.”

The Giants’ tech and social savvy are far-reaching. The team’s one-year-old mobile phone app boasts 350,000 users who can watch the replay of a touchdown during games. The team has also amassed 2.4 million Facebook fans and 550,000 Google+ followers. The Giants contracts with NFL partner Buddy Media for Facebook management while leaning on Mass Relevance to curate tweets—i.e., to weed out negative messages. After every Giants touchdown, real-time tweets from fans are displayed on ticker-style digital ribbons in the stadium.

After each game, four massive digital pillars outside the stadium encourage fans to vote for the most valuable player of the day via a Twitter hashtag. Jerseys sporting the winning player’s number are then featured at 20 percent off at the team’s online shop.

So while football marketing was once all about suites and seats, one can now add tweets to the mix.

Naturally, social has become key for every brand. But by its nature, a sports franchise presents a whole new range of opportunities.

“We are not a radio station, but we do a lot of radio,” explains Stevens. “We are not a TV company, but we do a lot of TV. We are not an Internet firm, but we have a lot of digital properties. We’re a mini-Disney, plus we do live entertainment.”

Beyond just tweets and posts, social has become an integral part of the Giants business plan, with the team looking to social not merely to build brand affinity but also to grow sales of merchandise and tickets into the future. As Shah puts it, “The next-generation Giants fan isn’t buying a ticket off an email.”