Facebook, Social Media, And Sports: Natural Teammates

By David Cohen 

Professional sports teams and leagues are as focused on Facebook and other social media as businesses from other sectors are, and an all-star team of social media executives from the field joined moderator and Movement Strategy Co-Founder Jason Mitchell on a panel at the AllFacebook Marketing Conference in New York Wednesday, “How Professional Sports Are Monetizing through Facebook.”

The panelists were:

  • Major League Soccer Director of Social Media Amanda Vandervort.
  • National Hockey League Manager of Social Business Development Caty Marzi.
  • Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center Digital Director Jayne Bussman-Wise.
  • New York Jets Director of Marketing and Communications Jessica Ciccone.
  • Fan Appz Founder and CEO Jon Siegal.

One topic touched on by all of the panelists was the part social media plays in sponsorships, and the responses varied. Marzi said:

We’re not interested in only social sponsorships. We want our sponsors to be active in every forum we have. There are so many touch points for these sponsors. We want to see more truly integrated campaigns. We’re working the social elements to fit within a larger campaign.

She added, however, that the NHL will use social media elements as the centerpieces of sponsorships, calling them “social nuggets” that drive other aspects of the partnerships.

Ciccone and Bussman-Wise had similar responses, with Ciccone saying:

The majority of our social deals are elements of major partnerships. We want to make sure that when we do a deal, it’s part of a bigger one.

Bussman-Wise added:

Up until this point, it’s been part of larger deals. Social is an element, and it’s becoming a bigger element of that puzzle.

Vandervort, meanwhile, said MLS is still feeling its way:

For us, the sponsorship-social media puzzle is one we’re still actively working to figure out. There’s a lot of discovery still left in that process. Sponsors want social. A lot of the actual activation comes from us.

Technology such as Wi-Fi is also playing a part in the social media experience for sports leagues, teams, and fans, with Siegal saying:

I think we’ve all been at events where you try to post something to Twitter or Facebook and you have no signal.

Bussman-Wise said of Barclays Center, the new arena in Brooklyn:

We have Wi-Fi throughout the building at Barclays. We had a fan sitting at the game Sunday with a tablet watching football. We have 100 TVs in the concourses that are all IPTVs.

On the international front, Bussman-Wise mentioned that the Nets have a presence in Russia, which should come as no surprise due to the club’s owner, Mikhail Prokhorov.

Soccer, meanwhile, is the most popular sport on a global basis, and Vandervort said:

International fans are engaging on our social channels extremely actively. We’re still discovering the monetization process related to the international market. MLS is in an incredible growth stage right now. The international market is one we’re excited about. Our Facebook page for KickTV has an incredible international audience.

And Marzi recounted an application that played off players’ superstitions, saying:

We did a “beard yourself” app. Beards are a huge part of our postseason. Playoff beards resonate globally.

Mitchell asked if there were any secrets to how social media agencies should pitch the teams or leagues, and Marzi said:

When you pitch us, tell us something about your product upfront. I’m on a team of two. I don’t have enough time to go through your website. Come upfront with what your value proposition is.

Her sentiment was echoed by Vandervort, who added:

Do some homework and some research before you call.

Other notable moments from the panel included:


Sports teams are a fairly complicated business as compared to retailers. I think we’ve seen a shift over the past couple of years where people were very focused on driving their audiences, but now people are seeing lower Facebook news feed distribution and the competition for eyeballs.

Use these fan experiences not only to drive impressions, but to learn about fans and followers.


We’re getting new stadiums. We recently launched the stadium in Kansas City for our team, Sporting Kansas City, and they have been one of the most innovative. The team offers real-time in-game engagement via its Sporting app.

Our in-stadium environment in Portland is really cool, so we like to highlight what fans are sharing.

We’re always on the hunt for whatever will get us eyeballs on our TV programming.


We look at engagement as our ultimate goal. We want fans to be communicating with us and each other. When it comes to sponsorship sales, we look at impressions, and use Facebook Insights for that. From a personal perspective, we’re all people behind these pages, and it feels really good when a community manager posts something that just kills it.

We use tracking tools from our direct sales vendors for the NHL Shop. A social fan has 30 percent more value than an average fan, and they can be 10 times more valuable than an average fan when you start looking at page views, email subscriptions, and other engagement elements across our platforms.

There are more partner dollars that want to be spent on social. That doesn’t mean there are more resource dollars or humans on our side. What can we do to show our chief marketing officers that there is this much effort?

I want our agencies to be smarter than me. I want them to come to me with ideas. CMOs don’t care about data. They care about putting the pieces together and making it look shiny.


We’re in the ticketing business. Merchandise sales on the team side are a huge opportunity. Tune-in to TV and radio is a big priority. We’ve grown tremendously since we moved to Brooklyn, but how engaged are our fans?

I think everybody’s getting smarter. As Facebook continues to change the algorithm for its news feed, I think you have to.


Make sure you’re selling the sponsor the right thing for your brand and their brand.

Football can be an entire-day experience for our fans. We want to make sure they have as many touch points as we can. You want to give them a good product on the field, but you also want to give them a good experience.

I’d rather have a loyal smaller group of brand ambassadors than a large, disengaged group of bystanders

We do not control any of our players’ accounts, but we do educate all of the players on social media best practices.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.