If the world runs on social media, so too does the world of sports. For most professional sports teams, upping their performance on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is just as important as improving their on-field product.
Long gone are the days of the college intern running the official social media accounts for professional sports franchises. Today, these teams, and most successful businesses for that matter, are hiring people who are experts in this field. Their day-to-day duties include making posts, brainstorming content ideas, figuring out ways to boost their engagement with fans, and sharing their team's message, or breaking news, with the public. These social platforms have changed the way teams advertise to their fans, while also giving them another way of generating more revenue from sponsors.
Every pro sports team uses social media for predominantly the same reasons, but that doesn't mean they all go about it the same way. If you follow the teams right here in this city, you've likely noticed while scrolling through your feed how they all use different approaches and ideas online. So, to get to the bottom of why some teams do it this way and why some teams do it that way, the Free Press spoke to the people behind the screens for the city's five professional sports teams.
Twitter: 168.8K followers
Five years ago, not only were the Bombers far from impressive on the field, but they also didn't make much of an impact on your iPhone's screen. At the time, nobody was fully dedicated to social media and they didn't even have an Instagram account. But things changed when CEO Wade Miller brought Rheanne Marcoux into the fold as a marketing manager. Her task was to help with video, but primarily focus on getting their online presence up. In 2015, a year after Marcoux's arrival, the Bombers won a CFL Rouge Award for Best in Social Media. The year before the Bombers social game was ranked last in the league. So how did they make a big jump in such a short amount of time?
"The main thing was just to put a lot of emphasis behind it," said Marcoux, who is now the creative director for the club and also oversees Valour FC's content. "We put together a strategy every year. Obviously Riley (Marra) and Sam (Calvert) are the two who run the social media accounts for both teams, but they've got a 10-page training document from me on do's and don'ts, the best kind of practices and things to keep in mind. But we kind of really decided from the get-go the one word that we were going to stick by, that was going to drive everything we do, is to be unapologetic."
When the social media boom began, most teams were pretty vanilla with what they posted and how they worded things. But two of the teams that changed the game are the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights. The two hockey teams in the south are known for not taking things too serious, often making pop culture references, off the wall commentary during games and taking jabs at other teams in posts. Marcoux said they've taken some inspiration from what the Kings and Knights have done and it has translated into what Marra (Bombers) and Calvert (Valour) post on behalf of their teams.
"We kind of feel that you're never going to create anything big and worthy of talking about if you never push those lines. If you think about all the clutter nowadays and all the information we see, how much you have on your feed on a daily basis, how much you glaze over... you have to do something really different and really eyecatching or kind of pull on those emotions and get those emotional reactions to really stand out. So that's been our M.O. I'd rather our guys toe the line than just play it safe."
The Bombers went from not having Instagram at all, to a team that could have anywhere between three to five people involved in a single post. And just like everything else associated with the club, winning never hurts, either. The blue and gold were the most mentioned team on social media in Winnipeg this year, which is a major accomplishment with the NHL in town. They also saw their engagement (comments, likes, shares etc.) tripled from what it was a year ago. Not surprisingly, their most successful post of all time came this year when they tweeted they had officially won the Grey Cup. It had 1.7K retweets, 4.8K likes and reached 8.47 million people online. Impressive stuff.
The club has also demonstrated they have one of the most talented video teams in the league as Marra, who's the digital media manager for the team, and his colleagues consistently put out top notch hype videos, such as the one they posted right before their Grey Cup run that showed how fans prepare before big games.
Twitter: 551.9K followers
Prior to the 2017-18 season, the Jets made their first full social media hire in John Delaney. Since then, they've hired another full-time social media pro and there's now between eight and 10 people in total who are involved in their posting across their various channels. The hiring of Delaney, who's the team's social media manager, came at the perfect time as it was right before the Jets had a record-breaking season and reached the Western Conference final.
Their playoff run made them the talk of the hockey world and the impact was felt on their social channels as their engagement from fans outside of the province grew tremendously.
"I always think the interesting one is Finland. I feel like that might be obvious to many people with having a couple Finnish stars within our organization, but our No. 1 city on Snapchat, which is a major social media platform, is Helsinki," Delaney said.
"Our No. 3 on that platform is Tampere which is another city in Finland. Our No. 2 city on both Facebook and Twitter is Helsinki, and Finland remains the No. 2 country across all our platforms. We see fans really from across the world on our social platforms. But I'm always astounded by our Finnish support and how grand it is."
With a bigger staff, the Jets are able to expand outside of the main platforms and put more of an emphasis on ones such as Snapchat. It also allows them to try the new flavour of the month, which currently happens to be TikTok — a video-sharing social network that is quickly gaining steam.
"It's a fun challenge staying up to date with all the different platforms. Each of these different platforms reach different demographics," Delaney said. "We're seeing a much younger demographic on TikTok than any of our other social media platforms. So, it's important for us to be reaching a younger demographic because 10, 20, 30 years down the road, that demographic could be season ticket holders for us and we want to create these lifelong fans."
Getting those reps! pic.twitter.com/aHwdTITdXy— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) December 16, 2019
Being a small-market team, the Jets are near the bottom of the league in terms of total followers. Some franchises in a similar position on that list, typically the non-traditional hockey markets such as the Carolina Hurricanes, have changed their style online in order to grow their following. Unlike the Jets, you'll see the Hurricanes respond to fans on Twitter, often in a humorous fashion, and accompany their videos and graphics with clever one-liners. The Jets come off as more corporate in their posting, as they don't exclaim as much personality as other teams. While Delaney isn't knocking the recent popular trend these teams are going with, he believes it just doesn't suit the Jets.
"The way I look at it is relatable, reliable and human. We like to pride ourselves in our professionalism across our channels but we also like to have fun," he said. "I'm as big of a Winnipeg Jets fan as the majority of our followers, so I like to have fun on our accounts. I like to share some of the excitement around exciting moments and hopefully that seeps into our fans. With that being said, I like to keep it professional and social media provides a pretty well-rounded representation our of brand to a lot of our followers and fans. So, I always got to be conscious of that to make sure I'm aligning with all of our brand values and the values of our ownership, our board, our organization as a whole and even myself."
Twitter: 7,448 followers
No promises you'll be as cute as #BabyYoda in your Valour hat, but we're not saying it's impossible either.— ValourFC (@ValourFootball) December 3, 2019
Also, Baby Yoda wants us to tell you that we're open until 9 pm Monday to Friday at the Bomber Store in St. Vital Centre. K, thanks. ��#ForValour | #CanPL pic.twitter.com/IMmgUfnh05
They might have finished the inaugural Canadian Premier League near the bottom of the standings, but on social media, Winnipeg's new professional soccer team was as entertaining as it gets. They constantly crack jokes and put a Valour twist on whatever meme or trend happens to be popular online that week (yes, including Baby Yoda).
But for Calvert, the club's social media co-ordinator, there wasn't a whole lot of positive news to be shared with the fan base as Valour finished with an 8-4-17 overall record in Year 1. Instead of shying away from the fact they were struggling on the pitch, they embraced it and would often make fun of themselves. A prime example of this is when they were spanked 8-0 at home against Cavalry FC on Sept. 2. A couple of weeks later, Watford FC of the English Premier League would also suffer an embarrassing 8-0 defeat as they were whooped by Manchester City. On Twitter, Valour retweeted the Watford result and let them know that they feel their pain. The tweet was favourited 517 times, making it one of the most popular posts they've made.
"The only way this can kind of be successful if we're going to have this kind of sassy attitude is that you can't only do it when things are going well," said Marcoux.
"You've got to keep that because that's your voice and tone and you have to be consistent no matter what. So what we've decided to do is to just kind of poke fun at ourselves. After the 8-0 loss, you saw Sam almost make light of the situation because what else are you supposed to do? So what we've decided to do is not to waver and say 'Oh the team is doing poorly. We'll just pull back and not say anything.' We've just really tried to be consistent across the board."
While most followers have got a kick out of Calvert's comedic ways, there's also been a few fans that don't respond positively to the silliness of their content. Regardless, don't expect Valour to change their act anytime soon (and they shouldn't). And if you disagree with it and you let them hear it online, don't be surprised if Valour punches back.
"The one thing to keep in mind in social media is you're never going to make everybody happy," Marcoux said.
Twitter: 28.9K followers
Both teams are owned by True North, but the Moose definitely have more of a lighthearted vibe to their social media compared to the Jets. Earlier this month, the AHL squad posted a hilarious video on Twitter where the team was planning on performing A Christmas Carol at the Burton Cummings Theatre. The players auditioned on stage while head coach Pascal Vincent and his coaching staff sat in the audience critiquing everybody's acting chops, or lack thereof. After everyone bombed their tryout, including 6-7 defenceman Logan Stanley going for the part of Tiny Tim and defenceman Nelson Nogier in full costume dressed up as Mr. Scrooge, Vincent turns around and tells owner Mark Chipman this was a terrible idea and they can get in the festive spirit by offering fans their Holiday Hat Trick ticket promotion instead.
"On the Moose side, we take a bit of a different tone to differentiate the two teams," explained Moose marketing manager Annie Chipman. "But, we do have different audiences. We do see a lot more young people, families, kids and sports teams coming out to Moose games so we do cater to that as well."
They also show their high-spirited ways during games. The team creates goal celebration animated GIFs for each of their players and they post them on Twitter after one of their guys finds the back of the net. Social media has given the Moose the ability to showcase their player's personalities and market their product to their more family-focused target audience.
GIF BATTLE!! It's time for our favourite Goal GIFs to go head-to-head in a one-week showdown! We enlisted @ICdave, @hustlerama, and @MickEMoose_00 to pick divisions and added reps who played for both the #MBMoose and @JaxIcemen.— Manitoba Moose (@ManitobaMoose) May 27, 2019
Matchups start TODAY on @Twitter and @instagram! pic.twitter.com/YDnmJm12cp
"On production day at the beginning of the season, we get about five minutes with each player to check some boxes on things we need for the season and one of those things is our goal GIFs. It's turned into something the fans really enjoy," Chipman said. "Last summer, we did a goal GIF bracket and ranked the best one and had a lot of engagement there... the players actually really enjoy it. They're super good about it. They don't mind making fun of themselves. They think it's funny and the fans really enjoy it as well."
Twitter: 15.6K followers
The reality of being a minor league baseball team means you likely don't have a huge staff dedicated to social media. That means media coordinator Nigel Batchelor has to hold down the fort for the majority of it.
"When I came here in 2017 we talked about it a bit that it used to be an hour of someone's day 10 years ago. Just update the Facebook page and keep people up to date with news on Twitter," Batchelor said.
"I think now, it's a daily necessity. It's something you have to do every day to communicate with your fans and keep them up to date with the experience. Especially during our season, it's such a great tool to keep people up to date, especially in baseball. A really great way to get promotions out there and let people know what's going on."
At the park: August 27-September 2. The final week of the season had hockey, time travel, concerts and zombies!! What a great way to end the summer at Shaw Park!#LetsGoGoldeyes #Winnipeg #isitmayyet pic.twitter.com/BxUtkjzSJ7— #LetsGoGoldeyes (@Wpg_Goldeyes) September 6, 2019
Minor league baseball can be tough to follow as it's a 100-game season with roster moves constantly occurring. Batchelor said if anything, that plays to their advantage as it gives them more content to work with. Social media has given fans another way of staying in the loop and allows the Goldeyes a way to market their players that aren't household names like some of the guys on the Jets and Bombers. But perhaps more importantly, it gives the Goldeyes a way of showing potential customers what they can expect to experience if they visit Shaw Park.
"Instagram is really good for us. We have a beautiful park, we're outdoors, we're downtown," Batchelor said. "It's very easy for people to share their experiences at the park with us and we can share that back with everybody. Instagram is all about experience and capturing moments and that fits really well with baseball."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 at 8:24 PM CST: Updates story
11:17 PM: Adds images for embeds in app.