These days, professional sports teams are focused on much more than the product on the field. Over the past 10 years, they’ve become content producers and companies where social media and mobile technologies have become crucial.
On Monday night, representatives from Philly’s four major pro sports teams sat down for a panel discussion about how the teams use technology and shared thoughts about the future of tech in their businesses. Moderated by ESPN and Sports Illustrated columnist Andrew Brandt, it was a collaboration of the newly merged Philly New Technology Meetup and Mobile Monday.
Michael Harris, director of marketing and special projects for the Philadelphia Phillies said the team’s digital spend is around 40 percent to 50 percent — a major change from just a few years ago.
“I assumed this particular role in 2007, and I can’t event remember what our digital spend was,” he said. “It may have bene zero.”
Unlike the three other major sports, digital content for the Phillies is handled via Major League Baseball Advanced Media — meaning that if you want to place ads on Phillies.com, you have to talk to MLBAM, not the team. That means Phillies.com may even feature articles that are critical of the team (refreshing for a fan like me, but it’s not always the content the organization wants to put out.)
But that’s the state of digital affairs in baseball — and it will soon be the same in hockey. The NHL and MLBAM signed a six-year, $100 million deal to control all of the NHL’s digital platforms. That means the Philadelphia Flyers mobile app will look drastically different in the near future. Flyers Vice President of Business Development Rob Johnson also spoke at on the panel, but said specifics about the new app are still being worked out.
But if Harris is any judge, the Flyers will be happy when they make the switch. Although the Phillies give up some autonomy because digital decisions are made at the league level, all of the team’s websites are standardized and MLBAM has created a template for selling sponsorships. “It’s turned into an enormous source of revenue for each club.”
Meanwhile in the NBA, Tim McDermott, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Philadelphia 76ers, said he believes all sports teams are becoming quasi-media companies that have to constantly generate content.
“We’re really bullish on trying to transition into a content factory,” he said, noting that the team had two content producers when he got there in 2013. It now has nine.
Linda Thomas, digital and social media director of the Philadelphia Eagles agrees, noting that the team “thinks mobile first” — making shorter, “snack-able” content for mobile and longer articles and videos for the desktop users.
When asked about how the teams embrace emerging technologies, Thomas said it’s all about making sure they’re ready before rollout.
“We don’t want to have a bad fan experience,” she said. “We want to test it to death and make sure that when 70,000 people show up — it works.” That’s just what the team did for its Eagles wifi available for free at Lincoln Financial Field. The team also has special offerings through its mobile app — like a radio button that lets you listen to the Merrill Reese radio broadcast or special camera angles that aren’t shown on TV.
Wifi is also available at the Wells Fargo Center, but not at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies have the MLB.com Ballpark app that’s customized for Citizens Bank Park and allows fans to order food or merchandise to their seats — but it’s just not that popular yet.
“That’s going to be an increased area of focus going into 2016,” said Harris. “If you don’t know about it, that’s our fault.”