Stack’s Stats: Linsane
Jeremy Lin’s amazing statistical performances and a Q+A with the Suns’ VP of Digital.
Seven Questions Or Less (or more this week)
Jeramie McPeek, Vice President of Digital, Phoenix Suns, @jmcpeek
SLAM: What’s a typical day like for you? What are you doing each day?
Jeramie McPeek: As our vice president of digital, I oversee all our websites, all of our social media channels, our local marketing initiatives and also play a role in our email communications. That’s for the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA as well as US Airways Center, our building.
We have a team of nine people who I oversee. We create the content for all of those different communication channels to keep our fans informed, get them excited about our team, engage them, connect with them, make them feel appreciated through social media and now we’re trying to branch out and try new things with mobile technology. We’re getting ready to release our first mobile app in the next couple weeks.
We’re always trying to find new ways to connect with fans. All these digital channels have been exploding in popularity over the last 10 years and even more so in the last two or three years. So, it’s a challenge but it’s a lot of fun. It’s always evolving so there’s always something new to try.
SLAM: And it’s not just social media. You have other priorities within your digital department.
JM: Yeah, no question. Social media is just one of the newest things we’re doing. We’ve had an award-winning website for a long time. We launched in 1995. We were the first team to stream video on our website, we were the first team to do a video talk show online. We were the first team to launch an email newsletter back in 1997. We certainly try to be out front and take some risks here and there and try new things. I’ve been really fortunate to have such great, strong support from our upper management, who really see the value in digital and has given me the resources and let me hire people to build a team.
We’ve got the largest digital staff in the NBA and probably in all of pro sports, in terms of teams. That has allowed us to do some really creative and unique things. It allows us to really take advantage of all the digital channels out there, not only to connect with fans and grow our fan base but also generate revenue in terms of ticket sales and marketing partnerships.
SLAM: What communication does your department have with other arms of the Suns, such as the marketing and ticket departments?
JM: We really work with a lot of different departments. We try to help them achieve their goals, as well. We have regular meetings with the ticket sales people to try to determine the best way to message what the best ticket options are, such as single games, groups, season plans, luxury suites, college nights. We’re constantly working with them to promote the different ticket options for fans.
We work closely with our marketing department to incorporate our brand messaging and our marketing slogan each year. We try to keep a consistent theme on our website that you would also see on TV and on billboards or in print ads in a newspaper.
We work closely with our marketing partnerships department, which is the department that sells all the sponsorships. In the past, a sponsor might buy a package that included a certain number of TV spots, a certain number of radio spots and signage in the building. Now, a majority of our packages also include a banner ad or a pre-roll commercial with videos on our website. They might include a special contest that we promote through Facebook and Twitter or inclusion in our mobile app that is coming out. We work with them to put together the best package for our sponsors we’re pitching and working with to help those sponsors achieve their goals of reaching more eyeballs or getting more fans on their Facebook pages or collecting more data.
Our Suns charities – we have a whole charities division of our organization that we work with. Our Jr. Suns program, which reaches out to youth and gets them involved in playing basketball. We work with them. The Phoenix Mercury also have similar departments in terms of ticket sales and sponsorships and marketing. And then the arena is always trying to come up with new ways to sell an upcoming concert or family show or WWE wrestling. We work with them to help promote those events through our digital channels.
SLAM: What’s the greatest benefit to be gained for your department from this new partnership with Verizon Wireless and Samsung Mobile?
JM: We’ve actually had a relationship with Verizon for quite a while. They helped us launch our mobile alerts program in 2007, so that we could text fans with breaking news or special offers. They’re the ones who are helping us build our mobile app…that fans will be able to download for their Android or iPhone or Blackberry here in the next few weeks.
Now, this is a new layer. Verizon has brought Samsung to the table. We’ve enhanced our relationship with Verizon by also incorporating Samsung Galaxy tablets throughout our organization.
Everybody on the business side has them and are using them for notes and reports and spreadsheets and PowerPoints. On the basketball side, the scouts are using them to put their playbooks on the tablets, to give the players after every game a tablet uploaded with their specific plays broken down in video so they can look to see what they did right or wrong. Even to look at video clips of opponents they may be playing in a couple days to look at their tendencies. It’s definitely exciting to have that strong relationship with Verizon. Now, it’s growing with adding Samsung to the mix and these great tablets, using Verizon 4G LTE wireless service.
SLAM: What are you able to maximize with team corporate sponsors on these tablets?
JM: I don’t know that we will have any sponsor integration within the tablets themselves. The [mobile] app is something different that is just for fans to download for their handheld devices. Within the app, it’ll be presented by Verizon but we’ll have a number of different ad positions where we can serve interstitial ads, little banner ads, of our partners and special offers for fans in the building. We can push out an offer through the app that encourages them to come by a certain concession stand – maybe a Cold Stone Creamery and get two-for-one ice cream that night.
We’ll be using it that way to drive foot traffic to different stand in the building or even to retail locations around town.
SLAM: What sort of social media engagement do you see with fans who attend your games? How much are they engaging with social media while they’re watching the game?
JM: It’s increased dramatically over the last two years. We have probably 1,500 fans every game who check in on Facebook when they come to our building and let their friends know they’re here at the Suns game. We have hundreds of fans who check in on FourSquare when they’re here at the building and then, of course, probably the majority of those and a whole lot more are posting things on their Facebook page – pictures of them at the game, comments that they’re here or tweeting throughout the game. Observations of what’s happening on the floor or tweeting pictures of themselves in the stand or on the concourse posing with some Suns dancers or the gorilla (the Suns’ mascot).
There is definitely a lot of interaction here in the arena as well as with the fans who are watching at home. They’re sitting with their laptops, their tablets or their smartphones and tweeting as the game is going on. It’s kind of like a giant sports bar—a virtual sports bar—where everybody is all over town talking about the Suns at the same time. They’re doing it from their couch or the arena and they’re connected. It’s really cool to see that little community out there in the social space that has grown over the last two or three years.
SLAM: Have you been able to measure whether people who attend Suns games, or who are just Suns fans, have been influenced by the Suns to become more integrated with social media, in general?
JM: I don’t know if I have any hard evidence or examples to prove that but I do know that once Shaq got on Twitter in November 2008, he was a member of our team. That brought a lot of awareness to it. More and more guys, like Steve Nash and Jared Dudley and Grant Hill, got on [Twitter] and our fan base started hearing more and more about what they were doing on Twitter. They’d see tweets read on TV or in the newspaper.
I’m confident that we’ve had a lot of people get on [Twitter] just to see what it’s all about and what their favorite players are doing there. Then kind of get hooked just like the players did. Once you try it, you think that it’s a cool way to get news, to share feedback with people, connect with people, network. I’m confident that’s the case. But I don’t have necessarily any numbers or maps to how big the impact has been.
SLAM: Same question to the players. What impact has the social media culture you’ve established with the Suns had on how players interact in the social media space?
JM: I would love to take full credit [laughs]. But I really can’t. It really has been a natural thing that has grown starting with Shaq. He talked a couple players into getting on [Twitter] and then they talked a couple players into getting on and other players around the League saw what guys like Shaq and Dwight Howard—some of these bigger name players—were doing and so they got on. It’s really just grown to the point where the majority of our players are on Twitter.
I think the majority of players in the League have a Twitter account. I wouldn’t say it’s anything we’ve done specifically but we’ve certainly helped certain players the last couple of years who wanted to grow their following and want to come up with creative ways to get their Twitter name out there.
We ran a great promotion with Jared about a year and a half ago where we helped him get a bunch of Jared Dudley jerseys made because they didn’t sell them in the team shop. And he did a promotion where the first 50 fans who showed up at the arena would get one from him and he would sign it. We worked with him on that.
When Amar’e Stoudemire was here, we helped him with a number of different contest ideas for his Twitter account. We certainly try to help players who want the help and we’re excited to team with them to cross-promote things they’re doing with things we’re doing, but I wouldn’t say we’re a big reason why our players have adopted it.
SLAM: What social media platform do you see as having the most room for growth in the next year?
JM: I think there’s room for growth in a lot of different areas. Facebook is still getting bigger and bigger all the time and now that they’re changing the way Facebook pages work, in terms of introducing timelines. I think that will be very interesting to see how we can take advantage of that. To document some of our history as an organization through the timeline, to encourage fans to add to their own timelines when they became a Suns fan or what was the first Suns game they attended.
I think there’s still a lot of opportunities with Facebook that we can still tap into. I think things like FourSquare, Facebook check-ins and GetGlue—it’s similar to FourSquare. You check in while you’re watching a TV program, so you tell your friends you’re watching the Phoenix Suns game tonight. That gets spread out through Twitter and Facebook. It helps bring awareness to our TV broadcasts. We’re starting to do things there.
Google+ is still a big unknown. We were one of the first 20 brands in the world to launch a Google+ Brands page. We were selected by Google as the only NBA team at the time to launch there. I think it’s a really impressive platform that has a lot of great features. I’m not sure people are fully adopting it yet. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s ever a tipping point where they can get that mass usage. I think there’s a lot of opportunity with them, as well, if it catches on with the general fan.
Things like Instagram to push out cool pictures from behind the scenes for fans. Pinterest is out there and is something we may explore a little bit. I think probably the one area that we haven’t fully tapped into yet, that we’re certainly trying to now, is mobile. You can’t go to a sports event now and see two out of every three people on their phone texting their friends, posting on Facebook, tweeting, doing something with their smartphones. There’s a lot of power there with all the people in our building using their phones that we need to find a better way to tap into, and hopefully our mobile app will be a step in that direction.
There are a lot of neat opportunities hopefully available in the future, including streaming replays on phones, so that fans can see a replay of a great dunk they just watched on the court. Or they can maybe switch and get multiple camera angles of the game on their phone. A Huddle Cam so that they can see what’s going on in the huddle. A Dancer Cam to watch the dancers or Steve Nash Cam to just have a camera angle that’s focused on Steve Nash throughout the game. Some of these things may be a way’s off but I think they’re coming and coming quickly. That’s an area that we’re putting a lot of focus on, and we’re excited to see where it goes.
SLAM: I have to ask a follow-up to that. [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban has stated he doesn’t want fans attending Mavericks games to be focused on their phones. You’re taking the opposite side of the spectrum. Can you explain your position?
JM: I certainly understand where Mark is coming from when he says that. We don’t necessarily want 18,000 fans in the building looking down at their phones rather than looking at the court. At the same time, as I said, if you go to a sports game – a Suns game, a Mavs game, a New York Giants game – people are still looking at their smartphones. They’re using them constantly. I think it’s part of our culture now. It’s almost an addiction for people that they have to have their phone out every two minutes. Why not tap into that?
If our fans are going to be using them and going to be on them a lot, why not use them to enhance the experience in the building? Give fans live stats on their phone rather than them looking up at the scoreboard and seeing what the starting five has scored; they can now look at their phone and see what everyone on the bench has scored, what their rebound totals are, what their assists are, what the fast break points are between the two teams in comparison.
I think it’s a great way to take advantage of the fact that fans love their phones and love these devices. Now try to use it to enhance the experience. It’s a contest where they text into the big screen to participate and possibly get a seat upgrade to courtside. Maybe it’s where they’re snapping pictures of themselves and those pictures make it to the big screen [on the scoreboard]. We’ve done some of those kinds of things. It’s all about trying to make the experience of coming to a game more exciting for fans and trying to get them to participate and engage rather than just sit there and watch.