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Publications and websites still hold a value, but not as much as they used to

Jure Doler

Jeramie McPeek is a digital and social media expert. He started with the Phoenix Suns in the 90s and has signed under numerous interesting digital projects. He used his experience in his recent exciting digital journey in the role of Houston’s Super Bowl Host Committee (SBHC) ‘Social Media Quarterback’. In our conversation, he offered the insight into his work around the Super Bowl 51, touched the trends, digital and social media evolution, its distribution, and discussed how sports fans consume content today. Jeramie McPeek will be a guest speaker at SPORTO 2017 in November.

Jermie McPeek (Photo: JMc)

Having almost 25 years of sports communication experience, could you explain what has changed the most in the ways the fans consume content? Actually, does printed media still have a role?
Obviously, there have been a lot of changes over the last years. The biggest one is that fans can get their content, news and information in real time now. Back when I started, we would take photos and write stories and then it would take us 2-3 weeks to finish editing the stories, put them in the magazine, get it printed and send to someone a month later. It’s a pretty dramatic difference on how fans are getting information on their favourite players, favourite teams, and I think it continues to change. All these social media channels are adding new features every couple of months, they are all competing with each other and trying to outdo each other. It’s been fun to see that evolution over time and be a part of it from the very beginning.

"In general you want Facebook to be your strongest with your best video, your best feature, your best infographic, and you can also do live video, of course."

We see most of the content being pushed through other channels rather than websites. With effective social media, is there even a future for brand websites?
I think that publications and websites are still a value, but not as much as they used to be. Previously, there were magazines, where people would get all the information and later websites, where people would log on every day to get their information on the team. Nowadays, fans get most of their information through social media in real time. Having said that, I think there is still something special about having a physical magazine that you can hold and lay down on the couch or read in bed, flip through the pages, look at the beautiful photos, or read a really in-depth story. People love to read and they love to read good stories and get more information than in 140 characters on Twitter. I also think websites are still valuable. You can publish longer articles, photo galleries etc.
If teams, leagues and brands want to reach their fans, the best way to do it is through social. If you try and tell your stories there, post your videos natively on your social media, rather than just put on a link and hope that people come back to your website as it doesn’t work as much as it used to. But it still doesn’t mean that it can’t work. I think there’s a balance in how you do it and you have to be strategic about it. You can still feature some great content on your website, you can still get your fans through social to go to your website, but I think the days when people would wake up in the morning and go to their favorite website to go see what the latest news is, are gone.  
Snapchat is one of the hottest channels at the moment, but it’s quite tricky in terms of audience build-up. What strategies would you recommend?
It’s important for reaching younger people. Most high school, middle school and even college students are using Snapchat. Now that Instagram has ‘Stories’ and other similar features, it will be interesting to see how Snapchat evolves and differentiates itself over time. Right now, it’s still an important channel where people are spending a lot of time every day and it’s valuable for athletes, leagues and teams to be there for sure.

"Snapchat is vertical, Instagram Stories is vertical and now Facebook is rolling out their own Stories as well. Things are definitely changing.?"

In terms of growing the audience it’s more difficult. You can’t really ask people to retweet your Snapchats, but you can cross promote. That’s what we did with the Super Bowl Host Committee and Snapchat was the channel that was growing the slowest. A part of that is because we didn’t have as much real time content to be posting on Snapchat every day. Later, we were able to post every single day and have content about the big Super Bowl LIVE (huge fan event being built in downtown Houston), and about the opening night, where the two teams met the media for the first time. We were also using Snapchat Spectacles at the airport, when the Atlanta Falcons landed their plane ... And once we were starting to have that unique content, all of the sudden our numbers were starting to grow. It also helps if you have any other Snapchat influencers who can give you some kind of endorsement with posting on their Snapchat, with a little text on it, telling people to follow your channel. We had that in a number of cases, where the Houston Rockets posted something on their Snapchat, encouraging their followers to follow us, we had a Snapchat artist, who created some cool Super Bowl related artwork for us and then posted things on his Snapchat, we had a lot of influencers who told people to follow us.
What will be the next big content for social media channels? Is there a building connection between IoT (Internet of things) and social media?
I think it’s something we all need to really pay close attention to and I think it’s something that could get bigger and bigger over time, especially as more companies are building connected devices. That could now be your refrigerator or your kitchen table that has the internet built into it. Only time will tell. Right now, there is such a limited amount of devices out there. Snapchat Spectacles are one thing, there are the VR Goggles, but not a lot of people have those yet. It’s a fantastic experience if you get a chance to try it out and watch the sports event, but it will be interesting to see how quickly that’s adopted and if it’s adopted to where everybody has them and everybody’s wearing them. It kind of reminds me of 3D TV. Everybody was talking about how that was going to be huge and people will be watching it in their living rooms and getting movies in 3D, but that hasn’t really taken off. I tend to think that VR will, I just don’t think we’re there yet and we’re still two or three years away.
How important is a user-generated content for an event with so many resources as Super Bowl? Is it still a part of your digital strategy?
It has changed over the years. When I was with the Phoenix Suns and we first started to get into social media, we had our own social network that we built, and we had fans to upload their photos and videos to that network. Today, fans are posting content on their own social media channels, so you just need to keep an eye on what’s being posted and you can share it, read it and repost it. Another thing we did in Houston, I now wish we did even more of it, is that we tapped into the local community of influencers and found three or four who were around for different events during those two weeks before the game and they would capture some material specifically for us, so we had that additional content that they were creating. As I mentioned before, we had that Snapchat artist for beautiful Snapchat content etc. If I get a chance to play a ‘social media quarter back’ again, I would actually recruit a team of social media ambassadors and influencers and have maybe a dozen of them who are all capturing content throughout the city at different events and sharing unique perspectives on things, maybe some really strong Instagram photographers, who have huge followings and have a different look at what we do. The more great content you have coming in, the greater your channels are going to be.
At the events like Super Bowl, so many things happen in only a couple of hours … A lot of content had to be shared in the two weeks leading up to the big event. Did you use any tools to manage all the content you get?
We had a social media command centre and over 100 volunteers who rotated shifts throughout the two weeks. There was a team of people who led that group and had those people respond to all the questions that were coming in from Twitter or questions that were left in comments on Facebook or Instagram. They were using a platform ‘Spreadfast’ to keep an eye on what’s being said and how to respond. Personally, I was more on the content side, covering all the events. My company partnered up with the company ‘Ampsy’ and they have a great platform that uses geolocation technology to see what’s being posted in a certain area. So, I was using their platform to see what great Instagrams are being posted for Super Bowl live and what tweets fans are posting on. I kept an eye on, whenever I could to be able to share a content they were posting on our channels as well.
What kind of content proved to be the most engaging at this moment for specific social media channel?  
There is certainly content that can be engaging on all channels, but in general you want Facebook to be your strongest with your best video, your best feature, your best infographic, and you can also do live video, of course. You want Instagram for your strongest visuals i.e. dramatic or emotional photos, exciting and fun photos, infographic that looks cool and is readable on a small phone etc. On Twitter, you can be a lot more light-hearted and goofy, you can use memes and gifs, you can do polls, but you can also use newsworthy things like a quote from a press conference or a two-minute video. Snapchat is much more real time – what you see, fun light-hearted content, behind the scenes … So, there’s a lot of content and it’s hard to say a certain kind of content is only valuable for a certain channel, but there are some differences.
We see photos posted on Facebook in a Snapchat vertical format being the most engaging. The mobile experience is becoming more and more important. Did you recognize this as a trend?
Yes, it was interesting to see back in 2009/2010, when Phoenix Suns had a player named Jared Dudley. He used to shoot a lot of videos of himself at different places and tell people what he was up to. The thing is, he would always shoot the video vertically and we would always tell him to turn the phone sideways, because people don’t watch videos vertically and now it’s just the opposite. Snapchat is vertical, Instagram Stories is vertical and now Facebook is rolling out their own Stories as well. Things are definitely changing.
You said that the biggest challenges for SBHC digital were coming up with creative and engaging content several months ahead of the game and growing your followers over time. What was your strategy?
The strategy was to post engaging content that football fans and the people who lived in Houston area would be interested in. So we were putting out information about what was coming up in the next few months in terms of Super Bowl LIVE and all the great activities the fans can participate in, but we were also trying to share content around the Houston Texans, the local NFL franchise, because we wanted to connect with that local fan base. We were posting and interacting every NFL Sunday and Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football, we would be tweeting and posting about games that were going on, so again we would connect with NFL fans in general, because we wanted those fans to know about our accounts and be aware of them, so they would want to follow us, especially for those final two weeks. We wanted to give them all the information about what was going on in the host city. It’s rather a lengthy process to build up your following audience, but you have to start out just by engaging with them and trying to get into their communication throughout the season.
SBHC already has their channels for 2019 and 2020, way in advance, actually …
It’s just about building awareness over time. I joined Houston Super Bowl Host Committee only 5 months before the event. At that point, they had social channels that have been around over a year. Previously, I managed a social media for an Arizona Host Committee and I did that 18 months leading up to the game. Early on, it’s about connecting with the local fans and reminding them that the biggest event in sports is going to be in their city and get them excited about it. So, firstly it’s about building awareness, then building your audience and later about seriously engaging with fans who want to buy tickets or want to attend local events.
Your advice on social media is all about consistency, interaction and trying new things. So, what's the next new thing on social? Will we see more focus on 360° photos and videos? 
It’s a great addition if you don’t overdo it. You really want to be in an environment you want to capture everything around you or make a beautiful panorama, so when people are looking at their phones, they are seeing something unique. I used it every third day. For instance, I used it for Super Bowl LIVE. We had a concert stage and three or four free concerts every single night with thousands of people there. It made for great scenery for beautiful panoramas with concert stages, thousands of people, and if you kept moving your phone you would see the entire skyline again and the beautiful downtown city. It was a perfect use of that. Right now, it is probably hard for the average Facebook user to consume that kind of content, but as time goes by and technology progresses, I think that immersive content is a great way to show your fans what’s going on.

This text was first published in the SPORTO Magazine No. 9 (May 2017).


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