Friday, March 23, 2012

Portland Trail Blazers…Blazing their own Trail in Social Media

When I do research on what teams are doing social media-wise, all the write-ups seem to point to the same teams…the Boston Celtics and European soccer teams like Manchester United, etc.

But then I saw something different.

I was on Twitter one day and saw a tweet from Kyle Spencer, who works in business development/sports at Ustream…Watching @pdxtrailblazers: Is there another pro sports team creating more original streaming content?

I knew I had to check it out and here’s what I found: the Portland Trail Blazers stream their own TV shows on

The other thing I knew for sure was that I had to find out more.

Recently I sat down with Dan Harbison, Sr. Director of Digital Marketing and Media for the Portland Trail Blazers, to learn more about their social media strategy.

PJ: So, how did you develop your strategy?

Dan: It’s interesting to see the brands that are a lot larger than the won-loss record. Regardless of if the Lakers are in the dumps, say, lost 25 games and it’s a long time since that’s happened, the brand is strong and withstands that.

In Portland, we had some problems. I came along in 2005…we had off-court issues…on the court we were losing and the city was fed up with what was going on and they didn’t feel they had a team or brand that reflected on the team and who they were. If the fans don’t want to be identified as Trail Blazer fans…that’s a big, big problem.

We needed to address this and make it right. We did a deep exploration to see what the city and the fans needed.

In 1977 we won the championships and it was Blazermania. The city and the team were so intertwined—the Trail Blazers were the only professional team here at the time. Fans really feel passionate about their teams (now we have the Timbers in MLS).

To get to the point where people were fed up took a lot. The bottom fell out. We needed to get people engaged, buying tickets, and watching games. In the digital world we could build this back up…we could do this.

PJ: So, how did you start?
Dan: In 2007 we launched as a way to connect with the people who were still fans and recruit fans and as a way for them to know it’s OK to be a fan. The team started turning around by getting high character guys.

We had to find who was engaged and have them be evangelists and make it safe to be a fan. It might not be a good idea for them to come out and say they were a fan in a room full of non-fans. So, we created a site where it was OK for them to be passionate…online.

In 2007 we also got on Twitter when we got the No. 1 pick in the draft, to peel the curtain back in real-time. In 2007 there were no retweets, no direct messages or @replys on Twitter. It was definitely a way to just broadcast out from a mobile phone. We were the first team to jump on Twitter. In the next few years it grew…a slow burn for the general population.

When Greg Oden came in, we thought why don’t do we a live broadcast for the draft? It would be a way for the fans to ask questions live…we’d put it next to the chat online. We saw the success on the amount of people watching. We were already doing a weekly televised show, so we took the existing TV shows and streamed them live. Then, we rolled out other pieces.
In 2009, the NBA allowed teams to stream certain games depending on rights. We streamed 16 games during the 2009-2010 season. It’s continued to evolve. It’s great to determine how to bring different programs.

PJ: What are your overall goals with your strategy?
Dan: We do live video programming and on-demand pre-game, halftime, and post-game shows. It’s a great way to augment the experience. During the game traffic spikes…the question is how to capture this audience and keep them online longer. Anytime you create a channel you try not to have redundancies or go off-brand. For example, not all of the programming on The History Channel is on the history of the presidents. You have to differentiate.
We try to reinvent the way people use video online.
PJ: What does your lineup on look like now?
Dan: Just a few of the shows we do...from 10am-11am [Rip City Update] with Adam [Bjaranson], who does the pre-game and halftime shows and Blogger Network Manager, Sarah [Hecht]—[they review the headlines, recap the game and preview the next game, etc.].
At noon, our digital reporter, Casey [Holdahl], and Mike Rice do Chalk Talk for the hoop heads…they talk matchups and detailed analysis.

Then we have a more casual, not just straight basketball show. It’s quirky, based off the phrase “Keep Portland Weird.” Not sure if you heard of the show they just launched on TV--Portlandia. We call our show Sportlandia. We have a radio duo from here in Portland, who are younger and the show plays well.
PJ: What other things are you doing in the social media realm?
Dan: We launched a bloggers network where fans create blogs and promote citizen journalism and we have official blogs. It’s just another place for people to contribute.
We promote our super fans. We’ve built a good online community outside the blogs. The fabric is woven for fans—coming to Tweet-Ups, buying tickets together, watching road games together, etc. It doesn’t get much better than that for a brand experience.

PJ: What’s next for the Trail Blazers?
Dan: Mobile devices are interesting. They used to say the primary screen was the TV, secondary was the computer and next was the phone. Now, I think the primary is the mobile phone and the secondary is the computer. We are on the phone every waking hour. We check in on Facebook and Twitter, we listen to music, in meetings people check emails…I don’t, but some people do! It’s our community with friends and networks—you don’t connect through TV for three hours a day. Now the TV is on, we are working on the iPad, and checking emails on our phone. This is content consumption. Now, if we have live engagement with our fans it has to be driven through the mobile phone. This is the next phase. The goal is for the fan to have a solid experience around fan-to-fan and fan-to-organization. The importance is on the mobile device.
Another project I want to figure out is the social experience around the game. It’s great in the arena…chanting, high-fiving people you don’t know, etc. It’s not like that at home. The community experience is not the same. We are starting to get there with live game chats with digital reporters, but I want to take it to the next step. The vision is to see everyone’s reaction in a virtual stadium experience. I am talking with start-ups now about this. It’s more like watching at a sports bar and..yeah, being a part of something larger--these are Trail Blazers fans and these are my people. I want to keep making it better. I am really trying to understand and build that social fabric of fans watching TV.
To check out