The explosive growth of social media over the past four years has drastically changed how the Giants and Patriots market themselves and connect with fans compared to the two teams’ most recent Super Bowl trips.
“It’s a whole new world compared to last time,” Nilay Shah, the Giants’ director of digital media, said in an interview.
When the Giants and Patriots reached the Super Bowl in 2008, Twitter barely existed, Facebook had less than 100 million users, and Google+ wasn’t even a gleam in Larry Page’s eye.
Today, Facebook has grown to more than 845 million users, Twitter has become an integral communication tool of the sports and media worlds, and Google+ now claims around 100 million members. Other sharing sites such as YouTube have swelled in popularity too.
“Last time we were here, the social world was still sort of new for us, and our main communication method was email,” Shah said. “We didn’t focus on it a lot back then, but coming back now we knew we had to place a lot of emphasis on it, find a way to incorporate our fans as much as possible and make them a part of the experience.”
“We didn’t focus on it a lot back then, but coming back now we knew we had to place a lot of emphasis on it, find a way to incorporate our fans as much as possible and make them a part of the experience.”
The Giants are among professional sports’ most social media-savvy teams. But Fred Kirsch, the Patriots’ vice president of content, said that growing social networks have played a real role in fan outreach and marketing during New England’s Super Bowl run as well.
When the team won the AFC Championship, it decided to run a contest giving away free trips to the Super Bowl for fans who worked in healthcare, law enforcement, the military, firefighting or education. Kirsch said that the team was able to promote the contest effectively in a short time thanks to Facebook and Twitter, gathering about a thousand nominations.
“It made it tough to choose the winners but it was well worth it,” Kirsch told Mashable in an email.
The Giants, meanwhile, have run a number of promotions built entirely around social media. They installed a button on the team website to allow fans to follow more than a dozen players on Twitter before Super Bowl XLVI with one click. They have a player shooting behind-the-scenes footage — but 10,000 new fans have to “Like” the team’s Facebook page to unlock each day’s content. They are even hosting a “Social Media Night” on Thursday, in which a number of players will participate in a live webcast from the team hotel, answering fan questions sent via Twitter and Facebook. Four more players are hosting exclusive Google+ Hangouts, each with five chosen fans who joined their Google+ Circles.
“It’s more relaxed, more informal, a chance to know the guy behind the uniform.”
Tyson Goodridge was one of the fans selected for a Hangout with linebacker Mark Herzlich. Goodridge, who works as a social media director for a marketing agency, told Mashable his two young sons wanted to ask what players eat before games, while he wanted to ask what goes through the players’ minds in the moments before the ball is snapped.
“It creates a level of intimacy that is so cool,” Goodridge said. “Anyone can know all his stats, but in this case it’s a private session where he’s not in the locker room. It’s more relaxed, more informal, a chance to know the guy behind the uniform.”
That, said Shah, epitomizes the wealth of new engagement possibilities opened up by social media’s maturation since 2008.
“We’ve always tried to provide the best content possible, but before that might have meant just putting up exclusive-access videos and that was it,” he said. “Now we’re able to give the fans more and make them feel like they have a voice.”