Fans have often wondered if teams pay attention to their opinion when it comes to major decisions like trading a big name player at the deadline or firing a coach. I've always suspected they do because it makes too much sense not to. This week we got two interesting peaks under the skirt showing not only how but why they do.
First we have this report from Paul Coro in the AZ Republic which includes and interview with the Suns Amy Jo Martin. The key section is Amy explaining the technology used by the Suns to watch what's being said.
Conversations, articles and chatter in various online forms show up on Martin's screen in 3-D form with indicators for the level of influence and sentiment (positive, negative or neutral). The Suns monitored fan fallout from the O'Neal trade a year ago, when 86 percent of reaction was neutral, slightly positive, positive or very positive. She can identify the "level of authority" in any Suns reference online by seeing how many links, inbound or outbound, it has with a graphic ecosystem of linked spheres.
Pretty cool stuff huh. I hope the US Government has a similar system in some undisclosed location tracking conversations about potential targets.
The next disclosure of interest came today in an interview with Kathleen Hessert published in the PhillyBurbs.com. Kathleen is a sports media consultant and her biggest (pun intended) client is Shaq.
In this portion of the interview, Kathleen explains how she monitors media and how the teams are adjusting to this new media landscape. It is worth noting that Buzz Manager was the tool that was used to identify our online discussions about the fake Shaq twitter which directly lead to @The_Real_Shaq.
One of the things we offer to athletes and teams is a program we call Buzz Manager. It monitors everything on the internet about brands. We monitor traditional media and fan generated media. We monitor everything so that those entities know how their customer base, the fans, feel about certain topics. They get the opinions of the fans. Buzz Manager is used to get the fans thoughts on coaches on the bubble, on perspective hires, who a team drafts or who they trade. We’ve had a number of teams come to us to get the fans pulse and feedback before they make a decision.
...most of our clients don’t want the fans to know they are giving them that much credence. They aren’t comfortable with it yet. They know it’s important, they are sticking their big toe in to find out how fans feel about big issues, and monitoring trends but they don’t always like to share that it may have factored in to a decision they have made as an organization. It’s a hard pill to swallow to think that the average fan has a huge influence on the daily moves of team or organization. But it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle. When I was in the media years ago, the media told the public what the issue was, all the important facts, how to feel about it, and when it was done being important. Now, every media outlet goes to the Internet first, and then takes the pulse of what is important.
When I went into the trainings this year for the teams, I told them, this is a whole new ballgame. Don’t think of media the same way any more. If you don’t consider social media important you are going to be way behind.
Sports teams are at their core entertainment businesses. Their customers are you. Smart businesses listen to their customers. The challenge for teams is to balance listening and responding to public reaction with using their own expertise to deliver a winning product.
It is not unlike movies producers who must weigh giving the people what they want and using their own judgment to make a great movie. In the end, listening too much might give you a decent flick like Iron Man whereas using your creative genius produces Slum Dog Millionaire. Of course, you always run the risk of being to clever by half and ending up with Water World...or the NY Knicks.
There you have it sports fans. Proof from two insiders that your voices matter. You are being heard.
As scary as that is given some of things we say, let's just hope the teams are smart enough to use the input appropriately because at the end of the day all we really care about is winning or at least playing hard and trying to win. Fans will forgive a lot of things if the end result gets everyone to a happy place.