Some two hundred sports and tech enthusiasts convened at the Prudential Center on April 9 for an evening discussion with Prudential Center officials about tech and social media, followed by a New Jersey Devils game.
Participants came from meetups across the state to this joint event, many bringing their children along. And after the game, the group was able enter the rink and take photos.
The event was planned by Marc Baskin, a Morris Tech Meetup co-organizer. He also moderated the panel discussion, which included Daniel Cherry III, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Devils and the Prudential Center; and Ravi Shah, vice president of strategy.
Baskin first addressed the students in the audience, telling them that he hoped the event would show them that science, technology and math could be used for cool applications, including for sports.
For the benefit of the students, Baskin’s first question to the panelists was how they were able to combine their passion for sports with a career in tech. Cherry noted that he had combined technology and content when he was really young, making videos that set skating and basketball scenes to music. This later became the AND1 Mixtape series and tour. The experience taught him that you can build a career doing something that you love and that you can take things from different parts of life and put them together to create something new.
Shah added that, while he loved sports as a kid, he wasn’t cut out for them. He went to the University of Pennsylvania, then to business school at Stanford, and afterwards did some consulting work that brought him into contact with companies in the entertainment space, including video studios and cable companies. Consulting also gave him some access to the NBA.
“I found out [the NBA] had a small group in their front office that focused on consulting for teams. Since I had a passion in sports, I thought it was a really great opportunity.” Shah joined the NBA in 2009 to focus on making the teams operate better. After that, he spent some time in Philadelphia getting the Sixers on the right path. When the folks (Josh Harris and David S. Blitzer) who owned the Sixers bought the Devils, he began to work with all the teams the company owns.
Baskin asked about the Devils’ use of social media, and Cherry responded that the organization is working with major league baseball’s media group MLB Advanced Media for its social, digital and e-commerce platforms. The entire league will be shifting its tech platforms’ front and back ends within nine months, so they will be ready in the fall, he said.
When it comes to social media, channels with immediacy like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram have been much more valuable to the Devils, Cherry said. “The beautiful thing and the most frustrating thing about this industry is that you do not control your product. …The social media platform we use is about instantaneous engagement and tie-ins.” He noted that when there was a threatened transportation strike, they were able to get information out to the fans quickly. Shah added that those real-time social media outlets give fans more in-game experiences as well. “You have to create a different experience and create a reason for the fans to come.”
Shah added that the role of his department is to understand what kind of social media will drive the most value for the business. “We are constantly analyzing what’s working to drive fan engagement and what’s working to drive revenue for us.” The team is always testing what will create the most “bang for the buck” in social media outlets, he added.
April Fools Social Media Campaign
Cherry noted that it’s not just the channels that are important, it’s also how you build a tone and an expectation for your brand. He then went on to talk about the successful “New Jersey Angels” hockey campaign that the Devils created for April Fools’ Day this year.
“On April 1, without telling the NHL, we decided we would change our name to the “New Jersey Angels” to be more family-friendly and have wings instead of horns. Because we had this distribution channel, we were able to make a brand literally overnight. Within 16 hours, we had a new logo and new handles on all social media, a new website, and a press release that our president sent out. People retweeted. We had a hashtag” he stated.
He described the calls from the league and others. They were giving away a custom gift to a fan, and the folks who made it were panicked because it didn’t have the “Angels” logo on it. “We were on the front page on Yahoo, and the New Jersey Angels Hockey website was getting more traffic that week than the Devils website.” They even made jerseys with the New Jersey Angels logo.
The NHL eventually shut down the gag because the logo took inspiration from the trademark that the Devils and the NHL jointly own. Cherry promised that the Devils would have Angels jerseys available on April 1 from now on. Shah added that the “joke” increased viewership on its various properties by folks who were not traditional Devils fans.
Baskin asked about the players and social media, and if the Devils organization had the right to see what its players were putting out before it went out. The answer was no, but the team and the league have guidelines that they give to the players. “Before our season, our communications department sits with the team and goes over the guidelines,” Shah said.
In response to a question about how the Internet has changed the way games are broadcast, Shah said that it changed the way the fan experiences the game. “We’re not as advanced as a league yet. That’s why we have the M LB Advanced Media relationship. But we will leap forward over the next 18 months,” he said.
Shah noted that the league requires each team to have one elite terrestrial radio channel and one elite television channel for the play-by-play, which prevents them from using other channels. He added that the Devils organization is working on creating more behind-the-scenes content so they can put that out on other digital channels, such as Spotify.