At 4:30pm EST today, the New York Jets will take on their rivals, the New England Patriots in the hopes of advancing to the next round of the NFL playoffs. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jets Executive Vice President of Operations, Matt Higgins who has pioneered the Jets use of social media. The @NYJets are currently the most followed team in the NFL (currently at 88,945) and 22 Jets players are currently on Twitter. Even more impressive is their Facebook fan page (currently at 396,027 likes) and their virtual application, “Ultimate Fan” created by Arkadium. The Jets are proud to claim the “1st revenue generating Facebook application to be backed by a sports team,” according to a Jets representative. Higgins happily answered a few questions on the Jets success in using social media.
(The following has been edited from our conversation)
How did the Jets decide to make a Facebook game?
I read a story in Business Week about social gaming and how it was the next phase for brands. People spend a quarter of their time on the internet on Facebook. It’s one thing if a bank or retail outlet makes a game…that takes some leaps in logic. It’s quite another if a brand that is a game tries migrating into the virtual world. We like to be first and we like to experiment, that’s part of our brand identity. We engaged Arkadium to create the first Facebook game backed by a sports team. Fans like to predict outcomes, they like to represent their team (you can make a virtual tailgate), you can support your team and you can post messages, you can post smack. It tries to tap into the rivalry and the passion of fans and migrate the experience of a real game into the virtual world.
Has the app been successful?
It has been very successful on a couple of levels. First, the fans are extremely engaged. For sponsors it gives them another outlet to get their brand in front of their fans that’s organic and not intrusive. One example, in our virtual tailgate you can have a blimp. An unbranded blimp is not nearly as compelling as a Met Life blimp. In our Facebook game having a branded element actually creates more value rather than detracts. That’s pretty compelling. We’ve had a lot of interest from sponsors to enter the game.
With the playoffs has their been more excitement with your social media?
It’s not just about the app, it’s the social media space. This is the year where the whole space matures. Brands and those on our side of the business will really figure out how to effectively use social media to get in front of your fans and leverage that on behalf of brands. We’re seeing interest on what we do on Twitter and Facebook. Year over year when trying to explain ideas, we were met with crooked smiles. Sponsors are reaching out to us now, that they need to be there during the playoffs. One example, HotelPlanner.com has integrated: every day the Jets are in the playoffs they are giving away a hotel room. Met Life has been integrated. Motorola has been integrated into our app. We have a branded tab for MotoPics where fans send us their pictures and we post them and during the season we give away tickets to fans with the most “likes”. Throughout the course of the season it generated 14 million impressions for Motorla. If you compare that to our games – 80,000 people, with about 10 games is about 800,000 people. It really gives you a sense of the power of social media for a sports team. There are only so many people that can attend the game but an infinite amount of people that can interact with you online.
What do you think people in the sports space can be doing better in social media?
I eventually had to come to this conclusion. In order to understand you have to be in the conversation. You can’t grasp the potential in the abstract. If you want to understand Twitter you have to be on Twitter. You have to be ready to engage, expect criticism and be ready to respond. I don’t need to wait for a reporter to tell us we screwed up, I can get feedback instantly from fans. We had a rally and our fans let us know how we can improve our next rally. The other great thing about Twitter – so many things we do originates from our friends on Twitter and Facebook. Our fans want to see us succeed and they are willing to spend some extra time to give us their opinion and tell us when we’re doing something wrong. That is a tremendous resource to tap into.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Motorola, HotelPlanner.com and Met Life have been amazing partners. Also, on all our players birthdays, our fans can write them a birthday message. MotoPic, is our most visited piece of content out of all our offerings on our website and Facebook. You really have to go where the fans are. On Twitter, we have Connect With The Jets, with one click you can follow all the players. Our lesser known players can instantly get a huge following. We now do special promotions and contests where we give something away. Pepsi Max sponsored a trip to the playoffs. When you followed all the Jets you also follow Pepsi Max. We increased the Pepsi Max followers by 25%. It would also tweet out Pepsi Max and the Jets as well. We generated 150,000 impressions in one day. We are both providing something to our fans and enabling our sponsors to be integrated into social media.
We wish the Jets luck today (not that they need it) as they take on the Patriots! J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!