NBA Free Agency began at 12:01am Friday and if you were following along on social media you could tell which brands were ready for it and which ones weren’t. Social media activity at midnight on a weeknight isn’t usually high, but the NBA’s offseason has become extremely popular, and when information breaks, fans turn first to Twitter to learn about it. If a brand is or isn’t active to pass along important news developments, it can make a huge difference in how fans engage with the brand moving forward.
As I surveyed the nation to see who was present and who wasn’t, I want to recognize two brands in particular for producing extraordinary efforts. 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma City and 790 The Ticket in Miami were both active socially and on the air delivering updates to their fans about the latest NBA happenings. In fact, The Ticket went live with on-air free agency coverage from midnight to 6am. They delivered in similar fashion last year too.
I was equally impressed with The Franchise’s efforts in Oklahoma City because earlier in the evening the Thunder acquired Paul George. It was easily the biggest news story in the city since Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State last year. While The Franchise took calls from local fans about the addition of George and relayed news on social media about George, Rudy Gay and other Thunder possibilities, the rest of the market relied on national content and went silent on social media after the George trade was announced. Kudos to The Franchise crew for giving a little bit extra on a night when it truly mattered.
In other cities I saw some brands excel while others missed opportunities. There were a few markets where both local brands remained plugged in. Both 95.7 The Game and KNBR did an excellent job in San Francisco. That was also the case in Boston with WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub.
In Indianapolis, 1070 The Fan, CBS Sports 1430 and FOX Sports 97.5 all relayed the news about the Paul George trade. The Fan was the only one of the three that night to relay the news about Jeff Teague leaving for Minnesota. Phoenix also was well represented by Arizona Sports, 1580 The Fanatic and FOX Sports 910. All three stations promoted different news with the focus on Blake Griffin, Paul George, Paul Millsap, Steph Curry, and Alan Williams.
Next I set my sights on the city of angels where ESPN L.A. 710 was on the air talking about NBA free agency and passing along information about Paul George, Blake Griffin and other local possibilities. At the same time, AM 570 had a Dodgers game on the air and their social efforts were focused on passing along Dodgers scoring updates. There’s nothing wrong with sharing details of the Dodgers game but isn’t it possible to provide updates on both?
That also was the case in the nation’s capital. ESPN 980 had an update on Twitter about John Wall being offered a 4 year supermax deal by the Wizards. 106.7 The Fan was airing a Nationals game and live tweeting scores. Similar to the Los Angeles situation, keeping fans updated of both local developments seems easy enough to do.
Shifting to Minneapolis, 1500 ESPN did an exceptional job passing along news about Jeff Teague signing with the Timberwolves, J.J. Reddick and Paul Millsap meeting with the team, and Ricky Rubio being dealt earlier in the day. Market leader KFAN was silent on Twitter after the late afternoon when they passed along the news of the Rubio deal.
Moving to Milwaukee, 105.7 The Fan was dialed in at midnight, passing along Adrian Wojnarowski’s stories of the Bucks re-signing Tony Snell and the Warriors signing Steph Curry to the largest contract in NBA history. The Big 920 and ESPN Milwaukee had nothing up. Their last tweets were hours earlier and involved a Big Red Day remote appearance and a host eating a cheeseburger and fries.
The same scenario played out in Cleveland where 92.3 The Fan promoted their evening show and a story about the Paul George trade and what it meant for the Cavs. ESPN Cleveland meanwhile didn’t relay any NBA information. Their last tweet was hours earlier and involved a Cleveland Browns trip to London.
Up north across the border in Toronto, SportsNet 590 The Fan posted Twitter updates about Steph Curry and Blake Griffin’s new contracts and the Raptors interest in retaining free agents Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Local competitor TSN 1050 had nothing up about the NBA news, and only promoted that evening’s Toronto Argonauts game and the post-game show that followed it.
Turning to Chicago, 670 The Score had a story on their website and a tweet out to promote the Bulls re-signing Chris Felicio to a 4-year deal. They also tweeted the news of the Bulls waiving Rajon Rondo. ESPN 1000 had neither. The station did provide a 2-hour NBA free agency special on-air from 6p-8p CT, but their social media stopped after a retweet went out with a link to listen to Waddle and Silvy’s podcast from earlier that day.
Both WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic passed along news of the Paul George trade on Twitter, but WIP stayed active longer in the social space. The station especially did a nice job retweeting Joel Embiid’s “playoff spots are opening up” and Alshon Jeffery’s Mount Rushmore pic featuring Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric. WIP also posted a story about the Sixers hoping to sign J.J. Reddick to a one-year deal, a move that took place on Saturday.
After Patty Mills signed a four year deal in San Antonio to remain with the Spurs, The Ticket 760 had it posted. The station also retweeted news related to the Paul George trade and the Spurs meeting with Andre Iguodala. ESPN 1250 on the other hand didn’t have anything up. In fact, 1250 had only tweeted once in the previous 5 days. That’s difficult to understand given the amount of news linked to the Spurs over the past few weeks.
Also in Texas, all three local Houston sports radio brands had tweets up about the Paul George trade. George had been mentioned as a possibility for the Rockets. SportsTalk 790 and ESPN 97.5 also posted the news that evening about Nene re-signing. Sports Radio 610 didn’t have that story up until the following morning.
The final market I reviewed was Salt Lake City and the activity with both local brands wasn’t good. With Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward, and George Hill in the news, Rudy Gobert tweeting about the west becoming too unbalanced, and the Jazz acquiring Ricky Rubio earlier that day, 1280 The Zone and ESPN 700 had nothing up. Given that the Jazz are the market’s only professional team and this free agent period is critical to the team’s ability to stay strong in the western conference, you’d expect more activity from the two local market sports stations.
The purpose of this piece isn’t to throw anyone under a bus or make it appear as if certain brands have mastered the social media space. The point is to remind brands and their staffs about the importance of being present for the audience in the social space, especially when it involves topical events and important news. Some of these things can be solved with effective scheduling. Others come down to employees doing their part to look out for their brand.
Keep in mind, the majority of examples I used were locally focused. I could easily make a case that every station should’ve tweeted the news of Paul George’s trade and Steph Curry’s record breaking contract. If we’re going to own the position of being a local sports source for news, information and opinion, then we should have no issue passing along major stories, even if they’re not local. I don’t care which city you’re in, your audience knows Steph Curry and Paul George. When big stories break and they’re involved, your local fans will want to know about it.
There are still many people in our industry who view social media as an added chore with no influence on the ratings. It may be hard to see the impact social media has on our brands in the boxscore, but the question each person should be asking themselves is, does this help or hurt my brand in strengthening relationships with the audience? If anyone is going to suggest that it doesn’t help, it leaves me to believe they’re out of touch with the present state of sports media engagement.
There are times in our business when you give an extra effort because it feels like the right thing to do. That was the case last week when NBA Free Agency began. Fans of your station expect you to keep them informed, and those who provide a regular payoff for the audience stand a better chance of earning trust, respect and support. That in turn leads to additional listening.
You may think it doesn’t matter right now, but when those little wins start to add up, and the tide begins to turn in your competitor’s direction, will it matter then?