Weekly Recap: Kirk & the Quake, Social Media in Pro Sports & Baseball Withdrawals

Happy Sunday night from the library!

Between bouts of studiousness, I decided to recap my favorite readings from the week – lots of good stuff in the baseball, social media and college football worlds.

As great as this weekend was in college football (or not great, depending on how you look at it – the guys at The Solid Verbal aptly termed the ‘Bama-LSU showdown the “Lame of the Century”), I have to admit that I miss baseball. Desperately. There is something about it that’s more constant than football.

Sure, no one’s going to sit on the couch and watch baseball games for a whole Saturday, and unfortunately the season isn’t filled with World Series Game 6-style contests. Football provides an exciting burst every weekend for a few months, but it’s nothing like the steadiness of baseball that can occupy your thoughts from March to October.

My grandpa frequently tips me off to interesting articles, including this NPR story by Glenn Stout that touches on those baseball-withdrawal emotions. It will resonate with baseball fans. Take heart, he reminds us: it’ll be back soon enough.

Speaking of baseball, I was lucky to stumble upon a blog series hosted by the Social Media Club. During the first week of every month, they feature posts on a specialized topic, and November was focused on social media use in professional sports.

Wednesday’s post looked into the Cleveland Indians’ social media efforts, specifically their hugely successful Tribe Social Deck promotion, which launched in 2010 (now named the Indians Social Suite). Rob Campbell, former digital media coordinator for the team (talk about a dream job title), detailed how social media impacted the team. Some eye-popping stats:

  • In a sentiment analysis conducted prior to the implementation of their social strategy, they found that online sentiment about the team was 50% positive, 10% negative and 40% neutral. Two years later, an analysis measured a near 80% positive rating.
  • By using a unique approach to social media-based promotions, the team increased its social media revenue by over 125% this year. They offered their Twitter followers and Facebook fans a ticket discount, but offered them a greater discount if they shared it with friends.

I also learned a lot from Kevin Saghy, a public relations and marketing specialist for the Chicago Cubs. His post looked at how the Cubs enhance the fan experience by expanding online relationships; for example, if someone tweeted that they were at their first Cubs game, someone from their PR team would ask for their seat location and bring them a small gift. How cool is that?! It’s awesome, but he stressed the importance of meeting fan expectations before trying to exceed them – something that can be easily forgotten when you’re rushing to make a big impression.

And now for one frivolous item:

I hate to make fun of this face, because I'd freak out if an earthquake happened while I was on live TV. But Herbstreit's earthquake eyes make me laugh.

A few weeks back, after attending College GameDay in Eugene, my roommate Miranda developed a crush on Kirk Herbstreit. She didn’t express interest during the actual taping, but we had ESPN on the tube later that night and she revealed her affections. Our conversation:

Miranda: Who’s that guy on the far right?
Me: Kirk Herbstreit.
Miranda: Kirk Herbstreit?
Me: (jokingly, but knowing she wouldn’t ask for no reason) Yeah. Why, Miranda? Do you have a crush on him?
Miranda: A little bit! (A minute later, after Googling) Oh my gosh, he’s 42!

You can only imagine how adorable she found his reaction to last night’s earthquake in Stillwater, Oklahoma. “His eyes got so big!” she exclaimed. I know this video has made its way around the Twitters today, but I found it hilarious and had to include it anyway. (I’m so glad Yahoo!’s Graham Watson pointed out how long Fowler’s question was to begin with; the first time I watched it, I couldn’t believe how much he rambled. I wouldn’t have blamed Herbstreit for asking him to repeat it, even without the quake.)

If you’d like to divulge your television broadcaster crush (mine is Brian Williams) or share any interesting tidbits or articles you read this week, I’d love to hear!

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Nick Saban’s Concrete Approach to Tornado Recovery

Sadly, 2011 has been a year of destruction in the United States and across the world. An earthquake and tsunami caused massive devastation in Japan, and tornadoes have destroyed countless homes in the Southern and Midwestern United States.

In the wake of such tragedies, college football may seem like a small matter. Who cares about a game when lives have been torn apart? Well, the people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, care. Football is bringing a broken community together, thanks in large part to University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, whose recovery efforts serve as an example for athletes and coaches who want to make a real difference in their communities.

College football is practically a religion in the South. Due to the sport’s popularity, Saban is well-known in the area. Birmingham News sportswriter Doug Segrest called Saban “the most visible guy in the state of Alabama.”

Nick Saban stands on the foundation of Teddy and Rosie Rowe's home in Holt, Alabama.

Saban knows how to effectively leverage that visibility for the good of the community, especially during a tragedy. On Friday, Saban and his wife, Terry, announced that their foundation, Nick’s Kids, would donate $50,000 to a newly formed tornado relief initiative called Project Team Up.

Countless coaches and athletes manage charitable foundations and step forward to donate time, money and resources in the wake of crises. However, from a public relations standpoint, Saban’s contributions rise above the rest thanks to his concrete approach.

In our J452 class, we’ve been reading Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick,” which examines six principles of impactful, lasting ideas. One chapter describes how concrete examples and ideas break through abstraction and become easier to understand.

Saban’s approach demonstrates this concept. Rather than coming to the public with an abstract idea like “raise money for tornado relief,” Saban conveyed a concrete message. When appearing on behalf of Nick’s Kids and Project Team Up in Holt, Alabama, on Friday, he stood on the concrete (no pun intended!) foundation of Teddy and Rosie Rowe’s home. The tornado destroyed their house, and they will be direct recipients of Saban’s donation. By associating his gift with a specific family, he showed Alabamans that he was not just throwing money at the problem but that he was committed to real people with real needs.

He garnered praise from local media for the sincerity of his contribution. Birmingham News sportswriter Segrest and Kevin Scarbinsky, a columnist at the same paper, discussed their thoughts on Saban’s donation. “He’s not this coaching terminator that so many people have portrayed him as,” Scarbinsky noted. “He’s a real human being.”

Scarbinsky also noted that Saban’s message assumed an air of freshness and credibility. Media may think Saban repeats the same soundbites about football, but “this (the Project Team Up donation) sounds very fresh, it sounds heartfelt, it sounds very real.”

Other notable coaches and athletes can take a lesson from Saban about concretely conveying charitable actions. His announcement took place on the foundation of a home that his gift would help rebuild. He connected with specific people in his community. His actions were genuine but not over the top. As a result, media took notice and praised his efforts.

Saban is committed to supporting Tuscaloosa well after his donation is spent. He wants the football season to serve as another form of aid for recovering Alabamans. “Hopefully, an indirect thing – a football game – will lead to a direct thing: more help for Tuscaloosa,” he told Sports Illustrated. Thanks to his efforts, it’s very likely that help will come.

Photo credit: Izzy Gould, Birmingham News Tuscaloosa Bureau