When the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York no longer had MSG Sports available in their listings. The blackout was the result of a contractual dispute between TWC and MSG. Because MSG airs most New York Knicks basketball games, thousands of the team's fans using the cable provider were suddenly in the dark.
The Knicks - owned by MSG - wasted little time in trying to mobilize New York City area fans. Marketers for the team organized watch parties for upcoming games at sports bars in Gotham, pushing the events with Facebook ads targeting people who "liked" the Knicks on the social site.
The team's Facebook page (1.2 million likes/fans) and Twitter account (180,000 followers) have been leveraged to promote the watch parties. The team also created a dedicated microsite, and has utilized the Knicks' sizable email list to encourage attendance.
Of course, sports fans love free team-oriented goodies. So the Knicks have offered people showing up at the sports bars complimentary ball caps, T shirts, and other items. On some nights, they've had team legends like John Starks show up to watch the game with fans. Free appetizers have also been part of the pitch.
ClickZ News attended a Knicks' watch party last week at Bounce, a sports bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side. On a Tuesday night, the bar was packed to the gills with Knicks fans. A handful of street-team-style staffers with iPads gathered signatures in the bar for a petition to get MSG back on TWC. It asked for name, mailing address, email, and mobile phone number.
Signers were not only expressing their displeasure with the TWC situation, but also opting into future multi-channel messaging from the NBA team. A Knicks rep told ClickZ News it had been gathering "thousands and thousands" of signatures, but wouldn't give a specific number.
The watch parties have been a constant since the beginning of the year. Dan Ronayne, EVP and general manager for MSG Networks, characterized the fan response as "terrific."
"These viewing parties are a small token of our appreciation to fans, we know they're in a tough place, but we're trying to do what we can for the time being," Ronayne told ClickZ News via email. "We have the games on of course, we provide some free food, free team merchandise, and have been conducting raffles for signed memorabilia, tickets and other great prizes. In addition, we help fans learn about other TV providers in their neighborhood."
MSG also owns the National Hockey League teams Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. It's used the Knicks watch parties initiative as a template to galvanize support and engender loyalty among the hockey fans, since TWC subscribers are also not able to currently watch those teams at home.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.