NHL team's successful social media program has become its leading sponsorships money maker.
Two Schnauzer puppies were reunited recently with their owners with the help of the New Jersey Devils Facebook community, but the hockey club's enviable social media program delivers much more than furry photo ops and team updates. It delivers a whole new revenue stream.
"Every new partner that we've brought on...has wanted some piece of what we do in here," said Devils Marketing Director Will Carafello, referring to the team's sophisticated fan-guided social media initiative, Mission Control.
Mission Control - a hub stocked with flat-screen computers, TVs, and red and black-skinned Apple iPads located in the team's administrative offices in Newark, NJ - has become the team's leading money maker for its sponsorship department, said Carafello.
Renewable energy company Pfister Energy is running a contest promoted on the Devils Facebook page asking kids to submit illustrations, videos, or photos demonstrating the value of renewable energy. Winners get game tickets, an iPad, and a team jersey.
NJ Lottery is also running a social media-fueled contest. The brand asks for a like on Facebook in exchange for a chance to win similar prizes. According to Carafello, NJ Lottery has scored between 5,000 and 7,000 likes each time it has run a contest in the past six months.
"We've had to educate our sponsors on Facebook and Twitter...what it means to like something," he said.
The sponsorship team has needed its own schooling. Until the Devils launched Mission Control about a year ago, the sales department was less than social media savvy, said Carafello. "We had them come in one day and basically did 101," he said, noting they signed up for Twitter and Facebook and were taught about what fans want out of the platforms.
Since Mission Control has generated accolades around the sports world, several teams have reached out in the hopes the Devils will spread some knowledge. Carafello said he's received at least 30 phone calls from various teams, many outside of the National Hockey League, including Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, women's soccer clubs, and more. The NHL's Florida Panthers have also sought guidance from the Devils.
What they want to hear about most: The Devils Army Generals. The Generals are a 25-person volunteer crew dedicated to representing the Devils on official Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the team blog. Some also do player and stats research, and help the team determine the best spots around the Garden State for game viewing parties. Many of them visit the Mission Control room at the Devils offices to work pre-, post-, and in-game shifts.
Other teams "want to know about the generals.... That's really where a lot of our power comes from," said Carafello.
Not surprisingly, big come-from-behind victories like the Devils win over rival New York Rangers on Wednesday night generate lots of interaction from fans online. A Facebook poll asking supporters what their favorite part of the game was put "David Clarkson's game tying goal with 48 seconds left to send the game to OT" on top with over 400 votes.
But sometimes the team's social media presence is used for something a little more unexpected. On January 25, an out-of-the-ordinary post featured a photo of two small dogs, accompanied by a plea: "We've found two Schnauzer dogs outside of Prudential Center on January 23. If you are or know the rightful owner of these dogs please contact Prudential Center at 973-757-6082. Both dogs are fine and are safe. We hope to have them home soon."
The dogs had wandered into the loading dock after a game, and after determining the two pups were healthy, the team put out the call to find their owners. The critters returned home the next day, NJ Devils doggie gear in tow. "Thank you #NJDevils & #PruCenter fans. You helped us reunite the 2 dogs w/ their rightful owner. The family was worried & looking for them" noted the team on Twitter.
"The best way to get the dogs back to their rightful owners was Facebook and Twitter," said Carafello.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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