Walleye use social networking to ice competitionWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
As the Toledo Walleye practiced for the upcoming hockey season, Nathan Steinmetz was busy getting the word out via Twitter, Facebook and smartphone applications.
Steinmetz, manager of online marketing and ticket sales for the Walleye, said the team has become an industry leader for social media usage.
With more than 28,000 Facebook fans, the Walleye have the most fans of any team in the ECHL. With about 2,900 Twitter followers, they come in second behind the Cincinnati Cyclones.
“It seems like I get a couple calls a month from different minor league teams asking where we are and what our strategy is,” Steinmetz said.
More than 1,000 fans have downloaded the free Walleye application for iPhones, released in January, which features stats, a roster and promotional info, Steinmetz said. WCWA 1230 is also a part of the iheartradio app, allowing fans to listen to games on their smartphones. Steinmetz is currently working on an application for Droid phones, although it won’t be ready for the start of the season. He expects a mobile version of the Walleye website to be available by the time the first puck drops.
“The one thing we’re looking to release by start of season is the mobile version of the site. So basically, when people visit the Walleye on mobile it’s formatted for their device and allows for easier navigation,” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz is also in the process of planning a Social Media Night, slated for March 23. At last year’s event, fans were able to see their tweets displayed on the screen overhead and participate in trivia games and contests.
“It was neat last year. We had hundreds and hundreds of posts on our Twitter and Facebook page,” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz typically crafts about three to four Facebook posts per day, including promotional offers, questions for fans and videos, such as recent time-lapse footage of the ice rink being filled.
“A lot of thought goes into what goes in there and what goes out there,” Steinmetz said.
During games, the Walleye rely more on Twitter than Facebook. Typically, Jason Griffin, director of public and media relations for the Walleye, or a member of his team tweet from the press box. Facebook and Twitter have also become a means for fans to express their opinions, whether it’s about a play or a song or a food item at the game.
“It can be positive and it can be negative, but we’re just happy they’re talking about the team,” Steinmetz said. “In the past, we have taken fans’ opinions into account in terms of promotion and music played at the game.”
Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Walleye, agreed, saying the team welcomes comments from fans.
“Social media has certainly changed the way we are able to communicate with our fans and maybe, more importantly, how they can communicate with us,” Napoli said in an email. “We thoroughly enjoy that unique interaction with our fans and some of their suggestions have been implemented in order to enrich the experience of coming to a game.”
Social media also allows the front office team to notify fans of changes in events when there’s no time to put out an advertisement.
Social media has become a major part of both the Walleye and the Mud Hens’ promotions.
“Compared to other teams, we were pretty early to adopt the technology,” Steinmetz said, noting the Walleye Twitter and Facebook pages went up around late 2008. “It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few years and how big a chunk of the marketing efforts it has become.”
The Mud Hens have nearly 45,000 Facebook fans and almost 7,000 Twitter followers, Steinmetz said. More than 11 million fans viewed the Mud Hens’ Facebook page in 2010, while about 6 million viewed the Walleye page. However, Steinmetz and Griffin noted hockey fans are more interactive with social media even though they’re outnumbered.
“Given the intensity of hockey, a lot of our fans are a little more vocal on social media,” Griffin said. “The nature of the game of baseball is a little more laid-back with a longer season.”
“With Walleye, there’s a lot more passion,” he said. “The fans are more invested in the teams and organization and they really like to talk about it. We’ve even seen some fans who have kind of met each other through social media and now they go to games together and hang out together.”