Befriending Generation Facebook

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By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Paul Wilson wakes most mornings by 5 o'clock, just in time to reply to about a dozen Facebook messages, update a MySpace account and thumb through up to 200 text messages. The routine has become something of a necessity for Wilson, owner of the Washington Glory fastpitch softball team, which wages a daily battle to win fans.

Wilson sees progress every time a young girl arrives asking for discounted admission because she received a coupon offer via text message, or when other fans come up to players -- almost all of whom have MySpace and Facebook accounts -- to thank them for personally answering an online message.

The Glory is one of many professional teams engaging younger constituents through online social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Teams in the less prominent realms of pro sports have harnessed these sites to promote themselves to younger demographics not easily targeted in traditional advertisements. And some teams in major sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and NHL have used sites as portals to expand their connection with their fans. Major League Baseball expects to launch a Facebook application later this year.

Teams don't pay for such advertising -- creating a profile is free on both sites -- and they can ensure their message reaches thousands, instead of hoping a print or TV ad receives notice.

"Now, they communicate so much though online or text" messages, Wilson said of younger fans. "So instead of getting them to come to us, I wanted to go to them."

At the suggestion of a marketing consultant last summer, the Glory signed up for MySpace. The team now links its MySpace site on the official team home page.

The Washington Bayhawks of Major League Lacrosse, in their second year in the District, have built support among recent college graduates through online avenues. They have largely relied on LateNightShots.com, a members-only -- and at times racy -- locally founded social network.

The Bayhawks and the site have turned home games into something akin to a college fraternity party. Fans use the site to organize gatherings, before and after games, at bars in Georgetown. For $40 per person, the Bayhawks shuttle the group to and from the games at George Mason -- and provide beer at the stadium.

"There are thousands of people who come to the site daily to interact with one another through messages, photos, whatever," said Reed Landry, the founder of LateNightShots.com. "And people have really taken to becoming Bayhawks fans. It's attracted the interest of other people. It's a natural target audience for them to go after."

Without major exposure, and lacking an established presence in the community, many of these professional teams are still aimed at niche audiences. Outreach though online media often is their most successful method of advertising. The Glory sometimes seats about 100 additional fans because of coupons only offered via text message. Bayhawks games typically draw 3,000 fans, about 250 of whom arrive through online party planning.

When marketing on MySpace started a few years ago, it usually was in the form of musical acts posting songs in search of wider exposure, according to author Nick Jag, who has written about online marketing. But more recently the approach has spread to sports teams.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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