A (Good) Social Media Campaign: MLB Cleveland Indians

The MLB Cleveland Indians have initiated a brilliant social media campaign over the past two years. For a baseball team whose name doesn’t carry the same weight as franchise brands such as the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, the masterminds behind the Indians public relations team had formulated a social media plan years ahead of their competitive counterparts.  For years, the Indians have struggled getting fans involved with the club and keeping attendance rates high. To generate interest and to intrigue fans of the lackluster team, they implanted a social media campaign that had not yet been attempted.

Cleveland Indians have dedicated an entire suite in their baseball stadium exclusively to attendees who are social media fans. In 2010, they launched a trial section known as the “Tribe Social Deck”; and this began Progressive Field’s decision to be aggressive in their attempt to bridge the gap between the club and their fans.  The “Social Deck,” for short, were designated seats in left field decked out for bloggers and tweeters.

The following year, the Indians decided to be even more aggressive and enhance social media fan involvement by creating the “Social Suite”. Billed as “the first social media-only space in professional sports,” the devoted suite showed a strong commitment to this new approach in the ever-changing social environment.

social suite

(photo courtesy of “…Only in Cleveland”)

The Wi-Fi enabled “Social Suite” provides fans a plugged-in way to enjoy the game; it allows fans the opportunity to both mingle offline with other attendees and also maintain an online presence during the game with their friends and followers.

A quote by Mark Shapiro, the President of the Cleveland Indians, best sums up the whole initiative:  “We’re cognizant of the importance of social media as a tool to engage with fans,” said Shapiro. “We now have the opportunity to directly connect to our fans and engage in authentic, two-way conversations. These connections with fans strengthen our brand vision to create memories, connect generations and celebrate families.”

I think President Shapiro and the Indians have hit a homerun with this innovative idea. It shows the organization is not only willing to adapt with current trends but savvy enough to capitalize on it as well. Entrance into the “Social Suite” can be gained by anyone; but admittance must be garnered prior to game day. An application form is available online for interested fans to fill out.

“Social Suite” attendees are granted unrestricted access to the club. Members of the club’s front office often pop into the “Social Suite” and are more than happy to answer questions from the fans.  In return, the situation helps the front office receive direct feedback from the fans. Having this attentive audience is a huge benefit from them; it allows candid conversations during which they can receive invaluable feedback.

The Cleveland Indians social media campaign extends beyond the “Social Suite,” although it is the focal point of the campaign. In addition to the fan media suite, the team is recognized by ESPN the Magazine as one of “MLB’s most Twitter-friendly teams.” And for good reason. They have organized and maintained a solid fan-accessible Twitter approach for their franchise. On the official website, there is a page dedicated to connecting with the team and its players through social media. The one page makes it easy to find any and all means of connecting with them.

A released comprehensive list of all active Twitter accounts associated with the team resides on this page; the list includes Twitterhandles for President Shapiro, the PR department, the players, and even radio personalities.  The team also participates in the common practice of announcing discounted tickets on media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

The effort by the Cleveland Indians to embrace social media validates they are dedicated to strengthening their brand.  Using current popular methods (Twitter ‘sweepstakes’) and unique new approaches (“Social Suite”) prove they are not afraid to try new techniques to increase attendance and raise awareness of the team name.  A pioneer when it comes to social media and marketing, the Indians are definitely leading the way.

I think the “Social Suite” gets people excited to attend the game and experience the ballpark in a unique way.  It can generate excitement from casual fans. Take this following example: a mother from Cleveland is a fair-weather fan. But put her in the “Social Suite” and she became much more motivated to check out the ballpark then share her experience via her blog Life In Cleveland

Here’s another blogger who called his time in the “Social Suite” as a “night to remember.”

A Yahoo! Writer shares his experience as well. But what struck me most about his article was the attendance number the night he was at the stadium: 9,025 fans.  Very, very low. To compare, in 2012 the top three teams with the highest average attendance were Philadelphia Phillies, NY Yankees, and Texas Rangers with averaging  44,021 : 43,7333  : 42,719 respectively. Where did the Cleveland Indians rank on the list? Second to last with an average attendance of 19,797.  Averaging less than half than the top teams, the Indians need to try different promotions and campaigns to get that number to rise. Using social media is a great way to go about it and that is why I think their campaign thus far is a step in the right direction.

MLB Attendance Ranking