Three Things To Embrace From The @Raptors

The Raptors have a strong identity in social. Ever since they unveiled their “We The North” campaign in 2014, they have burst on the scene with a solid presence that stands out. They’re a team that understands their brand through and through and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries. In honor of the Raptors’ great work, here are three things to embrace from their approach.


Embrace your identity.

The Raptors are a team that have gone through the exercise of branding. They have laid a foundation for what their brand stands for and it shine through online.

The core of their branding starts with the idea of “We The North”. It’s the embrace of everything uniquely Canadian. It taps into what makes their team different – the only NBA team outside of the US – and makes it a proud point of differentiation. The video below sets the whole tone:

The idea of the North has a bit of an edge. It’s about embracing being an outsider. It’s about something only the Raptors can own. And, it’s worked. The North has turned into a rallying cry, a passion, maybe even a bit of a cult following.

What strikes me most is the team has brought to life their identity by firing on all cylinders. North is about more than a slogan. Their brand comes together through strong messaging, a visual identity, a tone, strong creative / content, values, an emotional connection. They’ve built an identity and a culture for their fans.



All too often we talk about brand in a one dimensional way. For some teams, it’s about a strong understanding of their values. For others, it’s simply about words or a strong visual identity. It’s hard work to be deliberate about everything that defines a team’s identity. The Raptors are an example of the total package.

How does your team want to be perceived? Do the work and execute on it.


Embrace access.

The Raptors have invested in a strong identity alone. They have invested in a strong content strategy that allows fans to connect with the team and brings their brand to life.

One of the things that stands out about their approach is their commitment to giving fans access. Through their series Open Gym, they give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the journey of the team on and off the court. Episodes highlight everything from overcoming injuries to personal moments. Below are a few snippets, including one of a player becoming a father for the first time.

S6E12 – Choices. #OGSeasonVI Open Gym pres by Bell now live on YouTube.

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Open Gym is a reality series that helps fans build an emotional connection with the team and leaves them coming back for more. It’s this all access and the raw emotion that is key to its success. Watch the full series here.

Another strong example of access from the Raptors is their new series The Spot, where ball meets food culture. The series gives fans a personal look at players’ favorite restaurants.

People and personalities help build a strong connection to teams. In this crowded sports space, intimate access is something unique only teams can provide. Take this page from the Raptors and you’ll build a deeper connection with your fan base.


Embrace partners to elevate content.

Sponsored content is an opportunity to elevate your presence. When teams move beyond slapping a logo on a score graphic and focus on finding the common themes with their brand and partners, magical things happen. Content gets created that is valuable for the team, the sponsor and the fans.

The Raptors are a great example of a team that has leveraged partners to elevate their content. Their sponsored content is anything but ad-like; it’s entertaining and often puts players in a fun and different light. Below are a few highlights.

Who wouldn't want a cake from a 3-time All-Star! Coach is lucky.

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It’s important to push partners, internally and externally, to hold sponsored content to a high standard. It should enhance the team’s social presence. The content should be something the team wants to push out; not something they want to bury. Creating content that is elevated like this comes with a price tag and a commitment to doing it right. Know the value of your channels and push back or walk away when something is not right for the brand.

From their strong identity to their intimate access, the Raptors set the bar high. What stands out to you about their presence?

Highlights from NBA the Schedule Release

Social media has infused creativity into everything teams and leagues do now. There’s pressure to be at the top of your game with the battle for attention in a crowded space. Teams’ content must stand out, whether it’s for a national championship or pseudo-holiday.

This need for creativity was evident in the NBA’s recent schedule release. Teams took to social to drive interest through strong content and off-the-wall ideas.

Below are a few of the highlights from the 2018 NBA schedule release. Whatever your brand’s style, voice and tone, there is inspiration here:


Brooklyn Nets- Orchestrated Creative

The Brooklyn Nets schedule release the a well orchestrated schedule release. They had strong creative paired with a platform approach. They tapped into iconic parts of NYC to together a dynamic unveil across all three platforms. Here’s a look at their creative and some of their execution:

Say hello to a new season. #WeGoHard

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One of the strongest aspects of their unveil was that they took their concept and molded it to each platform. On Instagram, they unveiled pieces through a grid unveil. On Twitter, the photos turned into a GIF. On Facebook, they focused on their video piece.


Denver Nuggets- Nostalgia

Channeling some nostalgia, the Nuggets took to a classic video game to unveil their schedule. Of course, collecting all their opponents all the way. For a topic that could otherwise be dry, the Nuggets did a good job of putting a creative spin on it.


76ers- Driving People to .com

The Sixers created a fun, illustrative video that called out highlights from their schedule, then drove people to .com to see the full release.

If one of your goals is to drive people to your site, this is a good example of how to do so. You never want your account to feel like a push notification, so tread with caution. The @sixers’ schedule content is engaging, so even if it doesn’t include the entire schedule, it adds value for their fans.

The Sixers also get an extra +1 for the music on this video (so please, turn the sound on).

The schedule is in!

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Sacramento Kings- Use of IG Carousel

The Instagram carousel feature offers a lot of opportunity to tell and unveil stories different. You no longer have to rely on one photo, but instead, can string content together for a more engaging experience. The Kings schedule unveil is an example of this.

2017-18 Kings schedule revealed 👀

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Warriors- Win With Puppies

The Warriors unveiled their schedule with adorable puppies, taking on and conquering their opponents (in the form of chew toys, of course). It’s a win, because who doesn’t love puppies?

While this content play might be a bit left feel, a schedule release is a good opportunity to think outside-the-box and have some fun. This isn’t mean to be a season-long marketing play. It’s a one day push to capture your fan’s attention and generate interest in tickets. Puppies will do that.


Raptors, Bucks & Trailblazers- Hype Videos

When all else fans in sports, you can also go the route of a good hype video. After all, fans love a combination of emotion and action. Below are a few examples that stood out from the Raptors, Bucks and Trailblazers.

59 Days & counting. #WeTheNorth

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Chicago Bulls- Infographic

The Chicago Bulls leveraged interesting facts in their schedule to generate interest, turning the information into fun and consumable infographics. The Instagram carousel is especially impressive.

What else stood out to you during the NBA schedule release? Share your thoughts below!

Behind the Making of Beauty & the Bull

Snapchat has been a hard platform for marketers, brands and teams to crack. The platform has challenged creative standards. It has focused more on audience and storytelling versus organic brand growth. And, it gives very little to no data to marketers. The struggle has been figuring out what the unique POV is, aside from “behind-the-scenes” look at games and events, along with the ROI.

On the flip side, the limitations and nuances also challenge marketers to think outside-the-box. Capturing attention on Snapchat requires vulnerability, strong storytelling and cultural context.

A few weeks ago the Chicago Bulls brought to life an idea that stood out from all the clutter. It was an idea that was right for Snapchat– but even more, completely original for the industry. Aligning with the launch of Beauty and the Beast, they released their own version of the musical. Watch the magic below:



This Snapchat play from the Bull wins on many levels. First, they took a cultural moment and put their own unique + relevant brand spin on it. Second, they brought to life the story without overproducing (natural + right for the platform). And finally, it’s a completely fresh and compelling idea.

Luka Dukich, the Chicago Bulls digital content manager, took time to answer a few questions behind the musical and how it all came to life. There’s a lot to learn from their approach, so enjoy his insights below.


1. What’s the team’s overall approach + strategy to Snapchat?

As with all our social platforms, we want to create differentiated content that sets us apart from what everyone is doing, while still feeling relevant to the platform. We don’t just want to do what everybody else is doing; we push ourselves to think bigger, better and different. We’re fortunate to have a large following on Snapchat with fans around the world tuning in for a peek at the Bulls. We give those fans a variety of different content centered around the team and our players. We do of course use Snapchat like the other teams do in that we’ll provide a behind-the-scenes look at the team, a few Snaps of the game itself from courtside and in the stands, that kind of thing. But we really wanted to find ways to utilize the platform, show people something they haven’t seen before and not just get stuck in the routine of doing the same type of content over and over again.


2. How did the idea for Beauty and the Bull come about?

It came from the strategy of wanting to show people something different, something we and they haven’t seen before. Before this season started, we came up with a concept of doing narrative ‘skits’ on Snapchat – pre–scripted stories that were made specifically for the platform, rather than using Snapchat to record an event that’s already happening. We brought the idea to one of our partners, BMO Harris Bank, who have been willing to dive in and do these ambitious digital content ideas with us. They jumped right in the deep end with us, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

We tested it out the day before the season started with a story of Benny the Bull trying to get himself in shape for opening night. It was a small and pretty goofy story, but people seemed to really like it. The response we started getting made us realize people were really following along with a story, and it made us realize we had something there. We spent the next few months coming up with some other concepts for Snapchat stories, and our ideas kind of evolved from there. At one point we knew one of the stories we wanted to tell would be a Snapchat musical, though there were varying opinions even internally about how well a musical would even work in this format. We wanted to be able to tell a story that people were familiar with and do a parody of an existing musical, and with the movie due to be released we thought it was the perfect fit.


3. Out of all the platforms, why did you all decide Snapchat was the right play for this?

Every platform has different strengths, but we just felt that this would be something so new for the Snapchat platform that it would make the biggest impact doing it on there. We also built this specifically for ‘Snapchat Stories’ – with part of our thinking being that the product was called ‘Stories,’ despite very few people actually doing any kind of traditional storytelling there. I think there are a lot of creative people and teams on Snapchat, but we hadn’t seen anything like this, so we were really excited to bring a different approach to the medium. The other big positive for us (and our partner, BMO Harris!) is that when fans are watching on Snapchat, you have their full attention – their entire phone screen is Snapchat. While on some of the other platforms you can scroll through quicker or not be paying full attention, we knew if you were watching on Snap, we’ve got your attention.


4. One of the many things I loved about Beauty & The Bull was that you executed through the app itself with raw, lo-fi content (which feels authentic to users). Still, you all still executed extremely well.

What tips do you have for teams trying to create authentic, but quality, content on the platform?

We wanted this to look human – like you can do this yourself if you so desired. This isn’t some super-produced piece of content that we used a ton of expensive equipment to film and then we chopped it up and put it on Snapchat. We shot this with a phone, and played the music through a speaker next to the phone, and it was so lo-fi that it looks like every other Snap video your friends are posting. I think if you’re authentic to the platform, people will respond to it. It’s way cooler and more relatable to see something like this, shot through a phone, than some camera very few people have access to. Quality and authentic content doesn’t necessarily always mean meticulously produced – just be natural and true to the platform, and don’t try to force it, or else you might end up looking like Steve Buscemi in this GIF:


5. What advice would you give to a team that is hesitant to go all on Snapchat?

I would just say it’s important to have a plan. Don’t just have one just to have one. But it’s just another medium where you can be creative, reach people and tell stories. It’s right there for you – all you need is a phone.


6. What are the keys to pushing out-of-the-box thinking with your team?

We’re fortunate to have a huge audience, but we have to keep that audience engaged. To do that, we want to continue to give them things they haven’t seen before. It’s important to us that our internal teams feel like it’s okay to fail, as long as you’re failing trying something new and learning something in doing so. This gives us a lot more ability to sell through ideas where we’re the first to bring them market. We’re not asking “Who else has done this?” as a way of validating any of our ideas. We’re lucky to have a great team here organization-wide, and people who are willing to do things that are quirky or a little more out there, as long as we can explain why we think that they will work. Most importantly, if you believe in the idea, other people will too. It sure helps when you work with a partner like BMO Harris Bank, who trust our team and have proven multiple times that they are willing to go in on something like this with you as well – it encourages and empowers our team to continue to think of ideas outside the box.



A big thanks to Luka Dukich of the Chicago Bulls for taking the time to answer questions. You can give him a follow on Twitter here: @itsluka.

7 Strong Social Plays During the NBA Finals

The NBA is one of the most innovative digital and social leagues, so it’s no surprise that the digital and social coverage has been top notch. From embracing technology to a focus on original content, the league, teams and other outlets nailed their coverage of the NBA Finals. Below are seven strong plays worth noting:


Sharp Graphics

Strong visual content is key to social now. Not only are people visual by nature, but it helps your content stand out from the crowd. The NBA, Cavs and Warriors had strong visual content throughout the NBA Final

The Warriors and Cavs defined a consistent look and feel, while the NBA mixed up their creative. I like the approaches respectively. For teams, there’s something to be said about strong, consistent branding. For the NBA, since they cover so many teams and games, it’s interesting to see different creative elements throughout the season.

Here are some of the highlights:

As a bonus, I also like how the NBA crowdsourced designs using #NBAart to give fans a chance to be featured on their Instagram and on @NBATV broadcast. There are so many creative fans out there. Not only does this leverage their creativity, but it build community and loyalty by getting your fans engaged. Below are some of the amazing UGC submissions they used.


Messenger Experimentation

There has been a lot of talk in our industry about bots. Thanks to the rise of messenger apps and the need for a personalized experience industry leaders are leaning to chatbots as the future, Here’s a good read on chatbots if you’re interested.

The NBA capitalized on this trend by launching a chatbot on Messenger. The bot delivered fans instant highlights during the NBA Finals. The process to set it up was easy and seamless, and I was pushed wonderful highlights at the end of each game.


While there are limitations to what the chatbot delivers, I applaud the NBA for being on the forefront. All the data points to a strong rise in messaging and chatbots. And for a league that has built so much equity in their online and digital presence, it makes sense that they would be on the forefront. Brands that fall behind the curve risk being cut out of the conversation. The NBA won’t be one of those brands.


Snapchat Geofilters

Snapchat has been on the rise for awhile now, recently reaching 150 million daily users. And while teams, leagues and brands are going all in on it, there is one thing all of us as marketers should note: this platform is a lot different than others. It’s not about the push. The power on the platform is in empowering OTHERS to share brand love.

Snapchat gives teams, leagues and brands the opportunities to empower others to share brand love through their geofilters and lenses. And there were some strong, creative ones during the NBA Finals.

As you continue to build out your Snapchat presence, it’s worth investing heavily in geofilters around games and events. Be creative, have fun with it and empower your fans.


Smart Messaging to Fans

The Warriors did a good job of messaging to their fans. The content saluted Dub Nation and created an emotional, FOMO-like effect, whether it was their hype videos or their ticket promos.

When you directly speak to fans, it makes the content more personal and emotional. And, content that resonates emotionally is more likely to be shared. Don’t just push messages to your fans; speak to them directly and personally. It’s not about a push, but about pulling them in.


3-Second Ads

@UABasketball created three second ads for every three pointer Curry made during the playoffs. And, before you call me biased, let me state that I DO NOT work on the basketball business at UA. I’m extremely proud of the place I work, but I try to stay away from our own work… this one deserves a nod though.

There’s power in simplicity. The concept of three second ads for three pointers is simple, but that’s why it’s brilliant. UA Hoops doesn’t have to be everything to everyone during the finals; instead, they can offer their unique value. It’s an easy concept to grasp and the content is entertaining and humorous.

The lesson here is that the best ideas are often simple ideas. If you can’t communicate your big idea in 60 seconds, then you probably need to focus and hone in more. You can read more about the three-second ad activation here.


Bleacher Report’s Original Content

In the crowded social media and sports space, it’s hard to stand out from the noise. The key in doing so is creating your own, unique point of view and Bleacher Report has done just that. Throughout the finals and playoffs, Bleacher Report killed it with their own, branded content. They tap into humor, pop culture, drama and the sentiment of the internet. Their content not only performs well, but if often beats out the likes of media competitors, the league and teams. Here are a few highlights:

The approach Bleacher Report takes to content might not be right for your brand or team, but it’s an important lesson in defining your point of view. What’s your purpose for your fans online? It’s time to give some serious consideration to it if you want to stand out from all the noise. Read more about defining a POV here.



During the NBA Finals, Twitter partnered with the NBA and Samsung for 360-degree video deal. Twitter cards linked out to videos shot with 360-degree cameras, allowing users to click and drag around the scene. Read more about it here.

While I wish users were not driven away from the platform, I love the immersive experience and how intuitive it is to mobile. As technology improves, fans expectations are going to continue to grow around the experience we provide through digital. Part of that expectation will be a more immersive experience, and this is a great example of how it can be delivered.



What stood out to you from a social and digital perspective with the NBA Finals this year? Share your thoughts below.

Thanks for reading!

GIF Inspiration From The Basketball Season (So Far)

I talked about this early in the football season, but the sports industry is stepping up its GIF game. Long gone are the days where teams and leagues focus only on pop culture GIFS. Now, teams and leagues are creating their own on-brand GIFS with originality and creativity. I curated a great collection of GIFS for the football season. Now it’s time for basketball to shine.

Before we get into the examples though, here are some tips for using GIFS:


No. 1- Pick your moments.

GIFS can be overused. Take the time to think through a strategy for your GIFS and figure out the moments where you can use them for the greatest impact. What moments cause great reactions? That’s when GIFS work well. Remember, GIFS are a treat and not an every tweet thing.


No. 2- Avoid redundancy.

GIFS can be a powerful content piece to enhance play-by-play coverage. It gets extremely redundant thought using the exact same GIFS over and over again for a certain moment. If you plan GIFS for certain in-game plays, then consider creating several options to pull from. GIFS can absolutely be repurposed and used again, but there’s a fine line before the content gets boring. It’s important to find a way to mix it up.


No. 3- Find the humor in YOUR brand/team.

Teams often look to find humorous GIFS outside their team, but humorous GIFS can be really powerful when teams leverage their own footage to give us a laugh. Take the time to go through football and find those funny moments you can splice and dice.

Julie Phayer of the Warriors actually did a poll asking what type of GIFS fans preferred GIFS that featured the team and players over pop culture ones:


No. 4- Focus on cadence.

GIFS work well on Twitter because they’re short, sweet and quick. If you go about creating graphic-heavy GIFS, make sure the cadence is quick enough to grab and keep your fan’s attention. The cadence is a bit art and science, but play around with the length and movement to understand what works best.


No. 5- If you use pop culture GIFS….

make them relevant to your team. A few of us in the #smsports community got into a conversation about GIFS, and @Ober made a great point: Pop culture GIFS are more impactful when the theme somehow ties back to your brand (even loosely). His example:  The Eagles using Fresh Prince GIFs because of the Philly connection.


Now that you have these tips in mind, it’s time to get inspired. Below is a collection of some of the best GIFS I have seen so far this basketball (NBA and college) so far this season. Enjoy!





























Have you seen any GIFS you love? Share them below!

Thanks for reading!