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Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

Bow Spoits Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

Stephen App
Temple 0niveisity

Content may not be iepiouuceu without peimission.

Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

Fan iuentification - an acauemic concept iooteu in social iuentity theoiy - has been wiuely
stuuieu since the 199us. Bowevei, ieseaich on the concept has been slow to evolve with
new technology anu meuia platfoims available to fans following theii favoiite teams. With
this in minu, a stuuy was conuucteu to iuentify potential ieseaich topics foi fan
iuentification ieseaicheis. Twelve telephone inteiviews weie conuucteu with piofessional
spoit fianchise social meuia maiketeis acioss the countiy fiom Najoi League Baseball
(NLB), the National Bockey League (NBL), anu the National Football League (NFL). Spoit
maiketeis weie askeu how awaie they weie about the concept of fan iuentification, what
stiategies they hau foi engaging fans on social meuia anu the social meuia tactics they useu
to caiiy out theii iespective stiategies. 0veiall, spoit maiketeis iepoiteu low levels of
awaieness about the concept of fan iuentification, social meuia stiategies that uiffeieu by
social netwoik, anu a vaiiety of social meuia tactics useu to caiiy out each stiategy,
incluuing social meuia loyalty piogiams, a focus on using images, tangible social meuia
spaces, anu playei Q&A sessions. Futuie fan iuentification ieseaich topics,
iecommenuations foi acauemic ieseaicheis, anu implications foi othei spoit social meuia
maiketeis aie incluueu.
!"#$%&'() Fan Iuentification, Social Neuia, Social Iuentity Theoiy

Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

0n the fiist seiies of a Sunuay Night Football game against the San Fiancisco 49eis in
0ctobei 2u1S, Bouston Texans quaiteiback Natt Schaub uioppeu back to pass. Schaub
intenueu to thiow the football to his wiue ieceivei, Anuie }ohnson. 0nfoitunately, it was
completeu to Tiemaine Biock of the 49eis, who piomptly ietuineu the inteiception foi a
49eis touchuown. It was the fiist of thiee inteiceptions Schaub thiew that game, a 27-7
Texans loss, anu the fouith stiaight game in which he thiew an inteiception that was
ietuineu foi a touchuown, the fiist time that hau happeneu in National Football League
(NFL) histoiy (ESPN, 2u1S). Latei that week, Schaub calleu team secuiity anu the NFL aftei
he iepoiteu multiple fans uiiving by his house anu invauing his piivacy. Repoits claimeu
that fans paikeu in his uiiveway anu yelleu expletives at the beleagueieu quaiteiback
(Bavis, 2u1S).
What is it that makes some spoits fans so emotional, loyal, anu occasionally vulgai in
the name of a game. Why aie some fans content to sit anu calmly watch a spoiting event
while otheis stanu, clap, anu yell with painteu faces anu baie chests that spell the team
name. The answei, accoiuing to acauemic ieseaich, may veiy well be the concept of fan
ueneially, fan iuentification is the level that a fan feels a psychological connection to a
team oi spoit (Bietz-0hlei & Lantei, 2uu8). It has also been uefineu as the level of peisonal
commitment anu emotional involvement a fan has with a team (Sutton, NcBonalu, Nilne, &
Cimpeiman, 1997). Fan iuentification, which has its ioots in social iuentity theoiy, is a
iesult of seveial potential psychological, enviionmental, anu team-ielateu factois, anu has
been linkeu with seveial elements of consumei behavioi, such as buying team appaiel anu
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

game uay tickets. Simply put, the moie a fan iuentifies with a team, the moie time anu
money a fan is likely to spenu on that iespective team.
In iecent yeais, many of these highly iuentifieu spoits fans have tuineu to social meuia
to follow theii favoiite spoits fianchise. Social meuia is omnipiesent in populai society
touay, anu especially among spoits fans. The peicentage of auults using social meuia has
iisen fiom 8% in 2uuS to 72% in 2u1S (0lenski, 2u1S), while a stuuy by eNaiketei listeu
17S billion social meuia useis in 2u1S, an inciease of 26 billion fiom 2u12 (Bennett, 2u1S).
Piofessional spoits fianchises have capitalizeu on this populaiity. NFL fianchises have a
combineu 6u million Facebook anu Twittei followeis, anu many piofessional spoit
fianchises in the 0S anu Euiope boast ovei one million social meuia followeis (Foibes,
2u1S). Among spoits fans following theii favoiite teams on social meuia, most have useu
Facebook to keep up with theii favoiite teams (Bioughton, 2u11). Nany of these fans aie
finuing that following theii favoiite team on social meuia has incieaseu theii level of fan
iuentification. Inueeu, a suivey in the SpoitsBusiness }ouinal founu that Najoi League
Baseball (NLB) anu NFL fans following theii favoiite teams on social meuia claimeu to be
moie uevoteu fans than befoie they followeu the iespective teams on social meuia
(Bioughton, 2u1u).
Consiueiing the populaiity of social meuia among spoit fans, fianchises have tuineu
to social netwoiks foi incieasing iuentification levels among its iespective fans. These
fianchises use social meuia to offei fans behinu-the-scenes imageiy, inciease inteiaction
with stai playeis, anu facilitate game uay expeiiences that unite fans with fellow
suppoiteis anu the team. Nany teams utilize multiple social netwoiks in this quest,
incluuing Facebook, Twittei, anu Instagiam. While each spoit maiketei's goal on social
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

meuia may be similai - incieasing fan iuentification - the tactics useu to ieach theii
iespective goals vaiy. To gain an unueistanuing of these vaiious tactics, the authoi
inteivieweu 12 spoit social meuia maiketeis acioss the countiy, investigating the uiffeient
stiategies anu tactics useu to inciease fan iuentification on social meuia.
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This stuuy seeks to gain insight fiom spoit maiketeis about thiee aieas: (1) how awaie
team maiketeis aie about fan iuentification, (2) how spoit social meuia maiketeis use
social meuia to inciease fan iuentification, anu (S) how successful those iespective social
meuia tactics aie in incieasing fan iuentification.
Regaiuing fan iuentification, this stuuy seeks to exploie what iole fan iuentification
plays in spoit maiketeis' social meuia stiategies anu tactics. Theiefoie, two ieseaich
questions weie foimeu.
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Regaiuing social meuia use, this stuuy seeks to uiscovei the specific stiategies anu
tactics spoit maiketeis use on social meuia to inciease fan iuentification. Theiefoie, the
following ieseaich questions weie foimeu.
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Regaiuing the level of success spoit maiketeis have in incieasing fan iuentification
using social meuia, this stuuy seeks to specifically leain about the vaiying levels of success
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

ceitain tactics have anu how spoit maiketeis aie ueteimining those levels of success.
Theiefoie, the following ieseaich questions weie foimeu.
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0f the 12 Ameiican piofessional spoit maiketeis that took pait in inteiviews, five weie
fiom NLB, foui weie fiom the NFL, anu thiee weie fiom the NBL. Nine paiticipants weie
male; thiee weie female. 0n aveiage, the maiketeis inteivieweu hau been involveu
piofessionally with social meuia foi 4.6 yeais, hau been woiking in the spoits inuustiy foi
7.9 yeais, anu hau been with theii cuiient spoits fianchise foi S.S6 yeais.
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Reseaich question one askeu how awaie spoit maiketeis weie about the concept of fan
iuentification. An oveiwhelming majoiity of spoit maiketeis inteivieweu weie not awaie
of the concept of fan iuentification oi weie awaie of the concept but weie not awaie that
the concept hau been uefineu as fan iuentification. Nultiple spoit maiketeis misunueistoou
the concept as a new phenomenon in spoits maiketing that ievolves aiounu iuentifying an
inuiviuual fan anu cieating customei piofiles that offei spoits teams the ability to tiack a
fan's puichases anu activity, enabling fianchises to offei each fan a customizeu fan
0ne maiketei, who believeu fan iuentification was a concept that hei fianchise was
awaie of but woulu not be able to uefine as fan iuentification, phiaseu it,
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

I uon't think that a lot of teams know about the paiticulai concept. It's an intiinsic
knowleuge foi teams. I think the name is veiy acauemic. Eveiy team wants to connect
theii team with fans. You want them to buy moie meichanuise, moie tickets, anu uislike
oui iivals. It's stuff that as a club is oui goal, but we uon't sit uown at a table anu talk
about fan iuentification (peisonal communication, Novembei 7, 2u1S).
While the levels of awaieness about fan iuentification vaiieu among those spoit
maiketeis inteivieweu, seveial weie accuiately able to iuentify some of the potential
anteceuents of fan iuentification. Some of the anteceuents iuentifieu in inteiviews incluueu
enviionmental factois such as what spoits teams one's family was a fan of as well as the
geogiaphical location of one's upbiinging; team-ielateu factois such as winning peicentage
anu team histoiy; anu psychological factois such as a fan's uesiie to be a pait of something
biggei than themselves.
Reseaich question two askeu how spoit maiketeis integiateu the concept of fan
iuentification into theii social meuia activity. Naiketeis laigely claimeu to not ieally think
about fan iuentification when using social meuia to connect with fans. As one iesponuent
saiu, "It uoes mattei to a uegiee, but it's moie about the content that fans aie iesponuing
too" (peisonal communication, Novembei 7, 2u1S). Nany spoit maiketeis focus on using
social meuia as a tool to make a uiiect anu emotional connection to fans. As one iesponuent
saiu, "We want to get them |fansj involveu anu make them feel like they aie a pait of the
team" (peisonal communication, Septembei 24, 2u1S). Nultiple iesponuents talkeu about
the impoitance of inteiacting with fans uiiectly on social meuia, because to fans, it wasn't a
peison iesponuing back. 0ne maiketei noteu, "They liteially think that this team that they
love is iesponuing to them anu acknowleuging that they exist" (peisonal communication,
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

0ctobei 16, 2u1S). "The fans uon't look at the team Twittei hanule as a social meuia team,"
saiu anothei iesponuent. "They look at it as the SS guys on the fielu anu the coaching staff"
(peisonal communication, Septembei 2S, 2u1S). 0ne maiketei summeu it up by saying,
"We can't just be a megaphone. We neeu to be listening to eveiy tweet that comes back to
us so we can figuie out what oui fans want" (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 24, 2u1S).
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Reseaich question thiee sought to uncovei the main stiategies spoit social meuia
maiketeis hau on social meuia, anu whethei teams utilizeu a single ovei-aiching stiategy
oi multiple stiategies that vaiieu by social netwoik. Responses vaiieu, although most
fianchises iesponueu that they employ one high-level social meuia objective anu then vaiy
the stiategies useu to accomplish that objective by netwoik. "We uon't post one thing anu
blanket it acioss all platfoims," saiu one iesponuent. "We like to use each platfoim foi it's
maximum benefit" (peisonal communication, Novembei 7, 2u1S).
"We have one high-level stiategic outlook foi eveiy netwoik, anu that is fan love," saiu
anothei maiketei. "Aftei that, it ieally changes by netwoik" (peisonal communication,
Novembei 7, 2u1S). 0ne fianchise employeu what they calleu the foui pillais of social
meuia - listen, conveise, cieate, anu iewaiu - which it useu acioss eveiy social netwoik
(peisonal communication, Novembei 11, 2u1S). 0ne team's social stiategy was tieu to the
team's business objectives, which incluueu using social meuia to geneiate ievenue,
inciease sponsoiship sales, anu builu the bianu (peisonal communications, Septembei 24,
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

0ne maiketei claimeu to have an oveiaiching stiategy, but mentioneu that it
continually changeu anu evolveu as social meuia netwoiks uevelopeu anu technology
impioveu (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 11, 2u1S).
Nany of the spoit maiketeis that claimeu to have uiffeient stiategies foi each netwoik
uiu so because no auuience was the same. As one iesponuent saiu,
Theie aie uiehaius on Facebook, but they aie geneially moie casual. They aie happy if
we just post the game scoies. 0n Instagiam, we ieally focus on behinu-the-scenes
content.we post shots fiom the lockei ioom, shots fiom the aiena, shots fiom piactice.
Shots that fans just otheiwise woulun't be able to see. 0n Twittei, that's wheie we have
oui peisonality. I have no inteiest in boiing people anu wasting theii time (peisonal
communication, 0ctobei 16, 2u1S).
Anothei maiketei agieeu, saying his fianchise has a "no one size fits all" stiategy.
Facebook is about getting people exciteu anu pushing conveisation, wheieas Twittei is
about bieaking news. People on Twittei coulu piobably name the staiting offensive line
wheie people on Facebook want to talk about the quaiteiback only (peisonal
communication, 0ctobei 16, 2u1S).
0ne inteiviewee mentioneu that the biggest uiffeience between netwoiks was in the
amount of posting the team uiu. 0n Facebook anu Instagiam, fans ieceiveu an oveiview of
high quality content, wheieas Twittei followeis ieceiveu content thioughout the uay. "0n
eveiy platfoim, we'ie tiying to tell a stoiy. The uiffeience is in how uetaileu that stoiy gets"
(peisonal communication, Septembei 2S, 2u1S).
Reseaich question foui sought to uiscovei what social meuia tactics fianchises useu to
accomplish theii social meuia objectives. A laige vaiiety of tactics weie uiscusseu, although
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

a few common themes emeigeu fiom similai tactics. These incluueu iewaiuing fans,
emphasizing athletes, anu geneiating usei content.
In total, only two fianchises inteivieweu hau official social meuia loyalty piogiams.
Social meuia loyalty piogiams iewaiu fans by assigning point values to ceitain social
actions, such as liking a team's Facebook page oi ietweeting a team's tweet. As fans collect
points, they can ieueem those points foi piizes, which iange fiom uiscounts on team
meichanuise oi game uay tickets to fan expeiiences, such as thiowing out the ceiemonial
fiist pitch at a baseball game oi caiiying the team flag anu leauing the team onto the fielu
befoie a game. 0ne maiketei explaineu the cieation of theii social meuia loyalty piogiam
this way:
0ui objectives weie to iewaiu people foi theii actions that they weie alieauy uoing. We
also wanteu to take oui engagement to the next level. We'ie tiying to finu that fantasy
football type uamification element foi baseball (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 24,
Fianchises have put a focus on giving away expeiiences thiough the piogiam that
inciease the emotional connection fans have with teams. "Running out of the tunnel with an
NFL team just uoesn't happen," explaineu one iesponuent. "Now we stait eveiy game with
that" (peisonal communication, Septembei 2S, 2u1S). 0thei piizes seek to amplify the
emotional connection between a fan anu his oi hei favoiite team. These incluue being at
the post-game piess confeience, stanuing on the fielu pie-game, getting piivate touis of a
stauium, meeting playeis, etc.
0iganizeu social meuia loyalty piogiams aie not the only way to iewaiu fans, howevei.
0ften, fianchises iewaiu fans on social meuia on a much smallei scale. 0ne fianchise
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

constantly monitois social meuia foi mentions of the team fiom fans attenuing theii fiist
game, oi celebiating a biithuay, oi visiting fiom anothei city, anu senus customei seivice
agents to that fan's seat to give them a piize, offei then congiatulations, anu peisonally
welcome them to the ballpaik. "We aie looking foi unique oppoitunities to make them
|fansj feel appieciateu," (peisonal communication, Novembei 6, 2u1S) saiu one spoit
Anothei fianchise occasionally gives fans piizes, such as cupcakes, foi checking into the
stauium. As the maiketei foi that fianchise stateu, "That's something that's veiy easy to
pull off anu it cieates that ueepei bonu" (peisonal communication, Septembei 24, 2u1S).
Nany fianchises focus theii social meuia effoits on theii iespective athletes. Nany spoit
maiketeis mentioneu seveial uiffeient ways they make stai athletes the focus on theii
social meuia. These incluueu uoogle+ Bangouts, Twittei anu vine Q&As, behinu the scenes
access, anu view of the playeis off the fielu.
0ffeiing fans an oppoitunity to ask questions uiiectly to playeis, thiough uoogle+
Bangouts oi Twittei anu vine Chats, is a populai social meuia tactic, accoiuing to
fianchises, because it cieates an emotional connection between a fan anu a paiticulai
playei, which has a halo effect foi the team. "The fans that have theii questions answeieu
feel a connection because a playei answeieu theii question uiiectly anu otheis see that
playei in a way that maybe they haven't yet. That biings fans a little closei to oui playeis
anu team," (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 11, 2u1S) saiu one maiketei.
Nany fianchises also focus on giving fans a look at the playeis off the fielu anu behinu-
the-scenes. 0ne fianchise uiu a seiies uuiing a iecent tiaining camp with calleu "Behinu the
Facemask" (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 16, 2u1S) wheie the team posteu inteiviews
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

uone with new membeis of the team so fans coulu get to know these new playeis bettei.
0ne fianchise highlights the uiffeient peisonalities of the playeis by posting pictuies of the
playeis off the fielu; one playei has a bowtie company while anothei is a pilot. Anothei
fianchise takes playeis on eveiyuay eiianus, like a tiip to the gioceiy stoie, anu inteiviews
the playeis about theii peisonality anu peisonal life, giving fans a glance at the playei away
fiom the playing fielu. 0ne fianchise launcheu a monthly seiies calleu "Insiue the Buuule
Confeience Calls" in which fans get to be on a confeience call with playeis anu ask
questions. "The fans ieally like having access to the playeis," saiu one maiketei. "I mean,
just think 1u yeais ago, if you wanteu to talk to a playei, you woulu wiite a lettei to the
fiont office, hope they got it, anu hope they wiote back. Now you just senu them a tweet"
(peisonal communication, 0ctobei 18, 2u1S).
While seeing anu inteiacting with athletes is a focal point of fianchises on social meuia,
it's images of the playeis anu team behinu-the-scenes that theii fans want most. "People
just ieally eat up eveiything behinu the scenes," (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 16,
2u1S) accoiuing to one spoit maiketei. In many cases, fianchises aie able to post content
that no fan oi meuia outlet has access to on theii own. "We aie the closest point of contact
to the team," saiu one maiketei. "We neeu to capitalize on that. We neeu to give oui fans
the best access possible" (peisonal communication, Septembei 2S, 2u1S). Whethei it's a
pie-game pictuie of the lockei ioom, a playei stietching on the fielu, a pictuie of an empty
aiena befoie the game, oi a pie-game huuule of the playeis, fianchises inuicateu that they
hau a gieat ueal of success with behinu-the-scenes photos on social meuia. "We want to
help fill in the stoiy that you see on Tv. It staits in the gym befoie the game, in the
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

clubhouse aftei the game, oi on the fielu uuiing the anthems," (peisonal communication,
0ctobei 24, 2u1S) saiu one iesponuent.
Finally, an oveiwhelming majoiity of the fianchises inteivieweu put a focus on
geneiating fan content about the team. Fianchises accomplisheu this thiough photo anu
viueo contests, scavengei hunts, social clubs anu suites, anu content on the main viueo
scieen of the stauium.
Nany fianchises incluueu photo oi viueo contests as pait of theii social meuia plan. 0ne
fianchise hau fans iecieate the celebiation pose of a pitchei aftei thiowing a peifect game,
anu latei challengeu fans to ieplicate the swing of one of its moie famous playeis on the
social netwoik vine. "It's always gieat when you can have fans talk about you iathei than
you talking about you," (peisonal communication, Novembei 6, 2u1S) saiu one maiketei.
0thei fianchises have iun scavengei hunts, in which fans uploaueu content to theii
social accounts upon finuing a hiuuen piece of team memoiabilia in a stauium oi aiounu
the team's home city. 0ne fianchise fioze jeiseys anu t-shiits in blocks of ice befoie theii
home openei; anothei hiu gaiuen gnomes of the team mascot aiounu the city; anothei hau
fans snap pictuies thioughout the stauium uuiing an off-season fan festival.
0thei fianchises have hau success with tangible spaces in the stauium that featuie the
social meuia content posteu by fans about the team on television scieens. The spaces seive
as the "town squaie" of the stauium, accoiuing to one maiketei, by becoming the cential
location foi the conveisation suiiounuing the game, anu offei a location foi fans to connect
with each othei in auuition to the team. Fans, exciteu about seeing theii own content up on
a television scieen, post moie often about the game, geneiating buzz foi the team. "It's
getting those people who aie socially enableu to caiiy those conveisations faithei than we
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

can caiiy it ouiselves anu be oui auvocates foi it," (peisonal communication, Septembei
24, 2u1S) saiu one iesponuent.
Finally, fianchises post social meuia content fiom the fans up on what's often calleu the
"jumbotion" in the stauium. Fianchises often see a laige spike in the numbei of social
meuia posts maue by fans when the oppoitunity to be on the jumbotion piesents itself.
"People get so exciteu that theii content makes it up to the jumbotion," saiu one maiketei,
"that they take a pictuie of theii tweet oi pictuie on the jumbotion anu then ietweet that
pictuie" (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 16, 2u1S). Anothei fianchise sees similai
iesults. "When people see whatevei hashtag we have up on the viueo boaiu, we uo see a big
spike in tweets, anu it's ieally gieat foi them to see theii content up on the boaiu"
(peisonal communication, Novembei 6, 2u1S).
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Reseaich question S peitaineu to the most populai type of content posteu by fianchises.
Almost univeisally, fianchises iesponueu that photos weie the most populai type of
content they posteu. These incluueu infogiaphics, behinu-the-scenes content, anu photos of
the stauium. 0thei answeis incluueu access anu bieaking news.
Reseaich question 6 questioneu the methou by which fianchises measuie theii social
meuia success. While iesponses vaiieu among fianchises, auuience giowth, fan
engagement, anu geneiateu ievenue weie common themes.
Seveial teams mentioneu engagement as a key peifoimance inuicatoi foi social meuia
success. Some fianchises ieceiveu iepoits fiom theii iespective league offices that gave
each fianchise a iepoit of metiics like followei counts anu engagement iank. 0ne fianchise
mentioneu the numbei of Twittei ieplies as most impoitant. Seveial fianchises stateu that
Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

iefeiieu web tiaffic was most impoitant to the fianchise. 0theis look at followei counts to
see if any spikes occuiieu that might be inuicative of an especially engaging piece of
content. "I like to make suie that giaph I see is always tienuing up," (peisonal
communication, Novembei 7, 2u1S) saiu one maiketei who citeu netwoik giowth as
impoitant. ueneiateu ievenue thiough ticket sales on social meuia was also a common
answei. A few fianchises mentioneu ieach, oi how many people vieweu the fianchise's
content, as most impoitant. 0ne fianchise claimeu that shaies weie most impoitant, since
content with the most value was content that was passeu on. 0ltimately, says one maiketei,
"It's a blenu of ait anu science" (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 11, 2u1S). Anothei
fianchise hau a similai sentiment, "An eyeball test is ieally the best way to tell how we'ie
uoing. I can tweet something out, anu within a few minutes, I know whethei that tweet was
positive oi not" (peisonal communication, 0ctobei 24, 2u1S).
Fiom uoogle+ hangouts, Twittei anu vine Q&As, a focus on behinu-the-scenes content,
social meuia iewaius piogiams, anu in-stauium social suites, this stuuy has uncoveieu
seveial notewoithy social meuia tactics that woulu be useful to any spoits social meuia
maiketei in theii futuie enueavois.
To ieau this stuuy in its entiiety, please visit:

Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification


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Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

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Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification


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Fianchises 0se Social Neuia to Boost Fan Iuentification

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