Pro sports have come to sleepy, seaside Santa Cruz, Calif. The Golden State Warriors NBA team opened up a minor league operation there this season, and the team is off to a solid start before playing its first home game on Sunday.
But the Santa Cruz Warriors story is more than just a tale of minor league hoops coming to a small town it also shows the growing importance of social media in sports marketing, and how it's saturated sports communications even deeper and wider than many may realize.
Like most teams now, the Warriors use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share behind the scenes snippets and accelerate engagement with a new fan base. Matt De Nesnera, the Santa Cruz squad's director of public and community relations, says that much was an easy choice.
"In this day and age, we realized that would be critical for us early on," he told E News. "With our digitally-savvy demographic especially, we realized it could be a critical way for us to get information in front of the right people if we leveraged it correctly."
Santa Cruz is located less than an hour's drive from the heart of Silicon Valley, so the team definitely has a tech-educated local audience. But its status as a town of just 60,000 people surrounded by ocean on one side and mountains on the other also provides some built-in advantages for social media outreach.
"Especially with a first-year team, this is the first time this community has really had a team to rally around," says Kevin Cote, digital marketing director for the big-league Golden State Warriors, who play their games in Oakland, about an hour and a half north of Santa Cruz.
That sense of local identity is no doubt partially responsible for one of the Santa Cruz team's most popular social media posts to date: a photo of Snoop Dogg posing with a Warriors basketball while in town for a concert. Given the town's well-known liberal attitude toward cannabis consumption, it was no surprise the the photo became a hit a with fans and got picked up around the web.
"It might've seemed a little random, but it made sense at the same time," DeNesnera says.
DeNesnera also used Instagram this fall to document the construction of the team's first home arena in Santa Cruz. Shots of key construction pieces being laid into place were designed to help fans feel like "this is everybody's team."
That documentation also reflects another key value of the Santa Cruz Warriors' social presence trying out ideas for the Golden State digital team to use in the future.
The big-league team is in the early stages of a move from Oakland to San Francisco, and has plans to build a shiny new bay-side arena. Assuming no unforeseen changes, Cote says the team will look at how the minor league squad built excitement among fans in Santa Cruz to help shape how it uses social media to let fans in on progress with its new home in San Francisco.
"That's sort of the beauty of being the minor league team is that we can try things out and then Kevin can see how they go and use them as sort of a test for things he might want to do," DeNesnera says. "We definitely use what they do to inform our own ideas, so hopefully we can experiment with ideas that might go well with Golden State fans later."
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