In late July, Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob promised a complete revamp of his front office on both the basketball and business side. In order to change the culture that plagued the Warriors, the Mercury News blog included staff members from the scouting department to people who had nothing to do with basketball.
The most significant change to the organization is the addition of Chamath Palihapitiya. He is a former executive of Facebook who left the organization in June and recent bought shares of the NBA franchise in Oakland. Paulihapitiya’s experience includes being Vice President and General Manager of AOL and a variety of other positions in the online world.
Even a team that doesn’t sell out every game has a terrific online presence by any normal standards. The Warriors have over 40,000 followers on Twitter and a quarter million Facebook fans. Needless to say, the question isn’t how Golden State can increase its social media presence, but how it uses it. When a team is trying to change its reputation with fans, having someone who had such an important role with a company like Facebook is a great way to start.
According to Sports Business Daily, the NBA has a strong social media position compared to other leagues (Adam Vincenzini happened to do a terrific case study on the NBA’s use of social media). In addition to daily social media sessions (assuming there is no lockout, of course), NBA players happen to be excellent at utilizing social media with 10 players in the 500 most-followed accounts on Twitter. The article goes on to state that it is the highest number of athletes in the Top 500 of any professional sports league. It makes sense that the NBA would have the highest Twitter participation since there is no other sport where individuals are as marketable as they are in basketball.
Having Palihapitiya as part of the Warriors’ front office staff is going to give the team some interesting opportunities to use social media in order to interact with fans. Although Golden State finished the 2010-11 season with one of the worst records in the NBA, it finished in the top-10 for attendance, with an average of nearly 19,000 fans per home game.
If the Warriors can tap the brain of their newest business acquisition, they could drive up numbers to rival some of the bigger market teams. Several professional sports teams have already found creative ways to use social media, whether its the Cleveland Indians and their Social Media Suites or Mark Cuban using his Twitter account to give away Mavericks tickets, there are plenty of ways for Golden State to engage its fans.
Lacob is quoted in an email as saying that he plans on showing fans a “virtually entirely new organization.” While the NBA figures out how its going to fix its Collective Bargaining Agreement so that the league is more profitable, the Warriors are using the lockout to better brand its image so that it can become more fan friendly. Golden State would be wise to look at small market teams like Dallas and the Cleveland Cavaliers as examples of teams with owners who do a good job of reaching out to fans.
Here’s an example that Mashable points to as great interaction between the Cavs and their Twitter followers:
If the Warriors want to take their online branding strategy to the next level, teaming with someone who was on the inside of Facebook from its early stages is a great decision on their end when the NBA is the leader in sports for social media. It will be interesting to see what changes Palihapitiya makes within Golden State’s social media strategy once the lockout is over so it can bring fans back since the labor strife will surely cause a backlash. Teams like the Warriors will likely have a harder time getting fans back to the arena, but having someone like Palihapitiya who can advise them on how to engage with fans should reduce a significant amount of damage that the lockout will cause.