I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Director of the Major Indoor Soccer League's Social Media department, Justin Windsor. It was a great interview, with me learning quite a bit about Justin's job, and us even getting to talk about his favorite EPL team, Liverpool. I will start out with the first question, then hop along after the break to learn the rest of the story.
1. Justin, the term "social media" can mean lots of things to lots of different people. Can you explain what exactly this entails on your end?
-Well, a main part of my job really is heading up FaceBook, YouTube, and the Twitter accounts for the MISL. Specifically, one of the chief tasks that goes along with this is editing up and posting all of the highlights, videos, etc. that appear on these media formats. Another part of my job is interacting with MISL fans and soccer fans in general. Our Twitter, FaceBook, and YouTube accounts are a vital part of this. Our league is about the fans, and we are truly dedicated to bringing the most up to date action and highlights to each and every one, no matter where they may be located at.
-We really got the FaceBook and Twitter pages up and rolling around the middle of August, just in time for the season to begin. Although there were a few hiccups at first, we feel we have really increased our content in the mediums, especially the amount of Tweeting we have done. This is really important to us as we want to be able to relay the most up to date information possible to all of our followers, along with attracting new fans each and every day.
-To answer your second point, as we go forward, we will increasingly be looking at avenues to try to do more stuff with live video. Although it has not been fully decided which mediums we will enter in to, we praise ourselves on trying to offer our great fans stuff that other leagues don't. Things like live, free web streaming for every game and accessible video highlights across a variety of mediums are important for us. Even though we may be smaller than some of the other major sports leagues, we feel we are able to offer things some of the other leagues don't.
-I think one of my favorite parts of this is the fact that fans can watch games anywhere, anytime. Since there are currently only 5 teams in the league this year, we know a large portion of the fanbase may not be close enough to catch live, in person MISL action on a regular basis. Hence we feel the video infrastructure we have been able to create will solve this problem for those far away from their respective teams, wherever they may be. And this will continue to get better over time as we tweak these things and also add new tools and features.
3. What has been your biggest social media success thus far? What has been something that hasn't worked out as well as you had hoped?
-Well, I think the biggest accomplishment so far is the whole system in general, particularly in what we have been able to do in a seemingly short time. It was last April and May that I was able to have a series of meetings with MISL commissioner David Grimaldi. We laid out a plan for what we wanted to do, and most of the stuff debuted in August as I had mentioned previously. I am really proud of the continuous updates and increasing information flow that we have been able to create in such a short time.
-As for a downside, I wouldn't say there is anything we are disappointed in. We did have a few hiccups though, like any new venture into a medium. Our first few webcasts had some hiccups and issues, which have been ironed out by now. But I initially felt bad for the fans that were counting on getting live games for their favorite teams. The fans absolutely matter to us, and we never want to fail in bringing them their MISL info and needs. We truly do care at a deep level about making our fans happy, so that was the toughest part about the growing pains, so to speak. But again, overall, we have been very pleased with our progress so far.
4. Since web broadcasting of every game for free is such a remarkable feature the MISL offers its fans, when did you actually decide to broadcast every game?
-This was interesting because a couple of the clubs have had the ability to do this before the others. In particular, both Baltimore and Milwaukee had the technology to do this and we saw this as an opportunity for the newer teams as well. So, we began to get the technology in place for the other teams, and we wanted to make sure we got it right so we did extensive testing. So, we decided prior to the season we wanted to offer live streaming of games, and again, even though there were early bugs, things are definitely running much smoother now.
-One of our main goals is to present an overall professional appearance type of product. Just like ESPN or Fox Soccer channel, we are trying to build a system where fans can catch games whenever they want, and have very quick access to highlights, videos, and behind the scenes access. We also hope this will help bring in new fans as well, when they might be looking around online and see an amazing highlight or catch a game and get into the action. Although there is a lot of progress to make, I think we have a pretty good start already.
5. What role do you see social media playing in expanding the MISL into new markets?
-Chiefly, we are focusing on FaceBook and YouTube right now, especially for the fans that don't live near a team as I touched on before. This will help us to expand our outreach, and hopefully that exposure will spread and help grow the league. Additionally, there are some great indoor soccer communities out there that we love to interact with, namely some good support groups in St. Louis and Wichita. We want to provide great access for these fans, and in turn hope they can help us grow even more. And this all could lead to one of our big goals- attracting investors to the league and getting them interested in the MISL.
-That is a great selling point right now for us. If you can go to games, by all means we encourage it. If you compare the fun you can have with, say a family of four compared to what you will spend in a larger pro sports league, we definitely have the best value out there. But, if you can't go to the games, we feel you can still check out quality material, fan groups, etc. Social media can help with this by getting the word out and getting new investors interested. This will expand us into new markets, grow the fan base, and allow us to implement even more wonderful tools for the future. There is a lot of interest in new markets right now for the MISL, we just need to sell the value of the league and the fans to expand our league.
-Right now, we are very thankful to have 5 fantastic owners in our league. They work really hard, and have done tremendous things with each and every team. An example of this is Peter [Wilt] and Tom [Dunmore] in Chicago. They have really done a bang up job in getting the Riot up and running in such a short period of time, just like the other owners.
6. If someone was willing to give you an unlimited budget to work on a new media outlet/format, what would it be?
-There are so many outlets now in the time we live in, as evidenced by the movie Social Network winning a Golden Globe recently. I am not much of an award show fan, but I think it does a good job of illustrating just how far social media has come in such a relatively short time. I think I would definitely hire more staff, that would allow us to hear more fans voices, and specifically allow us to have liaisons between us and the fans to give them even more interaction. However, right now we don't have the budgets of the bigger sports leagues, so we definitely do what we can.
-Despite the smaller budgets, we feel we have a great product with some unique features, advantages, and benefits. And I think this will shine through to fans. In fact, to relate a personal story, I grew up in Baltimore, and some of the first memories I have is being 3 or 4 and going to Blast games. I absolutely loved it. There were 10 to 12 thousand fans night in and night out, and I got to see some players play every night that are indoor legends now. It was truly an amazing experience and one that certainly helped develop my love for indoor soccer and soccer in general.
7. How does social media play a different role for MISL than say, Major League Soccer and the other major sporting leagues in North America? How does social media play a different role for MISL compared to similarly sized leagues like Major League Lacrosse?
-Well, for leagues our size, it's obviously vital to find ways to succeed with much smaller budgets. We really have to work our tails off to get our name out there, unlike the big sports leagues. It would be hard to go somewhere in the world and have someone not know of the Liverpool or of Michael Jordan. So, we can't just piggyback off this awareness, we need to create it. The big teams can use this exposure as a follow up- it's already out there, and fans can come from that. We have to put it out there in front of them. Hence why we think directing people to social media is so important. In Chicago for example, we know there is a large soccer fan base with the Fire and the Red Stars. We also want to be a part of this great community.
-As for leagues our size, it is always similar in a way because of less resources, budgets, etc. Major League Lacrosse, WPS and other smaller leagues face the same challenges to us, at least to a certain extent. There are differences too, since each sport is unique and different. The key is that anyone can go to our games, and for those that may not know the MISL, we need to try to educate them and get them coming back again and making a fan out of them. We have tried to expand our league and fanbase by implementing various contests, create a caption photos, etc. These things are all necessary for our growth, just like in the other small professional leagues.
8. What are some of the social media goals that you have for the 2011-2012 MISL season?
-We will look at finding one carrier/provider for all the games to kind of level the playing field and run off the same system.
-We will be working on polishing and cleaning up our website, MISL.net. As time goes by, we will add these new features to our website, as well as polishing it up, to truly deliver a gem sometime in the near future. This will help us become more eye catching as we grow, and help bring people back for more great MISL action.
-In terms of corporate goals, we definitely want to bring more teams and investors in. And obviously, more fans too.
-Other ideas we will hopefully integrate sooner rather than later include introducing a message board to the website, and possibly even starting up a Fantasy League. Even though there are only 5 teams now, as we expand I think a Fantasy League could really attract fans, especially the casual fan. We obviously need a bigger budget to introduce these things, so we have to introduce them when the time is right. We expect that to be sooner rather than later. By far and large, we want the fans to know that their opinions count. We love hearing feedback from fans and always encourage them to let us know what they like, don't like, and want to see in the future.