Sky Blue FC's Clash of the Titans—Twitter Style

Kat GalsimCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2010

If there is one thing the Women's Professional Soccer league (WPS) has embraced tremendously, it's social media. Its teams, staff, and players have been all over it—especially in the Twitterverse.

No exception to this is Sky Blue FC, who has started a Twitter War between its owner and general manager. Bleacher Report recently interviewed President/CEO Thomas Hofstetter, General Manager Gerry Marrone, and Director of Communications John Archibald to learn more about this campaign...and even instigated some friendly trash talking.

Kat Galsim: Let's start off first with how this all came about. Who thought of this and what's the reason behind it?

John Archibald: Where we came up with it was actually in Philadelphia [at the WPS Draft]. Gerry was already active on Twitter at the time and Thomas started to kind of create an account and started to get involved.

And being a forward-thinking organization, we kinda discussed some things as far as our social media initiative, and that's, you know, Thomas has created his account. But Thomas was talking about getting more followers. He started asking, "Well how many followers does Gerry have?" He started to really want to get to know more about Gerry's account.

So Thomas says to me, "You watch, you give me a little bit of time and I'll have more followers than him." And then just jokingly we all started to be like, "We ought to really see who could get more followers. This would be something kinda fun to do."

Thomas Hofstetter: It was about 2 o'clock at night.

JA: And next thing you know...

Gerry Marrone: And I wasn't there by the way. I was not there. I haven't even returned to the hotel.

TH: At one point John said "You should challenge [Gerry]." And I thought, that's a great idea. So we all went to bed. And the next day was actually the WPS draft day, and I went to Gerry and I said, "I'll challenge you." And he looked at me like, "What are you talking about?"

GM: You know I had nothing else on my mind that day, it's just the day of the draft.

TH: And so I explained to him, and it basically started immediately, more or less. I tried to, right away, capture some of his followers. And it was in the middle of the draft, he was sitting with our coaches at the draft table and had his computer open. And he walked away and his Twitter account was open. So I went to his computer and tweeted on his behalf asking all of his followers to follow me. And that's how it started.

GM: And the funny part is I didn't even know it happened until I saw my Twitter account and I just kinda looked around and he was laughing so hard. Like he couldn't keep it as a secret. So I went, "What are you giggling about?" And I saw it on my Twitter account that he had asked all my followers to become his followers. So I think that's kinda when the gauntlet was dropped in the war. Up to that point I just kinda didn't know what it was gonna be. I was focused on some other things.

TH: But he got even on that. I think it was 2 weeks ago, or 3 weeks ago, when he walked into my office and my computer was open too and he did the same with my computer.

GM: And understand the risk that I ran at that point. It's one thing when your boss is at your computer at the draft table. If I walked back in the room from the bathroom, I would see Thomas sitting in my computer, figured he needed to send an email. What if you walked back in his office, the CEO of the company, and I'm sitting at his desk, on his computer. A lot harder to explain that. So a little more nerves involved. You have to understand which took more guts here.

JA: It's all out there now, Kat. There's no holds barred now. But it's also funny too when Thomas has done that with Gerry's Twitter account. Gerry had literally gone up to one of our draft picks, and Thomas planned it perfectly with scouting out Gerry and learning his moves. And as soon as Gerry went up he figured he had about 45 seconds, so that's when he jumped on.

And I was in the back where you were and where the team reps were, and Thomas came running over to me. And I was typing up something about the pick we just made, and Thomas was just giggling about something. He's like, "You have to see this." And so I went on to Gerry's account and he showed me the tweet. He said something to the effect of "All my followers need to follow Thomas Hofstetter at HofstetterTh." And I was like, "Why in the world would Gerry do that? I thought we were having a legitimate war." And he goes, "No, I did it."

KG: Wait, so this all started at the draft, when you had so many things going on...

GM: Yeah well at least one of us had a lot of things going on, I'll tell you that.

JA: I think a lot of it was, you know we had a big social media plan for the draft. And so many ideas were kind of evolving of what ways can we really utilize social media. And Thomas was getting real involved at the time, and Gerry was already involved, so I think a lot of ideas has kind of evolved into something like this and...

TH: We take social media very seriously. We think it's a very strategic move for us to spend time and effort and money on social media and video too. I have a company in healthcare and even there it's a major strategic move for us to become experts and do a lot with social media. It would seem another major move for us—on the video side—we will crank out weekly soccer or Sky Blue shows coming out of our office. So we think it's very, very important for a sports company to be strong in social media.

GM: Where this all started, Kat, was I went to John and said, "I know my job is the kind of job that for some reason people want to know what I do." Which I find interesting 'cause I'm actually doing it so I don't really think of that as much as other people might think about it. And I went on to Big Soccer one night and I signed on to Big Soccer online and I used "SkyBlueFC_GM" as my sign on. I said "I'm not gonna hide, I'm not gonna stand behind a fake name." So I did that and the response was pretty powerful. I mean everyone was coming on saying, "Hey thanks for coming on here, we really appreciate it."

So I went to John and I said, "Well, if we think people care about it, and Big Soccer has got a limited audience, why not do the same thing on Facebook, and why don't I do the same thing on Twitter?" So I talked to him 'cause he's our expert. I'm a novice at this, I think Thomas and I are just learning the ropes of the hashtags and all the other stuff. But we went to John and talked about it and he said, "Yeah that would be a great idea." The response was positive on Facebook, the response was positive on Big Soccer, and now on Twitter, it's been equally positive.

I think most of us GM's in this league have Twitter accounts and we're all trying to do the same thing to get our audience engaged with us and give them an opportunity to ask us questions and find out kind of the behind the scenes information. And I think we've all found out that more of the announcements that we're hearing, we're hearing on Twitter first, before we even get them from the other teams or league office. So it's been a pretty interesting phenomenon and I think the followers are appreciating it.

JA: And overall we just find it so important to be forward-thinking. We don't want to wait and see the trends of new media marketing. We want to be in the forefront of it. Much similar to how the league is and the other clubs in the league as well. So it's not just enough for us to be on Twitter. You know, what could we do to kind of really utilize Twitter, make it a little bit more interesting? So "Twitter War" is a way to kind of creatively approach using Twitter. It's not just, you know Gerry doesn't just sit in his office and say, "Looking outside, it's snowing today in New Jersey."

GM: If you look at my tweets, most of them don't happen between 8 AM and 5 PM unless they're coming from my phone and I'm out in the field somewhere. Most of my tweeting seems to happen between eight at night and midnight.

TH: Well then again at 5:30 in the morning...

GM: And at 5:30 in the morning. Exactly.

TH: I have a hard time keeping up with him, I have to say.

GM: I just don't sleep very much. That's in my nature.

TH: I hope you read some of my messages yesterday. I was friendly.

GM: Yeah it was a friendly day. We had a friendly environment yesterday. Well I got some good pictures up there this morning. It went out at 5:30 this morning.

TH: Oh yeah?

GM: Pictures from yesterday at the first training session. On TweetDeck. But this is all new to me. I honestly fought John when he first talked about Twitter. I was like, "What Twitter? I don't get it."

And now that I see the exponential nature of it and I really can truly see the huge value to get the word out quickly. And especially when our league picks up what we're doing and now retweets something to a quarter of a million people, it's a pretty powerful system.

TH: It's interesting, what happened actually with the few followers that we have between Gerry and [myself], we open up the opportunity to potentially have summer camps in Canada and even a game up there. An exhibition game. And Gerry and I had a conversation of that with somebody on Twitter.

GM: Yeah she's actually making us a proposal and feels reasonably confident that she could put the framework together to get twenty to thirty thousand people to a game. In Canada. If we can bring teams there and make this thing happen. Never would have happened without Twitter. We would never have found this person.

KG: Gerry I noticed that you have 315 followers, the last time I checked, and Thomas you have 157. So Thomas, do you have any plans on what you could do to catch up with Gerry, and maybe surpass his number?

TH: First of all, I think I have to give him more work. You know it's obvious to everybody that he doesn't work enough. I mean how else would you get 300 followers so quick? It's mind boggling to me. He always complains that he's working round the clock but, you know, we have to define that more.

I have to spend more time on it as well. Put all tricks out of the head. It's very challenging. I'm definitely the underdog. It's clear that I'm the underdog. When we started on all of that I had 37 followers.

GM: And I had 80.

TH: No you had 150.

GM: Look at the Twitter War front page. Go online and pull the video right now. I had 83. 83.

TH: That's how he's getting 300 [followers].

GM: I went from leading by 50 to leading by 150. That's just someone who hasn't been able to keep up to try and blame others, I don't know.

TH: The other thing is he has kids in college age and I'm a poor guy who has just young kids who don't know how to use Twitter yet so...

GM: Yeah that's exactly...

TH: ...I'm clearly handicapped.

GM: Let me ask you a question, Kat. Have you ever been in a situation where you're the employee to the person who owns the company, but the person who owns the company is the underdog to the employee? I have no power. I'm powerless. I could come in tomorrow and he could fire me and I could do nothing about it.

TH: That's why you went to my computer and tweeted. Because you're "powerless."

GM: I'm fighting for my life here. I have kids in college I have to pay for. I have to fight for my life here.

KG: So you're walking on egg shells.

GM: You bet. Every moment of every day.

TH: Yeah you can hear how scared he is. You know, he's [been] whining for the last 3 weeks.

GM: I just spend my time befriending other people. Which one of us—'cause I don't have the numbers in front of me—are following more people?

TH: Umm...I think you do.

GM: Boy, then maybe there's something to that. I'm not really sure.

TH: Well again it takes a lot of time to find them. To follow.

KG: It helps when you follow a lot of people. Here, Gerry is following 179 people and Thomas is following 110.

TH: 110. I would say my ratio is much better than yours. My ratio, I'm at 70%, following versus followers. So you're at a lousy 45%.

GM: I'm following more influential people.

KG: I did notice that Gerry interacts a lot with fans. He sometimes asks them questions on Twitter.

TH: And that's good. We don't want to lose sight on what we want to accomplish. It's not just about Gerry and me. It's also about the fact that we do want to connect with the fans.

I do try to focus on stuff that's related from an owner's perspective and don't want to be too much redundant to what Gerry is doing as a GM. Because at the end it's not just about the fun part but it's also what we want to accomplish in the purpose of all of that.

GM: I asked this very simple question. I honestly asked because I was interested. I asked one of the followers on Twitter, where I just put it out there as a tweet that said, "What makes you a fan of the team?"

'Cause I wanted to know. We have a new team in a relevantly new league, what is it as a fan, makes you a fan of the team? We're trying to put this team together, if I have an overabundance of fans telling me, "I like the team because of X," we need to make sure we have X. So it was really market research for my perspective to go out and say, "What makes you a fan?" And that question really caught on and I got a lot more followers at one simple question than anything else that I have done that I can recall on Twitter.

KG: So you could say that, because you're the GM, you handle the fans and the players, you're the more popular one and maybe Thomas is really the underdog here?

TH: Absolutely. You got that right.

GM: You could try that. That's one way to look at it.

TH: No it's absolutely right. You know I leave you all the good news about the team and everything that everybody wants to hear, and who wants to hear from the owner? All the boring stuff? But you're absolutely right on the money with that Kat.

KG: Well I know this Twitter War is gonna go on until the end of the season. Do you have any individual strategies?

TH: I'm more than happy to talk to you privately but, at the moment, for obvious reasons I can't talk to you about that.

GM: See I think it's a personality thing. So I'm just gonna use my personality and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.

TH: I don't know how a personality could translate to 140 characters but I'm looking forward to [seeing] that.

GM: A lot of smiley faces. Colon-bracket, colon-bracket.

KG: So that's the strategy, a lot of colon-brackets.

TH: You know I'm considering to hire interns for my...

GM: See, there you go. There's the underdog thing again. I personally can't afford to hire anybody to do my tweeting unlike the governor of New Jersey.

TH: But the personal strategy, it is kind of challenging. I think about it everyday, what I have to do. And I'm really, extremely busy and Gerry's very busy. And every night I think, "Oh damn it I haven't done anything on Twitter. I have to do at least something."

GM: I'm very fortunate to have a wife that goes to bed early. My wife's a school teacher and gets up at 5:15 in the morning and by 9:30 at night she's usually either asleep or in bed. So I have the luxury of being the guy who likes to stay up late. I have a couple of hours every night, that's where I get my time to do it.

TH: The fact that we have this Twitter War going on is definitely a pressure point to do something. I'm not sure I would be that active without the Twitter War.

KG: Does this have you lying awake at night, thinking about what you should do on Twitter to get more followers?

TH: I'm not laying awake at night 'cause when I go to bed I'm on a coma usually, but I do think about it constantly. Like ongoing. I don't work on it constantly but I think about it constantly.

JA: I could second that one. Thomas comes running up with ideas pretty often in the office.

GM: I only get worried when I see the two of them huddling in a corner of the office somewhere and I'm not involved.

JA: I'm in a very, very awkward position, Kat. You have two of your bosses pulling you from opposite directions.

TH: And I have to say, John is a very firm person, managing and coordinating that. I tried to convince him to uh...

GM: Oh I know. Trust me, I know.

TH: Did you tell him?

JA: No, no.

GM: Nope. But I know exactly what you're gonna say.

TH: Why?

GM: You're gonna try to convince him to give you strategy...

TH: No, no, no. When we announced the Twitter War, I went to John and I basically demanded—but he didn't follow it—I demanded that on the side of the newsletter where you have "follow me?"

GM: Did he not put you on there and misspell my name?

TH: Yeah, could've put a button in for me.

GM: And have mine not work.

TH: Yeah.

GM: See I'm the underdog. Remember this Kat. Who's the underdog here? This is the guy who has taken the underdog platform...

TH: Let's be realistic...

JA: I think I might be the underdog.

TH: Let's be realistic. He reports to you, and he didn't do it. He didn't care.

GM: Honestly though, Kat, the bigger picture here is for us to drive more awareness of our team, of our league, and get people to our fan page either on Facebook or be part of our mailing list that we can generate sponsorship and ticket sales and drive revenues. So we find this is a tremendously powerful way to reach deep and wide.

The downside challenge to this is, because it's so deep and wide, we'll have to look back at the end of the year and say, "Did it really affect ticket sales?" And maybe that's not the yardstick that we need to use. Maybe it's more of a continued drive of awareness of our sport, of our team, and of our league. I think this could have a rippling effect on the other teams and a rippling effect on the league, which is what also makes it powerful.

But my strategy is simple, I have to ask everybody to help me. 'Cause I found, just in life, people like to help other people. And if you ask them nicely, they'll help you out. If you don't, they won't.

I get personally upset when I've lost a follower. And I want to figure out who that follower is that drops off and I haven't figured out how to do that yet. 'Cause you climb up then all of a sudden you drop down a couple. You're like, "Who dropped me? And why did they drop me?" I wish we could find that out.

TH: It's probably people who are really committed to me. They probably said, "I don't want to hear him anymore, we are committing to The Hoff."

JA: What probably happened was Thomas went to their personal accounts and unfollowed Gerry.

GM: He's hired a security expert to hack into other people's accounts.

KG: Well speaking of unfollowing, I follow you both. But if I were to clean out and try to unfollow people, and I have to unfollow one of you, who should it be and why?

GM: That's easy, just go with your conscience. Who do you think really deserves your follow more? And that's what you have to do, just choose with your conscience. And I'll accept whatever you choose. No pressure from me at all, just choose with your conscience.

TH: What we're doing here, we're in women's soccer. And in women's soccer, we in the league are in start up mode. We're all at the very beginning. And we all have to support women's soccer. We are an underdog sport. If you look at all the other sports, we have to have an underdog mentality. And it has to work, the underdogs should be able to win. And that's why you definitely have to follow me, I'm the underdog here.

GM: Notice I didn't beg or anything. I just said use your conscience.

KG: I know, I like your strategy. So I guess we still haven't agreed on who the real underdog is. Gerry, your argument is that you're the employee...

GM: I'm the employee. I am here at the whim of the owner, who can change at any moment in time, and just toss me aside like yesterday's paper. I am totally at the whim of the owner.

TH: I would be dead without him. So he knows I can't do that as much as I would like to, just to win.

GM: And if you followed back to the comments then, somebody asked what's the prize for me if I win. And on Twitter I said," I get to keep my job." And within seconds Thomas responded, "No you have that wrong. If you win, you lose your job." So, who's the underdog? And it's in print. You can't even dispute it. It's out there.

KG: That was out in public? Oh no.

GM: Oh yeah.

TH: It doesn't change the fact that I'm the underdog.

GM: Who's between a rock and a hard place here? If I win, I lose. And if I lose, I win. So I can't win from losing.

TH: Kat, honestly, does he strike you as an underdog now, with the way he talks? Certainly not, right?

KG: You do have about half of the followers that Gerry has.

TH: Yeah and he's gaining ground. He's accelerating more than I am.

KG: Alright let's talk about the nicknames on the video. So we have "The Hoff," which actually has two F's. And I know your name only has one F. So why are there two F's in your nickname? Are you a fan of David Hasselhoff or something?

TH: You know being a German I guess that should be my answer. My answer should be "I should be" or "I am." But I'm not. He's a big star in Germany, but no, I'm not a big fan of Hasselhoff. Actually I was labeled by John. He gave me that a.ka.

JA: Someone on Twitter actually did.

TH: Oh really?

JA: Someone on Twitter said that you should be "The Hoff."

TH: So it's not a name that I'm carrying for a long time. It was a name that was given to me by somebody on Twitter or John.

GM: Now "Boom-Boom," we got a story for that Kat. "Boom-Boom" comes from two places. When I was 12 years old, at the bottom of the 6th inning, with the bases loaded and 2 outs, I hit a grandslam homerun in little league baseball to tie the game and go to extra innings.

In extra innings, we hit back-to-back-to-back homeruns on my team. And I was the last of those back-to-back-to-back homeruns. So I hit 2 homeruns in a game. The only homeruns I hit in all of little league and the only homeruns I hit as a youth baseball player. But they're all in the same game and the next day I had the headline in the local sports section of the local newspaper that says "Boom-Boom Marrone." So that was a big name for a big thing.

And since that time one of my closest personal friends still to this day, when I go to meet him for lunch, calls me "Boom-Boom." And that was 35 years ago by the way when that happened.

And the secondary part was when I was a senior in high school an article was written on my friend Tommy—who I'm talking about—and myself because he was really fast and played wing and I was his midfielder who had a very hard shot from 25-yard down. And they referred to me as "Boom-Boom" and him as "Lightning" in this newspaper article they wrote about us and about our soccer team. So I've had the nickname "Boom-Boom" since I was 12.

KG: Oh so it was a long time ago. I thought maybe you just thought of it now, or that you were a fan of Welcome Back Kotter or the Black Eyed Peas or something.

GM: Nah. Though I was a fan of Welcome Back Kotter.

KG: So you've got that history with that nickname then.

GM: Yeah no one ever knew about it. Like five people knew about it and that was it. Now obviously a lot more people know about it.

JA: It's been reborn.

TH: And I'm getting compared to David Hasselhoff. I don't know if I like that or not.

GM: He has a lot more hair so maybe that'll help you out there.

TH: That's fake.

JA: He's had some run-ins with the law.

TH: That's why I didn't mind the change in hashtags now to "#TeamHoff" versus "#TheHoff."

KG: But you're still sticking with the two F's.

TH: Sure. Why not?

GM: And also you can tie that in to Follow Friday, so the two F's has a nice Twitter vibe.

KG: That's true.

JA: Good thinking.

KG: Maybe "TeamHo#FF."

TH: Wait what are you saying?

GM: On Fridays you're supposed to go to all your friends who followed you recently and do "#FF" and then put all their names in. It's one way to spread the wealth. I just learned that last Friday.

JA: It's one way to get followers.

GM: You literally have to type them all in. There's no easy way to do it from what I can tell. I mean there's one person last week that did it, and I think she even said on Twitter that it took her 3 hours to do it all.

TH: You can just type it in Word then cut and paste every week.

JA: Well you don't necessarily have to do them all. But your most active supporters, the Team Hoff people probably is what you want to put out. Like a "Team Hoff Follow Friday." We did something, Kat, which I'm sure you saw a few weeks ago where, from the Sky Blue FC account, we did a Follow Friday thing and everybody who mentioned us on Follow Friday, we returned the favor.

KG: Oh yeah, I remember that.

JA: Picked us up some followers. Along with the Twitter War and everything else, rather than just having an account, we always try to have the wheels going and think of new ways to utilize it.

GM: And honestly, from my perspective, I try not—very hard—try not to go on there and put random stuff like "Driving to the beach." No one cares about me that much to care what I'm doing every minute of the day.

TH: It's the same with me. I definitely would not put stuff up like that. That doesn't make sense as far as what we are trying to accomplish.

GM: My whole purpose of doing it, which is why I have this sign on name, is hopefully give people some type of insight. And obviously I can't do all the stuff. I wish I could do all the stuff. But some type of insight as to what my job is like and the things I actually have to work on and get done and certainly there's player personnel issues and things like that that will never be on Twitter, but it would be really cool if you could do more of like that to give people a really good view.

TH: Seriously I would have a lot of stuff that would be interesting but it's too confidential.

GM: Too confidential. You can't talk about it.

TH: I can't talk about it. People would be interested in that but you can't put it out.

GM: Well the bigger issue for me, over the last 24 hours I've probably spent a total of 4 hours with a couple of different player agents, just kinda going back and forth. Those player agents are on Twitter. So it's not like I could go on Twitter and say "Just spent 2 hours on the phone with an agent." So that's where you have to be really careful, on what you put out there.

JA: Didn't take that much to get them educated about them Kat, as you can tell. It's one of the things that definitely makes it a lot easier for me is that, how many sports teams can say that they have their GM and their owner both active with their own account? To the point that they would do a Twitter War.

It's definitely something that's great for me 'cause what it all comes back to is the team account and more acknowledgement for the team as well and just more awareness. And to have weapons like that is unbelievable for me and the team.

KG: Yeah it's really great how much you're using social media to raise brand awareness.

JA: Absolutely. And we don't neglect our Facebook account just because we're more active on Twitter now. If anything, they kind of assist one another. One can get more followers, the other can get more fans.

GM: Even with what we're doing with the [Twitter War] prizes, we have no vehicle on Twitter to be able to explain the prizes. We will probably use Facebook and our web page to explain the prizes for the Twitter War, which I find pretty interesting.

JA: And one of the ways we will do the announcements is through our weekly newsletter, which obviously you have to be signed up to receive. And we have a tab directly from our Facebook page for you to sign up on our newsletter. And that gives you all the inside info that doesn't necessarily go out to the public. You know insider deals and all those kind of things as well.

KG: Lastly, can I ask for your closing arguments as to why somebody should follow you?

TH: Well I think I give a lot of insights to the people from an owner's perspective. I would be able to give them information from a team's perspective that they can't get from Gerry. At the end, if people follow both of us, I'm happy at the end of the day. I'm more happy if they only follow me and they still get the same information.

GM: Well they'll get the same information 'cause Thomas will just forward my tweets. I'm the one living in the valley everyday and fighting all the battles. Thomas gets to sit up on the perch as the king of the castle. Where I'm actually down in the mope. So I think if followers follow me they'll get the real deal of what's happening on a daily basis. Not the filtered out one that comes from the high end.

KG: So that's your official closing argument then.

GM: That would be my official closing argument.

TH: At least officially. We will have another one as soon as we hang up.

KG: This is the nicer closing argument, in addition to the "go with your conscience."

GM: Just vote with your conscience, go wherever your heart tells you to go.

JA: And make sure you follow Sky Blue.


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