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Philadelphia Union Shaping Franchise Support Through Social Media

Richard EllesContributor IISeptember 13, 2011

The Philadelphia Union are anchored by a solid foundation of fans.
The Philadelphia Union are anchored by a solid foundation of fans.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

There was a time in professional sports in which the closest fans got to interacting with their favorite teams and players was buying a ticket that allowed them to see without binoculars.  Add in a few newspaper stories, along with a nightly news segment that took a cursory look at the day's action and you've got what it meant to truly follow a team.

Joining those days in the distant past are what sports fans have come to know as the norm: SportsCenter on a loop, unofficial box scores, and 'Meet the Players' events.  In an age where instant gratification still isn't enough for most, social media has taken what it means to be a fan to another level.

And who better to take advantage of cutting-edge technology than a budding franchise needing momentum to build a fan base.

The Philadelphia Union, a second-year side in Major League Soccer, has expertly utilized free social media to revolutionize the way supporters stay informed and interact with players.  Not only have they built an enormous following in just two years, but the team has connected with a city that is normally engrossed in their 'Big Four' sports teams.

By all accounts, the MLS is a growing league, but still needs to build its own brand in order to compete with the NBA and NHL for national attention.  By following the gold standard set by the Union, Major League Soccer could go a long way toward pushing its way into the spotlight.

Fans of all ages have connected with the MLS in Philadelphia.
Fans of all ages have connected with the MLS in Philadelphia.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The social media efforts in Philadelphia begin with an approach nearly every professional sports organization puts to use—the sharing of news, stats, and announcements through sites like Facebook and Twitter.  What sets the Union apart, however, is the depth in which they engage the internet community.

The team starts by syncing the news feed from their website with Twitter and Facebook, allowing for maximum exposure for each story.  Typical activity also includes re-posting statistics and announcements made by those close to the team.  It is at that point that the franchise departs from the usual and blazes a path in building a stronger fan base.

With games often not televised outside of the local market, the Union gives nearly one update per minute of each game on Twitter, opening their matches to anyone with an Internet connection. Facebook updates are provided for major match events to inform any user who has liked their page what is happening in the match.

As if bringing detailed game commentary to smartphones and computers wasn't enough, Philadelphia rewards fans watching the game by linking contests from the broadcasts to social media outlets with trivia questions on air that can be answered for prizes online.

From there, the Union leaves it to their players, and even manager, to connect with the fans on Twitter with an unmatched consistency.  Playing for a city with such a need to be favored by the crowd, many of the players are active in engaging fans in discussions online.  Stars like Sebastian Le Toux, Freddy Adu, Faryd Mondragon, and Carlos Valdes are all constantly hosting contests of their own or asking about the best places to go in the city.

Fan interaction with players on Twitter gives the public unprecedented access to the team.
Fan interaction with players on Twitter gives the public unprecedented access to the team.Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Fans know the team takes pride in its efforts through social media and are more than willing to meet the team halfway.  The Union currently has a following contingent of nearly 20,000 on Twitter and over 80,000 connections on Facebook.

In an age driven by technology, it's a reasonable expectation for professional teams to make use of social media websites.  But mastering it's implementation is a much taller order, and a skill the Philadelphia Union applied in their mission to fill the bleachers at PPL Park with diehard fans.

With several sellout streaks in just their second season, @PhilaUnion are only getting stronger. Postseason bound and armed with an unparalleled marketing strategy, the organization has designed a blueprint for introducing a franchise into even the most crowded market.

Technological trends and capabilities are sure to change in the coming years. When they do, you can be sure to see the Union ahead of the curve, riding the wave to an even larger brand.

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