Social Media, the Avalanche, and What They Need More Of

My buddy and co-host of the Avs Hockey Podcast, Jay Vean, put up a post the other day asking the Colorado Avalanche to be more active online with it’s fans.  He points out that the Avalanche have over 20,000 followers on their twitter feed, and over 250,000 following or liking their official Facebook page.  Can you imagine having those kinds of numbers yourself?  But what do the Avalanche do with it?


They have picked up steam on twitter over the last day or so, following one more account (bringing the grand total to 23), and tweeting 3 times in the last day.  And trust me, for them, that’s picking up steam.  Jay rightly points out that if he unfollowed, unliked, and uninterestated them (that is not a word), he wouldn’t miss much.  There just isn’t anything happening that is critical, or interesting.   And really, you should go read his post, especially for the comparisons with other Denver sports teams and the social media use by the Avalanche’s Conference rivals.  It’s good stuff.

So the Avalanche have the tools, and they have a following ready to devour up what they push out.  They have had it for a while.  This is easy pickings for them.  Can you imagine having a radio station with thousands of listeners tuned in, ready for you to broadcast whatever you have to say, and all that comes out is dead air?  Because that’s pretty much what’s happening here.  The tools are there, the fans are there, and all the Avalanche have to do is start using them to connect with the fans, and maybe even bring them back into the Pepsi Center.  Maybe sell some tickets.  Maybe help the relationship that have become strained with the fans over the years rekindle.

The next question is, what should they do with these tools?  There are two words in social media, but the first one carries all the importance.  The tools are the media, the second part.  Those are everywhere, and they’re easy part of the equation.  What you do with them is the first part, the social part.  And the Avalanche, they aren’t very social.  News is slow to get out, fan interactions are limited, information is slow, and anything personal is going to happen through their television network, Altitude.  The Avs don’t like to rock the boat, or change things up.  They want to give you a coupon for discount Lasik surgery, or a flimsy pop-pop in the playoffs, that you are going to throw away or kick to the corner.

Companies tend to think they are going to get a twitter account and immediately that makes them like  Instead, Zappos sat down and talked about what they wanted to do, and more importantly, what they stood for, and who they were.  They developed a policy for how they wanted to interact with their customers, both good and bad.  And they rolled out those ideals and policies through their social media interactions.

What you don’t see from the Avalanche is interaction with the fans.  You don’t see any sort of forthcomingness, or anything that targets the fans heads and hearts, rather than making a B-line for their wallets.  You will hear of a ticket family four-pack before you will hear word one from the coach.  You will hear about how Altitude Sports and Entertainment is your home for the fan, and then wonder why fans would want to make a home there.

I think the reason we don’t see this is that the Avalanche do not seem to have any sort of policy towards the fans.  They don’t seem to stand for anything these days.  And as Seth Godin will tell you (and he’s right), all marketing is stories.  And if you don’t stand for anything, you don’t have a story.  Winning is not standing for something, excellence is not standing for something.  Wanting to win a Stanley Cup isn’t a story, but the Chicago Blackhawks ‘One Goal’ was a story.  Tim Thomas is a story.

And I’ll give you another one.

Mission 16W

You remember that, right?  It was going to take 16 wins to get Ray Bourque his Stanley Cup.  When Bourque told the team in the dressing room that this was probably his last shot at a Cup.  How the team rallied around him.  Bourque was practically shoved on the ice to be out there when the final horn sounded.  And when Joe Sakic handed the Cup to Ray Bourque without lifting it himself…  I still get goosebumps thinking about it, and I still tear up a little when I see it on TV.  I mean, I get dust in my eye, or something like that.

That’s a story.  And it’s one that the team rode for a long time.  And the fans rode it for a long time.  It’s a story that still works, and still has some weight to it.  And it wasn’t just about the Cup, and it wasn’t about tradition, or excellence, or perseverance.  Those are attributes, but they aren’t stories.  Joe Sakic created a story by handing Bourque the Cup.  The team created tradition, but it was built from the experience.

It’s an experience the fans are hungry for again.  And again, that experience isn’t winning.  Winning helps, but it isn’t everything.  If the fans in Atlanta had been treated better by Atlanta Spirit, there would have been more of them at the rink, and the Thrashers might still be there.  Look at how the fans were treated at the end.  That wasn’t about winning, excellence, or any sort of motivational poster.  It was about how the owners chose to treat the fans.  They treated them as a situation, rather than their greatest asset.

I want the Avalanche to start using the tools they have.  Twitter and facebook are ways to interact with people, but it’s the way you use it that makes the difference.  The Avalanche need to decide how they want to use it.


As I was typing this, the perfect post came from Merlin Mann on his tumblog.  And it reminds me of what the Avs tend to do:

Ansel Adams Copyright

They protect their brand so much, that they aren’t leaving much behind to appreciate.   Is this the message?  Is this the story?  What is the value of a brand no one is allowed to appreciate?

UPDATE: And right after I published this, an interesting post from the Public Radio Program Directors Assn. blog came thought my feedreader, about social media.

Edison Research and Arbitron have released a new study of American social media use including Facebook, Twitter, mobile social behavior and location-based apps and services.

Edison’s website says, “Highlights of the study included the following:

  • Social media now reaches the majority of Americans 12 years old and older, with 52% having a profile on one or more social networks.
  • This figure is driven largely by Facebook, which is now used by over half (51%) of Americans 12+.
  • Twitter is as familiar to Americans as Facebook (with 92% and 93% familiarity, respectively); however, Twitter usage stands at 8% of Americans 12+.
  • Approximately 46 million Americans 12+ now check their social media sites and services several times every day.

How much more proof do teams need that they have an open and direct connection to fans, and potential fans, than this?  That’s a lot of people, and you can reach them.  Why not start now?


Day 3 of the SCF Dead Blog Challenge in the bag!  I can feel the momentum.  Can you?

Today, Seth Godin tells us where ideas come from.  And damn is he isn’t right.


  1. One thing (the only thing?) that the Thrashers actually did well was social media, particularly Twitter. The Avs could learn from them. Ben Wright (@benthrashers) has always been fantastic, a very proactive presence. The “Thrash” mascot account was fun — and a couple of the players who were on it, particularly Anthony Stewart, Blake Wheeler, and Evander Kane, interacted with fans a lot.

    I’ve never really understood the Avalanche’s public reticence. You’re closer to the community there — is it thought that it all stems from Lacroix (which I seem to recall hearing at some point) or just confused marketing?

  2. It’s too bad the Avalanche don’t follow their young players and team up with them for twitter interaction. That would go a long way. Win tickets from the Avalanche twitter feed and have Matt Duchene @ reply the winner would be easy and fun. Very interesting post.

  3. Alix – It’s weird, but they have always wanted to be an organization that controlled the message as much as possible. Maybe they will let up, or they just don’t pay any attention to it. Hard to tell.

    Greg – I think it has somewhat been a “trust Papa Lacroix” attitude, and it’s shown itself in his interactions with Dater and others as well. But overall, I think it’s been easy for them to sit back over the years when success was easier on the ice. Those times are long gone, though. Time for them to update.

  4. James…Well-written and thanks for the links. Happy to see that the Avs are listening. That’s a huge step in itself.

    I didn’t elaborate really in what I’d like to see more of on Twitter and Facebook, but images and video from behind the scenes sure would be cool. Nothing that obviously shows the fans anything they shouldn’t need to see, but the best image I’ve seen of Joe Sakic’s locker in the locker room was grainy, blurry, and from Dater’s cell phone. I know many fans would like to see things that they otherwise wouldn’t. Heck, get creative. I’d love to see what they share with us. I’ll take just about anything at this point.

    Greg…Lacroix has been very proud to tell nothing to anyone over the years. It seems like that’s bled over into PR with the fans. Every time I’ve seen him in public he’s been very, very nice to me, but that’s neither here or there right now. Lacroix is total class and I believe in what he does, but it’s time to change some things up. We’ll see if the Avs keep this momentum up regarding social media.

    Alix…Love the idea. I hope the Avs hear about it and use it. Simple and easy to accomplish, and makes an Avalanche’s fan’s day. That’s good on many levels.

  5. By the way, the Avalanche followed 47 more people today so far, including their players that are on Twitter. Someone’s listening and has taken some action. That’s all we can ask for.

  6. HockeyPhool says:

    James – great blog post! It’s sad that some of the best examples of fan outreach via social media come from people like account managers (@KristenSonsma) and in-game entertainment coordinators (@Lauren_DGardner). I certainly hope the Avalanche and KSE start listening more closely to us as fans, and giving us what we’ve been hungering for the past several seasons.

    You’re spot on about Mission 16W, too: it encompasses everything about that season. It seemed organic to me at the time. Who knows what it would have looked like if the “All about the A” folks had driven it?

  7. Phool – I can’t imagine what Mission 16W would have looked like if it had been a marketing effort. Probably a lot different. You can’t fake that kind of thing, and the fans can spot a fake a mile away. I think they will come around soon. And as long as we don’t try to blast them with BS, they may stick around.

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