The Web site simplification trend may finally be seeping into professional sports if the New York Knicks' new Web site is a harbinger of things to come.
That would be a welcome change, as most team Web sites tend to look like the Vegas Strip at dusk: they are loaded with flashing logos, messages, brands, offers, calendars, seating charts, scores, news, schedules, videos -- and yes, the occasional risqué shot of team dancers. It doesn't matter what sport you care to name -- whether it's NASCAR or curling, there is usually just too much of everything.
The team has benched the NBA's Knicks site (www.nba.com/knicks) and started from scratch with a new, sleek social media-centered site, KnicksNow.com. The effort is part of the larger "You. Us. We. Now." effort launched this year.
The new site ditches short-stay functionality like ticket sales and seating (that will remain on the old site) and focuses on content and conversation. Indeed, KnicksNow.com is intended less as a traditional team site than a social media hub. It has content like videos of players and photo galleries, but its central feature is real-time Twitter and Facebook feeds from players, staff and fans.
Howard Jacobs, EVP, marketing and sales for MSG Sports, which markets the team, tells Marketing Daily that the strategy behind KnicksNow.com came from a key question: what is the future of fan engagement?
"We realized that the conversations were taking place in all these other forums and online environments," he says. "The fans said to us that they don't have a place to go to get the very latest, the most-insider content that one could have. While there's a lot of activity on Facebook and Twitter, we needed a way to make it all come together. Part of it was to make a site that made it easy and efficient for fans to find content. The second thing was to add additional functionality."
Jacobs says the old site wasn't built for long engagement. "The [NBA/ Knicks] site is heavy on utility: how do I find the schedule, how do I find tickets? Interactivity is relatively brief. Here it's all about dialogue: fan to fan, player to fan. When we looked around at how fans are engaging with people, bands, brands, or teams, it is with social media."
The new site leads with a "Knicks Headlines" feature with current news, but below that are sections like a "Bockers in 140" section with Twitter feeds from players and staff; a "Player Profiles" section with dedicated microsites for each player that has video, photos, and Twitter/Facebook feeds; and "Click & Roll" navigation scrolls with content organized chronologically.
Jacobs says a lot of the content is intended to offer an inside look. There are video features of what goes on at the Knicks' training facility and during pre and post-game briefings. "These are things [fans] have never had access to before."
Visitors can sign on Facebook from the site and get "Knicks Points" for promulgating content to the social sphere, and posting videos or photos. The points are redeemable for tickets, accessories, and per Jacobs, seats on the Knicks bench, autographed jerseys, an opportunity to be part of a pre-game shoot-around, or possibly dinner with team stars.
Jacobs says the team will promote the new site through MSG's network, via Knicks.com, on the big screen at the Garden. "Even as we introduce players before the game we are putting Twitter feeds on the board," he says.
The Knicks are adding both location-based features and mobile versions of the site in coming weeks, as well as interactive tools that allow fans to create polls and debates on the site.
The team says it has seen triple-digit percentage growth on Facebook, reaching more than 250,000 likes and a double-digit percentage increase on Twitter with nearly 45,000 followers. In addition, traffic on NYKnicks.com is up more than 40% year-over-year.