Q&A: The Basketball Tournament’s Social Media Strategy, and the Game-Changing Revelation of Player-Driven Content

The Basket Ball Tournament and Greenfly

The Basketball Tournament (TBT) is an annual single elimination, bracket-style, winner-take-all basketball tournament. Founded in 2014, the tournament airs on ESPN and the champion takes home over $1 million in prize money. When the COVID-19 pandemic altered sports in 2020, TBT was one of the first major sports events to play during the pandemic, bringing 24 teams into a “bubble” in Columbus, Ohio, for the tournament from July 4 to 14, 2020.

TBT’s Content Coordinator Joshua Brown recently chatted with Greenfly about their social media and content strategy. He discussed why players were excited to access and share content on social media, the success of their player-driven content, TBT’s workflows, collaborating with ESPN TBT broadcasters for content, and more.

Interview edited for clarity.

Neil Horowitz, Director of Product Marketing, Greenfly:

Tell me about the goals on social media for TBT during the run of the tournament.

Joshua Brown, Content Coordinator, TBT:
I think there’s two things we’re trying to do. We’re trying to tell the great stories we have with our players and our teams. And a lot of our teams play for really good causes. And they have interesting backstories of how they came together. But given that we are a newer entity, we’re trying to kind of tell the TBT story, too. A lot of our fans have been with TBT since the beginning of the organization, which you can’t say about a lot of different things in the sports world.

So a lot of our fans are as invested as they are with their favorite team or their favorite player. They’re invested in TBT, as well, and our growth as a company. That’s where we’re a little bit different; we’re obviously first and foremost — when TBT is being played — we’re telling those stories of our teams and our players. But we’re also trying to tell our story too, because a lot of our fans are as invested in the growth of TBT as they are with any specific team or player.

That’s great. Let’s talk about audiences of TBT. Who are your current fans and who do you want to reach more?

The core TBT fan is probably a college basketball fan. Just because so much of our model is the college alumni teams, guys getting back together from a college playing together…I think on social we kind of have that [college basketball] audience locked down and we’re constantly talking to them. The audience we’re trying to now reach and grab is more of that casual basketball fan. And we’re kind of getting more and more players that help us tell that story. [For example] we had Joe Johnson play this year at TBT and he’s a seven-time NBA All-Star. He kind of appeals to the casual basketball fan or even the NBA fan.

We’re trying to reach (on social) those NBA fans and casual basketball fans through really aggressively recruiting guys like Joe Johnson and [one-time NBA champion] Nick Young. We had [former NBA player] Mike Bibby play in TBT. So that’s kind of our next audience in the social space that we’re looking to capture.

How much do the players kind of take on that role as brand ambassadors to help TBT grow?

It’s a great question. And the answer is basically the ones who play in TBT do. So you have to be a very specific type of player to play in TBT. Joe Johnson made $200 million in the NBA and he signed up to play in the tournament, [even] this year when we were in quarantine where he’d have to go quarantine away from his family and he wasn’t going to get paid unless they won. You have to be a very specific type of person and basketball player to take on that challenge. Joe Johnson didn’t need TBT, but I think he kind of embraced what TBT was all about. And I think a lot of these really upper echelon players appreciate not only the platform it gives them, but the platform it gives the younger and unknown type of players. We’re able to use TBT’s social media channels to tell the story of the unknown basketball player, the guy who’s playing in Europe, nobody watches, and maybe you remember him from college.

And we’re using Greenfly all year round to help tell those stories. We’re bringing people to Europe where these guys are playing professionally. And these players are using Greenfly to show us what their life is like as a pro basketball player in Europe. And we’re amplifying that on our channels. So I think guys like Joe Johnson appreciate the opportunity we’re giving some of those unknown guys, and that’s kind of what’s attracted them to TBT and to want to play in it. Not really to help themselves, but to help a brand that I think they appreciate what we’re doing in the basketball world.

I love that, and it definitely comes out in the content you guys produced. What’s the content production workflow like for TBT?

I would actually say it was a lot easier this year because of COVID. At TBT, we’re a very small and nimble organization. Usually during TBT, we’re spread out all around the country, we have four regionals playing at a time. That really spreads our content team thin. This year with COVID we were all in one location in Columbus, Ohio. So everyone was together and it allowed us to be a lot more collaborative and a lot more creative because all of our resources were in one place instead of spread out.

This year was definitely a unique year given everything that was going on, but I think it actually led to some of the best content we ever did because we were all in one central location. We were able to do a media day with each team [and] we were able to film individual content videos with each team. And this is all stuff we’ve never really had the bandwidth to do before when we’re all spread out.

And we used Greenfly for basically all of that stuff that we produced. I’ll give a good example. We wanted to produce a video about what teams were doing to stay entertained while in the bubble because there was so much free time. We just sent out a request to each team like ‘Hey, can you film what you guys are doing for fun?’ Whether it be playing bean bag or playing cards or watching film to get ready for games. And they would all just snap a video on Greenfly and send it back to us. And then we compiled all of that into a big video. I think in general, us being all in one location and having Greenfly to be able to execute some of these ideas — it just resulted in some of the best content we’ve ever done.

It really is great to co-create content with players and that player-driven content really helps both their brand and TBT’s brand. How about the content TBT is producing and sharing during games?

We have two people who are pulling highlights from Twitter LiveCut and they’re feeding it to our social feeds to put out on TBT social channels. And then we have guys working in the truck on game highlights and packages and uploading photos from our photographer and they all go into a Box folder. We had Box synced with Greenfly [using Greenfly +Connect], so not only could we push this stuff out on our social channels, but, the game highlight videos would go to all of our teams and players who had Greenfly, too. All of the photos taken would go through Box into Greenfly for our players and our teams.

We had it where basically all of our players and teams — the second they get off the court — they check their phone and they can say, “Here’s ten different photos of me, here’s all my highlights from the game.”

What was the process like to get players onboarded to use Greenfly?

It was super easy. Because of all the COVID restrictions, when players entered the TBT bubble for the first time, they had a pretty long process they had to go through. We set up a station as they were walking through that process. So they had to get tested, they had to get gear and they had to get information. And one of the steps was downloading Greenfly. We just had someone on our team literally just saying, “Hey, if you want pictures, if you want videos of yourself, download Greenfly.” I think all the players were always super excited to get the pictures, get those highlights, get that video.

We’re definitely accustomed to seeing players jump on quickly when they see how simple it is to access all those photos and videos of themselves. What do you think drove that excitement for TBT players to get on Greenfly?

A lot of these guys play in countries where they’re not getting their game pictures and their game video. So I think with the TBT players, a lot of them probably haven’t had pictures and videos delivered to their phones since they were in college. So I think a lot of them are excited to get that high-quality stuff. And to share it on social with their friends and their family, etc.

But I will say I think some of them do recognize the power of social media. Like a lot of these guys every year have to look for a new job overseas. And if you can post a highlight package that makes you stand out — it’s probably negligible — but it could have some impact on who’s looking at you and the different teams recruiting you. I would say that’s a small part of it. It’s probably mostly just guys decided to get fresh content for this social, but, um, there probably are a select few players who are kind of using it to market themselves.

92% of TBT players onboarded onto Greenfly.

What would your advice be to someone in another organization to get athletes active and excited about posting content on social media?

You’re always going to have kind of the tough cookie athlete. There’s always going to be the athletes who don’t care about social media or don’t recognize the power of it. But if you even generally care and understand social media and what it can do for you, what it can do for your brand, you’re going to get all the best content on Greenfly. Because the teams are going to give you professional photography and high-quality, professionally cut video. Greenfly is the way that you get the highest-quality content delivered to your phone. There’s no other way. We’re not texting players each individually their pictures; if you want professional-level photos, you’re going to get them through Greenfly.

(And for us) as an organization, I would say it’s almost more impactful because at TBT we’re like a new startup organization. Guys like Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby, and all the big name guys we’ve had play in TBT, it’s invaluable for them to be posting our content for us in terms of our growth and how it helps us. It’s probably one of the big reasons we’ve been able to grow like we have.

You guys have done a great job over the years with Greenfly in getting content from TBT’s broadcasters, like ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, Dan Dakich, and Fran Frischilla. What’s the process like for collaborating with those guys to video previews, commentary, and analysis from them for TBT’s social channels?

It started off with us just sending the guys you mentioned requests (through Greenfly) leading up to TBT. We’d ask which players are you watching or give us a preview of this region or this game. And we would send them a request and they would send it back. But those guys have actually gotten so into it that now they just send us content on their own. If they have a thought about a game or a team or a player, they’ll just record a video [on Greenfly] for us.

Like if they’re taking a walk in the morning, or it’s a week before TBT and they’re eating dinner and a thought comes to mind about a game or something, they’ll just hop on Greenfly, take their own video and send it to us. I actually think that’s been one of the most valuable ways we’ve used Greenfly.

That’s so awesome! To close, What are some of the biggest lessons from the experience of running TBT content during this year with its unique circumstances? What do you take away from this year and what do you look ahead to for next year?

I think the biggest thing that we got out of this year was having players create their own content. We were stuck in that bubble, [but] even though we were in the same hotel as them 24 hours a day, there were restrictions on how much we could be in the same room as them. So I think we really recognized the power of player-driven content and just sending them a request (through Greenfly) and asking them for something. And then putting out that video or editing it into something larger.

We can create content all day and all night during TBT, but if we can have players create their own content as well — and they’re going to feel more comfortable filming each other and being themselves around each other — then just have them send it in on Greenfly. And then we can do whatever we want with it. I think that’s something we’ll take moving forward. I think in previous years, we’ve kind of been just focused on, you know, us throwing a phone or a camera in their face and trying to do something. But giving them the power to make their own content — it’s something that I think really started because of the conditions this year, but something that no matter what 2021 looks like, we’re going to continue to build out.

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