It's no secret that athletes love social media, and especially Twitter. By leveraging social media tools and applications, professional, amateur and collegiate teams can build stronger fan loyalty.
With the price of sports tickets increasing even in a bad economy, coupled with boorish behavior by some star athletes, teams need to reconnect with fans.
While these ideas would probably work for any team, they would be especially helpful to teams that get more play on ESPN 8 (The "Ocho")  than Monday Night Football or Baseball Night in America.
- Show tweets on the score board. It would be great to see #redsox tweets show up somewhere on the Green Monster during the games. (Insert your home team.) Of course, there'd need to be some moderation going on, to prevent a bunch of expletive-filled diatribes or hashtag hackers from ruining the national pastime for families, but you'd almost ensure a trending topic as fans try and get their tweets to show up. For very popular teams, the moderator might just show the best tweets, rather than every possible tweet.
- Leverage Flickr and Creative Commons to help local sports bloggers. Official sports photos can be expensive to use...much too expensive for an amateur sports blogger. By creating a set of practice, game and profile photos, uploading them to an official Flickr  (or other photo sharing app) account and providing the appropriate Creative Commons  licensing, teams can help out local bloggers. This will generate good will with bloggers and help them create more professional, polished blogs. It will probably also encourage more sports bloggers, who will invariably link to the team's official site and blog, generated more search engine and online visibility.
- Get athletes to tweet more, not less. Recently the NBA drew up some rules limiting when ballers could tweet ...something that makes a lot of sense. However, just like athlete contracts encourage/require a certain amount of community outreach, social media should be part of that. Tweeting about the game, or a United Way charity event, or some court-enforced community service could go a long way towards improving the way fans see certain stars.
- Run "Biggest Fan" contests on YouTube. Have weekly giveaways of prime seats for fans that create videos and post them to YouTube to show their fanaticism.
- Find, follow and engage local tweeps. I live in Portland, Maine. Not exactly one of the biggest TV or sports markets around. (In fact, the NFL doesn't even believe we're part of New England, since they black out Patriot games up here when the Pats are on the NFL channel.) We recently got our own basketball franchise, The Maine Red Claws , who are now on Twitter . They would do well to engage as many local tweeps as possible, offer tickets through a Twitter-fed contest, and send representatives (including perhaps athletes) to local Tweetups . They could use a tool like NearbyTweets  to find local people who are talking about basketball or the Celtics.
- Build robust, team-specific communities. This would be a place where fans, athletes, coaches and even the front office could connect. And to improve the discourse, ban anonymity. It's much tougher to flame someone as "Rich Brooks" [your name here] as opposed to "SuprFan923".
Of course, there are a lot more things sports teams can do to engage fans using social media. Facebook Fan Pages, sports-centric LinkedIn Groups (great for finding companies who can afford season tickets) and podcasts are just a few.
Likewise, teams need to be careful of sharing too much ; policies need to be drawn up about how, when and where to share. Videos that show defensive alignments or trick plays won't help the team, and will certainly encourage fan backlash when the opposing team seems to know too much about the home team's strategy.
However, once a proper balance is achieved, teams of all sizes and at all levels will be able to leverage the social web to build their fan base and deepen those relationships.
If you have any other ideas, or examples of teams who "get" social media, please share them below.
You can follow Rich Brooks on Twitter , even though he's not a professional athlete, nor did he play one on TV.
Photo Credit: Me