Jays From the Couch sits down with new Toronto Blue Jays VP of Communications, Sebastian Gatica to discuss the team’s use of social media and more
The Blue Jays media team has gone through an overhaul. The Blue Jays let go from a few different departments including the media relations department. All 23 were not from the same group in October, and have amalgamated their media and fan engagement departments. When the dust settled, it was Sebastian Gatica, formerly the VP of Fan Engagement, who was left to lead the charge as the Blue Jays VP of Communications. After writing previously about the missed opportunities of Blue Jays social media, JFtC had the opportunity to pick Sebastian Gatica’s brain about social media and where Blue Jays social media is headed.
JFtC: You’ve managed to come up through the ashes so to speak relatively new to the BlueJays…where did you come from?
SG: I feel its more of a reunion. I worked here previously from 2001-’05 in a very different capacity. I started as the mascot handler when ACE was introduced, and worked my way up into Game Entertainment, supporting all the on-field presentations and in-game promotions. When I left, I went to study PR at Humber, and worked in various agencies over the years. Previous to this role, I was at Sportsnet within the Communications team and helping oversee on-air talent and media relations for our Blue Jays broadcasts, NHL, tennis and more. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to return to the Blue Jays in 2016, and marry my passion with my career.
JFtC: In the big picture, what are the goals? What are you looking to accomplish?
SG: The short answer? Win World Series Championships and celebrate with our fans across Canada! That’s the ultimate goal. To get there, however, we’re striving every day to improve our interactions with our fans and enhance their experience…and that begins with listening, like in any good relationship. If we’re not open to listening, then we’re not open to learning – learning about why they love this team, what motivates them to come to a game, what are their habits & rituals when at the ballpark, what do they want to see more of, less of – so that at the end of the day, we can deliver unique, memorable and personalized experiences to our fans in the ballpark, the city and across Canada.
JFtC: With the surge of social media as a platform to reach potentially millions of fans, how important has this become as a tool for teams?
SG: It has revolutionized the sports industry to essentially become table stakes at this point. For a long time, organizations relied solely on indirect forms of communications to reach its fans (i.e. media, advertising, etc). Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sports organization that doesn’t have some level of social presence. It has allowed teams to not only speak directly to their fanbase, but create deep and meaningful connections, while also growing their audiences by delivering relevant content to targeted groups in real-time. However, while its incredibly impactful to be able to communicate directly with fans, I would argue that the bigger impact social media has had is in enabling fans to join the conversation, and have a voice of their own.
JFtC: How do you balance social media and the virtual experience with the real fan experience? Is there a fear it will be lost to a screen?
SB: I actually see all these mediums as complementary versus competing. Fans want to have a deeper connection to their team, but not everyone can attend 81 home games a year for many reasons. That’s where other platforms can help, and allow fans to be fans in the best way possible for them. For some, that can come in the form of a 15-sec highlight clip on Twitter, or a 30 min behind the scenes feature on TV. Regardless, it gets back to storytelling which helps deepen that connection to the team. However, there is no substitute for the feeling of Rogers Centre shaking after a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 7th inning of an ALDS Game 5. Or watching a game with your friends on a Saturday afternoon in June with the roof open and a couple of beverages. Or bringing your daughter to her first game and catching a ball thrown to you by a player. If anything, I think social media has only further reinforced the desire to experience a game up close and personal.
JFtC: Given your position, how do you feel about players on social media? Are they schooled on how to deal with the inevitable trolls? Is there a firm social media code of conduct in place or does personal social media get leeway?
SG: I encourage it. This is certainly an area where social media has revolutionized the sports landscape. Growing up, I could only dream of having a direct conversation with my favourite player. I think its incredibly powerful for players and fans to be able to have those interactions, but it can’t be forced. The players who are active all use it in different ways and for varying reasons. Beyond having some general guidelines in place, we make sure we’re always available to our players as a resource for guidance or support, should they seek it.
JFtC: People have come to expect social media to be on a 24 hour clock… is this realistic or even warranted?
SG: I think depending on your business and objectives, its certainly realistic. For us, this goes back to knowing our audiences and understanding what their preferences are, how they consume news/content and when. Right now, we do not staff around the clock. However, we are constantly evaluating our business, and if we discover the need to is there, we’ll adjust accordingly.
JFtC: How difficult is it to plan promos when the fans are across a country with different time zones to take into consideration? Is this even taken into consideration?
SG: There is definitely a balance in recognizing we have fans in Toronto who attend games more often, versus fans in Halifax and Vancouver who follow the team almost exclusively through social media and TV…but that’s a great problem to have! That’s where having a strong social strategy is helpful. While not there yet, we’re working on some plans to better engage with those fans and target some experiences more exclusively to them. Ultimately, we need to enable our fans across the country to have as many opportunities to interact with the team as possible, in a way that is meaningful for them.
JFtC: Are there team accounts you follow that you consider to be successful?
SG: There are quite a few MLB teams who I think do a great job of engaging fans with relevant content on multiple platforms. There are also teams within NCAA Football that produce some incredible, high-quality content…same with the NBA. There are a few factors that go into being able to deliver that type of content, however, including 1) Buy-in at an organizational level 2) Access to players, personnel, etc 3) Resources. We’re still in the process of building out our social practice here, but the great thing is, we have an organization that understands the impact social media can have and why we need to invest in it.
JFtC: What is one thing you’ve seen this season that went onto the “what not to do” list?
SG: That we did? Oh boy. There may have been a few, to be honest, but I’m okay with that. We cannot be afraid of failure. That’s part of the learning and getting better every day, and certainly goes back to knowing what your fans want, when they want it.
JFtC: Do you have a countdown to home opener on your phone like I do?
SG: That’s a great idea! However, I’d be concerned it would just add more stress than excitement, knowing all that needs to get done by then!
If Blue Jays Twitter is any indication, things could be on the up and up. The Twitter page has been more engaging as of late, even throwing in some retweet giveaways while answering fans. The gifs just provide that added touch. Sebastian Gatica has some work to do, but seems focused on accomplishing his goals. Blue Jays fans will be watching. Here’s to enjoying 2018 baseball.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.