I was alerted about Dane Carbaugh’s tweet last week from two separate sources, both of whom work as social media people for sports teams. One of them said I should write my next blog post about the topic, and I liked that idea. As you can imagine, I have thoughts about this topic. So here we are, no holds barred.
In case you’re wondering about the tweet, it came from Dane Carbaugh who writes for NBC Sports’ Basketball Talk. Here it is:
every NBA team’s social media manager should be making a minimum of $75,000 don’t @ me
— Dane Carbaugh (@danecarbaugh) April 4, 2018
Dane is 100 percent right.
Those who work in social for sports teams are always on the clock. The only way to achieve success, make the brand stand out and hit KPI numbers is to never unplug. Wake up, check your phone. Brush your teeth, check your phone. Red light, check your phone. Lunch? Forget about it, you’re eating at your desk while hammering out content plans, responding to emails, scheduling posts and…yes, checking your phone. In a meeting? Better bring your laptop with you, because there’s a good chance you’ll have to tune out half of what you need to pay attention to because you’re too busy monitoring mentions or approving a graphic that just got sent to you for the game tonight. Workout? Sure, on some days, but you better be ready to hop off the treadmill and tweet that roster update when it comes through. Phew, it’s 5:00. Time to go…to the arena. Yea, your day is only half over.
That’s the life for most social people. A lot of them travel to away games as well, which sounds awesome (and it is), but it’s also exhausting. If not, they’re still working the road games remotely which means there are no fewer than 82 days a year (if you work in the NBA, twice as many if you’re in the MLB) where they’re working a 16-hour day. Chances are, their department head has scheduled an 8:30 a.m. meeting the next morning too, which means they have to do all that between six hours of sleep because the business keeps moving, and no one on the business side except them cares about those 41 road games. It’s like they don’t even exist.
The point is, the folks who run social for sports teams likely work more hours than anyone on the business side of the organization. It was certainly that way at the Hawks, and we were in charge of Philips Arena social as well. Add all those events to the list. Some are in charge of minor league affiliates or other pro teams who share the building depending on the parent company.
I worked an average of 73 hours per week (yes, I counted) during my final full season with the Hawks. I had been with the organization for 1,294 days prior to hiring my first full-time staff member in June of 2016, and I had done something work-related on 1,293 of them. Yes, I took PTO and had weekends “off”, but I was always working anyway, scheduling content, making graphics, responding to emails, etc. Social media never stops, and we couldn’t afford to either.
Outside of the hours, there’s a real impact on the business. Social managers are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in ticket, merchandise, concession and parking revenue and millions more in sponsorship revenue. And that’s just what’s measurable. There is millions more in brand affinity and earned media being generated that one cannot put into dollars and cents. Bottom line, social is the most powerful marketing tool any organization has, and most social managers in sports today are doing it really well.
So how do social managers go about making more money? After all, executives are always going to opt to bring in someone with less experience who is willing to do the job for less because they can. Recent college graduates will take the job for very little, and executives can’t get past the short-term loss of promoting from within for a little more in order to achieve a long-term gain. That’s not specific to sports organizations by the way, but sports organizations can do it because it’s a premium industry filled with premium brands and desirable, “sexy” jobs.
No one who is currently or has previously worked on the social media team of a sports organization, understands what goes into the job. We are currently in the middle of a generational gap in this space. Senior executives at sports organizations have never sent a tweet or posted a photo on Instagram on behalf of a sports team, they’ve never worked the hours, they’ve never had to manage responses and they’ve never had to do all that on top of all the stuff that is expected of their daily 9-5 work. So can we really fault them for brushing off this notion that social folks are underpaid and should be paid more?
I asked for a raise shortly before I left the Hawks. Not a promotion. Just a raise. I had never asked for either one during my previous five years there, instead opting to let my work do the asking for me. That’s generally my philosophy. But it was out of control. The year that I averaged 73 hours per week, the organization shifted our web manager to a different role in August of 2016 and didn’t fill the position until May of 2017. I don’t need to tell you who got stuck with all that web work in the meantime. I did the math and divided my salary by the number of hours I worked that season. I got less than minimum wage per hour.
The raise I asked for was below the number Carbaugh suggested all social managers get paid. I had driven the business with proven and documented ROI, I had built the brand with engaging and buzzworthy content and I had done it all while working 73 hours per week doing two jobs.
I was laughed at. When I presented my schedule that I had logged, a senior executive literally told me “it doesn’t break my heart.”
Again, this is not a Hawks issue. It’s happening across the industry, and it was a reality check for me. This is not intended to bash the Hawks’ organization in any way. When I was denied my raise, I wasn’t upset at specific people or the organization as a whole. Instead, I opened my eyes to the disconnect between those who work in the social space and those in positions of power within sports organizations. Senior executives say things like “it doesn’t break my heart” because they’ve never lived it. They’ve never worked those hours and gone through the grind doing what social managers do. They, like some fans, think it’s just a few tweets during the day and working games. And because they don’t understand the space or the impact that it has on business, it’s up to social managers to educate them. And education can be difficult, because the impact of social on the brand goes well beyond dollars and cents. But that challenge needs to be met by the social managers. They are the only ones who are going to fight for themselves and have their own best interests in mind.
This is an important topic that I’m very passionate about. Organizations will continue to take advantage of these types of people until they fight back or leave. I learned all of this the hard way. I have no idea if I’d still be working for the Hawks if I had gotten that raise. It’s certainly possible. But until leaders in sports organizations realize what they’re putting their social people through by not staffing properly, not paying adequately and not growing careers appropriately, it’s going to continue to be a revolving door.
Yes, sports is a premium industry, and sports teams are premium brands that can bring people in at lower rates than other industries. Yes, social managers for sports teams should expect to put in extra hours, which include weekends and holidays. And no, nobody is taking a social media job in sports for the money. It’s all part of the what they sign up for. But at a certain point, humanity should take over. Social managers and others who understand the role need to be leaders in explaining the role to those who don’t get it. Senior executives don’t get it. And until we bring it to their attention, can we blame them?
I hope this post helps to continue the conversation and provide some education into what social managers for sports teams actually do. Hopefully the conversation continues. The ones working 75-hour weeks to impact the business in seven and eight figure ways deserve it.