Yes, NBA Social Managers Should Be Making More Money

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:

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.

19 thoughts on “Yes, NBA Social Managers Should Be Making More Money

  1. I was overly sympathetic to your plight Jaryd until I saw “we are far from being able to prove social ROI.” That’s absolute bullcrap. Not only can you prove said ROI, but the free data tools offered on many of these platforms are already far superior to what clubs are paying Neilson, RepuComm, etc. tens of thousands of dollars for.

    Do Social Media Managers need to make $75K? Absolutely not.

    But you know who does? The person who understands that a club’s social (and digital) assets are no different than a TV network and need to be monetized as such. Then works with their sponsorship and marketing teams to build, brand and sell said network. That person should be making executive dollars. Teams are dumb and lazy, unable to see that this potential exists, but that’s why sports business is archaic compared to the outside world.

    Having sat in your chair with a National Hockey League club from 2010-2012, I made it a point to befriend my corporate sponsorships team on Day 1. On Day 2, I showed them the impression numbers from social and compared it to TV and Radio, including what said entities were getting from advertisers for 30 and 60 second spots. My numbers were 10X higher. They were getting nothing for it at the time. Then I made it clear that we should be selling impressions-based integrated partnerships at a CPM that represented the newness of said platforms at the time.

    The light bulb went off … We went from $0 to $500K in sponsorship revenue alone in 18 months …. and this was significantly undervaluing our assets. We had a $50,000 partner who received 36MM impressions by activating with us for an insanely low CPM of $1.38. As this market (social advertising) has matured, teams should have matured with it. They didn’t. And yes, we sold tickets and other goods on social as well….

    MLB was an entirely different animal because of MLB Advanced Media’s vast overreach and revenue sharing. But those Social Media Managers who don’t (or didn’t) realize that they were the original influencers failed at their job.

    Failed may be a rough term here. Let’s just call them easily replaceable content producers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with all your points Jake. What I was specifically referencing in my post (and apologies for not making it clear) is the value social media brings beyond what’s measurable. Yes we can track impressions and engagements and line them up against a CPM and CPE model, but even then sponsors will only pay a fraction of that cost. What I was specifically referencing is the relationship-building and earned media. There’s not a way to truly measure what impact having your tweet be embedded in an ESPN article or shown on an influencer’s Instagram post has because we as the brand don’t have access to the data. And there’s no way to fully track the customer all the way through the funnel. Did the 16-year-old kid who had never interacted with the Hawks prior to reposting our Instagram post buy tickets at age 26 because of the funnel we started him down 10 years earlier? That’s the true ROI of brand-building, and I think there’s value to that beyond the numbers we can prove today.

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  2. One thing I don’t understand about many NBA TEAM social media managers (not talking about the NBA/league ones, just many of the INDIVIDUAL TEAM ones): Why are you almost all COMPLETELY UNFRIENDLY to the newspapers, media and websites that cover the team?

    You are friendly to other team social media managers. You are consistently UNFRIENDLY to newspapers, magazines, to major websites, to fan blogs. And it’s like you almost all seem to do it on purpose.

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    1. Hey there. I’m not sure who who’ve seen do this, but I assure you I was not one of them. I always reposted articles and social posts from our local newspaper, our local SB Nation site and the team’s subreddit. I haven’t seen any of my colleagues act the way you suggest so I’d love to know who you’re referring to.

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    2. This one is where old and new collide … and old protects old.

      The Celtics have a combined social media audience of approximately 10M. The Boston Globe? Approximately 2M. What value does it bring to your organization if Adam Himmelsbach breaks a story vs. the team account?

      Most PR folk in the sports world don’t understand that by sheer numbers, the team’s internal media is five times as powerful. They look at the brand name and not the raw data behind it. This pisses off an internal media team who see such an audience, it’s potential to monetize and rightfully believe they deserve exclusivity and preferential treatment.

      If it were up to me, I’d have the Olympic model in place. You have a preferred rights-holder. Give your own people preferred treatment knowing you profit off of exclusivity. Then everyone else gets the scraps. But teams are dumb and don’t realize they have their own 24/7/365 network in place without having to play the cable game (e.g. Yankees and YES, Red Sox and NESN).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jaryd, you make some excellent points on hours worked and always on nature of working in NBA and sports in general. Unfortunately there are a few factors at play that keep salaries lower in sports digital than in other industries.

    The primary one is the over supply of candidates into the sports business especially in digital. Not discounting the skills in execution for those in the roles currently or like yourself previously but the option for a cheaper or same price candidate will always be available for sports teams. The “sports discount” in salaries isn’t restricted to digital roles but many in roles across sports as there is an expectation from the industry to tap into either the passion for the team or sport and to be drawn in by the “glamour” of sports business. I’ve helped several digital execs transition out of sports and many see a big bump in pay when they do. As a side note it is a lot tougher getting engagement for a traditional brand without a passionate fan base and constant engaging content on tap so that’s why businesses have to pay for the best.

    The secondary point is just as tough as sports as an industry finds it tough to equate $$$ to efforts in social & digital. We often find big KPI display boards in sports offices that track Ticket Sales, Sponsorship, Suite Sales that all are tied to revenue whereas social media & digital track stats that don’t strictly relate to revenue. The perception a C-level will change once they see the revenue flowing from digital whether that be in sponsored content, campaigns or branded content developed for partners. Once they see revenue growth happen in digital it won’t be seen as a cost centre but a revenue stream. That is changing but it is happening slowly across the industry.

    It’s a fine balance that will be walked to develop right voice and tone for team to engage fans as well as drive commercial outcomes for team & partners. The digital teams and staff that can be successful at that will be rewarded.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sean. Totally agree on both points. Two things I’ll say in response:

      1) There is value in retention, even if it comes at a bit higher cost. Growing and developing people, as well as retaining good talent, can easily be solved by showing them you appreciate them. Sadly, your point about the revolving door seems more the norm.

      2) We are far from being able to prove social ROI in the way we’d like. However, there ARE tools available to show much of what you hinted at. The key is getting executives to understand the data and believe it to be true, because it’s not always as black & white as a ticket sale or sponsorship deal.

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      1. The tools already exist. Geez, if sponsorship teams aren’t using them to prospect, their sponsorship heads should be fired.

        I was assisting with a fairly major annual sporting event recently with a combined social audience of 1MM. In .5 seconds, Twitter’s analytics platform was able to show me age, income and interest demographics, not to mention the follower-base’s preferred wireless carrier was not the official sponsor. If you aren’t using that information to refine a potentially problematic partnership, what are you doing with your job?

        My other big suggestion was to target a high-end grocer (e.g. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. ONLY 73 hours a week?? That’s light for many in-season in the sports biz. 😉

    Great work here. It’s not just a generational gap, it’s a misunderstanding of the true value of social media. Some think you take a picture, write a snarky response to some tweets and post the score and that’s your entire job. At the very least, a team’s new media department (which is usually underfunded and understaffed) needs to understand journalism, customer service, public relations, sales and marketing…AT THE LEAST. Social media is at the forefront of fan interaction and one of the strongest connections with the audience (Remember the stat that in the sports industry it takes 6.5 touchpoints before one sales transaction is made? Today, social media and digital account for nearly 5 of those points!). Teams pay a lot for a good player but will pay extra for someone who is the face of the franchise that moves tickets and merchandise…you don’t think a good social media manager can have the same influence at $75k, which is still a discount over that marquee player??

    Thank you for sparking this conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really relevant post. Thank you so much for sharing. A few months ago I told a friend, and fellow HawksBro, “They better pay that man Jaryd Wilson because he’s one of the best to ever do it.” Oh well!!! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    Best wishes on your new endeavors! And I hope you’re getting paid more than minimum this time around. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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