In 2020, there have been few social media sensations like the Netflix series Tiger King and its lead character, Joe Exotic.
He has inspired countless memes and tweets – including one from the Akron RubberDucks, the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
While other Minor League Baseball teams are opting to play it safe on social media right now, the RubberDucks and their Family Guy memes and Dodgeball references show that they want to stand out from the rest.
“We want people to smile and just feel happy in a time of uncertainty right now,” Gabe Wasylko, the RubberDucks’ coordinator of creative services, said. “That’s our goal with every single post – we’d like to be a little bit different and have a lighter connotation and vibe on a lot of our posts.”
A vital part of the RubberDucks’ digital presence is their usage of GIFs and memes, Wasylko said. While high-quality photos and graphics are still important, just delivering that alone tends to blend in with what other sports teams are doing, he said.
The RubberDucks’ irreverent social media approach has worked well thus far. Since baseball has been on hold, the team has doubled its number of tweets and seen a 170% increase in weekly Twitter impressions. The Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians has also seen a 27% increase in weekly Facebook engagement.
Recent years have seen the RubberDucks invest heavily in Instagram. In December 2018, their IG following was at roughly 12,200. As of April 9, the team has more than 21,300 followers on the Facebook-owned platform – a 73% increase during that stretch. The RubberDucks have also doubled their number of Instagram posts, with engagement up more than 100% in that time.
Regardless of which social media platform they are on, Wasylko attributes the RubberDucks’ online growth to creating content that will elicit a response from their followers.
“We see fans through our social pages all the time – they get a reply from the RubberDucks’ Instagram or Twitter account, and it makes their day,” Wasylko said. “What we’re facing now is something we’ve never faced before, but we just really tried to enhance our engagement and those memories that people can have engaging with our brand.”
The RubberDucks are also using the break to highlight a series of rebrands. For three games during the regular-season schedule, the RubberDucks will rebrand under various identities and logos.
As of right now, they are taking on the Trenton Thunder on May 5 not as the Akron RubberDucks, but as Los Perros Calientes – hot dogs in English – for one of their theme nights. On June 5, the team will appear as ConeTown USA – paying homage to Akron’s numerous construction sites with construction-themed branding and a mascot – and then recognize the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues by rebranding as the Akron Black Tyrites on July 31.
“We tried to put a lot of creativity, heart, and soul into these pieces and held our presentation on our social platforms,” Wasylko said. “We saw a huge kickback in engagement and people being excited about that, and that’s our job. We want to get people excited about baseball, so whenever it happens, they’re ready to go.”
There are not many teams like the RubberDucks in professional sports. The approach is distinct, but it is supposed to embody how MiLB teams are embracing social media during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We advised teams to maintain their identities, being sensitive to the ongoing situation,” Brad Friedman, MiLB’s social media marketing manager, said. “We’re an entertainment company at our core – teams like Akron represent the lively tonality that represents our product.”
“The challenge is to remain on-brand,” he added. “We can be empathetic and in-tune, but we have a sport to sell and, likely, a season to play soon. Collectively, we continue to explore how to navigate through this period while keeping fans engaged with our teams.”
Even MiLB clubs are taking notice of Akron’s unique social media content.
“Akron is absolutely one of the ones that we follow,” Tyler Parsons, general manager for the Lansing Lugnuts, said. “They’re doing some great things, but I’ve personally really loved the rebrand they did with the ConeTown USA-construction tone [and their other theme nights].”
While the RubberDucks are attracting attention on both a team and league level for their social media tactics, Wasylko does not want that to ultimately determine their impact online.
“We want to be able to make a fan for someone who comes on our page smile – and if we did that, then we’re doing our job,” he said.