Deep in the confines of the United Center lies a binder of undeveloped photos. It lives in a corner of the Chicago Bulls offices, and only appears during office tours for those who ask about it.
The binder contains thousands of images reliving the Bulls’ finest years: Dennis Rodman posing off-the-court alongside Hulk Hogan, Scottie Pippen in mid-game action. And, of course, footage of Michael Jordan as the centerpiece of the Bulls’ championship runs in the 1990s.
Luka Dukich, the Bulls director of digital content, knows how special the photos are. “We were sitting on this treasure trove of content that people hadn’t seen before,” he said.
Since launching on April 19, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has been a cultural phenomenon and critical success. The four episodes have averaged over 6 million viewers per episode, and has been a constant trending topic on Twitter. It was also the number one trending topic on Twitter on April 19, and at one point 25 of the 30 trending topics were all related to the show.
The Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls-focused documentary has also paid dividends for the Bulls’ digital team, which is leveraging their social media reach to tap into the hype surrounding the series.
The Bulls have seen growth not only on the team’s main accounts but also on Bulls Archive – the NBA’s first team archive-focused social media account.
After years of watching those binder photos remain undeveloped, sitting in the corner of the Bulls’ office, Dukich saw a chance for fans to witness a new look into the team’s historic run.
“There are all these photos no one’s ever seen of the championship Bulls,” Dukich said. “The stuff that you see on Bulls Archive is not stuff that you can go on Getty and find or just do a quick Google search. This is really stuff that a lot of people have not seen before, and that was definitely part of the inspiration for the account.”
The debut of “The Last Dance” has helped Bulls Archive grow its Instagram followership by 44%. As of April 28, it currently has more than 52,300 followers on the Facebook-owned platform.
Bulls Archive is also seeing increased engagement across its numerous posts. Before “The Last Dance” premiered on April 19, the account’s most popular Instagram post had less than 3,000, Kamil Strycharz, the Bulls’ digital content coordinator, said.
When “The Last Dance” made its debut in June 2019, Bulls Archive quickly shared its most popular post to date: a 1997 photo of Jordan and teammates Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper sitting in the trunk of a car before they boarded a team flight to Paris. As of April 28, it has nearly 6,230 likes and 15 comments. Of Bulls Archive’s 12 most recent Instagram posts since April 19, only four have not eclipsed 3,000 likes.
Interest in the archives is driven by more than The Last Dance and a thirst for original programming. Strycharz knows a majority of the Bulls’ 26.7 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter are knowledgeable about the team’s illustrious history – but want to learn more.
“These are photos of the dynasty years, the greatest time in Bulls history, where we have photos within the locker room, photos at White House visits, photos of celebrities. These are photos that people have never seen before, and we had to find a place for it,” he said.
The old-school content opportunities are one element to Bulls Archive’s three-pronged strategy. The second factor is for Bulls Archive to differentiate its content offerings, Strycharz said. He sees more room for creativity beyond just throwback polaroid posts, and that followers can look forward to new changes during – and after – “The Last Dance.”
The final piece of Bulls Archive’s content strategy is to teach and inform their followers, Strycharz said. While he acknowledges that there are plenty of Bulls aficionados following Bulls Archive, they are only one part of the account’s main audience. The other group of followers, Strycharz believes, wants to learn more about the Bulls’ past through Bulls Archive.
After every post on Bulls Archive’s Instagram page, there is a mini-quiz in its Instagram stories, Strycharz said. Strycharz views it as a simple way for him and the Bulls’ digital department to educate the more casual followers on the team’s overall history.
With over a month’s worth of “Last Dance” episodes to come, Strycharz, Dukich, and the Bulls’ digital team are brainstorming ways to maintain their online success. They are exploring different avenues to collaborate with some members of the 1990s squads, but Dukich declined to comment on which players may be involved.
Similar to Bulls Archive’s fan-focused strategy, they will be leaning into new technology that can better compile the thousands of follower responses they get on Instagram. The Bulls will also work with other content creators to incorporate their fan art into their social media profiles.
“You’re going to see an engagement with people in that way,” Dukich said. “This is going to be a big focus of ours for the next month. Every week, you’re going to see something interesting. We’re going to try to make us make the Bulls a must-follow during the next month.”
It has been a long time coming for “The Last Dance.” The anticipation surrounding the documentary intensified during Christmas 2018 when ESPN released the first trailer – a 60-second teaser – 18 months before its projected premiere date. The 60-second teaser generated more than 35 million impressions.
Whether it debuted on April 19 or in June as originally planned, Dukich already views the documentary as a success to those at home who tuned in – whenever and wherever.
“Everyone is sitting down on Sunday night and watching this together, talking about it,” Dukich said. “In the two hours beforehand, everyone’s getting hyped. The two hours afterward, everyone’s discussing what happened, memes are happening in real-time. It’s a real cultural moment, and we’re thrilled to be at the center of it, obviously – but it’s just fun to have that respite for two hours every Sunday night where we can all think about sports, and we can all have some fun again.”