Chicago Bulls Strive to Digitally Innovate While Honoring Their Past

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One of the club’s most like photos of all time. (Image via @chicagobulls/IG)

The Chicago Bulls have 3.8 million Instagram followers and four million Twitter followers. Eighteen million people like the Bulls on Facebook and more than 100,000 people subscribe to the Bulls’ YouTube page. Across all social platforms, the team has a total combined following of 28 million.

For a team with such a massive reach, the Bulls can’t afford to take their digital strategy lightly.

“We feel a responsibility to honor the brand,” said Dan Moriarty, the Bulls’ digital director. “Some other NBA teams that can be a little more tongue-in-cheek, more irreverent, but we know that’s not our brand. The Bulls are an iconic brand, a gold standard, and a global franchise. That comes with certain responsibilities.”

“It’s bigger than just social content,” he added. “Social content is the voice of the team, and that has implications beyond putting a tweet out that gets thousands of likes. It frames what your brand stands for to all of your stakeholders.”

Moriarty described the Bulls’ content as polished and deliberate. To achieve that specific tone, he said his team follows a framework they refer to as HITTID, which stands for human, iconic, timely, thumb-stopping, inclusive, and differentiated.

One specific piece of content that he said hit all of those pieces criteria last season was a video of Lauri Markkanen showing off some soccer skills after practice. The video — filmed by BullsTV — showed Markkanen’s fun side, and because it wasn’t a traditional highlight video, it caught the attention of viewers.

“It was a piece of human content,” Moriarty said. “No one else had access, so it was thumb-stopping because you have this nice, polished video of a basketball player doing soccer kicks… [BullsTV] was there at the right time, they captured it, and they got it over to us — it was such unique content, and it felt human.”

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When it comes to digital content, the team also takes advantage of the pride that courses through the veins of the city of Chicago. The Bulls’ 2018-19 schedule release featured the CTA map, for example.

“Obviously, we are a city that’s pretty proud of itself, so we bring that to life,” Moriarty said. “We want to make sure our content reinforces that we are Chicago’s basketball team and reflects the attributes of city.”

Beyond the city aspect, the digital department also plays up the team’s rich history.

“We’re not just another NBA team,” Moriarty said. “We were a dynasty in the ‘90s, and we had one of the greatest NBA teams of all time and the greatest NBA player of all time…We lean into that.”

Highlighting the team’s history without coming across as outdated is a delicate balance, according to Moriarty.

“We make sure we’re keeping pride in our heritage from a city and team perspective, and we talk internally about using that as a springboard for the future, rather than an anchor to the past,” he said.

Some of the Bulls’ content, like branded pieces, are pre-planned months in advance. Other content is conceptualized in the moment, like the organization’s most engaged tweet of all-time, which was a recent quote tweet of Korean pop group BTS performing at the United Center, with one of the members rocking a Bulls’ jersey.

“For us, it’s being ready as opportunities present themselves,” Moriarty said. “We just have a team that knows when this stuff emerges and knows what our brand is, and we activate and move pretty quickly.”

One example of content that takes more time to plan out was a creative collaboration with Sprite. A Markkanen dunk video was cut into hundreds of individual frames, which were desaturated and printed out for fans to illustrate. The illustrated frames were then stitched back together to create a new video.

For all the different types of content that they put out, Moriarty said it’s important to be mindful about which pieces are published on each specific social platform.

“We have fans of the team for different reasons,” he said. “Some want to just see the basketball side, and some want the entertainment and brand perspective…We find that all of that content has a home, and we’re getting a lot better at understanding what works where and understanding the implications of certain platforms.”

The Bulls’ digital strategy and innovative content has earned the department a number of awards, including the inaugural NBA Team Digital Content Award in 2016 and the Best in Sports Social Media award at the 2017 Sports Business Awards.

“We’ve been lucky to win a few awards — not that we do it for recognition — but it is recognition for our content team, who really put their hearts and souls into those pieces,” Moriarty said.

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This season, Moriarty said there is extra emphasis on sponsored content, from the new Angry Birds Eye View Cam with Rovio Entertainment to “Rising Player” content with Calamos.

“[Sponsored content] has really been performing at a level above and beyond, and it’s really nice because it continues to tie in the content we’re proud of, with partners we want to be associated with,” he said.

Moriarty also mentioned that the digital staff is aiming to further develop the Bulls’ mobile app, so that it is better customized to individual users.

“In the past, we’ve struggled with how to create a content experience for someone who’s never going to come to a game but also an in-arena experience for people attending,” Moriarty said of the app. “If you’re based outside of the U.S., we want to serve you a different app experience than a season-ticket holder… We’ll make the app a more personalized and useful experience because everyone has such different needs out of it.”

Even with the success it has had so far, the Bulls’ digital department is proving that it can continue to grow and innovate, providing unique content that can’t be found anywhere else.

“There are a million and one places to go to for Bulls content, so why would you go to us?” Moriarty pondered. But then he proceeded to answer his own question.

“We go above and beyond what media brands can do. We have different standards, quality, and access.”