How the Big Ten Network is Leveraging Tech to Drive Social Engagement

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The network has used opendorse to deliver over 28.5 million impressions and 199,000 engagements with athlete-driven content since 2016.

A look at one of BTN’s production trucks. (Photo via

Over the course of the last decade, the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have impacted nearly every part of our day-to-day lives.

From phone cases equipped with selfie lights, to people going viral because they did it for the Gram’, social media has helped build brands and in some cases build massive followings for individuals.

No area might this be more true than sports.

Athletes like Lebron James, Steph Curry, Conor McGregor and even Tom Brady have social followings bigger than some countries, and brands, seeing the potential, want in on the action.

Not only have brands been able to see the ROI, but now rights holders such as the Big Ten Network are finding the value in being able to use the social channels of their former Big Ten collegiate stars to help drive engagement on social and tune-in via their linear and streaming distribution channels.

Having run campaigns with the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Draymond Green, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah, BTN has utilized its partnership with opendorse, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based athlete marketing platform, to deliver over 28.5 million impressions and 199,000 engagements with athlete-driven content since 2016.

“I think I may have seen a story or reference to opendorse and I ultimately got in contact with Derek and we started talking,” said Jordan Maleh, Director, Digital Marketing & Communications, Big Ten Network. “I was always a big fan of the company especially when it comes to influencer marketing and we gave it a shot when the first deal went out during the Big Ten Basketball tournament in March of 2016.”

Since then, both parties have grown alongside each other, something Maleh credits to the overall success of their campaigns.

“We were able to get in early and get feedback from fans and followers when it came to what the reactions would be to posts with #ad and #sponsored. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

As a rights holder, BTN is in a unique spot because of the high-quality content they can distribute to the athletes they do deals with.

“That is why it works for us. We are talking about a super targeted and super focused athlete and audience,” added Maleh. “As a rights holder, that is the beauty.”

While finding the right platform to leverage might be half the battle, if the quality of content isn’t up to the standards the players and stars have set for their personal feeds, adoption rates for this kind of technology can suffer.

Luckily, quality content is the last thing BTN has to worry about.

“From our end, the fact that it is so targeted and that the content can bring that nostalgia back for the athlete and their fans is really why the adoption and engagement is so high,” said Maleh in reference to having the ability to distribute their own content through the channels of athletes.

As social media has continued to evolve Maleh and his team see these types of campaigns as an overall media buy and not just a one-off piece of content.

Much of this has to do with the ability for social teams, including Maleh’s, to leverage paid social and the power that it has in extending the “bump” of a piece of quality content beyond the 2–3 hour “bump” a typical organic piece of content has.

“Our sweet spot has been and is Twitter. What I value from the Twitter perspective is that we can go in and promote it. We are asking opendorse to whitelist an athlete so we not only get the organic bump, but also the promoted bump that can extend the relevance of the content for 24–48 hours.”

Being a rights holder, BTN uses its socials channels to not only distribute content, but drive app downloads, linear tune-in and digital streaming, all three of which rely heavily on paid social to help hit key KPIs.

“From our end, we already have a heavy paid presence,” added Maleh. “We’re a network so we are hopefully driving viewership, streaming and app downloads. Our paid campaigns have ranged heavily in all three of those verticals.”

“There’s a high volume of organic content we distribute on a daily cadence, but when it comes to social paid media, our messaging will look and feel different than our organic content in order to better reach a targeted audience.”-Jordan Maleh, Director, Digital Marketing & Communications, Big Ten Network

Whether it has been running a campaign to promote BTN Tailgate or hype up fans surrounding March Madness, opendorse has played a key role in the social strategy of Maleh and his team.

“It has been fun. When we mention opendorse here, people have become more comfortable with it and understanding what they do as a company and because of that have become more intrigued by the concept.”

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

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