Cleveland Cavaliers create first-ever team social network

Last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced a new social network named Wine & Gold Nation. It’s a new online community designed to connect and engage Cavaliers fans, and it’s the first of its kind in professional sports.

The network is available online, as well as through an Android and iPhone-compatible app. It allows event management, community broadcasts, file sharing, connection to Facebook and Twitter, private messaging, and the creation of public and private groups.

The interface and features bear a striking resemblance to Facebook, but that seems intentional. Wine & Gold Nation is designed to be a Cavaliers version of Facebook—no outsiders allowed.

This isn’t professional sport’s first venture into the app world, but it’s the first social network. It’s now expected that sports teams have their own apps. But these are apps that show schedules, stats, and news. There’s no features for fans to connect with each other.

The closest sports have previously come is Mazu (formerly Just Be Friends Inc.), an app developer that has created several community apps for professional sports teams—but these apps are for kids and families. With apps for several NBA, NHL, and NFL teams, Mazu has created a community where users design an avatar, start challenges, compete in trivia, and earn badges in a family-friendly environment.

But the Cleveland Cavaliers are the first team to take it to the next level and create an extensive social network for all ages. Sports fans have long thrived on the internet. From a beginning characterised by message boards and forums, fans are now focused on social media—to the point where terms like “football Twitter” and “basketball Twitter” have become recognisable communities.

The network is an upgrade to CavFanatic.com, a forum website that the team had previously used. Sports fans have moved from forums to Facebook and Twitter, and the Cavs are trying to catch up with this move by creating their own platform. 

By creating an exclusive network, the Cleveland Cavaliers are tapping into a largely untapped market. There’s a lot of room for growth in the app world, and the Cavaliers are making the first move.

Apps like Wine & Gold occupy serve two distinct, valuable purposes. First, they create a community of fans. Giving fans access to each other, and an entire network, is an excellent way to boost fan engagement.

But more importantly, they’re incredible marketing tools. Wine & Gold Nation is a network created and run by the Cavaliers organisation itself, and they have complete control over it. The organisation can post “inside looks”, team news, and events on this site, ensuring it gets to their fans first.

It allows more targeted, intense marketing than any other form of social media. It sells the Cavaliers at every turn and controls the narrative at all times, letting the Cavs tell every story, urged on by the fans.

Not to mention, the Cavs are making money off this. The platform has free and paid membership options. For $35 per year, the network offers four different communities, each aimed at different ages. It doesn’t really matter if this doesn’t create a constant revenue stream for the team—they don’t need it. The Cavaliers are after the marketing benefits, not the extra cash.

In the age of social media, the power of apps can be disregarded. But in terms of fan engagement, apps might be the answer. It’s unlikely that they’ll ever replace the scope of networks like Twitter and Facebook, but they play a unique roll in the team-fan relationship.

It remains to be seen if this venture will be a success. There’s no doubt that the network will bring in the diehard fans, and that’s partially the aim. But the diehards will always be there—ideally, the network will bring in casual or new fans. At the very least, the website will do alright—the Cavaliers have more diehard fans than the average NBA team, so they’ll probably have a fair number of users.

This is a move that could spread far beyond the Cavaliers. Networks like this thrive with large fanbases, which makes it a perfect format for many football clubs. If Wine & Gold Nation succeeds, team social networks could become common. But in the meantime, the Cavs are leading the pack.

About author

Ellen Larson
Ellen Larson 22 posts

Ellen is an intern for Snack Media and contributor to Digital Sport. Follow her on Twitter @Ellen_Larson.

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