When you think of Columbus Blue Jackets social media, what comes to mind for you? Is it the witty tweets? Or how about the episodes of Behind the Battle? Or maybe it’s just seeing and hearing from your favorite players.
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Whatever your preference, the Blue Jackets have a dedicated team of individuals who are on the cutting edge of content delivery. Now in their 21st season, the team has positioned themselves well to get to this point. They know that the best is yet to come. But in order to get to where they ultimately want to go, they know they have to think outside the box and continue to create content ideas that will appeal to their fans.
What might be coming down the road for the team from a content standpoint? I recently got to speak with Blue Jackets’ Vice President of Digital Media & Content Marcus Stephenson. After a stint with the Washington Football Team, he rejoined the Blue Jackets in order to help them set their vision for what their content looks like now and in the future.
We touch on several topics including why he came back to the Blue Jackets, his vision for the future of content, adapting in a COVID world, his involvement with Behind the Battle and why you are an integral part of their plan moving forward.
Coming Home to the Blue Jackets
“I would not have come back for any other organization (other than the Blue Jackets,)” Stephenson said. “What really brought me here was seeing Kathryn Dobbs (Chief Marketing Officer.) I believe whole-heartily in diversity and inclusion. The first conversation that I ever had with her I knew immediately the kind of leader she would be. She’s the kind of leader that would support the trailblazing efforts that we’re moving forward with here.”
With Stephenson, his decision to come back to the Blue Jackets started at the top with the leadership in place. But then it is to help set the vision for the team over the next 20 years and beyond.
“But what do the next 20 years look like? That’s what I’m here to help try to accomplish as we set a new vision for what content looks like for this organization. That’s not just changing the way we cover our team on the ice. That’s really thinking through from a content perspective how do we inspire that next generation of fans? And more importantly than that, how are we growing the game? Let’s think beyond Columbus. How can Columbus be a part to help grow the game?”
The Vision? Be Entertainers First
“What I love about the teams that we grow and that I’ve been fortunate enough to lead, my favorite thing is we set a bar very, very quickly,” Stephenson said. “We build a family atmosphere on purpose. I take a lot of inspiration from the entertainment industry. I very much consider us, the Blue Jackets, entertainers first.”
Entertainment is and will remain at the heart of what the Blue Jackets do on their social media channels. As Stephenson goes on to explain, while they cover a sports team, if that’s all they do, they aren’t doing the job they set out to do.
“We might play sports and that’s true. If all we did was coverage, we wouldn’t be doing our job.” Stephenson explained. “How do we entertain people? You go to social media channels for a reason. You turn on the TV/radio for a reason. Information is one aspect but it’s usually entertainment. So in thinking through that, we build a team. We build a philosophy. We build a structure around that premise how do we build the best entertainment possible to be beyond what we’re used to doing?”
Here’s the part in which helps the Blue Jackets stand apart. They have a strong desire to get better everyday. How do they do that? They aren’t afraid of and they embrace being critical of their results. Let Stephenson explain.
“The way you do that is you have to set a culture of trust and transparency and build a family culture that makes it ok to be critical of our work. Celebrate the effort but be critical of the result. Because as creators, we should absolutely celebrate what goes into it while at the same time holding ourselves to an unwavering bar. And if we do that every day, we can be the best not just in the league but we can be the best in sports. And we will be the best in sports.”
Adapting in a COVID World
COVID-19 has wrecked havoc in today’s world. It continues to have an impact on many aspects of life. The Blue Jackets are no exception. They have had to make adjustments on the fly to an ever-changing situation.
But within those challenges presents opportunity. Stephenson goes on to explain that the pandemic has helped him and his team validate their thinking on how to approach content creation.
“I think when you go into any new environment, you have these aspirations. And you feel like you’re going to be able to come in and make things happen relatively quickly. Sometimes things go a little more slowly than normal. I would say COVID has really done that for us as an organization in terms of the transformation of our content.”
“It’s allowed us to validate what we were thinking when I came in which was we have to be entertaining. We have to think entertainment first because there are no layups when there’s COVID. There is no guaranteed postgame sound. There is no guaranteed press conference. There is no guaranteed interview with a player. That forces us to think differently.”
With pre- and post-game availabilities now exclusively on Zoom, the team has to find alternative solutions in the absence of traditional methods. So entertainment it is. Their latest example was a simple tweet after their 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.
The tweet was a playful burn on the design of the Devils’ jerseys. As you can see, it got quite a reaction on Twitter. This tweet shows that entertainment is at the heart of what they do. An entertaining tweet is an effective way of producing content even in the absence of more traditional methods. Outside the box thinking does help them stand apart even if they can’t do other things because of the pandemic.
The Growth of Behind the Battle
One of the most popular offerings of the Media and Content team is the show Behind the Battle. Although the show has been around for several seasons now, their more recent episodes have pulled at the emotional strings of fans while lifting the curtain and showing a lot of previous unseen things behind the scenes.
Stephenson and his team understand the importance of this show and bringing fans behind the scenes. As he explains, he has an active part in the show. But he credits many people who do work in order to make this show into what it is today.
“This is a key piece. We know that behind the scenes is a category that we have to be strong in,” Stephenson said. “If we want to call ourselves entertainers that’s square one. Bring people behind the curtain that they’ve never been before and let them see things they’ve never seen. Let them make their own points of view on what they see because it’s unfiltered it’s unproduced.”
“I’m heavily in on Behind the Battle in terms of the approach in which we are taking. Myself and Derek Dawley and his team of producers, shooters and editors, Donny DiCaprio, Jonathan DeMuth, Andy Hookman, David Traube and Patrick Cantwell. That’s a star studded group of people. You see a lot of pride in Behind the Battle. We want to lead with content like that. We want to be the best at it. What it will take is access and imagery that literally you’d never thought you could see before. That’s what we made a commitment to do.”
Stephenson also went on to give credit to Joey Sykes and Katie Tsukamoto who work heavily on the Digital Media and Content team. They run the accounts. The team wouldn’t be where they are today without their creativity.
As for the future of the show, this is where you, the fan, get a voice. The Blue Jackets want to hear from you. Let Stephenson explain.
“I would expect the stories to get more raw, more authentic and be more inside than you ever thought. So continue on the journey with us but please keep giving us your feedback. If you like an episode, tell us what episode you like. If you could have seen more of something, tell us. This is not a one-way street. We want the feedback from you.”
Stephenson’s Message to the Fans & Your Involvement
Fans are the heartbeat of what makes everything click. I asked Stephenson two things in regards to the fans. What is your message to fans about the things you are doing now? And then how the fans get in contact with you for feedback or discussions? Here is what he had to say.
“This is a never ending. This is not a we will get to next destination and we will be finished. This is a journey,” Stephenson said regarding his message to fans. “When I say to fans come on this journey with us, your feedback matters. What you say to us matters. What you believe matters. But when we tell you the things that are our intentions and we tell you the way in which things are built, we’re not asking you to like them. We’re asking you to understand how they were done. It puts focus more on really crafting the best that we can possibly do together.”
And on how to communicate with the Blue Jackets:
“The best way to get a hold of us: We hear everything and we see everything. Even if you think something won’t get to us, it does. Go to our own social media channels. Send us a direct message. Tweet us. Send us a Facebook message. Hit us on Instagram DM’s. But tell us. The comments are there for a reason on YouTube. If you have feedback on the episode, you can tell us right there.”
Watch For New Stuff Coming Soon
The Content Team is currently working on new initiatives that will be rolled out in the near future that will involve you the fans in a bigger way. Once the plans are finalized and approvals are received, you will see the details announced.
Stephenson ended our conversation by reiterating how important the voice of the fan is. The work being performed now is setting the foundation for the next generation of fans.
“We are building together as fans and as an organization a hockey culture that lives whether we’re winning or losing because the culture of hockey is going to stay in Columbus long after you or I are here. That’s what we all need to understand. We celebrate wins. We’re in despair in losses because we feel the emotion of it.”
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“But never lose sight of the human nature of wanting to become a part of something and knowing full well that the organization supports you individually for not only being a part of it but having a say in it. We can be the most accessible organization in sports. It just takes good, old fashioned hard work to do so.”
Now is your chance to get involved. If this is something you’ve been thinking about for a while but just didn’t know what to do, let this serve as your invitation to get involved.
As Stephenson has said, message them. Share your comments and feedback. They see them. They want to get you involved. You will help steer the direction of the Content Team.
The future is bright for the team and where they’re trying to go. Their goal is to be the best in sports. If they continue at the pace they’re on, they’ll eventually reach their goal. But they can’t get there without you.
Fans, let your voices be heard loud and clear. You are needed now more than ever.
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I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.