If you are a follower of mine, you know that my favorite subject these days is the global diaspora. It’s partly because globalization and social networking are changing the way that marketers think about nations, their citizens, and how they interact. It’s partly because I am in the process of launching a diaspora community and learning first hand what it takes to stitch together a global network. But it’s also because a week doesn’t go by that I don’t learn about a new kind of diaspora community aided by social networking technology. This week, I learned of a community with ties to my homeland. But what’s bringing them together is not love for the homeland necessarily, but the stubborn loyalty to the home team.
Homeland is the Bronx, and the team is the Yankees. For the past year, Peter Ragone – an accomplished public affairs pro and former New Yorker, now based in San Francisco — has been quietly building a vibrant community of Yankee fans who root for their team from outposts as far away as Nashville, Dallas, and Seattle. The community is called Yanks in Exile, and if you haven’t heard from them yet, and you are a Yankee fan, I suspect you will hear from them soon. By providing a platform for fans to connect, congratulate, and commiserate with one another — not every game ends well — Yanks in Exile is helping the larger Yankee community to find itself.
It might also help the sports marketing community peek into the future. For the “exiles” concept may in fact be the next big thing in sports marketing. A few reasons why:
First, the phenomenon that is driving the development of global diaspora communities is forcing sports marketers to rethink their customer strategies. I’m talking about the two things I mentioned at the top of this article: globalization and social networking. People are leaving their “homelands” in greater numbers. But at the same time they are finding better ways to stay connected, both with the people they have left back home and the people who have taken a similar journey. It’s happening to countries, and it’s happening to sport franchises. If you are a sports marketer, you need to think both global and social.
Second, the technology for supporting communities in exile is getting better and easier to use. Yanks in Exile has grown quickly — about 85,000 followers on Facebook alone — by integrating with existing networks like Facebook.
Wasn’t always so simple. There was a time, not long ago, when you would have had to build the community infrastructure yourself. Many entrepreneurs were encouraged to do so, and a little cottage industry of consultants emerged to cash in on the trend. “If you build it, they will come,” was the idea. But many community managers were left with nothing but ”a field of dreams”; they built it, yep, but no one came. The many failures in community building from this time froze a lot of people in their tracks. But today there are a great number of real communities that are either living inside Facebook or powered by the social graph that Facebook enables them to activate. Times have changed, and communities are getting a fresh look again.
And then there’s the potential to support a community with commerce it actually believes in. With a fast-growing network of die-hard fans, Yanks in Exile could easily find ways to sell to its community — merchandise, tickets, airfare, hotels, nights in the town (Manhattan, if not the Bronx — sorry). Already Ragone is experimenting here, taking it slow, and, presumably, getting it right.
And let’s hope he does get it right. It could help make the case for exile marketing to the larger world. Think beyond the Yankees. Think beyond baseball. Think of all the different kinds of sport franchises that glue global communities to their TV sets, laptops, and mobile devices — the Olympics, World Cup soccer, and, as we learned last year, even World Cup Cricket. And think beyond sports; we can think about any kind of commerce supported by people who are connected to the place from which they came.
Ragone is already spreading his wings, with sites serving the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Flyers, and (gasp!) the Boston Red Sox. And he’s going for five new football sites this month. But the fact that he started with a New York City franchise feels right. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Others likely will follow (said the competitive former New Yorker).