Just as Lady Gaga, The Biebs, and other celebs did for Twitter, the oftentimes prosaic world of daily deals is getting some of its own glam factor, as NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is the latest athlete-turned-entrepreneur to launch his own online business — in the form of a quasi-Groupon for sports. With the growing maturity of social media, it’s no longer a secret that distributing discounts and other promotional offers via social platforms can be a great way to increase sales for professional or personal brands, and, of late, we’ve seen a host of sites offering promotions and discounts in collaboration with celebrities as a way of increasing visibility.
But professional athletes launching their own daily deals site? Not as much. In what is likely a first for the NBA (if not professional sports), we’ve learned that the NBA’s Tracy McGrady has launched his own daily deals website, called TMacsDeals.com. For those unfamiliar, McGrady is a seven-time NBA All-Star whose career has spanned 15 years and six different teams. The former scoring leader currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks.
With his new entrepreneurial venture, McGrady is looking to capitalize on the fact that social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have become essential marketing tools — for both celebrities and brands. While Twitter may be slightly more confounding when it comes to direct marketing, operating more effectively as a CRM or customer support channel, both social platforms allow businesses and brands to connect with their fans and become a part of the conversation, in realtime.
Of course, for celebrities, or “influencers” as they’re called, social media can be a double-edged sword. Many tip-toe around their personal accounts, leaving them to be managed by experts or teams of witty copywriters, as one ill-worded tweet can mean disaster — there’s far more at stake when you have 1 million followers than there is for the rest of us. On the other hand, social media presents an effective way for celebrities and athletes to organically increase brand awareness, to communicate directly with loyal fans, and drum up interest in products, campaigns, charities, or games.
Seeing as this is the case, while many professional athletes have businesses outside of their chosen sport, and many are active social media users, McGrady is in the minority when it comes to the way he’s chosen to leverage his brand online. This week, McGrady, in partnership with Engager Media — a company that specializes in social media management for influencers — launched TMacsDeals both on the Web and on Facebook, using both platforms to offer his fans discounts on his own merchandise as well as sports-related deals from Adidas (McGrady is sponsored by the apparel company), Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, Lids, and more.
“When I started my career, the only way to interact with fans was signing autographs after a game or doing some promotional appearance,” he says. “Now I can interact with my fans instantaneously.”
McGrady’s following of over 1 million Facebook fans currently puts him at 11th most among active players in the NBA. Much of that is due to his performance on the court, but it’s also because he’s recognized that social media provides athletes with an invaluable platform by which to both activate brand sponsors and to create semi-authentic connections with fans — the people who, in the end, pay athletes’ salaries.
Social media also presents an opportunity for a dialogue in a way that TV and print can’t offer, and, naturally, using YouTube or Ustream to hone on-camera skills and personality while playing can open up secondary career opportunities after the body wears down. That’s why you’ll find short YouTube clips on McGrady’s Facebook deals page, in which the forward talks to his fans and gives updates on what’s going on in his world.
For McGrady, who considers himself an active investor and entrepreneur, this multimedia interaction, along with his daily deal pages, are just a smart way to create value for himself and for fans. Microsites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts receive the highest engagement from fans and customers, so McGrady thinks there’s really no better way to connect with his fanbase. What’s more, social media is populated by young people, so for athletes like him looking to offer (even indirectly) products or deals, they’re already likely speaking to an audience that will go out and buy the product.
Of course, while McGrady’s website is by no means winning any design awards (and has clone material written all over it), or pushing the envelope technologically, it gets the job done, and, perhaps more importantly, it does so in a way that doesn’t stink of brand shilling. For McGrady, this means no sponsored ads: “I have been approached about doing sponsored ads on my social media sites, but I think that can come across as disingenuous. With TMacsDeals, I can provide a service to my fans by helping them save money on brands they actually use.”
And that’s really the key — not only for athletes, but brands in general. McGrady likely has a built-in audience of young sports fans (especially on Facebook), so offering athletics-related deals makes sense. Of course, it’s not so easy for all brands to find their niche, but still, it’s essential. What’s more, with businesses flocking to social media, it behooves influencers to lead the way, to not treat social media as advertising (even if it is, let it be secondary), but instead as a communication tool.
As always, ROI is the defining metric for every social media strategy, with engagement coming in at the top. Social media creates an opportunity for dialogue between athletes or brands and their fans, and that interactive experience is far more engaging (and authenticity-inducing) than anything else.
If McGrady can ensure that TMacsDeals (especially the Facebook portion) remains a two-way street, rather than something that’s groomed and stultifying, then he’s definitely going to see some traction. There’s plenty more he can do from the engagement side, but as of now, the casual appearance and design of the site works in its favor, and, if the site’s early engagement is any indication, it probably won’t be long before other pros follow suit.