Jeramie McPeek is well placed to discuss the merits - and dangers - of social media in sports. He spoke to Michael Moynihan.

The man who took a few thousand photographs while walking around Houston the week of the Super Bowl is pleading his innocence regarding Tom Brady’s jersey.

The New England Patriots star had his game jersey swiped after that game, but Jeramie McPeek claims he just happened to be nearby...

“It’s funny, I covered the Arizona Super Bowl and the Houston game and, after both games, I was pretty close to Brady in press conferences, and those were the two games after which he lost his jerseys — they were stolen — so I had to say: ‘Hey, it was a coincidence, I just happened to be near him, I wasn’t the one...”

McPeek was head of digital for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, but when he joined the organisation in 1992 that was a field that didn’t even exist.

“When I started, my dream was to be a sportswriter, to write for magazines like Sports Illustrated. Back then, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have email, we didn’t have smartphones, so I had no idea what was ahead.

“I was just in the right place at the right time when the NBA launched NBA.com and a website for every team was needed.

“I was working for the team magazine at that time, so the Suns said: ‘Why don’t you do that?’ I didn’t know what a website was, but I grew up on that and grew in love with the fact that you could communicate with the team’s fans in real time, that an article could go up that very day, rather than three weeks later, when the magazine came out. 

"Obviously there have been a lot of changes since then, but it’s been very exciting.”

Access has been part of those changes, but McPeek doesn’t feel that social media created a Wild West, where players overshared and made errors of judgement in a rule-free environment.

“I don’t think it was a big challenge. It was certainly different. We were learning social media at the same time as the players. We didn’t know what it was or what it would do, but the players were starting to share more information about their own lives, sharing videos of life on the road, at home with their families.

“Although we had good relationships with the players, and could tell their stories on our website, now the players were taking those stories, and pictures and videos and putting them on social media.

“If anything, I think it enhanced what we were doing, giving us more content, and we could help the players grow their brands, while they could help promote the Suns to their individual fan bases, fans who may not have been Suns fans originally; they might be fans going back to the player’s previous team or college. It was mutually beneficial for everyone.”

He’s left the Suns since and set up as a digital marketing and social media strategist: are there obvious pitfalls for the athlete or administrator opening up his Twitter account?

“There are always things to be careful of. I encourage my clients, whether they’re athletes, teams or celebrities, to use common sense, first of all. Don’t tweet if you’re really angry, take a break, whether it’s five minutes or an hour, but cool off before you start firing off angry tweets.

“Common sense is the main lesson. If you’re managing social media for a team and you’re not sure whether something is too edgy or controversial, well, then it probably is.

“If your instinct makes you unsure whether you should do something or not, then there’s a reason your instinct is kicking in there.

“It’s common sense and communication. If you’re in charge of your team or company’s social media and you have an idea that might be funny, but you’re not sure, then run it by some other people first, whoever’s in charge of marketing or PR... ‘I want to do this, do you think it’s safe?’

“And a lot of the time you’ll get the buy-in, someone will say, ‘that’s great, go for it’, but you don’t want to be the only person taking the risk if it’s something a little out of the ordinary.”

Earlier this year he was “Social Media QB” for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, an experience he likens to being in a hurricane: “But a fun hurricane. You’re not in danger or terrified, waiting for it to be over.

“Eighteen-hour days for two weeks before the game, you’re going non-stop from one event to another, walking a lot of miles throughout the city. 

"During the Houston Super Bowl, I took about 2,500 pictures on my phone or camera. I probably only posted 300 or so over the two weeks, but you’re going non-stop, running on adrenaline.

“I think I worked 200 hours in 13 days, but never felt that tired, because it was so fun, but when it’s over, you crash hard. I felt like I’d just come back from Ireland and was suffering jet lag.”

Having seen the arrival of the internet and social media, what does McPeek see as the next step?

“Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have all added the capability to stream live, so that’s becoming more and more important in sports leagues everywhere, to use social media to stream their games and so on.

“The VR (virtual reality) side is certainly going to continue to evolve and it’s interesting to see how that’ll evolve. 

"It’s still a little cumbersome to have to wear a headset, particulary if you’re watching an entire game, but it’s a great opportunity for fans who may never get the chance to visit a particular stadium. They can experience what it’s like to be there through VR, it’s so life-like.

“Where we’re going on social, I don’t know, but what strikes me is that the channels are becoming more and more like each other, and they’re copying each others’ features. 

"It wouldn’t surprise me if one or two of the big channels which are being used is gone in a few years. There’s so much duplication that eventually users will choose one or two channels rather than keeping four or five going.”

Jeramie McPeek was a featured speaker at the FECKK conference in Kilkenny in March.


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