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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
In the opening minute of a recent game, Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton snagged a rebound, drove the length of the floor, put a move on Houston Rockets superstar James Harden and served up a lob for teammate John Henson to slam down.
The sharp play got the BMO Harris Bradley Center crowd roaring and the Bucks' social media team swung into action.
"There's our first one!" exclaimed Matt Stanton, who anxiously waited for the highlight to pop into his software program. Once it appeared, he did some quick edits and shared it with the world.
The Middleton-to-Henson tweet carried the headline "J-Hook throws it DOWN!" Thousands of people watched the clip.
That tweet marked the start of another evening where the Bucks peppered Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and their home page with highlights while games are underway. It's a carefully-crafted strategy meant to engage Bucks fans locally and internationally without undermining the box office or broadcast audience.
Boosting the Bucks international audience makes sponsorships more valuable, said Matt Pazaras, senior vice president of business development and strategy.
For instance, the small Harley-Davidson patch on Bucks player uniforms gives the motorcycle maker exposure to the young, international fans that it wants as customers.
That large audience is even more crucial for the company that will buy the naming rights for the Bucks' new $524-million arena.
The clips extend far beyond the action on the court and the teams. The captions carry references to video games, music and the personalities of players and high-profile fans in the seats.
"The goal with the casual fan was to get them more interested," said Mike Grahl, the team's chief digital officer. "And then maybe we can get them to a game or to buy a cable package."
The NBA gave the Bucks permission to cut and post their own video clips in 2014, after the team signed Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek player known for spectacular plays. Until that point, the Bucks received whatever clips the NBA sent - and often they were highlights of the opposing team's heroics, said Nick Monroe, digital platforms manager.
The social media team uses special editing software that gets separate clips of plays moments after they take place. The TV broadcast and in-arena videos feed into the system.
In the first year under the Bucks control, visits to the team's home page went up 571%. The Bucks then started adding the real-time highlights - many featuring Antetokounmpo - to its social media accounts and the audience exploded.
In the past two seasons, social media engagements from game action highlights have increased 122%, Grahl said, adding that the highlights have delivered 482 million social media impressions over the past three seasons.
That puts the Bucks at the top of the NBA in terms of how long fans remain on the team site and other measures. The Bucks digital team has been named NBA Innovator of the Year for three years in a row.
It's not unusual to see more than a dozen in-game highlights posted, along with other in-game hijinks featuring Bango and fan contests.
The fans busting moves in the "Dance for your Dinner" contest offer rich fodder. "Usually when they're terrible, it's the best for us," Monroe joked.
On the morning after the Rockets game, the video highlights tallied 732,000 views. That, of course, doesn't include the number of times that fans shared the videos on their own accounts.
"It's all about engagement," Pazaras said. "We would rather have one engaged fan for every 10 passive fans."
The five-person social media team follows some general guidelines. They focus on the Bucks and have an upbeat commentary. No mocking the other team.
So as tempting as it was, a clip of Harden complaining to the referees was off-limits.
"You never want to make the tweet bigger than the team," Monroe said. "We want to inform our fans, entertain them and engage them."
Early on during the Rockets game, Monroe and his cohorts toyed with how they would celebrate a Bucks win over the NBA-best Rockets, who were riding a 16-game winning streak. "Victory Royale" seemed to be consensus favorite, an idea that would have resonated with NBA lovers and fans of the popular video game.
Despite obvious temptation, the team is careful to not focus exclusively on Antetokounmpo. Any player is fair game - even if they are not on the court.
"If you're on the bench and doing something cool, we're going to cut that clip and put it out," Stanton said, noting that veteran Jason Terry and rookie D.J. Wilson can be especially entertaining to watch.
The team also is on its toes for a buzzer-beating shot that gives the Bucks the win.
"Game-winners, big shots. Those are the kind of things that we live for," Stanton said.
Moments later, Antetokounmpo swatted away a shot by Harden.
"That was a great rejection," Monroe said as he tapped away on his keyboard. "That'll play well. Those superstar battles always play well."
Earlier in the season, Monroe captured the Antetokounmpo shot that beat Oklahoma City and then made an iPhone video of the star running into the locker room where he got a celebratory ice bath courtesy of his teammates.
The Antetokounmpo highlights receive special attention and are tweeted later in the evening when fans in Greece and China are starting their days.
"We call on companies internationally," Pazaras said. "When we say 'Bucks,' they say 'Giannis.'"
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