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The Tampa Bay Rays social media team are the real spring training MVP’s

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The “taste of citrus” is oh-so-sweet

Blake Snell assists team photographer Will Vragovic
Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays

As a result of the Rays investment over the past couple years in graphic design and public relations, the fan experience has improved by leaps and bounds.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the Rays social team, who have been increasing their direct fan interaction across platforms (just see what happens if you write “bet you won’t reply” on an Instagram post), and have been spotlighting the work of the whole team, where the footage of team photographers Will Vragovic and Kevin Sabitus, and videographer Sterling McLean is driving content to new heights.

Their work is the public face of what a slew of graphic design and public relations employees use to create utterly unique and engaging photos and videos, from their themed games and social media hits, to memorable promotions throughout the year (I’m looking at you, throwback 90’s ad campaign).

Recently, an Instagram user applauded the preseason efforts of the Tampa Bay Rays, saying, “These hype videos are great @raysbaseball!” The team’s social media team — seemingly ever ready to like or reply to a tweet or comment — replied, “We always bring [fire emoji].”

It’s not self aggrandizing; the Rays account is right.

Bringing the fire, every day

The team that runs the Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook accounts is at its most engaged in the high-speed environment of Twitter and Instagram, where new content is essential at all times to keep an audience interested.

The average tweet has a lifespan of 18 seconds, something that does not appear to escape the attention of some MLB accounts. Each team has an account, of course, but the level of engagement and unique content varies wildly. Some are cut and dry informational sharing tools, others have a sense of real personality, and help make their fans feel involved. The Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians will regularly reply to fans. The Rays also fall into this latter category.

This spring, the Rays have taken things to a whole new level of engagement. Spring training has barely begun, with most full squads only having their first workouts this past weekend, but already the Rays have shared a whopping 37 unique Instagram posts about spring training activities.

And it’s not just photos of guys on the field like many other teams — the kind of content that fans are hungry for after a long winter of nothing — but full-on hype videos and incredibly bright photoshoots, so saturated with color you can almost taste the Port Charlotte sunshine.

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Owning the .

A post shared by Tampa Bay Rays (@raysbaseball) on

On what other team would the arrival of a part-time designated hitter be worthy of its own hype video?

Here’s the other thing that makes the social media team special: they have a VERY keen awareness of what content works, and where.

A lot of teams will use the same photos on Twitter and Instagram, allowing their content to pull double-duty. The Rays do this as well, featuring heavily across platforms the high quality of the photos they share on Instagram, but they also share completely unique — and slightly less photogenic — content on Twitter, understanding that more is more in the ever-updating rapidfire environment where the afterthought of a scheduled tweet might find itself lost amid excitement over something like, say, the Manny Machado signing.

That’s why the Rays keep sharing content like simple pitching and batting practices, which still excites those hungry for baseball, but doesn’t rely on the same level of polish that a well-curated Instagram feed does.

The Rays have more and better access than any beat writer would, and are sharing more and better content than any beat writer could.

This simple strategy of more would be enough to stand out among team accounts, but the Rays also deliver more with quality.

The Rays social media team seems to have an innate understanding of branding, and the brand they’re building for the Rays in 2019 is fun, frothy, and full of hype.

You can even see it in the subtle change to their logo: bright blue, like a neon cousin to the team’s standard Columbia Blue, impossible to ignore, easy to spot in a feed overwhelmed with navy and red icons.

It’s a simple thing to change, but it has a huge impact in that it’s easy for a Rays fan to spot when content is whipping past on Tweetdeck. On Instagram, the high res images are cheerful and luminous, the color turned up to 11, that same logo gleaming among the stories at the top of the page.

On Facebook, where an audience has more patience, the crew can share longer-format videos, and larger albums, like this 40+ picture spring training glimpse. The Rays are utilizing each platform in a unique way, working to best capitalize on the attention of different groups of fans. And for those who follow across all platforms: the content never gets stale.

There’s something new and exciting everywhere you look, like well designed phone wallpapers, player Q&A’s, and giveaways, and even features like this:

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A different take on the "opener" strategy.

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As someone who spends much of the pre-season scouring for content and things to share with eager baseball fans, the Rays have provided a buffet of options unlike anything I’ve ever seen in all my years as a baseball fan.

The Secret to Success: Trust

The Rays also seem to have found success in allowing the players themselves to be a huge part of the process.

Willy Adames and Sterling McLean
Courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

They engage the team’s players so that they’re having fun, sharing the unedited product, and letting each player participate in creating something that will represent them individually to the fans.

The Rays are allowing players to cultivate their own identities, an element missing from the baseball landscape writ large.

Left to right: Willy Adames, Sterling McLean, Ryan Sheets, Warren Hypes, Kevin Sabitus
Courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

You might have seen players sharing videos from their offseason training programs. Each video gave a unique window in to the player the fans know and likely miss seeing on the field. Each is well edited and filmed, and each concluded with a simple Rays burst logo, the finger print of the team on a well produced video.

This is an effort above and beyond for both the team and the player, and we the fans are better for it.

Kevin Kiermaier
Courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

Professional players know they’re going to be photographed, they know they’re going to have to do a certain number of media shoots, but it feels like the Rays media team really aims to ensure that the unique personality of the individual is allowed to shine through.

We were lucky enough to get some behind-the-scenes content from the Rays social media team, and it lends insight to what goes on before we see the final product. You might have seen Instagram stories of players interacting with a giant tub of paint recently, and quite honestly it just looks like a ton of fun.

Kevin Kiermaier
Courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

This level of creativity from what is, collectively, the Rays Marketing and Creative Services department deserves a round of applause. They have demonstrated a clear understanding of the social media landscape that all other teams should be taking notes on.

And as for the fans? Well, we’re just lucky to reap the rewards of the trailblazing work this crew is doing. Where a simple photo or cellphone video would be enough for some franchises, the Rays are cultivating an identity that is both fun and aligns with their fans’ desires for access and engagement.

It takes a village, but it’s been a worthwhile and appreciated investment. The Rays are good, and their fan engagement has never been better.

So here, have another hype video.

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Whole Squad Ready (and here)

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And another:

If we’ve learned anything, there’s more where that came from, and after a long winter we couldn’t be more excited.