“Boston Red Sox Buy Social Media Vending Machines to Spread Holiday Cheer and Hype for Next Season” from Sport Techie


In the midst of revamping their roster during the offseason, the Boston Red Sox rethought how to build hype for next season, too.

The additions of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello bring buzz around the team, but they can’t sell tickets just by their names alone. The Red Sox–despite its tradition and generational following–are not immune to the realities of ticket-buying. Signs have pointed towards a downward trend over the last few seasons. The average ticket price for the Red Sox’s home opener used to be at $493.01 in 2010, dropping to $230.69 in 2013, per The Boston Globe. Lots of different factors come into play, gradually losing profits of yesteryear and dealing with its cyclical nature.

Nevertheless, there’s a psychological component to attracting fans and maintaining their interest. They launched a loyalty program tied to its digital ticketing last season, which intends to offset some of these losses. Fans that register are incentivized to win experiences, like throwing out the first pitch or being a scorekeeper behind the Green Monster.

Besides this ongoing, staple in-season initiative, though, the Red Sox plot out activations around major dates of their calendar year. When tickets go on-sale and Opening Day, naturally, are key touch points to drive unique promotions in order to connect with fans in the greater Boston area.

For this holiday season, Meghan Ryan, Boston Red Sox’s Marketing and Social Media Specialist, mentions to SportTechie that they wanted to spread some joy and goodwill for fans, while creating excitement surrounding next season’s tickets on-sale on December 13. Social media served as a critical facet of this campaign insofar as prompting more fan-generated content beyond what’s derived from the team’s social channels.

The two days leading up to that weekend they deployed two social media-powered vending machines, a Twitter one at the Prudential Center and an Instagram one at Samuel Adams Park. Fans visiting these machines would win a randomly selected prize by posting on their social accounts via the hashtag “#TheGiftOfSox,” where someone could even receive a pair of 2015 season tickets.

In previous seasons’ activations, the Red Sox have centered their focus on scavenger hunts–a tactic that has become rather commonplace, especially coupling it with social media. This time, however, they wanted to do something that’s different and possibly a step further, where momentum could build across Boston as well as some real furor. The team is always on the look out for the best technology out there to engage their fans. Ryan asserts their desired to complete a campaign that has never been done in professional sports before.

“This activation differs from scavenger hunts because we were able to reach and give away prizes to a greater number of fans. Scavenger hunts typically involve the brand account tweeting out clues to a location and the first person to find the whereabouts winning the prize,” says Ryan.

“Additionally, this campaign encouraged a greater volume of fan-generated content, which really drove awareness and excitement beyond the Red Sox social media following. The vending machines required the user to take action in the form of a social media post to win a prize; and we were really enthused by what our fans were sharing,” Ryan continued.

Yet, these social-fueled vending machines have sprouted across the country from brands prior to the Red Sox’s turn. In effect, this interaction functions as social currency. This technology sparks value to a social media post intertwined with a real life experience. The brand offers a gift in exchange for the endorsement of a tweet or Instagram photo.

While the tech within a vending a machine isn’t all that complex, just about any developer could hack it. Essentially, all that’s needed is as follows: first extract the core of the generic machine, change the ordinary keypad with something like a Raspberry Pi, place a monitor alongside this computer that’s connected online and to the social outlet’s API–Twitter’s API happens to be the most potent one and is open to all platforms. The going rate to purchase one of these social media vending machines is anywhere between $30,000 to $40,000.

One quick example of a non-sports brand utilizing this gadget is Oreo during this past year’s South by Southwest. They let users create their own 3D-printed, edible Oreo derived from a trending Twitter hashtag in real-time, where 4,000 possibilities existed. The entire process was transparent and visible for them to see. There wasn’t a comprehensive push for this, more of a casual approach.

In the Red Sox’s case, they partnered with a manufacturer, Innovative Vending Solutions (IVS), based out of Dayton, Ohio. They assured the Red Sox that were the first pro sports team to use their services as well as the first customer to leverage two separate machines for Twitter and Instagram. These social media vending machines are completely user-friendly at first point of contact.

A typical greeting generated by the machine that fans would receive: “It may be cold, but Spring is in the air! Sox tickets on sale 12/13. Tell us why you can’t wait for baseball season using the prompt #TheGiftOfSox and #Sox123.”

The three digits after Sox in the second hashtag enables it to be a code for the machine to initiate. Once the fan shares a social post with both of those hashtags, the machine vends the prize. The Red Sox dispersed identical boxes with a prize or information inside of them. Larger physical prizes, like signed jerseys or bats, stated fans should then reach out to a team representative to get their prize. Each of the two machines had 200 prizes at one time and lasted about 45 minutes to an hour before the team had to refill them. 3,600 total prizes were given out to excited fans through the course of the campaign.

Taking into account the amount of prizes received by fans, it’s not surprising the Red Sox surpassed their own expectations for such an activation. They originally were hoping to net 10 million impressions, finishing with over 25 million impressions instead. Their primary goal with any of its campaigns lies in solidifying the team’s connection with fans.

“These machines generated thousand of smiles from the fans who braved the cold weather or snuck out of work for a chance to win. Getting fans excited about baseball in the middle of December and rewarding them for being passionate about the Red Sox is what really made the campaign worthwhile,” states Ryan.

In terms of the specific social media metrics, this activation registered 25 million impressions over a three-day window. There were 4,500 Twitter mentions and 1,400 Instagram posts, reaching a potential viewership of 18.5 million users. Pertaining to Twitter, 35 percent of those mentions were retweeted by 1,390 unique profiles, extending the mentions to another 7 million people. The short-form, ease of communication, and individual interaction presented Twitter and Instagram as the most viable social mediums for this campaign.

Still, these social-powered vending machines didn’t prove to be a direct answer to driving ticket sales. It merely played a part of the Red Sox’s overall marketing strategy to support their tickets-on-sale push. The social impressions and subsequent local media coverage helped spur anticipation for tickets being available. At the very least, this campaign fostered a positive communication vehicle between the team and the fans leading up to this date. The affinity from Bostonians for their Red Sox certainly emanated through social media, which were personal reflections that gravitates the former with latter.

Had this activation been a scavenger hunt instead, it would have simply catered to power users and those that have mobile notifications ready for team’s messaging. The vending machines at identifiable places provided a more frictionless, robust, and accessible opportunity for all Red Sox fans in Boston to take part. Location-based apps first were introduced on the MLB league-wide level back in 2010, but that can’t be really hyperlocal unless the team’s ran its own mobile operations. Such a campaign doesn’t make sense for practical data collection–much less tangible ticket sales–just perform surprise and delight.

The Boston Red Sox hit safely to spread holiday cheer and hype for next season…like this…