St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Communications Ron Watermon spoke about the ball club’s strategic use of online media during his appearance as featured lecturer at Mineral Area College’s Fourth Friday speaker series.
The program was held Feb. 26 in the school’s Fine Arts Theatre on its Park Hills campus.
Watermon serves as the team’s point person on all business and baseball communications. The Cardinals Communications Department oversees the team’s media and public relations, including managing credentialing and providing media access to cover the team, issuing press releases, conducting press conferences, publishing the annual media guide, daily game notes, home stand highlights and various other publications. His department also oversees the club’s use of social media, manages team photography, and coordinates the team’s government and civic affairs.
“Technology is changing how we connect with one another,” Watermon said. “As stewards of this great franchise we have an obligation to stay on top of the trends and try to leverage that in a way that really pays tribute to the tradition of our game which is really connecting with fans.”
Pointing out changes in the “dynamic landscape of communication” that have occurred in his lifetime, Watermon said, “When I was growing up the Amazon was a rainforest and a river that had piranhas. For my son, Charlie, it’s a streaming media service. He watches cartoons and TV shows.
“Apple was a fruit. For Charlie, dad’s iPhone is a television. A hashtag when I was growing up was what we used to play tic-tac-toe — not join a conversation. The world is very dynamic. Things have changed. When I was growing up, ‘stream’ was a noun — now it’s a verb.”
Watermon pointed out, however, that despite the many changes that have occurred in the world of communication, the relationship between baseball fans and the game remains the same. He offered as an example his son’s idolizing of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
“In my house everything is about ‘Yadi,’” he said. “When I come home with a bobblehead, my son Charlie is like, ‘Did Yadi give you that?’ ‘No Charlie, he did not.’
“When I was a child everything was about Lou Brock. The very first ballgame I attended, they had a giveaway item of Lou Brock stealing the record number of bases in the prior year. From that moment forward Lou Brock was my favorite player. I annoyed every adult around me about Lou Brock — just like my son does about ‘Yadi.’”
Noting the power of video today, Watermon showed a photo of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay taking a video with his phone in the dugout of opening day ceremonies.
“Video is ubiquitous,” he said. “There are over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute by average people. The cellphone is probably the first place that people turn to right now if breaking news happens. I will argue that is the place where people will go to right away to see what’s going on. The cellphone has changed everything. Today more people consume our website via a mobile device than their computer. We passed a milestone two years ago where that’s the case — and that’s growing.
Watermon believes that social media is changing the way people connect with each other.
“I like to argue that social media is sort of playing the role that baseball did back in the early days of the game,” he said. “What I mean by that is — radio is how we stayed connected to the team when we weren’t at the game and it was how we enriched our experience when we were at the game.
“Growing up I remember going to the game and seeing fans listening to the game with a transistor radio. That’s the case today with social media. If you just look around the ballpark, you’ll see people on their phones following the game on Twitter. I know fans are doing that at home. But the big differentiation between social media and radio is, in many respects the fans are [Mike] Shannon and [John] Rooney. It’s a two-way street. It’s a community.”
According to Watermon, there are 13.7 million people who visit the Cardinals website every season, 2.3 million people who follow the team on Facebook, 756,000 people that follow on Twitter and more than 400,000 followers of the Cardinals on Instagram.
Because of the growing use of new media sources in recent years, the ball club’s communications department is placing much of its focus on creative ways to build a deeper connection with fans. It began simply several years ago with the creation of a blog called Cards Insider.
“That has evolved into us rapidly investing in telling our own story using video,” Watermon said. “Now we’re to the point where a week from this Sunday we’re going to launch a television show.”
He expressed pride for two recent projects that have gained quite a bit of attention. The first was a 53-episode online program called “The Front Office” that led to an 11 percent increase in followers and more than 50,000 likes. The second is a 70-episode “Back to the Future” parody called “Bird to the Future.”
“We did it to promote our Cardinals museum and archive brand,” Watermon said. “We also wanted to have some fun, generate smiles and show our organization in a different light.”
In addition to receiving 6,315 likes, 1,514 comments and 3,050 more followers, “Bird to the Future” was also a 2015 Emmy winner.
“That’s something we’re all really proud of,” he said.
Watermon also expressed pride in having received the cooperation of “Back to the Future” co-writer and Cardinals fan, Bob Gale, in putting together the project. In fact, Gale reportedly traveled several hours to the home of “Back to the Future” star Christopher Lloyd who filmed one of the project’s 14-second segments playing the part of the film’s eccentric inventor, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown.
“Bob drove two-and-a-half hours there and back, which we really appreciated,” Watermon said. “And like with all of the other segments, Bob videoed Christopher Lloyd’s part using nothing more than his smartphone.”
The cellphone is also changing the way that content is created.
Watermon’s projects have included developing a comprehensive cloud-based digital archive of important team assets, helping coordinate the sale of memorabilia from the old Busch Stadium, lobbying to reform Missouri’s ticket resale laws, coordinating the team’s full cooperation with Sen. George J. Mitchell’s investigation into performance enhancing substances in major league baseball and leading a front office team to coordinate the various events associated with 2009 All-Star Game.
Watermon also helped coordinate the “Teams Unite for Joplin” effort in 2011 and led the team’s social media based “Stand for Stan” campaign in 2010 to pay tribute to Stan Musial that culminated in President Obama awarding Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Before joining the Cardinals, he was the legislative aide to St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall. As legislative aide, Watermon was responsible for managing legislative affairs for St. Louis County government, including drafting legislation and coordinating the county’s lobbying efforts. He also handled a number of special projects for the county executive, such as opening the county’s first shelter for abused women and their children in 1992. Watermon has worked for Fleishman-Hillard, an international public relations firm, and has been involved in a variety of political campaigns during his career.
“I like to argue that social media is sort of playing the role that baseball did back in the early days of the game.” — Ron Watermon, St. Louis Cardinals VP of Communications
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or email@example.com