Oh how very long ago were the days of peanuts and cracker jacks at the ole’ baseball game. The fanatic foodie in us all is now witnessing a mega-shift in baseball grub. But, just like a pet and its owner possessing an eerie resemblance, or a car that mirrors its driver’s behavior, stadium cuisine is taking on a life of its own, and in Bronx’s backyard, the Bombers are eating away the competition.

Derek Jeter as Highlanders (game-day staples, including hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, and soda):

As classic as Jeter is to the Yankees and professional baseball, the same goes for these quintessential concessions. No game is complete without the old time feel of a mustard-lathered dog in one hand, and a warm, soft pretzel in the other.

Robinson Cano as Wholly Guacamole (beef nachos with loads of toppings):

A runs producing four-tool weapon of deliciousness. If solid fielding and team leading hitting wasn’t enough, his extra toppings are worth your pretty penny. Meat, cheese, and veggies oh my, pitchers and stomachs fear his batter’s eye! (rhyme intended).

Raul Ibanez as Carl’s Steaks (Philadelphia cheesesteaks):
The only thing coming from Philly that New Yorkers don’t mind: the cheesesteak. This old (fashioned) delectable just never seems to go away, and as grimy and crusty as it looks, it still finds a way to come through and satisfy your hunger.

Mariano Rivera as Otis Spunkmeyer and Carvel Ice Cream (fresh cookies and soft ice cream):
The picture-perfect and sugary-sweet ending to a day at the ballpark. Coming in to close in the 9th is no easy task, but both Rivera and these dessert-delights get the job done in three distinct flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and fast-ball.

Happy baseball and happy eating!

Now that Google+ is allowing brands and businesses to create their own pages, marketers and brand managers are left with yet another platform to pay attention to. After eclipsing 40 million users in October, there are certainly reasons to develop your Google+ community. To those who say Facebook is still king, I happen to agree. However, it is definitely tough to ignore a growing network of more than 40 million individuals. Building off of this, the lines between Facebook and Google+, and Twitter as well, are beginning to fade, especially with Facebook adapting several of the features that Google had promoted during their summer launch.

Google+ happens to be a different kind of social network, though. For starters, you haven't seen any advertising attached to any component of G+. Also, it was announced that contests and promotions are not going to be possible on Google+ either... for now. To get to my point of why Google+ should really be called "You+" is three-fold. First, YouTube's completely new layout and design significantly resembles more of a "news channel" and "social network" feel. With video categories more organized on the left, larger and more interactive banner advertisements, and a greater emphasis on registering your own YouTube account, Google has surely revamped YouTube's platform entirely tailored to the user. Google may want to allow brands to more effectively showcase their YouTube channels and videos across their G+ pages. Status updates say hundreds of words, pictures say thousands, and videos say millions.

My second "You+" argument revolves around the "Circles" capability that brands now have with Google+. I'll acknowledge that Facebook too has this "Friend List" and "Circle-like" functionalities, but Google+ makes it incredibly easy to organize and utilize +Circles. My main inspiration for You+ really stems from this function. Unlike never before, users ultimately have the power of not only selecting which brands to listen to and engage with, but also what type of content and messages from those brands they would like to receive. If brands can ask their fans and followers which "Circle(s)" they would like to be included in, users are essentially selecting the types of content to receive. Let's say I'm Major League Soccer. I have a terrific Google+ page. I create +Circles consisting of: each MLS team, "Videos", "Photos", "Articles", "Breaking News", "Injuries", "MLS Merchandise/Shop", "Ticket Deals", and anything that I find valuable, and that I believe my fans would want to see. If I'm able to collect information from users and fans, determine which individuals or markets prefer to be placed in which +Circle(s)... I'll have one helluva engaged community on my Google... ahem, I mean, "You+" page.

Finally, my "You+" argument falls in the hands of small businesses. Small, local, or startup companies can receive the SEO benefits of owning and operating Google+ brand pages. The rewards can go beyond this fact, though. Smaller companies can really bring together a community via Google+. From +Hangouts with customers, to the new +Chat feature with specific +Circles, Google is giving smaller companies a huge opportunity to grab the attention of customers. Even B2B businesses that may struggle on Faceook can now interact with customers on more of a intimate level. Google also has the "older generation" benefit of more people using Gmail each day (morning-afternoon-night) than perhaps logging onto Facebook during their busy work days. All of this basically boils down to building closer relationships with individuals. Small businesses can make their pages all about you, the customer, the fan, the client, the follower, and the friend. While Google is getting all the buzz, you really deserve the +.

Social media is always changing with innovative ideas and new ways of generating eyeballs. Across all platforms of social networks, innovations are keeping the social media scene up to date with original means of creating, sharing, rating, and using content. Some people like to look ahead and predict the future of social networking trends and tools (nearly impossible with social media, though). But also, individuals and companies alike strategize new ways of attracting customers through social sites. With that said, here are four of my own possible social media innovations on Twitter, GetGlue, Foursquare and Facebook.
Sponsored Twitter Avatars
On Twitter, a user is identified by two ways: username handle and avatar (profile picture). The Twitter handle is basically how users can find each other. But, what about bringing in revenue through the avatar image? For athletes, celebrities, and recognizable individuals with a big social presence, why not highlight a product into their Twitter profile picture. For example, Vitamin Water could pay David Ortiz (@davidortiz) of the Boston Red Sox to be drinking a Vitamin Water bottle in his Twitter avatar. His 133,663 followers, and other @davidortiz visitors would see Big Papi sipping the Vitamin Water bottle every time he tweeted, definitely creating more attention to the Vitamin Water brand.

* This somewhat exists already, with one example coming from @lindsaylohan who holds a “NOH8” sign in her avatar, supporting the same-sex marriage “NOH8” campaign in California.

User-Friendly GetGlue Stickers
GetGlue rewards its customers and fans with stickers of the shows, sports, movies, music and books they enjoy the most. The reality, though, is that stickers are not that amazing (in my opinion). Sure, they are fun to collect and to show off to friends, but I think they should have a little more value. That’s why I think GetGlue should smack QR codes on the back of all stickers. They can range in anything from special “Thank You” videos from celebrities, producers, musicians, and athletes; to unique discounts and offers on DVD’s, CD’s, books and more. With QR Codes, recipients can now decide: immediately place the sticker somewhere, watch QR Code videos, or scan the code and then place sticker somewhere. More value in stickers means more users and more money… everyone wins.

* If you’re thinking QR Codes are too much money or take up too much time, GetGlue could slap something else on the back of stickers, such as a “Like this Facebook page” thumbs up symbol. SOme brands, networks, shows or agents might pay get GetGlue to promote their brand’s Facebook page on the back of the show's or musician's GetGlue sticker.

Foursquare “Check In Here” Sticker with QR Code
Building a bit more on top of QR Codes, I think Foursquare has some potential to utilize the 2D barcodes. If you’ve ever noticed restaurants, retail stores, bars, or even some offices with the “Check In Here” sticker stamped on the front of the building or door, you know they are directly telling you that checking in here is possible, and potentially rewarding if there is a deal involved. Adding a QR Code to the “Check In Here” sticker could be interesting, especially for restaurants or retail stores. It could direct user's smartphones' to a short 30-second video from the chef, or share an interesting story about how the store was first started. There seems to be countless places with just "checking in" as an option, and no real value. Instead of Foursquare’s business model of part game, part social network, part rewards; it could begin to enter a fourth sector of “offline interaction and content.”

Sponsored Facebook Events
I saved this one for last, as it is the most “out there” innovation that came to me. What I mean by “Sponsored Facebook Events” is any Facebook user’s event could partner up with a brand, business, or organization. Events created on Facebook could be submitted by the admin to a “Facebook Event Marketplace” accessible by companies’ or organizations’ Facebook page admins. They “select” or “bid” for the right to sponsor the event (of course, an event for ten people is meaningless, but the ability to research events and choose which ones appear relevant and substantial enough to sponsor could generate lots of buzz amongst guests and attendees). A company or brand on the hunt for more eyeballs could reach out to the event creator, discuss a deal to reward discounts, freebies, exclusive content, or anything really to be given out. It would be pretty amazing to see something like this:
Can you see any of these innovations actually existing? Are you happy with the current GetGlue stickers, or do you agree with me? Would you or your company want to sponsor a Facebook event?
Imagine this. You wake up, take the train, get to work, turn on your computer, and the measly four hours of sleep from last night immediately hits you. You go to Starbucks for your caffeine-fix and energy boost. You babble out your order, notice the barista butcher the spelling of your name, and reach for your wallet. It’s atop your desk back in the office. Instantly, you reach for your smartphone, go to your “Starbucks Mobile Card” app, check the balance, and with an on-the-spot swipe of your phone, you’re good to go.

Fast-forward five hours and it’s time for lunch. Instead of wandering aimlessly outside, you open up your LivingSocial app, find an “instant deal” nearby, and pay directly from the phone with the saved credit card information from your account. You arrive at the restaurant, read off the confirmation number to the cashier, and once again you’re on your way.

Now it’s dinner, and you open up Foursquare. You skim through some reviews of local restaurants and even notice a restaurant review from one of your friends. You get there and happily receive 10% off your meal for your inaugural check-in. You get out your smartphone, log into your Google Wallet account, and simply pay by holding up the phone to a device at the cashier.

Welcome to 2011.

Mobile purchasing is growing at an incredible and exciting pace. Starbucks is certainly an early adapter to mobile payments albeit its straightforward technology. Starbucks card and mobile app users scan a barcode from their phone, which is basically just a picture of a barcode from the phone’s display screen. Along with card reloading, a store locator, and reward points, the mobile app and mobile payment system that Starbucks utilizes is just the beginning to on-the-go purchasing.

A step (or two even) above Starbucks’ 2D barcode purchasing is near field communication technology, or NFC. Basically, get out your phone, go to a specific mobile payment app, hold it in short range to the NFC terminal, and pay without contact. Several major banks and credit card companies have jumped on board and introduced their own services. This mobile tap-and-pay feature is starting to be built right into smartphones as well, and implementation into iPhones is surely inevitable.

The question, though, of mobile payments potentially boosting our nation’s economy, is still a mystery, especially this early in the game. However, I am optimistic that mobile payments are a key component to more consumers spending more money more frequently. Through cutting costs with deals, staying “hip” with current technology, and especially saving time, mobile purchasing is not a question of “if,” but a question of “when.”

Will you use mobile purchasing once it becomes practical and day-to-day? Are you skeptical of any breach of credit card or personal information by using it? Do you think you'll be more willing to spend if it just takes a tap or two on your phone?
Sports and social media truly complement each other. What better way to discuss the game with friends, follow your teams, hear directly from your favorite athletes (personal Facebook pages and Twitter accounts) and discover breaking news in the sports industry than social media. It does seem, though, that LIVE sporting events and social media are still dominated by the fans and media-news outlets. Because of on-going discussions, rivaling fans debating and breaking news stories from the media and beat reporters, there is certainly time and room for leagues and teams to tap into this sphere of social media. They just need to take that jump right into the LIVE world of sports.

One of my favorite combinations of live sporting events and the use of social media has been the NHL’s 2011 Winter Classic, where the @NHL live Tweeted during the game. They engaged with fans, asked trivia questions throughout the game for prizes, gave updates of player/team statistics and overall made it an enjoyable viewing experience. Yes, the New Year’s Day winter-wonderland hockey celebration is an atypical event and unlike anything else during the NHL season, but the National Hockey League was definitely on the right track with their LIVE Twitter feed. Even with the use of hashtags to continue the discussion among the Twitterverse, the NHL did shy away from live-streaming the game on… Facebook, let’s say. Which is exactly what Major League Baseball is doing tonight for their annual #HRDerby (see what I did there?).

Tonight, the Home Run Derby will feature some of the league’s best power-hitting sluggers. It will also feature some of the leagues best smartphone-typing Tweeters. That’s right, for the first time Major League Baseball is not only allowing, but also encouraging players to tweet during the competition. Among the Derby participants who will be live-tweeting are Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19), Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) and David Ortiz (@davidortiz). MLB and the players are certainly setting up tonight’s battle to be extra personal with player messages and on-field photos (I’d love to see the players chat with each other too, it could be neat).

In addition to Twitter, the MLB will be live-streaming the event on MLB’s Facebook page and MLB.com for fans to watch and keep up with the action… for FREE. Back in March, spring training games were streamed online LIVE as well, for mostly promotional reasons. While these users did not particularly go on to pay for the MLB.TV service, it was still a smart move by Major League Baseball to give fans the content that is usually restricted purely to television. As the Derby action is set to be covered on multiple platforms this evening, mobile devices with the MLB iOS and Android apps can also get LIVE coverage, indeed giving fans a full circle of options for watching the homeruns, and leaving no room for excuses to miss the affair.

To stay up to date with the players Tweeting during tonight’s #HRDerby, follow a list of the 12 tweeting players here!

What device will you be watching the Home Run Derby on tonight? Do you think that players LIVE tweeting the event is a good or bad idea for MLB? Players? Fans? What else would you like to see from the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game this year or in other sports?

Cable programming giant, ESPN, is known for its 24/7 sports coverage. Of course you know ESPN for SportsCenter, Monday Night Football, NBA games, and more, but it also broadcasts low-key, niche events as well. So what really gets all of us pumped for watching these rather insignificant and ingenious broadcasts? Is it the glorification of ESPN coverage? Is it the refreshing change from the four mainstream sports? Or is it the human-like nature with no-name participants? Whatever it is, from eating hotdogs to playing poker, ESPN just gets it right.

Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest
This past weekend, Joey Chestnut won his 5th straight Mustard Yellow Belt, clinching yet another hotdog eating victory. The ESPN televised event brought in 1,949,000 viewers, along with a 189% increase from last year in unique online visitors on ESPN3.com, ESPN’s live-online content platform. But when you think about it plainly, you have to ask yourself… really people? Is watching fellow-human beings scarf down hotdogs at an unnatural pace that appealing to you? And yes, yes it is. If this Coney Island tradition was televised on the Food Network, let’s say, I think it would entirely lose its individuality. The contest might as well be called “The July 4th Friendly Frankfurter Festival feat. Ferocious Food-Fancying Friends Fighting for Forefront Fame…” on the Food Network! What ESPN does so well that the Food Network could never do is truly define the competition as a primetime sport; full of color commentators, high-tech camera angles, coaches, scouting reports, rookies, and stats. And because this once-a-year event on ESPN brings in viewers, it opens the door for willing-to-pay sponsors. Eat on I say!

* While I tweeted about the event and discussed it afterwards, I got a nice little follow and a mention as well from Major League Eating (@eatingcontests) who I’d love to see build their social media presence a bit more… and fantasy competitive eating is another post for another day.

Little League Baseball World Series
Subway, Dick’s Sporting Goods, New Era, Kellogg’s, New York Life and Honda: these brands are national sponsors of a particular 1-month long international tournament that features no one over the age of 14. That’s right, the Little League World Series boasts these impressive partnerships. Baseball-playing tweens from across the world are on an international level, and how it’s done can be answered with four letters: ESPN. For one month of the year, sports fans everywhere tune into ESPN to see kids hit shallow fly balls for homeruns and Japanese prodigies cry hysterically after striking out. Heck, you’d be lucky to see 20 people total at your local little league baseball fields (and most of them are parents, too!). But ESPN cleverly combines a fun ambiance with player/kid interviews, short videos featuring the LLWS mascot, and professional broadcasters with more years of experience than the players’ years of existence.

World Series of Poker
From innocent little kids playing baseball to grumpy old men betting away their retirement savings, ESPN’s got it all! The World Series of Poker (WSOP) attracts thousands of competitors to Las Vegas each year. With a $10,000 buy-in, players compete for the 1st place prize: a Gold Bracelet, the WSOP Champion title, and oh yeah, $9 million. Sponsors of the WSOP include Miller Lite, SoBe energy drink, Harrah’s Entertainment (Caesars Entertainment Corp.), and also numerous licensees for online Poker games. ESPN covers the tournament for about two weeks, sits back, relaxes, and watches the money pour in to that giant sports-only vault that continues to grow each year.

Did I miss any other ESPN events that are NOT mainstream sports? Do you strongly agree or disagree with any of my points? I would love to hear what you guys have to think about this, so leave a comment or find me on Twitter @TylerJBecker
It was this past spring where I started to really dive into the world of mobile check-ins. From train stations to restaurants, a check-in has become as routine for me as my toothbrush, I just can't go anywhere without it. When I attended a Yankees game last month, I was a bit disappointed to receive a couple of measly points on Foursquare for checking in. Yes, the place was swarming (literally), but I wanted more! Now, I set upon my quest for getting more out of my sport-viewing check-ins.Check-in services on mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular. Foursquare recently surpassed 10,000,000 users on its check-in platform, and other services likeFacebook PlacesandGowallaare continuing to grow as well. Foursquare’s newest “badge” is called the “Triple Play” where users can check-in to a ballpark three times to receive the new emblem. With Foursquare fully jumping into the sports, and now baseball, realm, it is just the beginning of sports’ arrival into check-in services. While it is certainly early on in the game, there have in fact been innovative applications for mobile-savvy sports fans.

GetGlue is an entertainment social networking site for watching TV, listening to music, and reading books allowing users to interact with each other, make recommendations, and receive “stickers” for GetGlue engagement. Personally, I never got involved with this. I don’t find any value or incentive for using GetGlue. I can see it being a nice space to discuss the game with others or find answers to your questions, but stickers just don’t do it for me, and Google and Twitter are my go-to search destinations. GetGlue recently announced that fans could use the GetGlue app but receive Foursquare rewards for checking into sports programming. Now, whether you check in at home, or at a bar/restaurant, you can get true value for watching your favorite teams. Right now it may just be an extra point to your weekly Foursquare tally, but I could absolutely see GetGlue (and Foursquare) integrating the sports viewing experience more into their platform. Discount deals on team apparel, special rewards for being a “Super Fan” and exclusive content (videos, interviews, events, or more perhaps?) for devoted fans would be awesome add-ons.

Another fascinating
mobile app is called “Check’n Cheer which uses check-ins, team/stadium/player shout-outs, fan interaction, and more to earn points and receive rewards like FREE TICKETS and expert fan badges. I actually recently discovered this app and will absolutely use it at my next ballpark visit, or even at home watching a game. Fans at home can inter(net)mingle with fans at the stadium too by sharing photos and discussing the game. I really like how Check’n Cheer’s model is very “reward-driven” and gives users an incentive, whereas Foursquare is a bit more social and utilized for stadium tips, comments and “insider” secrets like nearby bathrooms, concession advice and best seating.

The third and final (for now) exciting mobile check-in app is Major League Baseball’s
At Bat 11app for Android phones. First, I’ll tell you this one comes with a rather hefty price ($14.99). But this is a pretty unique app. Here, checking into a stadium is not the key focus, but instead the ability to bring the game to you when all you have is your smartphone and no television is magnificent. Brilliant video highlights, up-to-date pitch-by-pitch scoring, and yes, of course, at-home or in-stadium check-ins are its prime features. If you’re on the road and just need to keep up with your team, definitely get this app. If you noticed how I said “for Androids” it is mostly because my experience with this app on my iPhone 3GS was not the greatest (slow updates, not the best video quality, and heavy price tag). It seems like a much better fit for fast, high-quality videos that Androids just seem to be perfect for.

Next time you watch a game at home or take a road trip to the ballpark, why not try one of these apps for an inning or two. It might enrich your baseball experience, and if it’s not your cup of tea, just sit back, snack on cracker jacks and enjoy the game!

* I also want to give an apologetic shout-out to Megan McMahon (@meganmcface). In my last post, I credited Brian Murray (@BTMurr) and Harrison Kratz (@KratzPR) for the information on the Red Sox's "Tweet Your Seat" promotion. However, credit is 110% due to Megan. In the TwitterChat, she originally tweeted about the "Tweet Your Seat" promotion but I failed to notice. My apologies, Megan.

Special thanks to Dalton Mack who edited this post for me. You can follow Dalton on Twitter @dmack1291, listen to his radio show on 90.3 The Core (thecore.fm) every Wednesday from 6pm-8pm, and read his blog http://dmack1291.tumblr.com
Everyone enjoys going to the ballpark or heading out to the arena for a game. Today, sitting down and watching the event is the bare minimum of the full fan experience. Now that social media is beginning to play a huge role in sporting events, one cannot seem to miss out on an opportunity of checking-in, Tweeting a picture, or updating a status. Along with enriching the fan’s experience, there are certain in-stadium and online tools that teams should absolutely look to add. Here are just five of those tools that I feel every fan should experience at the game.

1) Bypass Lane

This made-for-smartphone service is changing the way fans buy and pick up concessions at games. For me, one of my biggest in-stadium pet peeves is missing two full innings or half of the 3rd quarter waiting in line for a $7.00 hot dog. Now enter Bypass Lane, which has created an EZ-Pass like service for fans attending the game. It’s quite simple too, see how easy it really is with this short and sweet step-by-step explanation: Click here.

Of course there are a few concerns. One involves the fear of more users beginning to buy food through Bypass Lane, ultimately defeating the purpose of the express purchase. The entire concept could potentially shatter to pieces if it really catches on and the designated lane itself becomes congested with fan traffic-jams. (Resolution: start charging $1 or $2 for in-seat delivery, or perhaps limit the service to specific sections). Overall, I think it is a tremendous app that I would undoubtedly use in any stadium.

2) Tweet Your Ticket

The Red Sox run an in-game promotion called “Tweet Your Seat” to give fans the chance to win prizes at the game. It definitely helps create in-stadium buzz, and likely triggers conversation and zeal among fans in the section of the winner (“Hey! Why didn’t I get a prize?”… “Dude, just Tweet Your Seat”). With so much merchandise available and such invested fans like Red Sox Nation, this is a no brainer for the Red Sox. They could really give away just about any prize (and even award prizes to several fans for that matter) since entering the promotion is as easy as taking a picture and sending a tweet.

3) Stadium-based Social Media Hubs

Two teams are getting this one right. First, the New Jersey Devils introduced Mission Control, an actual room inside the team’s Prudential Center solely dedicated to buzz around the team and game action. What makes this extra unique is the business model behind it: completely run and operated by the team’s fans (on a volunteer basis too). These Devils Army Generals run the team’s Twitter account, Facebook page, and hockey blogs relevant to the Devils, all of which supervised by the Devils full-time staff to ensure content quality is appropriate and valuable.

The second team with this idea already implemented is the Cleveland Indians. They offer a suite at Progressive Field to selected fans who wish to operate the Indians’ social media platforms for the game. Being able to broadcast the game (while watching it live and in-person) and generating content during gamedays is a valuable piece of fan engagement to the Indians and their social media presence. 

It is truly only a matter of time before every team in each sport gives fans the chance to Tweet or update statuses in a decked-out lounge or stadium luxury box.

4) Mascot tweets

Who doesn’t love the team’s mascot? And who doesn’t love a tweeting team mascot? There are definitely unlimited options and engaging ideas that teams can use from their mascot’s Twitter account. One idea is the mascot can tweet during the game “Which section should I visit with all these FREE t-shirts to launch?!” Potentially, doing this could momentarily drift the appeal away from the game action, but nonetheless it gets fans talking and feeling excited about their favorite fanatical friend. 

Another interesting idea definitely involves photo sharing. Mascots are taking pictures with fans throughout the game, so why not incorporate that aspect into a valued approach? Especially with Twitter’s new photo sharing service, the possibility to interact with fans, produce content with visuals, and gather fan and customer information on a social media platform is incredibly valuable.

 5) Rapid Beer Dispenser

I can see this thing getting pretty controversial… but it is just so cool. All you have to do is watch this video and you can see why it is entirely different than anything else you have ever seen: Click here.

A huge concern comes with limiting spectators to a particular number of drinks per game. Perhaps a wristband or special concession scanner at stadiums could be utilized. Either way, though, this innovation has revolutionized the way stadiums fill up and distribute beer. 

This is a very stadium-specific idea. In bars, or at home, time is really not a concern, but fans attending an event surely get frustrated waiting in long lines for beer. The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia has implemented this dispenser, and you can see the fans’ satisfied reactions from the video linked above. Groundbreaking yet shamefully amazing!