How Greenfly turns athletes into advocates
Shawn Green was a recently retired Major League Baseball player when he came up with the idea for Greenfly – a content-sharing platform that’s now used by sports teams, leagues and brands of all sizes across the globe, with everyone from PSG superstar Neymar to the players in America’s Premier Lacrosse League using it every day.
With a 14-year baseball career behind him, Shawn initially took something of a hobby approach to his new venture, but after building a working prototype of the tool he decided he needed a more experienced business head involved to help Greenfly realise its potential, so he called his cousin, Daniel Kirschner.
Shawn and Daniel grew up together in the Bay Area of Northern California, but while Shawn was off hitting home runs and stealing bases for the Toronto Bluejays, LA Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets, Harvard graduate Daniel focused on opening up access to technology, working in senior roles across law, technology and business. When he moved back to the west coast to become head of corporate affairs for Activision Blizzard, the pair started spending more time together - and having seen the opportunity to do something really special with Shawn’s new concept, Daniel quit the videogames industry to become president and CEO of Greenfly.
Inspired by his own interactions with the media as a player, Shawn’s original idea was to build something that would make it easier for broadcasters to source video content remotely, but soon after Daniel came onboard the focus changed. “We realised pretty quickly that once you've built a platform to get content from people, it's also really easy to give it to them as well,” says Daniel. “But when you're sending an athlete a piece of content to share it's not going on TV, it's going on social.”
In many ways, Greenfly was ahead of its time, with Daniel and Shawn exploring the possibilities offered by self-produced video long before the rise of Snapchat, Instagram Stories and TikTok. “Often when we approached organisations in the early days they would tell us that wasn’t the kind of video they did,” says Daniel. “Nobody says that anymore.”
Shawn’s background in Major League Baseball hasn’t just opened doors for Greenfly, it’s informed almost every aspect of the business. Having somebody on board who had a real insider’s understanding of how sports organisations worked gave Greenfly a significant advantage when pursuing deals around the world, whether it was with MLB, the NBA, Germany’s Bundesliga, or the Rajasthan Royals, the first Indian Premier League cricket club to sign up. “Shawn understands the dynamic between the players, the owners and all the different components; the politics of those places and who makes the decisions,” says Daniel. “That’s been incredibly helpful.”
Shawn’s time as a world-class athlete also gave them a unique perspective on how sports stars might use the platform. “We have over 800 Major League Baseball players on our platform, so when Shawn was at spring training they kept coming up to him and saying, ‘I didn't know you were involved in Greenfly. I love Greenfly, I use it every day!’,” says Daniel. “I think one of the things that's really been crucial to our success is that we've built a mobile app that's really easy to use and has a consumer experience, even though it's part of an enterprise platform.”
In a world where fans often have allegiances to particular individuals as well as teams, organisations must now aim to harness the power of their stars’ audiences as well as their own – and Greenfly has made sure that its tools benefit both. In fact, one European football club went so far as to call it ‘Operation Win-Win’.
“Athletes are a very powerful amplification of a sports organisation,” says Daniel, “but just because the organisation's getting a benefit doesn't mean the athletes don't want it. Sometimes we find that the commercial side of sports organisations are hesitant to ask athletes to do anything more than train and play. However, players invariably view it as a favour because it’s also helping them build their personal brand. If we go into a club and put a couple of athletes on Greenfly, every single member of that team is going to ask for it. Everyone wants compelling content to share.”
This reciprocal, collaborative spirit often extends to the specific usage of Greenfly as well. Daniel offers the example of a big NBA star who used photos supplied by the league via Greenfly to create a TikTok video for his personal account. Then there’s the case of Washington Wizards power forward Rui Hachimura. As the first Japanese basketball player to be drafted by an NBA team, the team were able to supply him with Japanese content to share, which has helped the Wizards to build an audience base in a country over 6000 miles from D.C.
It’s not just about the players either. Some teams have utilised their fitness staff, cheerleading teams and celebrity fans to create content and build that affiliation, particularly during the COVID shut down when there was no competitive action to rely on.
At the end of 2020, Greenfly took this approach to the next level by launching Engage – a web-based tool that can be dropped into any existing app or website to source content from fans. “A lot of our existing customers were putting fans onto the Greenfly app in order to get content from them,” says Daniel. “It didn't really make sense to bring fans into this private network experience, so we created this really simple, elegant tool instead.”
Engage’s first taste of a major event was when Shawn’s old team the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in October. With all the spectators at home rather than inside the stadium, the team put out a call for video footage of fans watching the climax of the crucial sixth game, which clinched the Dodgers their first title since 1988. “They put together a really beautiful video of fans reacting to the final moments and put it on social,” says Daniel. “It was one of their best-performing videos all year.”
Daniel only expects this kind of fan engagement to continue, even when crowds are allowed back into sporting venues, and suggests that coronavirus has merely accelerated a lot of existing trends regarding remote collaboration. “Automated workflow solutions like Greenfly allow organisations to cover a lot more territory and save costs on travel and things like that,” he says. “We've seen a huge surge in engagement and viewership across different social media and digital platforms.”
And the numbers back Daniel's words up. In Major League Baseball alone, Greenfly moves hundreds of thousands of pieces of content over the course of a season and its overall usage in 2020 was greater than the previous five years combined. Last year, Greenfly grew as a business and even recently kicked off another round of fundraising. “If anything we were even more relevant during this period,” Daniel says. “In a world where budgets were being cut and people were dropping technology that they didn’t think they needed, the fact that organizations were renewing and increasing their use of Greenfly speaks to the value of what we've built.”
It’s this kind of reliance that has led to much of Greenfly’s success, which, until a new head of marketing was brought in this time last year, has come about almost entirely through word of mouth. People move from team to team or league to league and take Greenfly with them, while it occasionally even jumps industries, which is how it ended up being involved in Joe Biden’s successful presidential campaign.
Two weeks before the election, Biden himself tweeted a link to the Greenfly app encouraging his supporters to “donate” their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to the cause. Daniel says Biden and the Democratic National Committee onboarded “thousands and thousands” of supporters, sending them content via Greenfly every day to share on their social channels.
“It was an incredible experience,” says Daniel. “It was really electric to see how valuable it was and it opened up our thinking about bringing fans into an environment, not just to get content from them, but also to provide content to them to share. We have some new things that we're working on now in that regard.”
While Joe Biden and Neymar might not seem to have too much in common, Daniel doesn’t think they’re that different. “Political candidates and supporters are very similar to athletes in that if you give them access to great content they're going to share it with their audiences,” he says. “That level of passion and genuine affiliation is when our platform is most effective.”
Athletes are a very powerful amplification of a sports organisation."