As has become pretty much an annual affair, we sat down with the man behind @Redblacks recently for a chat. Tyler Rabb is OSEG’s “Growth Hacker” (his official title), taking over from Mat Smith, who moved on following last year’s Grey Cup. Tyler shared a bit about himself, his road to a communications/social media career in sports and experiences behind the scenes with the Redblacks.
@DefendTheR: Let’s start with your background. From Ottawa originally?
@tylerjrabb: My younger years were somewhat divided between a few small towns around Ottawa. My family eventually moved into the “big city” just in time for me to start high school. Looking back it was nice to have the opportunity to experience both lifestyles.
Once in Ottawa, I played football with the Canterbury Mustangs (NCAFA) and rugby at Hillcrest High School.
After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to travel and took some random jobs along the way, including: tree planter in northern Ontario, cook at an oil sands camp in Alberta, and bartender at various establishments around Ottawa.
At 25, I finally found something that caught my attention: Advertising. I was intrigued by the creative side of the industry, as writing had always been a strength of mine.
I graduated from Algonquin College with an advanced diploma in Advertising and Marketing Communications Management.
When and how did you end up with OSEG?
Throughout my time at Algonquin, I realized I wanted to become a content creator in the sports world. The final part of completing my program was a six-week internship, and it was sports or nothing for me. Little did my professors know, I only applied to two organizations; the Ottawa Senators and OSEG. The internship at OSEG turned out to be the perfect opportunity, as it’s main role was to create content for all our teams’ (Ottawa Fury FC, Ottawa 67’s, and REDBLACKS) websites.
My six-week internship turned into a six-month contract, which turned into a full-time career in October 2015.
I owe a lot to Will Renaud and Mat Smith. The latter you know very well. The former, OSEG’s web guru (unofficial title), gave me the internship and was instrumental in my contract and full-time hire. They’ve both taught me many valuable skills that continue to serve me well. Just before Mat left OSEG in December, he handed me the keys to the REDBLACKS social channels. They were and continue to be huge shoes to fill, though Mat’s creativity and work ethic inspire me to get better everyday.
Not only am I entrusted with our social channels, but I also manage web content and contribute to email communications for all of OSEG’s properties.
What is your history as a CFL fan? Any favourite moments?
I wasn’t a big CFL fan growing up, though I remember attending an Ottawa Renegades game with my dad in the early 2000s. The rowdy crowd and exciting game action was infectious and created an interest in football and the league. I still have trading cards of Kerry Joseph, Josh Ranek and Pat Woodcock.
Biggest surprise working for a professional sports franchise?
The athletes. Don’t want to sound like a “fanboy”, but growing up you idolize them. You play them in video games, hang their posters on your wall, memorize their stats. Working with them every day though, you realize they really are just people like you and me.
Give us a couple of highlights from your tenure so far at OSEG – on-field or off.
Winning the Grey Cup last November has to top the list. I was right alongside Mat on the bench at BMO Field when we took down the Stamps in OT. Being on the field and in that locker room afterwards with the champagne and cigars still seems so surreal. That entire week in Toronto, from flying in to flying out with the team is a time I won’t ever forget.
Traveling to Edmonton this July was another great experience. I had dinner with the team and everyone had to introduce themselves and divulge one fun fact. Ryan Lindley revealed he was taking French lessons from JP Bolduc and after a quick demonstration of his surprising skill, the entire room filled with laughter.
Any lowlights you want to mention?
The ties. I always thought draws were a rarity in pro football, though I’ve experienced two in my two years with the team. Both versus Calgary and both at home openers (2016, 2017). They leave a bad taste in your mouth, but I guess they have been an integral part of building a rivalry with the Stampeders.
Tell us about the OSEG social media strategy.
The five key principles at the heart of our social media strategy are:
- Being human
- Establishing relationships
- Being timely
Mat crafted these pillars to create a strong sense of community on our social channels and we as a team continue to live by them. We know RNation is the reason we’re so successful and we want them to feel appreciated, involved and excited to be a part of this community.
How do you personally approach it?
My outlook has always been that content is king. Without great content who cares? It needs to be in context, engaging and timely.
I’m also not afraid to be edgy. I like to banter with other teams, sometimes in other leagues. If I see an opportunity to create a conversation I usually pounce.
Engaging with RNation and showing them the appreciation they deserve is another focus of mine. Their continued support through the good times and the bad make my job the best in the league.
QB Clubs and player Q&As seem to be very prevalent this year. What are some of your favourite initiatives? Anything fun on the horizon?
I’m always looking to create more genuine fan experiences. Our players love interacting with fans in person and through different social media. Bringing those two sides together is an amazing feeling and creates lasting memories for both fans and players.
I love impromptu content. The team is filled with characters and I want the fans to see that side of every player in our locker room. Stay tuned for the story of Bud Ball…
Biggest surprise being around the players and/or on the sidelines?
How much trash talk actually happens. Even some of the league’s biggest stars participate and it can get nasty.
Your favourite element/area of TD Place?
Has to be the field. Walking across it after a game still gives me chills, whether it be with all the fans under the lights or pitch black with no one else in sight.
Adidas took over as uniform manufacturer last year. Should we expect to see any 3rd/retro/heritage stuff this season?
Not that I’ve heard, unfortunately. I was a big fan of the proposed plaid helmets though. Fingers crossed something like that comes along again.
Oh, what might have been. Lol.
Favourite visiting stadium you’ve been to?
This one’s tough, as I haven’t visited Calgary, Saskatchewan, or BC yet. So my choice would have to be Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. My first and only visit was for the 2015 Grey Cup. I volunteered to be Big Joe’s handler at the game and that turned out to be quite the experience.
Love the new #RNation Twitter emoji. How did that come about? Who decided on the wood cookie?
The #RNation emoji came about as a league-wide initiative. I was a part of the team that chose the wood cookie for the Redblacks. We thought it would be the perfect addition to the RNation hashtag, as we wanted to bring this essential part of our game day experience to the Twitterverse.
I really like the CFL Frenzy game. I think from a marketing standpoint it’s a great endeavour by the league. It allows our fans to experience the game via a completely different medium. Instead of a passively watching the on-field action, they get to control the show.
Making it mobile-only is another brilliant move. If it becomes extremely successful, maybe it can make to the jump to home gaming systems. It also attracts football fans that may not be familiar with the CFL. The average gamer has most likely only played NFL or NCAA football in the past. And I haven’t heard anything but positivity from the players. Who wouldn’t love becoming part of video game? I know I would!
Advice to anyone wanting to get into pro sports?
Find a way in and don’t stop working. Volunteer, intern, whatever you have to do. Just keep knockin’ at that door. No job is too small. From putting up posters in the restrooms to sorting through our photo archives, I’ve had many responsibilities at OSEG and every one is just as important as the next.
Anything else you want to share with Redblacks fans?
First off I’d like to thank RNation. Working with such a great fan base every day makes my job one of the best in sports. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, please feel free to let us know at @REDBLACKS or @tylerjrabb.
Secondly, I’ve talked a lot about myself here, but obviously I get to work with a very talented group of people behind the scenes. Other members of our marketing team, our video production team, and our content and communications team all contribute to our social media in incredible ways.
Thanks for your time and all the work you do to bring #RNation closer to the team, Tyler!
Thanks for reading!
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