The Social: Checking in with Mat Smith

Over the first three years of the Ottawa Redblacks existence, the man behind Redblacks social media – Mat Smith – was always generous with his time for us (2014 interview here, 2016 here) and the #RNation fanbase. Mat moved on from OSEG following the 2016 season to start Harbourfront Media. We caught up to reminisce and look at what’s ahead.

@DefendTheR: Suffice to say it has been a big year for you since last we spoke. Catch us up on what went on with you since last summer – both professionally and personally.

@smith_mat: It’s been a big year, and a bit of whirlwind, to be honest. In my professional life I was lucky enough to win a Grey Cup, launch a business, and take a dive into politics. The real highlight of the past year, however, was getting to marry my best friend, Kadie Smith. We had a small, intimate ceremony on the beach in Victoria, BC. It was definitely a day I’ll never forget. 

Being part of a Grey Cup champion has got to be something special. Can you share a personal story or two from Grey Cup Week that stood out for you?

Knowing this would be my last year with the team, I definitely made an effort to stop and take it all in more than I did in 2015.

Besides the obvious – the locker room celebrations, seeing Hank run out onto the field after being hurt in warmup, Grey Cup parade in Ottawa, etc., there are a few other moments that stand out to me.

Call me crazy, but I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew we were going to win the Grey Cup. It was our last full practice and Juron Criner made the best catch I’ve ever seen in person. The mood to that point had been positive and upbeat, but it went to another level after that catch. The catch seemed to spark everyone on the team and eliminated any doubts that may have been lingering. I left the practice facility with chills running down my spine after seeing the players so hyped. The high stayed with the team until after we had won. It was special.

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Another memorable moment was post-game following Henry’s media availability. I was heading out with Kadie to take our photo at midfield (something we never got to do in 2015). The stadium was completely empty – we were the only ones on the field – until I noticed Hank, followed by a scrum of photographers, walking out from the other side. He was still in his uniform and was wearing the biggest smile I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something). He broke the silence (like only Hank can) by yelling “I see y’all holding hands!”. As he got closer, we all paused and gave each other the “did that just really happen” look. Then he gave us a big hug, said “we did it!” and headed back into the locker room to join his family. Having that kind of quiet moment amidst the crazy post-game celebrations is something I’ll never forget.

Finally, after we finally left the stadium at about midnight, before heading to the team party, Kadie and I went to Earl’s for a celebratory glass of Lagavulin. She bought me one after we lost in 2015 and it’s become our go-to drink for important occasions ever since. Sharing that moment with her was pretty special.

Winning a championship in just three short years is something pretty darn special. Other than making sure you captured as much great #content as possible, what were you feeling as the game ended?

Haha, you know it’s always about #content. As the game ended I felt happiness, relief, excitement, a massive rush of adrenaline, and probably a million other emotions. Luckily I had my co-worker Tyler with me on the sidelines, as well as a video crew, so we all alternated celebrating and capturing content. It worked out well and everyone got to enjoy the moment. 

Did you get a ring?

Yes, I did! I actually just got it a couple days ago! OSEG was very generous and I can’t thank them enough for making the staff feel valued and part of the team. It’s something I’ll cherish forever.


Beauty!

Obviously the decision to move on from OSEG had to be a tough one. What would you say is your biggest takeaway (other than the ring) from working with the Redblacks?

The decision to leave was very bittersweet, but it was time to move on. My biggest takeaway? That’s easy. It was the opportunity to travel the country, work with players, visit stadiums, and experience what the CFL truly means to Canada. The league, the players, the fans, the stadiums – they’re all sewn into the Canadian fabric. To me, the best stories are those that transcend sport, and I got to witness/be part of a lot of them in my three years in the league.

Looking back at your three years, is there something you were able to capture or an initiative you spearheaded that you’re most proud of?

I can’t pick one thing, but I’m most proud to see what the #RNation community has become. The return of football to Ottawa was an incredible story and I just wanted to capture every moment the best I could – from the name and logo unveil, all the way to the Grey Cup parade down Bank Street. I consider myself very lucky to have been part of it. 

What’s your hope/outlook for the Redblacks organization over the next 3-5 years?

Obviously I hope they have continued success both on and off the field. I think the organization has set themselves up to do just that (despite their current record). The fan base is young and engaged, the stadium is beautiful, and both the business and football ops staff see the bigger picture. I’m really excited to see the Grey Cup here in November. It’s going to be awesome. 

Now that you’re experiencing the Redblacks as a fan, have you made it to the Brewer Park tailgate yet?

I haven’t yet, but will definitely make an effort to before the season ends. My parents have been and say it’s a lot of fun.

What was the impetus for your new venture? What is the hole in the marketplace that you are filling?

The timing was right and Kadie and I had a mutual desire to start something of our own. From there, Harbourfront Media was born! We both love telling stories and have a good understanding and feel for the social media space. Our focus is on using strong engagement and meaningful content to produce brand strategies that help tell a story and create a connection between the brand and their audience. 

At the moment we’re working with various-sized clients, but I think our real end-goal is to work with small and medium-sized businesses to create and implement social/content strategies, then help set up their internal team for success down the road. 

Harbourfront Media is looking after the CFL’s official Grey Cup Festival account, @GreyCupFestival. What is the goal/plan for this year?

Our goal to to make this year’s Festival account the most accessible, fun, engaging, and content-focused it has ever been. We really want to highlight the festival themes of inclusiveness, Canadiana, grassroots, Canada 150, and #OurNation. We basically want to act as a virtual concierge that also produces meaningful content to tell the story of the Grey Cup Festival. The idea is to take the key learnings from our combined time at the Redblacks, Argos and Lions, and apply them to the Festival accounts. 

What’s the next big thing in social media? 

Live video. Location marketing. Influencer marketing. Also keep an eye out for brands utilizing messaging services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. 

Who is looking after @Redblacks these days? What were your parting words of wisdom for him/her?

It’s a combination of very talented folks, but Tyler Rabb is mostly running point on Redblacks social this season. 

I left the team a “Guide to the Galaxy’ type legacy document with all the nerdy social media stuff, but really I just stressed the importance of the following things:

  • Humanize the players
  • Eliminate barriers between fans and players
  • Be accessible and engaging
  • Take risks
  • Capture the moment
  • Tell a meaningful story

I also said to have fun and enjoy the ride. There’s only eight other people in Canada who have this job, so consider yourself lucky. 

On behalf of Redblacks fans everywhere, I want to thank you for all your work and dedication to bringing us closer to our team. You really understand what #RNation means and made sure every fan felt included. Great job.

That means a lot to me. I really appreciate the kind words. I’m glad I could play a small part in bringing football back to the nation’s capital. I loved every moment of it.

Follow Mat on Twitter at @smith_mat.

Check out Harbourfront Media on Twitter at @HBFMedia.

Thanks for reading!

Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR

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A couple opinions on the Redblacks new jerseys

On Thursday (or Jersday, as it turns out), the CFL and its nine teams revealed their new Adidas-designed uniforms to the world. In Ottawa, we heard tidbits of information over the last month about some of the new features, but today was the day for fans to finally see what their team will be wearing in 2016.

Before we look at the new uniforms, let’s take a last look at the teasers, shall we?

(someone played with the greyscale to reveal this:)

And now, the Redblacks new uniforms, with thoughts from @DefendTheR and fellow jersey geek @NevillCarney.

HOME (black)


Changes:

  1. Red added to collar, shoulders and ‘flashes’ down the side of the jersey
  2. Larger ‘REDBLACKS’ wordmark below the collar
  3. Number colours swapped, now white with red outline, and no longer italicized
  4. Shoulder numbers removed
  5. (Appears to be) smaller font used for namebar on the back
  6. ‘#RNation’ added to pant leg
  7. Red trim behind the knee of pants
  8. Red socks

AWAY (white)

(Sorry, not too many pictures around just yet)



Again, here’s how they’ve changed:

  1. Red accents added to collar
  2. Red ‘OTTAWA’ wordmark below the collar
  3. Number colours swapped, now red with black outline, and no longer italicized 
  4. Shoulder numbers removed
  5. (Appears to be) smaller font used for namebar on the back
  6. ‘#RNation’ added to pant leg

Alright, now for our impressions of the changes:

@DefendTheR: The addition of red to the home uniform was a must and nicely executed. Was hoping to see some striping on the shoulders, but not to be.

@NevillCarney: RED! If there was one single complaint I had when Ottawa unveiled their uniforms in their inaugural season in 2014, it was that a team named the REDblacks hardly had any red! I love the red compression stockings and the way they seemingly connect with the pants.

@DefendTheR: The larger REDBLACKS wordmark on the home jersey is sharp, filling up a non-personalized jersey a tiny bit better.

The move to white numbers was a no-brainer. The old ones were simply too dark. That being said, I still think white numbers with no outline would look just a bit better.

@NevillCarney: Numbers improve legibility as they are no longer italicized and are now white on the black jersey, answering broadcasters’ prayers for better contrast. They also keep the axe notch in the font, so bonus points there.

As for REDBLACKS on the front of the black home jersey, given the large francophone population in the city, it seems to give preferential treatment to the English version of the name rather than the “Rouge et Noir” translation. The best way to please both sides is to have it read “Ottawa”, similar to the new white road jersey.

@DefendTheR: It’s great to see the OTTAWA wordmark on the road uniform (especially since it won’t be on the pants). Also, the use of red numbers provide quite a different look, one somewhat resembling the glory days, in fact.

Again, a single-colour number probably makes this look just a touch better, but it’s a good look.

@NevillCarney: I wasn’t overwhelmed with the new CFL logo when it was first revealed during Grey Cup week last season, but on the jerseys, on the red collar, it looks really sharp.

@DefendTheR: I’m not a huge fan of #RNation on the pants, frankly. And not for any of the silly reasons being spewed on social media, but because there isn’t enough ‘Ottawa’ on the uniform. In fact, on the home set, there’s none. That being said, how can you not like the fact the team is giving a shoutout to the fanbase? Pretty cool gesture.

@NevillCarney: I’m on the fence with #RNation on the pants, but I like how it was captured on the inside collar. I also like that the team recognizes its incredibly strong fanbase and social media supporters.

@DefendTheR: The Redblacks confirmed the team will continue to use their white helmets on the road, which I am happy about. However, I wonder if adding a red stripe down the middle might help balance out the entire look? (UPDATE: they won’t be).

@NevillCarney: Still no red on the helmets. Essentially, if you remove the logos from the black helmet, we have the exact same one as our nemesis in Hamilton! A red facemask and/or stripe down the helmet like the old Rough Riders would fix that.

Also, no plaid! After building a strong brand with the plaid alternate jersey for the past 2 seasons, there is no sign of this on the new look. I would have bet $$$ on there being some form of plaid in the new design. Glad I’m not a betting man. 🙂

Overall Thoughts

@DefendTheR: Solid uniform upgrades. No question both sets needed more red and the home uniforms needed to be brightened up. The uniforms are definitely a more modern look, which is fine, although I would eventually like to see more traditional elements incorporated.

@NevillCarney: Ottawa’s new look is very similar to Calgary’s and Saskatchewan’s in the sense that it is a paint-by-numbers/cookie-cutter look. What do I mean by that? Look at each of the aforementioned teams and take note: do they have shoulder numbers? No. (This is a staple for football jerseys! Bring those back!) Do they have coloured patches along the sides and arms in the exact same spots? Yes.

@DefendTheR: The ‘ROUGEetNOIR’ wordmark is once again relegated to essentially an afterthought, used only on the front of the helmet. If the team is serious about this name as part of the overall brand, they need to start using it! And if not, might as well just abandon it altogether.

@NevillCarney: Overall, it’s an improvement over what Ottawa wore for the past 2 seasons, but still misses the mark in my opinion: 7/10.

Much like how superfan Jacob Barrette worked with the NHL’s Senators to design a heritage uniform that quickly became a top seller, I would suggest a similar interaction for the RedBlacks and their fans to really nail it for the inevitable next set of jerseys in the near future. We are so close to being the best-dressed team in the CFL, we just need a few tweaks to get there.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

(All photos from OttawaRedblacks.com)