How One Entrepreneur Is Profiting From March Madness

Kevin S. Ryan leverages mobile technology to drive fan interaction during the NCAA tournament.
April 02, 2012

When the men of Kentucky try to drive through Kansas’s powerful defense tonight, the cheers and groans of March Madness fans will be easily known, thanks partly to Kevin S. Ryan.

The former newspaper editor and publishing exec has built a business consulting and teaching how to create social media strategies. March is madness for him. His company, KSRyan Group, partners with Turner Sports Interactive to manage social media features for March Madness Live, the video app that lets fans watch the NCAA tournament on their computers and mobile devices. Viewers can see Ryan’s work, a torrent of fans’ comments on each matchup, flowing alongside game video.

"These are fans interacting with fans," says Ryan, 48, who lives and works in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "It’s analogous to a viewing party or the bar stool conversation people have while you’re watching the game. You want to talk about what you’re seeing…It allows viewers to participate in ways they hadn’t before."

It’s an incredible gig for someone who’s been working on his own for just two years. He started out as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining in 2000 as a vice president and web editor. "When I left The New York Times in early ‘97, it was somewhat of a risky move," Ryan says. “I remember people saying, ‘why would you want to leave The Times?’ But the fast pace, always moving Internet schedule, was very similar to what I lived with in my journalism days.’’

He learned about marketing and online content, working on ways authors and readers could interact. He created online book clubs at the moment when people were starting to blog. He plunged into social media, building the book conglomerate’s presence among Facebook and Twitter users.

Ryan began to think about how he could marshal this new technology in his own business that would let him spend more time with his wife and three children. He realized that social media is just another way to tell stories and that he could help a business “build a narrative for customers.’’

Ryan consults and trains, getting businesses to understand and build a social media strategy. “A lot of companies are still trying to figure out what they should do on a Facebook page,’’ he says. “If you’re not paying attention to what that conversation is, then you’re at risk of allowing brand damage to be done without you knowing about it.’’

March Madness work is Ryan’s most intensive part of the job. He helped define the social product features for the March Madness Live app, organized the social arena features on Facebook, worked with vendors and managed the kit and caboodle throughout the tournament.

Ryan’s work with customers through social media had trained him well to judge when someone’s comments were helpful and when they were made just to get noticed, says Michael Adamson, Turner interactive vice president for new products.

For the fan chatter, Ryan and his March Madness colleagues set up Twitter feeds for each of the 68 college teams that played, filtering out swear words and insensitive or inaccurate remarks.

Monitoring is important, he says. "Social media is a no-holds-barred kind of enterprise and people will push the envelope with what they can say," Ryan says.

Take for example the NCAA’s decision to suspend Syracuse starter Fab Melo for academic reasons. “The Twittersphere just blew up,’’  Adamson says. Turner and NCAA relied on Ryan’s journalism training to filter through the posts. "We wanted to make sure we were filtering out the ‘you sons of b--ches’’’ and included what most fans were writing:  “Holy Cow! I need to change my bracket!”

A 1985 graduate of Syracuse University, Ryan says the Orange men’s loss on March 24 to Ohio State didn’t crush him. “They’re going to break your heart at some point,’’ he says. “Now it’s easier to focus on the work.’’

The folks at Turner hope the conversation will be “absolutely crazy,’’ Adamson says. “I hope [Ryan] gets slammed. That means there are interesting stories and the fans are talking.’’