“Mission Control” — the first of its kind in sports

Social media, we have liftoff.

On Wednesday, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils launched “Mission Control,” a “digital command center” designed to bring fan and team even closer together. The initiative is the first of its kind in team sports, and it’s certainly a costly one.

Fifteen individual monitors, three high-definition TVs and a handful of specialized iPads — not to mention an army of 25 “Devils Generals” — help make the center go. This video makes the place seem as cool as it sounds, but it skimps on describing exactly what the so-called Generals will do.

Fortunately, Joe Favorito of the Huffington Post has some ideas:

“Thoughts from fans can be pushed out instantaneously, problems in the arena can be fixed right away, promotions can be created and activated with sponsors at a moment’s notice, media can chime in with what is going on, information on injuries and other topics can be relayed very quickly to all those in the space who are engaged, all from one central hub.”

While the Devils may have gone a little over the top with this one — really, more than two dozen generals? — I think this is certainly a step in the right direction for sports and entertainment.

Go to any football, basketball or hockey game, and you’re increasingly likely to see fans staring down at their iPhones rather than the action before them. They’re texting, Tweeting, Facebooking — not watching the game.

So why not try to combine the two into a fun, collaborative effort? I can’t imagine too many people would pass up, for instance, on an opportunity to win 10 free Chipotle burritos at a game if the offer came across their Twitter/Facebook newsfeed. Developing brand loyalty can be tough in our attention-deficit, technology-addicted society, but valuing such concepts as feedback and freebies can go a long way. And when the going gets tough for teams — as it has for the Devils this season — fans need other reasons to keep coming back for more.

Is this the final frontier for social networking, fans and sports teams? Probably not, but it’s a great start.

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