Social media connects fans of teams


By Adam Earnheardt

Shelby Kelly lives in Texas and she’s an integral part of the Dallas Cowboys organization.

She has influence over player performance, team success, and fan engagement.

But don’t look for her name on the official roster of Cowboy coaches or team administrators.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has yet to cut her a check for her contributions to the franchise.

In fact, the only way you’d know of Shelby’s influence over one of the most storied football teams would be through a closer examination of her years of loyalty to “America’s Team.”

She was voted the Most Electrifying Cowboys Fan, inducted into the Pro Football Ultimate Fan Association (or PFUFA), and featured in the 2009 documentary “Ultimate Fan of the Fans” about the opening of the new Cowboys Stadium, now AT&T Stadium.

Evidence of her dedication can also be found in the five-hour round trip she drives to and from home games in Dallas, and her impressive collection of player autographs, cards and memorabilia.

I spent the day with Shelby and her husband, Chuck, at their home. I dare anyone to spend the day with them at their home and not leave feeling at least a little love (or at least respect) for the Cowboys.

That’s saying a lot coming from a lifelong Steelers fan.

Shelby is energized, in part, through her active presence on social media, where she regularly interacts with other fans.

“I call it fan-powered,” Shelby said. “I’m fan-powered, and social media helps that. I’m able to connect with other fans because of social media, and I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I do as a fan without them.”

Shelby notes that even in the early days of social media, fans were using Twitter and Facebook as a way to connect.

“I look back at that very first game we had at the new stadium, and I wanted it to be something really special for other fans,” Shelby said. “So I bombarded social media with plans for the weekend.”

She talked about how she was able to organize groups for dinners, carpools and other events, like meeting players.

“We met 28 players that weekend,” Shelby said. “We organized so much of that through social media. I would tell fans to ‘meet us here at this time,’ and I’d post maps and directions, and fans would just show up.”

Like fans who met Shelby for the first time thanks to social media, Twitter served as our mode of introduction. We shared tweets about my interest in fans, and how she uses social media to cultivate Cowboys fan communities.

Now she’s planning to introduce me to other Ultimate fans from other teams on social media and in person – further evidence of the power of social media to connect people who might otherwise never meet.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at acearnheardt@gmail.com.

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