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30th Jun 2009 | Posted by Steve Bonsignore Steve Bonsignore's picture

The Phoenix Suns never achieved what they’d envisioned when the franchise traded for Shaquille O’Neal two seasons ago. They accomplished so much more. Sure, the Suns never made it to the NBA Finals (or the conference finals for that matter) during Shaq’s brief two-year stint in Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean his absence won’t be immensely felt within the organization. Shaq was an undeniable force in the valley of the Sun – a 300-plus pound marketing machine.

The Suns have long been lauded (and deservedly so) for being pioneers in new media and online engagement, using technology to connect with their fans and build their brand in new and innovative ways. From their Web site to Twitter, to the many ways they embraced social media before most professional sports teams knew what a blog was, the Suns were trailblazers (no offense to Portland). Add Shaq to a communications organization already hell-bent on leading the way in team marketing online, and the Suns had themselves a bonafide superstar whose value is nearly impossible to quantify.

O’Neal is the Great Aristotle of new media. He descended upon Twitter and dominated. He starred as Thaddeus Thundercastle in a performance that was inarguably…memorable (and everywhere online). His one-man ticket promotions made headlines. And, most recently, he’s managed to make a celebrity out of a 25-year old New Jersey banker with a talent for trick shots. Shaq talks, people listen. The man’s a modern day EF Hutton.

Until a few days ago, behind every Tweet…behind every viral video…behind every notable quote…there was Andy. Sorry, got caught up in a Shawshank moment for a second. I mean, there was Shaq. And, more importantly, there was the Phoenix Suns logo emblazoned prominently very close by. O’Neal’s omnipresence on the Web helped further expose the Suns, allowing them to reach new fans and spur renewed interest in the team – not just in Phoenix but as far as the Web will weave. The power of Shaq’s online brand boosted the Suns own identity, while undoubtedly giving a nudge to merchandise sales, ticket purchases and national media coverage (not to mention page views and Twitter followers).

Dancing It Up at the All-Star Game, Before Taking Home MVP Honors

In many ways, Shaq and the Suns were a marketing marriage made in digital heaven. The stars could not have aligned more perfectly – two crazy kids in love with social media. Now, Phoenix is left with the same ailing team on the floor, but down one dominant force off of it. Conversely, Cleveland has acquired much more than a big man to defend Dwight Howard in the post. They’ve got themselves a marketing running mate to King James that could create a historic duo for the Cavaliers brand.

On a team already known for its loose demeanor and ability to have a bit of fun, Shaq brings another huge personality to the mix along with a ton of possibilities. Will the Cavs front office be able to look back in a few years and say that the Shaq helped deliver the first major sports championship to Cleveland in over 45 years? We shall see, but I’d be willing to bet Shaq-Fu’s arrival will bring more buzz, eyeballs, and, oh yes, maybe a few more dollars to Cleve-town. You can tweet that to the bank.

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