By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

Branding Lessons from Red Sox Nation: What Broadcaster Tom Caron Has Learned About Communication and Community

  • Baseball is a prime example of an institution with staying power that survives even the most challenging circumstances. Brands that strive for this kind of staying power will have timeless appeal for audiences.
  • Thanks to social media, there are many ways to build a personal brand in 2021. In fact, the options can be overwhelming! The trick to cutting through the noise is deciding who you want to be in your industry. You’re building your brand even when you don’t realize it’s happening.
  • You don’t need to be an active voice across all social media platforms to engage a community and establish yourself. Choose a platform that feels most natural to you and focus on it.

Beloved New England sports broadcaster Tom Caron got his first taste of professional inspiration from an unlikely source: Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple.”

“He was the slob sports writer [and] everything I saw in him looked like the greatest life I could imagine,” Tom says on Episode 138 of The PR Maven Podcast. “I wanted to be Oscar Madison and be a slob and be a sportswriter and go to games and get paid.”

Tom — who says that a love for the Red Sox is in his blood — majored in journalism in hopes of pursuing sports writing but ended up taking an internship at a local NBC affiliate prior to graduating. It was there that he developed a passion for sports broadcasting, which led him to a handful of other TV jobs in the early days of his career. Fast forward to 2021, and Tom has become a familiar face for New England sports fans.

More than two decades into his run at the New England Sports Network (NESN), Tom is the pre- and post-game host for Red Sox games. He is the winner of eight New England Emmy Awards and has been named New England’s favorite local TV sports personality seven times by the New England sports survey.

I’m lucky to call Tom a personal friend, and it was a treat to host him on The PR Maven Podcast for a conversation about sports, social media and cultivating a community as strong as Red Sox Nation.

Branding Lessons from Red Sox Nation: What Broadcaster Tom Caron Has Learned About Communication and Community Gathering around the campfire: Building meaningful communities in sports and beyond

After spending years broadcasting games in the homes of New Englanders, Tom could certainly be seen as a leader among local sports fans — especially Red Sox Nation — but he doesn’t quite see it that way. He likes to joke that he’s just a kid from Maine who keeps getting paid to watch baseball games!

Humility aside, Tom does see his role as a so-called “baseball influencer” in a very specific way.

“Leader is a strong word,” he says. “I look at myself as the guy who brings everybody around the campfire. I don’t need to lead the conversation, but I make sure we’re having the conversation. I don’t know if I’m a leader of Red Sox Nation, but I’m a leader of the conversation that goes on nightly and it’s a long season, so that’s a pretty powerful position.”

Whether the conversation that needs to be had in your world is about baseball or something totally different, taking a page from Tom’s book and thinking about yourself as a sort of campfire chat host might be a helpful way to frame the process of cultivating meaningful community. After all, Red Sox Nation is one of the most vocal fandoms in professional sports, so it’s not a bad model for building brands and communities.

Keep reading for more of Tom’s thoughts on branding for sports, teams, fandoms and more.

1. It’s all about staying power

When asked why baseball is America’s favorite pastime, Tom offers a major caveat: football has, in fact, “stomped on every other sport,” he says. Still, he notes that there’s something very special about baseball.

“What baseball does is survive,” Tom says. “Baseball helped us get through World War II. Baseball was there after 9/11. In Boston, after the Boston Marathon bombing, baseball helped the city get back on its feet and won a championship. Baseball will help us get through the pandemic.”

So what does baseball have to teach us about branding? You can’t overestimate the importance of being a classic! Showing up again and again for stakeholders and audiences no matter the circumstances will go a long way toward reinforcing the power of your brand and growing a community that’s invested in the work you do.

2. Decide who you want to be in the business

In 2021, there are seemingly endless avenues that broadcasters like Tom can use to expand their platform. They’re no longer limited to nightly broadcasts — they can be as active as they’d like to be on social media, they can launch podcasts… there are so many options.

Whether you’re in sports broadcasting or some other business, these options can begin to feel overwhelming. If that sounds familiar, Tom has some advice from his own experience.

“I do think you have to decide who you’re going to be in this business,” he says. “Are you a social media influencer first and foremost, who maybe works on television or does TV on the side [or are you a] TV personality who uses social media?

In defining your personal brand, it can be helpful to take the time to think through who you want to be in your industry of choice.

3. Make friends with social media

Speaking of social media… Tom’s not afraid of it! While he considers himself a broadcaster and fan first and foremost, he’s found his niche on Twitter.

“Early on, I realized Twitter was a really good place to exchange ideas, to promote things and to engage fans,” Tom says of the platform. “I do try to engage and react there.”

While Tom has dabbled in other popular social media platforms, he hasn’t found any of them to be a natural fit for him, so he continues leaning heavily into Twitter. This approach is proof that you don’t have to be active on all platforms to build a brand. Choose the one that works best for you and connects with your target audience, then do it well!

4. Remember: you’re building your brand even when you don’t realize it

Just as Tom isn’t sure about calling himself a leader in Red Sox Nation, he’s a little uneasy about calling himself a “brand” — but he understands the reality of the business.

“I would never talk about my brand,” he says. “I just would never acknowledge that — and yet, everything I do sort of builds the brand, right?”

With this in mind, Tom tries to use the platform he’s been given by NESN in a smart way that’s authentic to who he is and what he cares about. Ultimately, that’s what personal branding is all about… even if you struggle to think about yourself as a brand.

This is based on episode 138 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.