Photo: running my fingers through the turf and the rubber "dirt" on the Rams' home field.
A lot of things have changed over the past few years for the Rams, following Georgia Frontiere's death. Even as questions remain over the team's long-term future in St Louis, the Rams have been working to reconnect with the local fan base. The latest example of this comes in the form of the inaugural Rams Fan Fest at the Edward Jones Dome.
The effort to reconnect with fans started four years ago under Billy Devaney and interim owners Chip and Lucia Rodriguez by re-opening practices to fans after years of Martz's cloak and dagger secrecy. At the same time, Rams fans (and players, like Steven Jackson) began taking to Twitter as social media began changing the landscape of fans interaction with each other, and with their teams.
The Rams launched their own Twitter handle in March 2009. But they didn't really start taking an aggressive approach to social media until this offseason, with the hire of Brian Killingsworth as their VP of Marketing. Prior to his arrival, the Rams had the worst social media footprint in the league.
Brian came to St Louis from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he spearheaded fan engagement policies that helped build a base for one of the worst teams (at the time) in baseball. When the Rays' young core emerged all at once and transformed the team into a World Series contender, the fan base was primed and ready to believe. His plan for the Rams: make the same thing happen here.
My own approach to social media and fan interaction took a turn a year ago, when I showed up at practice with my Twitter handle pasted to the nameplate of my Marshall Faulk jersey. After three years of being an essentially anonymous digital identity in the Rams fan universe, I was putting myself out there to connect with fellow Tweeters on the sidelines of #RamsCamp. This also caught the eye of a few friendly people in the Rams' marketing department.
A year -- and another regime change -- later and the Rams have added 50,000 Twitter followers and 250,000 Facebook fans, more than tripling their footprint. And these aren't silent fans either, as the #RamsFanFest hashtag became the #2 trending topic on Twitter yesterday afternoon.
Killingsworth and the Rams thanked their local Twitter fans by inviting a subset of us onto the field to watch practice from the sidelines... fist-bumping distance away from the emerging young stars of the Rams defense. It was an unforgettable experience, documented in photos after the break.
Photo: The Rams welcomed us with an unexpected treat - custom-printed T-shirts with our Twitter handles on them.
None of us ever expected to be rewarded for getting online and being dorks about the Rams. (Photo by John D, @a_quality_guy)
Season ticket holders got to spend two hours on the turf before the scrimmage started.
Practice began with stretching. Jackson's trademark gold cleats shine brighter under the Dome lights.
The view from our vantage point on the visitors' sideline.
The cornerbacks drilled right in front of us. Here's Janoris Jenkins finishing a drill.
Rampage wasn't to be left out of the social media fun.
Jeff Fisher and the backup quarterbacks watch the first string offense at work. (Photo by @a_quality_guy)
Seating for this free event was first-come first-serve, a treat for these young James Laurinaitis fans. (He obliged them with an autograph after practice.)
With full pads on and the lights of the Dome, you could almost believe you were watching real football. Especially in the intensity shown in this goal-line drill. (Photo by @a_quality_guy)
In all, this was a fantastic experience for all of us fans, and hopefully for the Rams as well. We know it's going to take patience to bring a winner back to St Louis, but it's reassuring to see that the team is committed to winning the fans over as well.