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Big Fan On Campus: Omar Raja Reports From The NBA Playoffs In Florida

The leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account is impressed by presence of postseason atmosphere under unusual circumstances

Omar Raja is in Florida reporting and posting NBA Playoffs moments to ESPN’s social media accounts. (Omar Raja/ESPN)

When the NBA suspended its season in March, it set in motion not only the postponement of live sports but also a wakeup call to the seriousness of the pandemic.

Through it all, the sports world – and demand for sports content – kept moving, and ESPN’s continued growth on social platforms is evidence of this. In the first half of 2020, ESPN saw 2.2 billion total actions across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (up +70 percent year-over-year) and 9.6 billion views across YouTube and Facebook (up +80 percent).

Those six months reflect the tremendous work by ESPN’s social team, including digital and social content commentator Omar Raja since joining ESPN at the beginning of the year.

As the leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account, the House of Highlights founder has helped drive average engagement per post up +76 percent on what is now the most-followed sports media account on the platform. Additionally, both @sportscenter and @espn combined attracted 3 billion video views on Instagram, up +44 percent. And on TikTok, @espn gained 8 million followers – 4.5 times higher since the start of the year for a total of 10.3 million.

With the NBA back on the court, Raja details what the experience has been like on campus in Florida and how he approaches highlights under these unique circumstances to keep fans engaged:

What has the experience been like so far at the NBA campus in Florida?
It really has been impressive how real the games feel in the arena, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a scrimmage or practice, which was my worry going into the bubble. The Blazers versus Nets game in which the Blazers clinched the No. 8 seed felt like being at a playoff game. The campus has also been incredibly organized, and everyone I’ve spoken to mentions how safe they feel walking around the venues.

What are you looking for in a highlight right now and how are you approaching it under these unique circumstances without fans in the stands?
Right now, we’re not only looking for great plays such as Damian Lillard’s incredible highlights over the last two weeks but also funny moments on the bench such as Kawhi Leonard staring at Marcus Morris after Morris gave him bunny ears. We’re also making sure we highlight all of the social justice initiatives the players, teams, and the league are taking part in during the season.

What moments have you found are resonating well with fans that did not before – or perhaps did not even exist at all until now?
I think at first fans were just curious what it looked and felt like to be at the games at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. So at first it was just making sure I captured the feel of the games while at the arena. Now, the moments that seem to stick out are the unique angles of amazing plays that happen and the little things such as Carmelo Anthony smiling when he gets switched onto Ja Morant. Moments like this might not feel like much, but people love when athletes seem a bit relatable and Carmelo getting switched onto Ja Morant during a play in-game and then not being able to hold back his smile shows these athletes are just like us. They get excited and understand the moment.

STORIES ON THE ESPN APP BRING FANS CLOSER TO THE NBA CAMPUS IN FLORIDA

In the days leading up to the NBA restart, ESPN launched ESPN Stories, a new editorially curated platform that delivers fun, dynamic, personality-driven storytelling content on the ESPN app. The platform makes the most of what is great about the stories format – including the use of vertical full-screen video for the first time within the No. 1 sports app in the U.S. – and integrates it into what makes ESPN unique digitally.

Below are just a few examples of this content around the NBA since the season restart:

(ESPN)

ESPN Stories illustrated above (L-R, with hyperlinks to video in descriptions): Lakers-Clippers Opening Night; NBA Bubble Antics; Top NBA Virtual Fan Moments; NBA Jersey Messages By The Undefeated

– Kristie Adler

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