Featured Football Girl: Eagles’ Samantha Wood Soaring in Social Media World

Samanatha Wood may be an unfamiliar name to NFL fans, but her work has been seen by millions. A Pennslyvania native, Wood just finished her second season as the Digital Platforms Manager for the Super Bowl echampion Philadelphia Eagles. Thanks in part to Wood’s work, the Eagles have one of the NFL’s most powerful presences with 3.3 million Facebook likes, 3.17 million Twitter followers, 1.4 million IG followers and a rapidly growing Snapchat user base (add “eagles”).

Before working for the Eagles, Wood spent seven years working in hockey (don’t worry, we don’t talk about hockey much). Now, she’s working for her hometown team and got to share the joy of Super Bowl LII with her parents and the rest of her family.

We chatted with Wood about loving football, dealing with trolls, and capitalizing on winning a Super Bowl.

Hannah Fields: What’s a typical day like for you?

Samantha Wood: We have a really strong content department here at the Eagles, and it’s a lot of collaboration. It’s different all the time which is the other big reason I got into sports. I really enjoy not knowing what you’re walking into on any given day. You definitely have to be flexible. I usually come in and see what’s going on online, make sure we’re on top of everything. I usually end up in a lot of meetings because we work really closely with a lot of other departments in the organization. We want to make sure that everybody is pulling in the same direction.

Back in the day, I used to do far more posting. But we have a really great team now, so they do the heavy lifting when it comes to actually posting stuff. We do a lot of planning, brainstorming and creating and covering. Then of course breaking news happens and everything falls apart.

On game days, it’s typically more of a covering standpoint. I did Snapchat and IG stories because that’s where the need was on game days. So I’m usually running around on the sidelines, creating stories, capturing content and sending it to other platforms. We’re an all hands on deck situation on game days then as we move throughout the season, the stakes get higher and higher. It’s definitely been an interesting stretch for us here.

HF: I can imagine. So has anything changed since y’all won the Super Bowl? Or is it just more of the same?

SW: In the building, I don’t know that anything has changed. The goal is always going to be to win the Super Bowl. We’re looking at Super bowl LIII now. We’re never going to check the box and say, “We’re done. We did it.” In terms of how it has changed my day-to-day, it has definitely shown a light on what we’re doing as an organization. The stage is bigger; it basically just upped the ante. People are paying closer attention to us than they have before. We’re certainly trying to take advantage of that opportunity. It’s a huge opportunity to have that international stage. We bought a lot of good will. We had the benefit of a team that was operating at the highest level and doing extremely well so it made our job easier.

So things have changed in terms of our posts going a little bit farther these days, but our goal is always going to be the next Super Bowl. We’re turning the page to next season already which is sort of insane. It’s been great. It’s a wild ride. Working for a hometown team is just such a blessing. I’m so happy I was able to share that with my parents and my whole family and my grandfather who was a season ticket holder the last time we won a championship in 1960. That was such a great experience personally.

HF: That’s awesome. You talked a little bit about how much planning you do, so can you share anything about your strategy when it comes to creating, promoting and sharing content?

SW: We have a pretty robust department here from graphic designers to motion graphics video producers to social to editorial. We take a long hard look at the calendar and mark off those tentpole events – combine, the draft. We mark off those events and break them down into manageable pieces. We’ll look at that event coverage for the bigger things. The in-between is finding the opportunities where we have them, filling it in with holidays and birthdays. In the offseason, especially, we’ll bank a lot of content, visit with players to get off-the-field content and deeper dives.

I definitely consider myself a casual fan based on the demographics. I think that’s a strength because I think about what I would like to see, read or watch. We have a lot of avid fans here too, so they’re always asking themselves the same questions and coming up with content they want to see. We come up with ideas and execute them. We just try and give everything it’s due and make sure we’re providing varied content for any type of fan. We want to make sure we’re not just speaking to the Xs and Os people or the super casual people or just the people in Philadelphia. We want there to be something for everyone, and we have to make sure that all of it is done equally well. We have to make it all a priority to grow our brand.

HF: When did you first start loving football? I just wrote a piece on this, so I’ve been curious about other people’s stories of learning to love football.

SW: I have to be honest and say that I don’t think I really loved football as a sport until I started working in it. I watched it and knew how to play football but the ins and outs, and the beauty of the game itself and learning to love the sport didn’t happen until I worked in it everyday. And that’s sort of a lesson for people; you don’t necessarily have to be the world’s biggest football expert or, whatever sport you’re working in expert, that it’s really about being willing to learn and being open to all the experiences that come with working in the profession. I love my job. I’ve always loved my job, but getting to appreciate the sport more from an inside perspective has been huge in how I operate.

HF: That’s really cool. I know nothing about hockey and when you started talking about hockey I was hoping you wouldn’t go in depth about that because I know nothing.

SW: I honestly didn’t either. When I started, I started at an internship. I can’t say that I was the world’s biggest sports fan, but I really liked it and thought it was fun. When I started at the internship, they gave me a hockey test, and I failed miserably. I was terrible, but they hired me anyway. I literally had flashcards for position groups on the team and line changes and all that sort of stuff. It took a couple years, probably, to really appreciate that sport because it’s a little more complicated in some ways than football. But football was definitely an easier learning curve for me for sure, but I’m still picking stuff up every day.

HF: It’s funny, growing up in the South, all we talk about is college football. Obviously there are differences between the college and pro game. But it’s definitely an easier transition to the NFL than from hockey.

SW: I went to Northeastern, and they got rid of the football team when I was there. So I just never had that. I grew up watching the Eagles, but that was it. I just never had that hands-on experience that you guys in the South do.

HF: What are some challenges you’ve faced to get where you are or maybe are still facing?

SW: Sports is probably one of the most competitive industries to be in which, to be honest, is one of the reasons it attracted me in the first place. But in terms of being a woman in sports, I think it’s overcoming that stigma of not knowing as much. You’re never going to win the battle when it comes to naming the quarterback in the 1933 championship game. I’m never going to win when it comes to citing stats, but what I can win in is being the best I can be in my niche and what I’m an expert on and what my department is. I let actions speak louder than words. I don’t have to tell anybody to come to me to learn about X,Y, and Z because I’ve proven that over years of putting my money where my mouth is. Those struggles of having to prove yourself constantly is a difficult one. It’s one that comes with patience and time.

HF: With your growing audience, have you seen a spike in Internet trolls? Do you see them more when y’all are losing versus winning?

SW: We get so many trolls anyway. We probably get more when we’re losing, but that also could be because maybe we’re getting fewer replies in general so the trolls stand out more. They’ll be there anyway. I read replies all the time, and I learned not to take them personally. People can say anything behind their keyboard. You just have to shake your head and laugh sometimes and not take it personally and not get angry. I’ll let them say what they want to say and don’t ever engage with them because it just gives them a bigger platform if we do reply even if it’s a clever reply. We try to talk to people, but not everybody is worth it. I don’t block a lot of people.

My personal rule, this isn’t an organizational thing, is that I’ll block somebody if they say anything racist, homophobic, any kind of true hate speech. That I’m not okay with, and I certainly don’t want to allow them to be saying that on our platforms because that’s something we need to protect. If it’s just, “You guys suck; I hate the Eagles,” people can say that all they want. But it rubs me the wrong way when people take it to a different level that it doesn’t need to go, so I’ll block them for that. But other than that, go ahead and talk. It doesn’t phase me anymore.

HF: Do you have any idea how many women are doing what you do in the NFL?

SW: Every year, the NFL brings together representatives from every team that are in the social space. The two people coordinating the whole summit were women. And exactly half of the teams represented, and all the teams were, were women. For a long time, it wasn’t that way. Women are getting more and more involved which is awesome. I think it’s important to have that representation. I don’t know if it’s still half, but it was six months ago. In my area at other teams, there’s Amy who runs digital for the Panthers, Allie with the Browns, Jen with the Bears, Cassie with the Ravens, Felicia with the Vikings, Cecily with the Patriots. There’s quite a few of us, and I think people would be surprised to find that. We laugh when people say the “social media guy” but there’s a 50/50 shot it’s actually a woman. These are some of the most talented women I know when it comes to the social media space. That’s hugely important.

HF: What advice would you give to women, or anybody, who wants to be where you are?

SW: I would say to never pass up an opportunity. My first full-time job was in the minor leagues. A lot of people think that you can just go right from school to the NFL. Some people do that, and they’re super lucky. But I feel like you have to be willing to move anywhere. And then when you’re in that job, you have to be willing to take on any responsibility, wear a lot of hats. No team is beneath you. It’s a heck of a lot easier once you’re in to then make moves. So I think, being willing and being flexible, having a plan and an exit strategy as well. You don’t want to stay forever in one place when you’re first getting into the business.

In terms of being a woman in the business, finding that tribe of other women that have an understanding, whether they work in sports or not, but have an understanding of what it takes, of the support that it requires. Being willing to vent and share advice, help each other out. I have a really strong group of girlfriends that are all over the country that I met and they all work in the sports industry, and they’ve been crucial. Not only helping me professionally, with career advice and connections, but really helping me with that support. Regardless of where you work in sports, there are the same struggles everywhere. It’s nice to have that support group, and truly a support group, not just some girl that works in the same industry, but someone that you fit with has been really crucial for me. It’s priceless.