For the last few months, we’ve been featuring individuals involved in the Ohio sports industry with our new WFNY Getting to Know You series. Recent guests included individuals with Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians and more.
Today’s featured guest is Joe Caione, Manager of Digital Design with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s worked for the Cavaliers since 2012. Otherwise known as @_JoeyC_ on both Twitter and Instagram, Joe also organizes the Designing Sports online community. In the Q&A below, you’ll learn more how Joe got started in the sports industry, about his specific role with the Cavs, and his ambitions in building a networking platform with other designers in the industry.
WFNY: Where are you from originally and what high school did you attend?
Joe Caione: I’m from Cleveland and grew up in Richmond Heights originally. I went to Mayfield High School.
WFNY: Did you always want to work in sports?
Joe Caione: Originally, yes, like everybody, I wanted to play professional sports. But that was never going to happen. I originally wanted to go into architecture or engineering but after taking a couple of engineering math classes, I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen either.
Working in sports was always kind of like a pipe dream to me. But I decided to pursue a marketing degree and figured that could be my in to the sports world, and if not, I could find work in any other industry.
WFNY: How did you first land your job with the Cleveland Browns and then the Cavs?
Joe Caione: So the year after I graduated college I had the hardest time finding a job. I had a marketing degree and also had some design skills but no design degree. I was working for the Gap during the holiday season and did design work on the side. I created an online T-shirt company (TeamCLETees.com) and would also submit to wallpaper design contests and things like that to build up my portfolio. One of those contests was to design the in-game program cover for the Cavaliers during their Fan Appreciation Night. I ended up winning that contest which was huge for me looking back.
For the Browns job, it was kind of funny because it was a digital job that dealt with not only design but also developing websites. Like actually coding them out. I knew nothing about code other than one class I took in college at Ohio State. I applied anyway and got a callback. They told me they were originally going to throw my resume out because it had no portfolio link (bad mistake) but saw I had done work for the Cavaliers so decided to give me a call. I’m glad they did.
I taught myself how to code the entire week leading up to my interview. I must have spent 10 hours a day because I wanted this internship that paid the minimum wage that bad.
While all of this was going on, I had gotten a job offer from a real estate company for a full-time design position with benefits paying $35,0001. After not having a real job for a year, this seemed too good to pass up. The weekend before I was to start, the Browns called back. They liked my portfolio and skill set enough and offered me the position. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to call the real estate company and tell them I would not be able to make it to my first day of work there.
Working for the Browns was a huge opportunity for me. It got me into the sports world and improved my skill set immensely. After a year, the Cavaliers posted a position that was basically my job but full-time. Without thinking twice, I applied (with my portfolio link) and got the job.
Working for the Cavs has allowed me to experience things that lots of people can only dream of. Whether it’s traveling to NBA Finals games, covering the parade, receiving a championship ring, working with amazing people or seeing my artwork plastered all over the city((Writer’s Note: Joe has also been involved with the new “All For The Land” banner in downtown Cleveland. He posted about it on Twitter and you can read more about the next steps on the Cavs website.)). It’s been an incredible journey that has made it seem like I haven’t worked a day in my life.
WFNY: How have your responsibilities evolved in your years with the Cavs?
Joe Caione: I work in digital and as digital changes so does my job. Back when I first started, social media wasn’t thought about the way it is today. During games, we’d tweet out very basic updates. Things like: “Cavs top Pacers 98-90. Kyrie Irving: 20 points, 5 assists.” But now, social media is one of the biggest ways that a fan can interact with the team and the brand. There are so many things a team can do to attract new fans just by what they do on social media. So that is a big deal to us and we put a lot of effort into our social channels2
For me personally, it used to be a lot of simple web ads and webpage development. But now there is a big focus on how we look visually on social media as well as what our content looks like to our fans. Especially lately with our playoff runs, we’ve had a lot of eyes on our artwork and content3. So we need to be at the top of our game when it comes to highlighting player and team achievements as well as how we can engage with our fans.
WFNY: How is your department organized?
Joe Caione: Our digital team is composed of three mini teams: content, social and production. Social handles all of our social media channels. They are responsible for engaging with our fans, posting the content we produce, implementing social ad buys and working with our partners to fulfill their needs.
Our content team handles every piece of content we push out digitally. This includes content like articles, photo galleries, shooting videos, and figuring out what our fans want to see.
The production team, which I am a part of, handles the development of digital needs to support the other teams in the organization. We create the graphics you see on social media and online, develop microsites and web pages, as well as set up activations on the concourse during games.
WFNY: How big is this digital team overall?
Joe Caione: I believe we have one of the biggest digital teams in the NBA. There are 12 to 15 people that handle digital for all our properties.
WFNY: What is your day-to-day like? How would you bucket out the time you spend at work?
Joe Caione: It changes based on what part of the season we’re in. During the offseason, we work on much larger scale projects which take a good amount of time to complete. We are also thinking and planning how we can activate the many initiatives that we will have during the season.
Once we get into the season, it’s a lot more structured and a lot of the same week to week. There’s a lot more meeting about special initiatives coming up. It’s a lot of taking things as they come, helping other departments out, and taking what the team does on the court into consideration and building out materials in concert with that.
The month before the season and the month before the playoffs are always the craziest and busiest times of the year4. You can kind of think of the playoffs as its own season. We think a lot about our look and feel during a playoff run, what achievements can the team and players achieve, how we want to celebrate those, etc.
WFNY: Do you work game days, as well?
Joe Caione: Everyone in social and content is there for every game. For us in production, we’re more of a support team in case they need something. We’ll build everything out beforehand so that they have files and artwork to use and edit as the games go by. So whether it’s a score update graphic or a guy has an unbelievable game, there are templates built out for them to easily create something to share online.
WFNY: What motivated you to create the Designing Sports online community?
Joe Caione: In high school, when LeBron first started his career, I got really into creating wallpaper graphics of him for my computer. From there, I started joining forums that were all about designing sports-related graphics. It was honestly one of my favorite things to do. And I didn’t know it at the time, but this was basically teaching me a lot of things that I still use every day. It is truly the reason that got me to improve my skill set enough to make a career out of it.
Those forums were really popular back in 2003-08 and then they went away for a bit. But recently, I noticed that colleges were really starting to focus on graphic design and get a lot of interest from recruits and students5. Just recently, pro teams have started to see the value in it and have followed. So I started to think about the old days with the forums and how much those helped me. And then thought rather than a forum, what if there was a Slack community where creatives in the sports industry could go to learn new skills, network, talk design and even complain about how they got a bunch of logos in a Word document that now needs to be on a billboard.
I never thought it would be this popular, but that little idea led to a community that now has over 350 creatives and a ton of activity every day. There are some really cool channels, like a jobs channel where people post about job openings around the country. There are places for people to draw inspiration from as well as get constructive criticism on their work. The best part of it is the networking aspect. Especially in this industry, it’s not always what you know, but who you know and this helps to make those connections. We all basically do the same work every day. So, it’s really cool to meet people that do what you do for another team/school.
My plan is to really build this out into a website where people can go to draw inspiration, read articles and find jobs. Maybe even start a scholarship that goes to a student looking to get into the sports design world. It’s really cool to see so many people open and interested in a hobby I’ve had for the last 10-15 years.
WFNY: Where do you find design inspiration?
Joe Caione: For me, Behance.net is a really good resource. You can find all sorts of creative pieces on there. Whether it’s sports, movies, advertising, etc. It’s good to have a place that showcases something other than just sports design sometimes. It gets your mind thinking about things differently and can bring a fresh perspective to a project you may be working on.
I also look at what other teams are doing. A few that I think do an incredible job are Ohio State football, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns (especially recently).
- Writer’s Note: Sports industry professionals, they’re just like normal people! We aren’t talking about crazy salaries on the business side of sports for the vast, vast majority of individuals. If you make it up to a C-level position, then sure, it could a major salary. But for 90-plus percent of people, salaries are commiserated with a lot of other types of positions in other industries, if not lower. [↩]
- Writer’s Note: Good time to plug the Cavaliers on Instagram and on Twitter, at the least. With a keen eye, you can identify a lot of Caione’s work. [↩]
- Writer’s Note: Trust me, go search for @_JoeyC_’s mentions on Twitter. You’ll see the incredible amount of buzz that his designs and the overall digital work for the Cavaliers receives worldwide. They’re a big deal in this department. [↩]
- Writer’s Note: Aka … if you do the math … that would mean that right about now for Caione is one of his busiest times of the year. Many thanks to him for taking the time out of his hectic work schedule for this Q&A. [↩]
- Writer’s Note: Just take a look at Clemson. Sports Business Journal did a large feature on Clemson’s incredible social media presence last year. [↩]