“Being Social” with Danny Ciaccio

When Danny Ciaccio was an SPU student, he started working as a game day media assistant for both the Sounders and the Seahawks, while also being the sports editor for The Falcon student newspaper. After graduating in 2015 with a degree in communication journalism, Danny worked his way up within the Sounders FC organization to his current role as manager of social media, giving him a front row seat for all three of the team's MLS Cup Finals.

Amanda Stubbert: Well, let’s start with the obvious question. Why sports? What got you into sports to begin with?

Danny Ciaccio: Yeah, just kind of a wild thing. So I grew up in Boise, Idaho. Obviously, the sports that I had in my community were much more of the minor league scale, so we were fans of the regional sports teams, like the Mariners, like the Seahawks, like the Denver Broncos and Utah Jazz. But we didn’t really have anything in our own backyard, so I fell in love with just playing baseball in my backyard with my dad and watching sports on TV with my sister and my dad, and it grew from there.

It really was one of those things where it was a combination of my passion, which was sports, and what I really enjoy doing in school, which was writing. Ever since I was in middle school, the plan was to move to Seattle and be a sports writer, work in sports communications. So, awesome to see it come to life.

Amanda: So you’re living the dream, for real?

Danny: I’m living my 14-year-old Danny Ciaccio dream. Yes, definitely.

Amanda: That’s fantastic. I wish more of us could say that. So do you still play sports?

Danny: It’s a lot more watching and writing and tweeting at this point. The occasional tennis match here and there. I played tennis through high school and will toss a Frisbee with my roommates when I can, but for the most part, it’s a lot more observing than playing.

Amanda: All right, so let’s talk about how that dream came true. Can you talk about your journey with the Sounders?

Danny: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, the plan when I graduated high school in 2011 was to move to Seattle and break into the industry. So my fall quarter of freshman year, I started writing for The Falcon at SPU, knowing that the networking that I was going to establish there can only be beneficial for me. So by the spring quarter of my freshman year, I applied for the sports editor position, which is super rare for freshmen, but just the way that the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.

Then, over the course of the next year, I was working a lot with SPU Athletics’ Dan Lepse and Mark Moschetti, who are the sports information directors on campus. Two very great guys. In that collaboration and networking, I asked both of them if they knew anyone in the Seattle area that I could continue that mentorship with or just get to know any way I could.

Danny Ciaccio in the Sounders locker room, post-gameThey sent me the email address of the guy who did PR for the Sounders at the time. I shot this guy an email, Mark and Dan both gave me a five-star Yelp review, and next thing I know, Mike, the PR guy, asks if I can work the next match the very next day. I go, “What on earth? I’ll never forget it, because it was finals week of Winter Quarter and I brought my micro economics and animal biology textbooks to the press box and was half studying, half learning what to do kind of on the job, but a super memorable experience.

My job then was just pass out papers in the press box to all the media members, and then I would transcribe the interviews in the locker room after the game. Just get a few quotes and transcribe them, because all the media members are on deadline. It’s basically a service to them to have the quotes already transcribed. I asked Mike, the PR guy, I’m like, “So do I get to come back next game?” They’re like, “Yeah, sure.” That was seven seasons ago, and we’re still doing it.

So yeah, it’s amazing to think of those humble beginnings of not really knowing if it was just a one day thing or beyond that. But now I’m definitely part of the Sounders family.

Amanda: Well, that is fantastic. I can imagine that if you’d been dreaming that dream since you were 14, that that first game, even the second and third game, it must’ve been a little bit like, “Is this really happening? Somebody pinch me.”

Danny: Yes. Yes, definitely. The way it all unraveled. I remember two weeks into my freshman year, I went to a Sounders match. I had heard the Sounders matches were really fun, even though I’d never been a part of one before. Obviously, soccer culture and soccer camp can be so boisterous and fun to be a part of. I went to that match and there ended up being 64,000 people there, and it’s still one of the most famous matches in club history. I was sucked in immediately.

So to go from that, to the very next year being part of the team that held the operation of it all, it was pretty wild. Then I just knew that from that point on I was going to do whatever it took to, not only stay with the Sounders, but climb the ladder as much as I could to just be a part of it.

Amanda: So those first few games, being in the locker room, and like you were saying, just doing all the hard work, doing whatever anyone needed to have done. Did you have some starstruck moments, some moments of meeting some of your heroes?

Danny: Well, what’s nice about the Sounders is that they’re the most average-looking professional athletes. A lot of soccer players; they’re not like these cartoonish characters like you see in the NBA or NFL, they’re just your average neighbor who just happens to be very good at soccer. So there really wasn’t too much like a “pinch myself”  moment at that time. Over the course of the next year or so, I worked some events where it was bigger names coming into the building and then within the next year or two, I was doing the same job for the Seahawks, and by that time, I was kind of used to it. So it wasn’t too much of like a starstruck moment. But I think if I would’ve started with the Seahawks right away as a sophomore in college, that would have provided a lot more of those kind of “pinch myself” moments. But I am able to keep it under control for the most part.

Amanda: Well that’s good. Do you have a memorable moment of meeting someone that you’d always wanted to meet?

Danny: There was one that was pretty wild in 2016. We had a massive tournament that Seattle was fortunate to be a part of hosting called Copa America, and Argentina’s draw came to Seattle. The role that I had was as the liaison between the stadium and the team and Argentina. And I hung out around [Argentine leading goal-scorer Lionel] Messi for a couple of days, and to understand the sheer size and his impact on the global game is truly unfathomable. He’s one of the most famous people on earth, and I’ve never seen just a draw like that. Reminded me of like where you’d hear about Michael Jordan in the 90s or Michael Jackson when he was on tour, just around the hotel or like around the stadium or in the training facilities. Definitely something that I’ll never forget.

“I hung out around Messi for a couple of days, and to understand the sheer size and his impact on the global game is truly unfathomable. He’s one of the most famous people on earth, and I’ve never seen just a draw like that.”

Amanda: So let’s get into the actual work that you do. You’re part of a very young and rapidly changing field. How have you seen the social media landscape change just within the short time that you’ve been in the industry?

Danny: Definitely. It’s so interesting. So I started really going in the office and working every day in the fall of 2014 during my senior year, and at that time, I was still on the PR communication side. I did that for about 2 1/2 years. And then in summer 2017, I switched over to the digital media team, where I’ve been for almost three years now. And even the changes between 2014 and 2017 were massive. And then it’s been an equally big gap since I started, even a few years ago, on the digital side.

For example, every single post we do on Twitter now has some kind of multimedia asset: a GIF, a video, or a photo. When I started working for the Sounders, you couldn’t even add a photo to a tweet. Instagram stories didn’t really exist a couple of years ago, and now it’s like a major part of what we do every single day. And now I have to learn TikTok, because that’s the new big thing. I’m feeling five steps behind half the time because you want to not only know what to do, you have to keep it at such a professional level to represent the brand well.

So it’s amazing how you have to stay on top of the trends both within each app, but also be aware that there might be new apps that come along that if you don’t become a part of it, then you’re going to be missing a major part of the landscape, such as TikTok now or Snapchat 4 or 5 years ago.

Amanda: So for those of us who might think this is a dream job, or even for students who are in communications right now that are thinking, “Boy, I’m coming after you, Danny. I want your job someday.” Would you say that that rapidly changing, always having to learn, nature of the job, is that the worst part of the job for you? Is that the best part, or is it a little bit of both?

Danny: It’s definitely part of it. It’s undeniable that it presents a challenge, but every job should be challenging in some way or else you don’t really feel … it doesn’t really feel like a job at that point. So I would say more than anything, in this job, you just always have to be on, and I’m in a place in my life where I’m okay with that. I really want my career and my passion and what I spend the vast majority of my time doing all to be combined into one amazing job that has some really cool experience opportunities, and I’m fully okay with that.

I know that priorities may shift whether it’s … I want to move back to Boise with my family, or a relationship takes me elsewhere, or whatever it may be, that the priorities may shift. But for me, the only way that this job really works is like if you’re okay with the idea of always being on. You know, it’s never going to be a job that you leave the office at a certain time and cannot think about it until the next day. You’re fully in it at all times. And I’m here for it, but I don’t know if that’s going to be a forever feeling that I have.

“You know, it’s never going to be a job that you leave the office at a certain time and cannot think about until the next day. You’re fully in it at all times.”

Amanda: And when this comes as a part of sports, which is something you’ve loved since you were a little kid, does that actually take a little bit of the shine off the rose? I mean, if you’re always on and you can never let down, are sports still fun for you?

Danny: That’s a good point. I think it is interesting. Like even if I casually watch an NBA game or another sport, I’ll always be monitoring each of those teams’ Twitter feeds or Instagram profiles. Like, “Oh, how are they covering this game?” So like, you’re always kind of wired that way. Yeah. The sports are fun and a huge reason for that is I’m very fortunate that the Sounders are one of the most successful sports franchises in North America. And even though I’ve only been full time with the Sounders for 5 years I, like you said, I’ve gotten to be part of the three championships. We won two of them.

I’ve been a part of two parades. I’ve been covered in champagne in the locker room, thrown in on the field with my iPhone to get content after we won in front of 70,000 fans at home. Those are experiences I live for. And I know a lot of people in the industry who have been doing this for a lot longer than I have who are just waiting for, for one of those moments like that. So for me, yes, sports are still a lot of fun because the vast majority of my experiences in it, especially because of the performance of the team, have been positive.

Amanda: Right. So it seems like you just are gathering these once-in-a-lifetime memories, right? That you’ll have forever. So, that sounds fantastic. Are there difficult moments? Are there things that have been hard for you to cover or post?

Danny: Yeah, there’s always going to be some challenging situations. To be very specific, there was one time in 2017 when the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which was a catastrophic failure for U.S. Soccer. And obviously we had players on our team who are representing the country.

Well, one of the direct reasons why they didn’t qualify is because Panama ended up winning their game, which led the domino effect to the reason why the U.S. didn’t qualify. And the captain of that team from Panama and their best player — he scored the game-winning goal — was also a Sounder, also on our team. So digital media, we have to cover our players, right? So we have to cover them and celebrate the successes of a player who’s going to the World Cup for the first time in his country’s history. But by doing so, it prevented other players on our team from going. And that was quite the pickle. And we still, you know, there’s a lot of negativity online, and very early on I’ve learned to navigate when fans are angry, are they angry because it’s something I can control, or what I can’t control, and then kind of react from there. But that was unexpected and an unusual situation, for sure.

Amanda: Is it hard not to take it personally when there’s negative reaction to something that you’ve posted?

Danny: Yeah, it kind of goes back to what I just said where, if I were to post something and I see the reaction as negative, my immediate thought is, are they mad at something that I can control, something that I did, or are they just mad about something that I can’t control? If they’re mad-

Amanda: Are they mad about what happened? Are they mad about how you talked about? Right?

Danny: So, if they are really mad that the Sounders lost the game, that does not affect me personally. And I don’t read the comments. If I tried to make a joke, or I tried to do some banter with the team and it doesn’t reflect well for whatever reason, that the fans don’t like and they’re mad at me for posting it, then I take notes and say, okay, we’re not touching that ever again. We’re not going to do that. So luckily, because of the success of the team and because of my diligence to really kind of knowing at the time what our fans want and whatnot, I feel like we avoid those situations. But I’m definitely mindful of making sure that if there is negativity in the response to what we’re posting, whether or not it’s something that we are in control of.

Amanda: Sure, sure. That makes total sense. Do you have a favorite post? One that achieved a lot of acclaim? A lot of likes, a lot of shares. Do you have one specific job that you worked on that you’re specifically proud of?

Danny: Yeah, our rivalry with Portland is really intense, and it goes back to different generations of soccer teams in both cities ever since the mid-70s. So it’s one of the biggest rivalries in North America across all sports. And there’s also a rivalry between our digital teams, and I know people who are there. There’s actually a former SPU student, Danny Miller. He got hired there last year and I knew him for several years from college. So it’s been fun to see us kind of having this rivalry via digital media banter and win. Whoever wins the head-to-head match-ups in those games, obviously it’s a great celebration on the field, but it is a heck of a celebration for the digital media team because I have banter lined up and ready to go. And there is some weird type of Christmas morning thrill you get when you’re about to fire off some rapid banter that you know is going to be received well. So, the last couple of years, we’ve really lined up our ideas, gotten freelance animators involved, and whatnot. Those are always a good time.

Amanda: That does sound like a lot of fun. So what’s next for you? If you’ve already, this early in your career, pretty much achieved what you’ve wanted since you were 14, what’s next?

Danny: Yeah, it’s really interesting thinking about, I feel like one thing that I know for sure is I’m still in that phase in my life where I want to gather as many cool experiences as possible. Because we won the championship last year, we qualified for a tournament that brought us to Honduras in February. So we had a two-week preseason in Mexico City and then a match in Honduras. And just to be part of a team or with any kind of employer that puts you in those kinds of situations is really cool. So I think continue to show my worth to the Sounders and be someone who they can rely on to take more managerial positions and climb the corporate ladder, but also be in a spot where you’re able to have some pretty incredible experiences. I feel like I’m able to accomplish that at the Sounders.

Amanda: Awesome. That’s awesome. All right, well, I hope you’ll keep in touch with us with all the wonderful things I’m sure you have in store with your career. But we like to end every podcast with the same question and that is this: Since you have a very unique perspective on the world, if everyone in Seattle could wake up tomorrow and do one thing differently that was going to make the world a better place, what would you have them do?

Danny: Right now, I want everyone to monitor their situation financially and see if they are in a position where they can give to others who have been impacted by COVID-19. I’m grateful that the Sounders have created a relief fund for the struggling businesses that are affected by us not having match days and just dealing with that every day has been something that has opened my eyes to just how many people around us are being affected by it.

So, I would say my answer for that is, in the current climate, just really analyze where you are and if you have capacity to give to others around you, I feel like now is a great time to get into that. I think it’s hard for young people to convince themselves that they’re in a situation where it’s okay to give, and it’s easy to kind of push it off to something later on in life. Like, “Oh yeah, when I’m older or more stable, I’ll help others and donate to this and that.” But, I think this is a good challenge for all of us to really look at our situations and see if we can help someone who may not be in the same spot that you’re in.

The Seattle Sounders FC take on Toronto FC in the 2019 MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, November 10, 2019 in Seattle. The Seattle Sounders won 3-1.

Amanda: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. It’s all about feeling what is enough isn’t it? If we have enough then we have some to share. So. All right. Thank you, Danny. We really appreciate you spending some time over Zoom with us today, and we are so looking forward to when the Sounders are back out on the field. And we will look for you down on the field, taking some of those photos and sending out those posts.

Danny: Hey, when the Sounders win a home match, I am the one sprinting across the field to get that content. So keep your eyes peeled.

Amanda: Well, I’ll be watching for you. Thanks, Danny.

Danny: Thanks you. Have a great day, guys.


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