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How The Sports Industry Is Setting The Trend In Social

Written by Simply Zesty on

Sports Social Media

It's been a packed twelve months for the sports industry, mostly thanks to the Olympics and Euro 2012. With this, we saw sports social media marketing reach a whole new level, with groundbreaking campaigns showing us the true advantages of a digital era and what this means for live events.

While FMCG brands often get the focus in social media, the sports industry is rapidly pivoting to become 'social first,' leading the charge for other brands and more importantly, stalwart entertainment industries such as film and music who are falling even further behind.

In  a few short years, we've seen social revolutionise the sports industry, which has largely been openly embraced to an extent unlike we've seen in any other industry. We no longer have the Super Bowl, but the Social Media Bowl, where all eyes are on the brands slugging it out to emerge as the social winner in a worldwide, live sporting event.

And brands are doing this because they have a huge arena in which to play and compete, and most importantly, get right in front of a responsive audience that sports teams and clubs are embracing. Sports fans are welcome online, rather than being met with suspicion and a walled garden.

Social Media Policies

What's perhaps most impressive about the sports industry and social media is what's going on behind closed doors at a governing level. Rather than turning a blind eye to social, governing bodies have recognised the need to put policies in place that will ultimately protect the game. Recently, the Football Association issued a set of guidelines for players which covered the use of Twitter. Specifically, it banned players from sending tweets related to a game for up to 24 hours before a match. Alongside this, it introduced a requirement for managers to approve tweets sent in this period.

While this may seem slightly draconian to some, it actually shows the FA being progressive in its approach to social. When we have high profile examples of players getting into trouble through this medium (hello Ashely Cole), it's important that there are guidelines put in place that ultimately protect players, opposition teams and related bodies.

When individual players are attracting such a prolific following through their own social profiles, guidelines such as this are necessary for the good of the game. The fact that the FA is paying attention to Twitter and issuing centralised rulings on the use of social shows a forward-thinking approach, rather than dealing with a mess after it's been tweeted (20,000 times, in the case of Ashley Cole).

While many will advocate a rules-free zone for the use of social, in reality that simply doesn't translate, which is why it's impressive to see an organisation such as the FA stepping up and taking an active role in the use of social technologies.

Fans That Money Didn't Buy

So sports teams have a natural advantage in that they benefit from rafts of loyal fans unlike any other industry. While you may have an allegiance to a range of bands, celebrities, films or books, none of those can really compete with sports teams, where your allegiance really only ever lies with one. If you're a fan of Man Utd, you're pretty unlikely to be a fan of any other club.

This means that sports clubs have grown some of the most impressive followings on social media without really trying. When have you ever seen a Facebook ad asking you to join a major club page, in any sport? You probably haven't, because they don't need to buy your love. They already have it.

Man Utd has gathered over 31 million fans on Facebook without even really trying. All they have to do is send a picture of one of their players leaving an airport and over 200,00 people will like it.

Man Utd Facebook Page

No other industry can boast of fan loyalty like this, so while the sports industry has a gain over other industries here that you can't necessarily learn from, what you can learn from is how clubs are using these fans as a marketing asset. Albeit shamelessly.

The New Jersey Devils created a mission control center, which is a rather fancy name for a room where they put their fans to work - for free - to promote the team. As part of the campaign, the NJ Devils recruited 25 of their most loyal fans through social media where they worked in the run-up to game time in a community management role across social platforms, monitoring online discussion and conversation. ESPN claims that this accounted for an increase in its Facebook fans from 100,00 to 170,000.

And they're getting all this for free as volunteers give over their time for nothing other than pride in helping their team out. Sure, this may be seen 'slightly' as a form of exploitation, but the Devils are simply making the most of the active fans they have  and instead of letting this conversation go into the ether, they're providing a physical forum where this can be channeled for the benefit of fans and ultimately, of course, the club.

The Live Experience

Every day around the world, millions of fans will be attending a live sport event of some kind. This gives clubs an opportunity to experiment with digital and social campaigns, to maximise the potential word of mouth. There's no shortage of inspiring campaigns here, such as 'Fan Cam,' launched by Manchester City. Here, they asked fans to tag themselves in a 360 photo taken from a game, as well as spot Balotelli and a number of other players, who had been superimposed into the crowd.

Manchester City Fan Cam

But aside from a campaign approach, perhaps the most exciting development in live sports, is the ability for the industry to be responsive to industry trends and make content available across different platforms. Back in summer 2011, the FA (along with their partner brand, Budweiser) reached a deal with Facebook which saw the opening game of the season broadcast live within Facebook.

While some may see this as detrimental to the live sport experience, potentially impacting on ticket sales, the opposite is in fact, true. Research carried out by the Sports Business Journal has found that on average, 15% of ticket sales are influenced by posts on social media, while those who buy tickets via social media sources are likely to pay 1 1/2 more times when compared to traditional ticket sources.

This should provide some form of encouragement to other entertainment industries, who see the provision of free content online as a barrier to people attending events live. As social distribution serves to seek exposure, it only piques our interest for seeing the real thing. Social is advantageous here and shouldn't be viewed as a threat.

This handy infographic shows more closely the relationship between social media and sport ticket sales, which is a close one.CS_Social_TicketSales_Infographic_v2

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