Think of the big play in last night’s game. Where did you see it? Were you watching it live on television, or did you catch the highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter or your local newscast?
For many sports fans, their answer is none of the above.
Instead, many turn to social media for their sports coverage. And while it is not a new thing (Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010), social media’s ever-growing presence has become a major disruption in the sports media industry.
With linear TV ratings — even for the once-bulletproof NFL — continuing their decline with no end in sight, it’s time for sports teams and the brands that partner with them to take social media more seriously. Not only does it present new opportunities to reach more fans than ever, it has become critical for brand building, and teams should utilize it just as an advertiser would.
Treating it as just another box to check off on a long checklist is a big mistake.
For many younger fans, social media is the platform of choice for keeping abreast of their favorite teams. But while advertisers like to put their consumers into different age groups: Millennials, Baby Boomers, or even Generation Z, it’s not that simple anymore. While younger fans would tend to be the primary focus of social media users, a new demographic has emerged — Generation C — which is not bound by age. These are the “connected” consumers, the ones that eat, sleep and breathe with their smartphone in their hands. For these consumers, sports has become a two-screen experience. Even when it’s a one-screen experience, that screen is more often the one in their hand.
The stakes are now too high, and the next generation of consumers and their dollars are not where they once were.
Level the playing field
It used to be that smaller-market teams could only reach fans in their immediate region and would struggle to gain national exposure. While teams from smaller regions should still focus on building their communities with their fans, the beautiful thing about social media is that great content can travel anywhere.
Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder, which boasts one of the biggest stars in the game in Russell Westbrook. Or Italian football club A.S. Roma, which often sees its social media content go viral outside its own fans.
This goes for smaller brands, which may not have the advertising budget for a big, pricey $5 million commercial during the Super Bowl. A well-executed short video on Twitter or Facebook can travel across the globe for a fraction of the cost.
Swapping out “impressions” for “engagement”
Social media offers a more intimate, in-the-moment relationship with sports fans that television would never be able to accomplish. It’s more than just “impressions” (long the industry standard for measuring success on social). We need to stop putting social media into the same box as television.
Social media provides so many ways to engage with consumers, which allows brands to gather more data on consumers and what they interact with. For example, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry is a spokesperson for Under Armour. Wouldn’t it be great to know how many Warriors fans are going to Under Armour’s Facebook page vs. Nike’s or Adidas’s?
Or when a Spanish soccer club with a global fanbase like Real Madrid goes on its pre-season tour in the U.S. — as it did last summer — it can use social media data to find where its U.S.-based fans are located. This, in turn, helps decide which venues and cities to stage their matches.
Teams should look at quality engagement metrics and unique engaged audiences to really scope their brand potential. Rather than simply hitting a quota for a number of impressions, this will allow them to find out what truly resonates with their fans.
Once teams and brands start looking past simply the amount of the people that their content was put in front of — not even knowing how long or if they even saw it — they can really start to monetize that content.
It’s not just content for content’s sake.