Industry News – The Role Social Media Plays in Sports World

The Role Social Media Plays in Sports World
Written by Angela Taylor

As we await training camps in the NFL to get underway after a labor deal is finalized and hope that the NBA labor talks can meet a similar conclusion resulting in no games being lost, a hot topic on the sports scene has been the state of social media and sports.

Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter, Deron Williams confirmed his commitment to playing in Turkey by tweeting his signed contract page, and Abby Wambach became a sports hero as the Twitter community erupted during her incredible late game heroics during the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

Shaq capitalized on being one of the first athletes to take to Twitter years ago & is one of the most powerful influencers on Twitter with nearly 2 million followers.  On the eve of the World Cup Final, Wambach joined the Twitterverse and captured over 11,000 followers in just over 3 hours.  Certainly a smart move that could pay immediate dividends for her brand in the near future.

Many have been “late adopters” of social media, but the fact is that social media is here to stay.  Whether you’re an individual trying to build your brand or an organization trying to promote products/services, the various applications on web 2.0 offer you the ability to control your own message while contacting with consumers (and fans) on a global basis.

Here is a pretty dynamic YouTube video about the role social media is playing around the globe from Socialnomics ( Watch video here

The importance of social media in today’s sports world is undeniable.  If you are an organization or someone with a brand you are trying to nurture, it is pertinent that you implement & execute a social media strategy.

Recently, in honor of Twitter’s 5th Anniversary, Sports Illustrated Online ( published their list of the “Twitter 100″, a list of sport’s movers & shakers on Twitter.   The list is comprised of members of the sports media who have loyal followers, athletes (such as Shaq and Ochocinco) who have used Twitter for financial gain, sports executives who are building their brand in the industry, and eccentric team owners (i.e. Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts) whose timeline is…well, let’s say interesting. had their own list that honored Twitter’s 140 characters by naming the “140 Must Follow Sports Personalities.”

What we have found in recent weeks is that social media (namely Twitter) is the ideal platform for connecting during live events and there are no better live events that capture the emotion of consumers more than sports.  The challenge moving forward will be for leagues, teams, sponsors, and networks to figure out unique ways to leverage these resources.  Interestingly enough, social media platforms allow small businesses to connect with fans just as easily as those with million dollar marketing budgets.  It is the great equalizer and has forced all of us to figure out how to maximize it as a tool.

In the last 10 days, Facebook and Google have launched new features for their online platforms hoping to garner customer loyalty and monopolize social communications.  The increase in the variety of these social media platforms has caused some of us to develop what I like to call “adult onset ADD”.  There are so many options.  From Google+ to blogs to Twitter to Facebook….

The list goes on and on, but the journey is just beginning.  We have only just begun to figure out how to utilize some of these platforms.  We have no idea what’s next, but what we do know is that if you’re in the sports industry and you aren’t using social media to connect to your fanbase or your audience, you ARE being left behind.

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Catching Women’s World Cup Fever


On a typical Sunday in mid-July, households across the world were captivated by a group of women who potentially have rejuvenated fan interest in a sport that has been in hibernation ever since fan favorites Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain brought home the Gold Medal on a similar stage 12 years ago.

While Chastain & Hamm et al had, what we now realize was, much more at stake (the survival of a women’s pro soccer league in the states), the drama and intrigue for the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team was equally compelling.  If the 1999 group seemed to be the pioneers for women’s soccer at the elite level, then the 2011 team were flag bearers for the viability of the future of the sport.

Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to conjure up just enough steam to generate momentum.  Was this the perfect storm?

If Twitter is any indication (and we all now seem to use activity on this platform as confirmation of interest), the answer is YES!  The 2011 USWNT was in the midst of the perfect storm.  In fact, on Sunday evening, Twitter announced that a new record of tweets per second had been set at 7,196.  Eclipsing the activity around the Super Bowl, Osama bin Laden’s death, and the NBA Finals.

While media members debate whether or not this team is fair game for criticism for blowing two leads in the Final as the heavy favorite, the team can be grateful that the chatter hasn’t ended despite the disappointing and devastating outcome.  Truth is, as consumers of sports in all forms, many of us can’t resist analyzing this important moment in sports.  For many, the following questions come to mind:

1.  Was a sports starved American public (which included the President of the United States and his family), longing for any type of action as a result of the NFL & NBA lockouts, Tiger Woods’ absence from the Open, and a hangover from Derek Jeter eclipsing the 3,000 hit milestone last week? An 8.6 overnight rating on ESPN is a strong indication that a sports-starved public was more than willing to jump on the women’s soccer bandwagon.  For the avid sports fan, the absence of NFL free agency and training camp talk along with the terse undertones of a potential long-term NBA lockout certainly contributed to the interest in the WWC.  But to say that is the only reason people tuned in is a disservice to the fans and to the women’s soccer team.  Through their play, they earned our respect and desire to tune in as they sought after the first WC Gold medal in 12 years.  A hungry child must eat.  If fans tuned in because this was the best option, they were pleasantly surprised with what may just become a sport they now choose to consume on a regular basis.

2.  Was the Nike Women’s Sports campaign influential? There is no disputing the fact that Nike and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, produce many of the most compelling ad campaigns in the industry and their efforts around the WWC were no different.  Nike’s commitment to the USWNT certainly provides a certain bit of credibility, but doesn’t necessarily impact consumer behavior or viewing choices.  It may, however, sell quite a few of those purple Hope Solo jerseys that were wildly popular.

3.  How strong was the Twitter-effect? As is witnessed by nearly 7,200 tweets being sent per second during the World Cup yesterday, fan activity on Twitter definitely played a role.  Players tweeted about their experiences, fellow athletes offered their respect & support, and Twitter-nation rallied in support of the team.  For those who weren’t watching the games live, they were treated to play-by-play throughout the matches and tune in prompts when action got exciting.

4.  Was ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup and growing coverage throughout the tournament a factor? ESPN’s commitment to the WWC was impressive.  They covered all of the matches, offered pre-match analysis, involved various experts (and former players) to share their opinions & analysis, and invested in making this a great event for the network.  As the tournament continued, ESPN’s covered picked up with post-game interviews and interviews on off days.  This allowed us to get to know the personalities of the rising stars.  In what had to be a moral victory for the 2011 team, the tone shifted from recounted the successes of the 1999 team to admiring the fierce competitors on the 2011 team.  Fans will still have Hamm, Foudy, and Chastain etched in their memories, but now a new generation of soccer playing role models have staked their claim on our respect & admiration.

5.  Is it the marketability of stars like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan? This isn’t even a question.  Simply Google Mia Hamm and you will realize how important it is for a struggling sport/league to have marquee stars. Over the course of Sunday’s Final, as reported by CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Morgan’s Twitter followers increased by 70%.  Yet, an important point to emphasize here is that these players are marketable primarily because THEY CAN PLAY!  Mia was one of the best (if not the best) players in the game who also was well-spoken and willing to carry the sport on her shoulders with her fellow teammates.  From what we can tell thus far, these players carry similar characteristics and both should be part of the USWNT for years to come.

6.  Is it the clutch play(s) by Abby Wambach that garnered instant respect with other professional athletes? Skip Bayless constantly harps on the “clutch gene” as he rates players in various sports.  In fact, despite his stellar play in the Eastern Conference Semis versus Boston & Finals against Chicago, LeBron’s fourth quarter disappearances in the NBA Finals still leaves Bayless questioning his clutch-ability.  Wambach’s huge clutch performances and game winning goals certainly made her one of the stars of this team.  To validate the impact clutch performances have on fan interest, we don’t have to look to far.  Remember Michael Jordan’s follow through as he hit a last second jumper in the Finals against Utah.  Think about Joe Montana & John Elway’s Super Bowl winning drives.  Recall Christian Laettnar’s game winner against Kentucky.  Clutch plays can make a career legacy!

7.  What will be the long-term impact of losing in the Final? Unfortunately, despite a cinderella-like journey through the World Cup that saw the team get off to a slow and unimpressive start, this loss will definitely have a negative impact on what “could have been” if the team brought home the gold.  The individual players will still benefit greatly from performing so well on this global stage, but they may not be able to generate as much off the field as they would have otherwise.  In addition, while interest will be boosted in WPS here in the states, we all love winners and may have somewhat of a hangover from the loss that stands in the way of us being motivated to tune into women’s soccer.  Hope Solo and Abby Wambach will now be household names and if they go on to win a Gold at the Olympics, they may be able to recapture some of what they lost.  It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact, but many of us will go on and say “what if”.

Despite the loss, the team captivated many unexpected fans. Possibly the coolest group of fans watching the theatre that became the Women’s World Cup Final was the POTUS and his family.  Huge fans of sports and fitness, the Twitter community was outwardly impressed that President Obama was not only watching the match with his family but also live-tweeting throughout the match.

Along with the question of whether or not sports fans will jump on board the women’s soccer bandwagon once the team returns to the states and their teams in the WPS, is the financial impact this attention will have on the new soccer stars Solo, Morgan, and Wambach.  An article in AdAge estimated that the stars each could have garnered $3 million – $4 million in endorsements with a victory.  Their eventual endorsement opportunities may not meet those expectations due to the disappointing outcome, but their agents’ phones certainly will be ringing off the hook with endorsements that can bring 7 figure incomes.  A newbie to the team, Alex Morgan, promises to become the face of women’s soccer.  She’s young.  She’s attractive.  She’s athletic.  She scored her first two goals in World Cup competition in two important moments.  She has a chance to become the next Mia.

We all have been treated to some amazing soccer over the last couple of weeks.  There were exciting victories claimed in the waning moments of regulation.  There was plenty of star power for avid and casual fans to follow. There was an amazing display of talented young stars.  There was great coverage from media members who typically hadn’t covered women’s sports or women’s soccer.  There were enthusiastic crowds in stadiums in Germany, pubs around the globe, and living rooms across the country.  And there were millions of Americans who Caught World Cup Fever!!!

The question remains, will they soon find a cure for that cold or will they continue to feed off the momentum and add a new activity to their calendars.  For those women who have worked so hard to put themselves in position to succeed on the grandest of stages, they hope that our interest is not temporary but that we will all find our way to stadiums around the country and watch them display the same passion for their craft as they play in the WPS.