Let’s first take a look at the group that makes sports as an industry tick: the fans. Without the fans, there’d be no one to pay for the outrageously priced tickets that ultimately pay the athletes, coaches, and everyone involved in making sports a business. According to the report Social Media in Sports, fans are attracted to social media because it makes the athletes they follow much more reachable. Pre-web-2.0, the most interaction a fan could have with his or her favorite player was probably the chance to get the athlete’s autograph, an exchange that might last all of about 30 seconds and a few words, if you were lucky. This communication was one-way and inauthentic. In the era of web 2.0, fans can commend, criticize, make suggestions, or just chat about life in general with the previously inaccessible stars. Social Media in Sports cites an example where Lance Armstrong tweeted back to a fan who asked him simply what was for dinner at the Tour de France, and also notes that the most digitally adept athletes will even make (virtual) appearances in online fan communities. Prior to social media, this type of interaction was virtually (no pun intended) unheard of.
In addition to the accessibility and interactivity of social media, here are two other reasons why fans appreciate the use of social media in sports:
- Transparency: Connecting with athletes via social media can allow a very transparent glimpse into their lives, even a peek at behind-the-scenes activities that no traditional media would cover, or maybe couldn’t cover because they didn’t have access. A few examples: Redskins’ tight end Chris Cooley blogging about his art hobby and basketball player Kevin Love tweeting about his coach’s firing before the media was alerted.
- Authenticity: If you tweet to or comment on the blog of an athlete and he or she responds, this shows a genuine interest in being connected with his or her fans. Also, according to Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre, the fact that athletes use emoticons, abbreviations, and make typos in their tweets makes them seem more human, thus seeming more authentic and less contrived, to fans.
This post was a little twitter-heavy, but from my research so far Twitter seems to be the most popular social medium in sports. I’ll definitely be covering the use of blogs, YouTube, and online communities in future posts, so stay tuned.