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Does Sports Need Social Media?

Yes or no?  Does it depend on what sector of the sports industry we are talking about?  Should we even care?

Whether it’s a sports teams using a Facebook fan page, professional athletes on Twitter, sports agencies trying to promote their brand from blogging, sports management programs looking to recruit new students, or other sports organizations looking to find ways to increase sales and drive profits…. do they fully understand social media and are they ready to include it in their game?

I have been pretty frustrated with the somewhat ignorance I continue to see with sports teams and leagues banning social media,  sports agencies thinking social media is a waste of time, or even sports pr and marketing companies believing social media in sports should not be used, period.


The fans that watch your team on weekends, those students that want to learn about your sports management program, companies that need your marketing expertise or are looking to buy advertising are all online using some form of social media!  Even top sports business experts like CNBC’s Sports Biz reporter Darren Rovell talks about the power of social media on his blog and is tweeting daily to get his message out there.

And yes, there are ways to get your message out there with little or no cost to help you achieve your goals within the sports industry.  If you need a more in depth marketing strategy just ask top social media sports professionals Amy Martin, AJ Vaynerchuk, Jason Peck or Ryan Stephens as they can easily help any sports organization figure out how to achieve their goals and what action to take to reach them.

I am just tired of hearing that the sports industry still doesn’t have a forward thinking mindset when it comes to using social media and it is really frustrating me (and you don’t want to see my football playing aggression come out in my blog, or it may get ugly!).  My goal is to start providing more articles that help give the information the sports industry needs to start taking action with using social media so they can start to see the same successes other industries are gaining from it.

Are you as upset as I am and ready to strap on the helment, lace up your pads and kick some butt?  If so, leave a comment with your thoughts on which sports organizations are and are not using social media correctly.  What are they doing right, what are they doing wrong, and what can they do to make it better?  Ready…. Set-Hut!

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21 Responses to Does Sports Need Social Media?

  1. Jason Peck September 14, 2009 at 6:18 am #

    Thanks for the shoutout and for providing great info and insights here!

  2. Brad Williamson - The Virtual Biographer™ September 14, 2009 at 6:29 am #

    What I don’t get is how an organization that depends on drama to keep their business afloat doesn’t realize that so much of their product’s intrigue comes from what happens OFF-camera. And the only way to authentically push that aspect of their product to the public is to allow the characters of their programming to contribute to the organization’s storylines with their own personal insights into the entity’s entertainment.

    Leagues need to stop muzzling their money-makers, because when the season’s a bore or on vacation, it needs a way to continue nurturing interest in its brand. I think they’ll finally come around to understanding this, but, when it’s all said and done, they’ll ultimately be known as the late adopters of the Web’s social movements. And that’ll just be embarrassing.

  3. Jason Peck September 14, 2009 at 6:35 am #

    And to answer your question. Yes, I’m upset that more teams/leagues have not embraced social media in ways that are truly beneficial to their fans and to themselves. Social media tools and themes (crowdsourcing, real-time updates, etc) can be integrated in existing efforts to help teams make more money and give fans what they want. Would love to see some teams start to really do this well! The time is now!

  4. Lewis Howes September 14, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    Jason, I am glad to see that others share my frustration in this matter. How much longer will we wait until the sports industry actually wakes up and starts realizing how powerful social media is? Will it be another year… 3 years… or will they miss out and never use social media?

  5. Steve Radick September 14, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    There’s a HUGE opportunity for social media in the sports industry. By and large, sports teams and leagues have focused on marketing – marketing the brand, marketing the stadium, marketing individual players, etc. – what they can (and should) do is turn more attention to community building so that even if the on-field product isn’t great, they have a community of real (instead of fair-weather) fans who will support it. Look at teams like the Packers, Cubs, Steelers, etc. who continually sell out their stadiums and have a rapid fan base – they have intrinsically tied their teams to a community, instead of just marketing their product. Even when the Steelers were bad in the 80s, they were still selling out. Heck, even the Cubs continue to sell out their games and they haven’t won anything more than 100 years! That’s not marketing that’s selling out the games – that’s a community of fans.

    Sports teams should be hiring online community managers, just as they’ve hired offline community relations teams. Sports teams should be facilitating and encouraging these online communities, not just marketing to them. Right now, my work is focused on helping the government learn how to better use social media to engage with the public, and I think there are a lot of parallels between the two industries. Both are just now learning how to use social media; both have traditionally been VERY focused on controlling the message; both are traditionally risk-averse industries; and both have been reluctant to allow the average player/government employee to freely engage publicly in dialogue (in different ways of course).

  6. Gail Sideman September 14, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    Having worked with some of these organizations then working in the non-sports world of publicity, I can tell you that many sports entities fail to understand that they exist in the real world. Many don’t implement PR 101 — consistent messages. Everybody within those organizations pitch their own thing, which doesn’t bode well for remembering a brand, much less authenticity with their fans. If it wasn’t for the players on the court and field — trend-following, quick-acting athletes — you might expect football players to still wear leather caps for helmets.

    I have discussed this with many of my former colleagues and some agree. Many have tried to communicate the lack of forethought to communications strategies to those in their hierarchies, but they fall on deaf ears. We still have many organization heads that haven’t experienced the value in things like communications strategies and certainly, social media. As a result, it’s hard to break their shells of belief.

    In addition to the talented individuals you mention above, I also consult with organizations and guide them toward their communications goals and provide them with tools on how to get there.

    Remember, that as effective as social media can be for these groups and individuals, a multi-pronged strategy should be used. Traditional media is not dead. You have to go to where your audience travels for information and to many, that’s a combination of traditional and electronic media (I include social media in electronic). When I work with organizations, I develop a map of tools to help them achieve their goals.

    Trust me — having worked with many sports organizations and individuals in and intimately know the value of what social media can do for their brands, I share Lewis’ frustration. I know, however, that you only proverbially lead a horse to water. If they’re not willing to advance their strategies and step forward with their communications efforts, you can’t make them drink. You can educate…but focus energies on those that are ready for change.

  7. David Fuller September 14, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Personally I think sport can benefit from social media in a big way, but I am not surprised that it has not been embraced more fully by athletes, teams and leagues.

    Sometimes, those of us who are early adopters, forget that social media is still far from a mainstream activity. A growing percentage of a sport property’s stakeholder base, including fans will interact via social media but its currently low compared to those who follow on other media.

    Add to that the fear that traditional PR people have of technology – I still get PR agencies wanting to send me releases by fax!!! – and the speed of adoption is understandable. Not justified, but understandable.

    10 years ago, I tried to convince sports marketing people that SMS text messaging was a good way to provide personal and relevant communications to fans and at the same time provide ROI for sponsors. I was still trying to convince some sports marketing people of this platform 5 years ago. Today – SMS might have lost some of its benefits to services like twitter, but there are hundreds of millions mores users of SMS than there are of the micro-blogging site.

    The sports that stand to make the most of social media are those that don’t enjoy mass-market coverage on network tv or the press. Sailing, action sports, triathlon and many more are embracing social media as a way of providing content direct to an audience of fans that have been marginalised by big sports.

  8. Anthony Caponiti September 14, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    Fantastic post Lewis and it’s important that leaders in this space such as yourself continue to raise the collective concern. Thank you.

    Of course, the time is now more than ever for the sports industry to take advantage of the advantages social media offer. Steve Radick highlights an integral point and that is the idea of COMMUNITY. In the midst of this bear of a recession, leagues and teams must realize the importance of building micro-communities around their players and personalities.

    Many organizations are building social media into next year’s budget, but why about now? Imagine if the Detroit Lions actually gave their team’s community a proper outlet to vent their 18 loss frustration like a huge social media promotion around their first win. Not only could the front office learn a thing or two about their fans who spend the valuable dollars, but they might actually help the fans have some much needed fun along the way. Isn’t that worth the “risk” of not controlling the message?

    For players, it’s important to keep in mind where the road block is coming from. Traditional agents and agencies have little interest in social media unless they believe it puts money in their pockets from sponsorships. Unfortunately many players are still left believing they need to spend much larger budgets like their predecessors were accustomed to paying for official websites. Think about the savings people and believe it or not savvy brands are now looking for athlete social media personalities so they don’t have to front the money for their brand ambassadors online!

    Alas, we are in the middle of a branding revolution and at least on the athlete side, the clock is working against agents and agencies that refuse to recognize social media and simply do the work. Athletes are shifting more of their marketing to people like us, but we must continue to get the message out.

  9. Lewis Howes September 14, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    Anthony, Great points my friend… (and I should have added your name to the list of experts to reach out to in the sports social media space).

    I think you are right about the budget thing… organizations need to start having a forward thinking mindset and start taking action today, and not wait for budgets next year.

  10. Margo September 14, 2009 at 11:04 am #

    Lewis take a look at the San Jose Sharks. They are a pretty good example of how to use social media. They have a twitter page and a facebook page. They post games score updates, links to feature articles and use it as a way to announce chances for fans to ask players questions.

  11. Anthony Caponiti September 14, 2009 at 11:24 am #

    No worries … next time!

    Exactly because now is the time to make the headlines with an innovative promotion and/or fan contest if you are an organization. Mainstream media is dying for these stories and the total spend for an organization is small enough it can come out of traditional advertising/marketing budgets this year.

  12. Karen Goeller September 14, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Yes, each team should be using social media, but the players and coaches SHOULD NOT be using anything of the sort immediately before or during games for SAFETY reasons. They can have an administrative person from the team keeping fans up to date. Athletes and coaches could and should be using social media after games and on days they do not play, but just before and during the games they MUST FOCUS on the game. IT’S A BIG SAFETY ISSUE. I’ve been coaching since 1978 and have seen athletes get distracted and then injured. I do not even allow athletes to interact with their parents during competition because it takes away from their concentration. Anything that causes an athlete to lose focus can cause an accident. So with all of your discussions on this topic please keep ATHLETE SAFETY in mind…

  13. Lewis Howes September 14, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    Margo, San Jose is off to a good start and doing thing right… Karen, I agree, right now coaches should not but posting things before during or right after the games, to keep the athletes best interest in mind, however, how interesting will it be when coaches start giving fans insider tips and information via social media

  14. Samraat Kakkar September 15, 2009 at 9:37 pm #


    You are bang on target, sports industry is just not willing to wake up to social media & how they can use it. It is not about just getting your presence on social networking platforms.

    Sports needs to understand how it can use social media & I agree there are multiple ways in which sports & social media can get integrated.

    I myself have been writing about this from an Indian perspective.

  15. Juan Mario Cárdenas September 16, 2009 at 8:55 am #

    Here in Mexico happens the same way, but in TDN, a new sports network, are willing to profit this situation, I trully belive it’s the way to the future, the people is the media, so as a network specialized in sports, we’re getting in deep in social media.

  16. Lewis Howes September 16, 2009 at 8:59 am #

    Thanks for your input Samratt, would love to hear more of your thoughts from and over seas perspective.

  17. Jared September 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    I feel like the players are good examples of using social media correctly, as opposed to the teams and organizations.
    For instances, players like LenDale White, and Chad Ochocinco, are connecting with their fans on a whole different level than what the ordinary fans are used to. In addition to that, these two players are also implementing a small business behind their NFL careers. They have both came up with ideas for T-shirts, and LenDale has sought advice from fans for his designs. For a low price, these players are selling T-shirts, and exclusively to their followers on Twitter. Not a bad idea for little work.

  18. Chris Matye September 16, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    We have a niche media outlet in motorcycle road racing and worked with several teams this season to specifically engage their fans every weekend with dedicated video coverage of their race efforts. Fans loved the inside access and they didn’t have to get on the podium in hopes to get covered by traditional media in a severely under served market. We leveraged our distribution channels to get even more reach. With the advent of the new iPhone 3GS, we began Tweeting “live from the hot pit”, and looked like geniuses with the push of a button.

  19. andymorris September 29, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    As the new digital & social media coordinator here at the University of South Carolina, I can say that we're making strides to grow our social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, blogging and text messaging. One of biggest initiatives, other than our blog, is Gamecocks Gameday Live (GGL as I call it internally). GGL is a “package” we promote as a way for fans to connect with the team on football gamedays. Before and during the game, I'm updating fans real-time through Twitter, our Facebook fan page and text messaging. It's beginning to grow in popularity. However, one thing I'm struggling with as I develop our department's first-ever social media plan is explaining measurement to my superiors. Terms just as “mentions” and “likes” don't really hit home with people. Do you have any suggestions?

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