The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
January 12, 2015
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
The Three A’s of Sports Social Media
As you’re wrapping up the first complete, and likely busy, work week of 2015, how much of your billable hours were spent monitoring Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media channels? Not just for fun, but for legitimate business and news gathering purposes?
If you’re like most savvy professionals in the sports industry and elsewhere, the answer to that question is probably “a lot.”
How did we find out that Boston had beat out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC to be the U.S. candidate city for the 2024 Olympic Games? Via Twitter—halfway into an important and relevant client meeting in Los Angeles. On Sunday morning, most of us woke up, reached for our phones, and were devastated by the news that “Sports Center” anchor Stuart Scott had succumbed to his battle with cancer at the too-young age of 49. As NBC’s Carson Daly pointed out, so many people turned to social media to remember Scott that within 24 hours after the announcement of his passing was made, 1.3 million tweets mentioned his name.
And as the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay noted on Monday, after a full slate of NFL wild card games last weekend, “It’d be great for a network to figure out how to fully integrate social media into game coverage because the live play-by-play and analysis has already been surpassed by the commentary and supplementary detail on Twitter. It’s not even close. It’s not a fad, and the jokes are better.”
Whether you’re fully on board or not, social media has fast become a critical information channel for sports leagues, teams, and athletes, and their business partners. As 2015 settles in, we take a look at the anchor “Three A’s” of sports social media: Access (our devices), Athletes, and Advertising.
On Friday, the Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up a busy week. Aside from self-driving cars and second gen 3-D printers, the big buzz items coming out of the massive annual tech fest in Las Vegas were ultra high-definition smart TVs and wearable technology, namely touch screen smartwatches. As they are integrated into our daily lives, the ever-smarter TVs and the smart wearables especially are guaranteed to up our social media participation to an even higher level than where it is today.
According to research firm IDC, in its last fiscal year, Apple sold 169.2 million smartphones, while Samsung sold 241.5 million smartphones in the first three quarters of 2014 alone. On the software side, about 84% of smartphones shipped in third quarter 2014 run on Google’s Android operating system, while about 12% run on Apple’s iOS. In 2014, Apple’s App Store recorded sales of roughly $15 billion.
While no one is suggesting that Apple’s new array of Apple Watches, slated to hit the market in March, and such competing Android products as Samsung’s Gear Live Smart Watch and LG’s Touch Screen Watch will replace all those smartphones, a healthy subset of those millions of purchasers will buy them.
Highly visible tech junkie pro athletes will be close to the front of the line when Apple, Motorola, and co. are handing out the freebies, and will thus have their social media feeds available on their persons 24/7/365. (Perhaps we should start taking bets on which coach will be the first to ban smartwatches from practice, not to mention games.)
As colleague Tanner Simkins recently wrote in iSports Times, in our Internet-based economy, the power of social media to provide voice to an individual or cause is a phenomenon unlike any other. Pro athletes who can create a voice on social media outlets are often the most followed, most influential, and have the strongest endorsement potential. And because this strong business interest exists, companies are innovating left and right to profit in one way or another.
For athletes, the next big wave in this social sphere is self-publishing. From Players Tribune, founded by Derek Jeter and boasting NBA star Blake Griffin as a senior editor (pushing content to his 3+ million Twitter followers) to SportsBlog, boasting the official blog of the NBA’s Charlie Villanueva, these interactive sites are important direct outlets for the athlete’s voice.
“Authenticity is king. When a fan is reading an athlete’s blog, they expect an honest glimpse into their life… not PR/Marketing speak that they can see through right away,” says Kevin April, SportsBlog COO. “The most interesting posts typically share moments stories that would never get picked up in main stream media, or that are more involved than a quick tweet. Blogging has removed the gate-keepers, and athletes are learning to (cautiously) take advantage of this new-found level of self-expression.”
Top athletes on Twitter are immediate attention magnets, and rather than just self-expressing about blown calls or giving a shout-out to a fan, savvy athletes leverage their voice for business—sponsorship and brand value.
Griffin, for example, has used his social presence as both a personal branding play and justification for high endorsement figures from the likes of Nike, Kia, Nike, and Subway.
Retired athletes are capitalizing, too. At CES, Shaquille O’Neal (9.24 million Twitter followers) made the rounds for sponsor Monster, and ZTE, NBA China official wireless sponsor and wireless sponsor of the Knicks, Warriors, and Rockets had Clyde Drexler and Adonal Foyle co-host their CES activation.
Dallas-based MVPIndex, a key partner in our annual Power 100 index of the world’s most powerful athletes, analyzed their 2014 digital data to see which athletes destroyed the competition, and which ones destroyed their social media brand value, mining a proprietary social media intelligence platform that tracks 43,725 social media accounts from over 20,000 athletes and 3,000 teams. The resulting five social media Winners and Losers of 2014 are posted below.
It is worth noting that an innocuous Instagram post from the MVPindex social media King and 2014 No. 1, LeBron James, remarking how much he liked the Kia K900, sparked a sponsorship deal. What was originally a rental car for James during his summer camp turned him into the spokesperson for the car, which he’s now “officially” driving to and from home games in Cleveland. This is a great example of how athletes can become spokespeople for brands, just by behaving on social media like the rest of us do.
Social media is now de rigueur in advertising campaigns capitalizing on sporting events, and perhaps no company has used social media more effectively than did Allstate during last week’s Sugar Bowl game that launched Ohio State into Monday’s College Football Playoff Championship.
The insurance company, Sugar Bowl title sponsor, aired eight ads during the college football game depicting the brand’s popular “Mayhem” character breaking into the home of a fictitious couple who posted on social media that they in New Orleans attending the game. “Mayhem” burgled their house, and then sold all the couple’s belongings off on “MayhemSale.com,” tweeting updates about the sale throughout the game using the hashtag #MayhemSale.
According to Allstate, the site received 6,000-8,000 hits per second immediately following each of the Mayhem commercials that aired, compared to 2,000 hits per second typically received by a retail site TV campaign. Total site traffic reached 18 million hits during the game, and Twitter impressions for the campaign surpassed 40.1 million.
In 2015 look for ever-more creative plays along these lines—and yes, they will extend to that new Smart Watch on your wrist.