There are some businesses and entire industries that have struggled over the last few years to find how they fit into social media well. Then there are the industries for which social media seems to have been created in the first place. Sports and sports marketing fall solidly into the latter category.
The Perfect Fusion
What are sports all about for the average fan? Watching with friends, eating, drinking beer, yelling, laughing, having an enjoyable time at something you can get passionate about. In other words, it's about being social.
Even if you don't like sports, it's likely that your Facebook and Twitter feeds get fairly clogged with comments like "Did you see that call????? #unbelievable", or something to that effect, whenever some big game is on. Think about it. We've been yelling at our televisions for years while watching sports. Now we can yell to the whole world through social media.
Teams that harness the natural yearning of the sports fan to be involved well reap big benefits from their fans, the most important being loyalty. Not that loyalty to a sports team is an uncommon trait among sports fans, of course, but that energy can be channeled into bigger things through a good social strategy powered by good social media management software.
A Huge Opportunity
While this perfect union of sports, sports marketing, and social media looks great on paper and is tailor-made for sports fans, the actual implementation has been mostly lackluster to date, and it's the teams that are missing the boat. It seems that many brands get into social media thinking that the very fact that they set up a profile and a page and send out tweets and posts here and there has completed their mission, and it should all be smooth sailing and increased sales from here. How ridiculous.
Social media is a marketing platform like any other, not a miracle drug or get-rich-quick scheme. The attitude like I just mentioned is no different than a print advertiser creating an ad which simply gives the company name, product name, price, and phone number. No one's going to run to the store full of buying fever over that. Good ads reach people emotionally and persuade them, and that's what has to be done on social media as well. The advantage to social media is that you get more than 30 seconds to get your message out.
The Score So Far
Looking at numbers from mid-2013 compiled by Forbes, the growth opportunity is just waiting for action. In the US, the sports team with the most social followers is the LA Lakers with 20 million. The differences from that point in both directions tell a big story. The NFL team with the biggest following was the Dallas Cowboys with 6 million. American football doesn't compare with the exposure that football (soccer in the US) gets in the rest of the world, but even they have wide disparities.
For instance, Spanish football juggernaut Barcelona has 60 million followers socially, as many as the entire NFL in the US. Arsenal has around 17 million, while Manchester United rightly doubles that number plus a bit, near 35 million. Bayern Munich, however, has struggled to reach 1 million followers.
The secret is the same as every product: make it good and they will consume it. Fans want more than news stories, player profiles (above), scoreboards, and a play-by-play of games. They want to be involved emotionally and have a simple yet effective outlet for those emotions. That outlet can be your team's social account if some effort is put into it. Then the merchandising gets linked, and the profits increase. No alchemy here.