In modern day sport, sport and social media go hand in hand. Sports are no longer one dimensional, offering solo experiences either through live matches or televised games. Like the human senses, viewing and engaging with sport is now multi-layered, with each aspect building towards the bigger picture. Fans are able to absorb information through different media simultaneously; central to this is social media.
Whether through a laptop, tablet or smartphone, social media is now the ultimate viewing companion, regardless of whether the fan is at home or in-stadium, since WiFi has propelled venues to the new fan-friendly heights.
In America, unlike the UK, amateur sport reigns supreme. Supporters regularly fill 60,000 seat venues just to witness the credentials of local stars of the future. Nowhere is this truer than in American football in US colleges
College football financially ranks as the third largest American sport pulling the majority of its revenue from over £1.5 billion in TV contracts. This equals the combined amount BT Sport and Sky Sports pay in television rights for the Premier League. Key to this rise is social media use among fans. Athletic departments are using all platforms to engage students and alumni and galvanize their interest. These fans are more likely to use social media to interact with fellow students, coaches, and athletes rather than just using it as a method to acquire new information about the teams.
The most common form of online sharing among college football supporters is embedded content that can easily be shared through simple social media actions such as a Facebook “Like” or a re-tweet. The Internet no longer exists as an online encyclopaedia, for college football enthusiasts it has evolved into a platform for viral content shared within avid groups. This constant sharing of information has led to stronger bonds between them, which fosters committed and long-lasting fan bases.
A recent study from the University of Georgia looked into the changing role of the Internet and social media among college football followers, measuring social media impact on areas such as cultural identification, social connections, and collective self-esteem. The study found that as supporters increased their social media usage, the amount of connections within the community increased and satisfaction within the community increased.
By building up large amounts of connections between fans within the online community, the collective base grew in size and diversity. By becoming more invested socially in following their team, the researchers found fans watched more televised games, attended more live matches and purchased more official team merchandise, resulting in the NFL’s second tier becoming one of the most lucrative sports in the world.
The reasoning behind why the avidness of these groups increases as social interaction increases explains the crux of why people watch sport. In Adam Earnhardt’s recent book, he interviewed college students to find their motives for viewing matches. The study revealed the key reasons people follow sport is to interact socially with friends, family and strangers. Watching televised sport provides a medium for people to connect both in person and online, with social media acting as a tool to enhance companionship. Earnhardt found three reasons why fans use social media when viewing sports by themselves: ‘so I won’t have to be alone,’ ‘when there’s no one else to talk to or be with,’ and ‘because it makes me feel less lonely.’
These new findings will have the greatest impact on sports marketing firms, advertisers, and college football PR departments. Sports public relations will now require companies to participate fully within these online communities to communicate directly their message to admirers. PR and marketing departments looking to gain an edge will now have to leverage social media interactions to gain entry into the sports online community. If new age sports advertising is going to succeed in the digital age, then entry to fans’ social networks will have to be priority number one for sports PR firms.