The Changing Relationship Between Athletes, Media, and Fans

Social media is a literal game changer for athletes, teams, and clubs. As platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are increasingly being leveraged throughout the industry and by fans, we’re seeing some major shifts in the relationships being forged.

Fans Flock to Social Media to Be Part of the Team

If you think back to your youth, no doubt you can recall gameday events. It was always clear who was in the lead and who was underperforming, as the voices of people down the street carried through open windows and echoed off the houses. You didn’t even need a TV to know how the game was going; the “true” fans could be heard from a mile away. This behaviour amongst sports fans has not disappeared, though it has changed with the times. At last count, 78% of mobile phone users said they used their phones while watching TV, with 80% of tablet users admitting to the same. Moreover, nearly one-in-four uses a second screen several times per day whilst watching TV; no doubt many of them sports fans. Whereas the “us” mentality of belonging to one’s favourite team could only be heard on gameday, or perhaps as the fan tore through the sports section of the paper or flipped through a magazine, it’s now part of the fabric of social media, seen in everything some fans do. It’s their cover photo, their profile photo, and their pre-season Tweet: “We’ve got a great team this year!”

More often than not, the sport aficionado uses social media to feel like part of the team, express hope, and share memories. They are there at the game or in front of the telly, phone in hand, excitedly offering a play-by-play—not necessarily because he thinks others don’t know—but because they’re driven by the need to share details about their team. This bodes well for the players too. Just as having cheering fans in the stadium can give their game a boost, catching accolades online puts a bounce in their step too.

However, the darker side of sports enthusiasm is seen on social media as well. Just recently, Liverpool fans went after their own earlier in the season. Countless online posts slammed the 19-year-old Reds defender throughout the game and after.

Teams and Clubs Leverage Social Media to Increase Fan Bases

“It’s a mistake to think narrowly about global marketing,” explains Liverpool Football Club Managing Director Billy Hogan, speaking in a Forbes magazine interview. “We have 770 million passionate and loyal followers globally, comprising the world’s greatest football family.” These followers, of course, are also on every corner of the net. “Our social and digital platforms reach more than 56 million people across 50 social media channels,” he boasts.

Hogan isn’t alone with this approach. In the digital age, teams and clubs can easily grow a worldwide fan base. Games can be seen anywhere on the globe, and by positioning the brand on social media sites where potential new audiences already congregate, spreading the word and growing a following is easier than ever.

Shergul Arshad, digital business director of Associazione Sportiva Roma shared similar sentiments at the Soccerex football business convention in Manchester. “Social media is opening up international communication strands that did not exist before,” he said. They’ve developed a strong social media strategy which involves getting more players active online and connecting with 168,000 followers as much as possible. “We are following those fans and their insights,” Arshad declared. “We retweet a lot and the fans really appreciate this.” It’s working. Their Facebook page picked up half a million followers in just six months. Of course, AS Roma isn’t stacking all their eggs in the Facebook basket. Arshad says they’ve made a point of activating strategies on Pinterest and YouTube too. “It was an opportunity to move into a different demographic and appeal to a new female audience, and it also ties in with our e-commerce and international approach.”

AC Milan is on board as well, using sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, and Flickr. Giuliano Giorgetti, head of web and new media, says that more than 70% of the club’s Twitter fan base is international now. “Social media is really a fantastic tool for the process of internationalisation of an Italian football club,” he explained. To generate more interest and appeal to a broader audience, they post in several languages.

The end result for the clubs: greater fan bases, a wider international audience, and yes, higher revenues too. “Our audience has this passion, this is something that sponsors noticed and wanted to be involved with,” said Roma’s Arshad. “It has generated a lot of money for us.”

Athletes are More Connected to Their Fans

It’s not just the fans and clubs getting into social media. The athletes, themselves, are diving in. Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has more than 122 million Facebook followers, close to the same on Instagram, and another 66 million on Twitter. Lionel Messi has over 80 million on Facebook and Twitter. Tennis star Roger Federer has about 30 million across his platforms of choice. Neymar nails it with over 85 million on Instagram, 60 million on Facebook and 36 million on Instagram.

These connections and interactions can add up to some very lucrative endorsement, sponsorship, and influencer contracts for them, but they may also be influencing athletes in some unexpected ways too. As it turns out, an athlete’s audience can impact how he or she performs. The degree of change varies from sport to sport, and from one athlete to another, but research suggests that the cheers, jeers, and even silence, can change the course of the game. Similar impacts have been observed when media is critiquing athletes as well, so it’s not merely about what happens in the stands or on the field, but what’s happening in the mind of the athlete. Social media followers, for better or worse, will continue to shape the face of the game.

Grow with Vensy

Vensy is a sports influencer platform. We help connect athletes with brands who need their help and give brands access to intelligent data that enables them to choose the best influencers for their target audience. If you’d like to get in on this new wave of relationships, either as an athlete/ manager or as a marketer in search of new audiences, take the Vensy platform for a test drive today.

© Vensy Ltd 2018
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