The evolving landscape of sports consumption through social media

Pre-game warmups during the Atlanta Falcons Vs. Philadelphia Eagles game on Nov. 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by: Alex DeMarzo / Arizona Sonora News)


Social media has had a major impact on the sports industry and ultimately changed how sports is consumed around the world.

Since the inception of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube sports fans have enjoyed instant access to game highlights, their favorite teams and players.

While each social platform serves a different purpose, Twitter seems to be the hub where most of the sports conversation is being dominated.

According to Nielsen, there were a total of 492 million tweets related to sporting events in 2013. In addition, Navigate Research says sports fans are 67 percent more likely to use Twitter to enhance their viewing experience compared to non-sports fans.

With such a massive reach to the public, sports marketers are trying to figure out the best strategies and tactics to utilize social media not only to enhance the viewing and gameday experience, but drive revenue to the organization.

Kaytlin Nowell, digital marketing coordinator for Arizona Athletics at the University of Arizona, believes the impact of social media has affected sports marketing in a positive way.

Arizona Athletics and many other sports organizations utilize social media as a conversion tool.

“Social media has provided an outlet to share with people who may not necessarily care about your team or brand, but show them what goes on at your games and to try to convert those people on the outside to becoming fans,” Nowell said. “One of the most important parts is connecting the in-venue experience to the digital world.”

Aside from Twitter, the conversation of sports online is dominated by two other main social platforms. According to an annual fan engagement study conducted by Catalyst, a marketing firm based in New York, they found Facebook and Instagram to be the most frequently used apps for sports fans.

A major key for social media marketers is to figure out the bests strategies on how to best use each platform to tell the story and engage the fans the most.

“Since Instagram is mainly photos and video we use that platform to tell a photo story. Twitter is best suited for quick hits and microblogging in a sense and Facebook is best used for longform,” Nowell said. “Basically, we match our content and story to each platform.”

Many sports organizations use each of these platforms strategically to engage fans and bring excitement to the team. Some of the best ways to accomplish that is through social media campaigns.

Arizona Athletics Twitter promoting the new head Coach Kevin Sumlin and showcasing #BearDown (Screenshot by: Alex DeMarzo / Arizona Sonora News)

Arizona Athletics is in the process of a major campaign to generate excitement toward the football program.

The firing of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez after what many would call a disappointing end to the 2017 season left the future of the program uncertain.

After it was announced that the new coach would be Kevin Sumlin, the excitement picked right back up with the help of athletics marketing team.

Sports organizations have utilized the hashtag, which started on Twitter but since moved to Facebook and Instagram, to show what is trending and create basically a ‘virtual sports bar’ for fans to engage with during the game.

“On every post, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram we put #BearDown so our fans get the conversation going,” Nowell said.

In the process of hiring Sumlin, the marketing team wanted to figure out a hashtag in order to help generate the passion for football in Tucson. Leaving the past behind and starting something new, #EraZona was born.

Arizona Athletics Twitter helping generate excitement using the #EraZona hashtag. (Screenshot by: Alex DeMarzo / Arizona Sonora News)

The marketing aspect is only one part of how social media has impacted the sports industry. From a consumer perspective social media put the games in the palm of your hand.

Two of America’s most viewed sports, the NFL and NBA partnered with Twitter to broadcast live games on their site.

The NFL and Twitter provided free, live streaming video of all 10 Thursday Night Football games during 2016-17 season to the over 800 million users worldwide on the Twitter platform for the upcoming season.

Twitter was recently outbid by Amazon for the exclusive rights to broadcast Thursday Night Football games via their Amazon Prime platform.

According to Catalyst, two of the most engaging types of sports content on social media is game pre-and post-event footage and highlights.

Many sports organizations are starting to dabble with the Facebook Live feature for their pre-and post-game/event or behind the scenes footage.

Take the Philadelphia Eagles for example. During the 2018 NFL Draft they utilized this feature for both event coverage and behind the scenes footage.

They were live streaming up until their first pick was selected in order to generate hype for the fans. Once the pick was made, they switched over to a live stream from the draft room to give their fans more of an immersive experience.

The Eagles Facebook Live of the draft coverage averaged nearly 40,000 viewers.

Aside from live streaming via social media, highlights have really changed the viewing experience for the sports consumer.

Prior to the birth of social media the avid sports fan would have to wait all day until the nightly SportsCenter came on to see highlight from that day’s action. Social media has completely changed that narrative.

Within mere seconds of a spectacular play it has already been uploaded and shared on social media to millions of people worldwide.

One of the organizations to help change that narrative is Bleacher Report with its  Instagram account ‘House of Highlights,’ where the best highlights and bloopers from the day are uploaded almost instantaneously to their nearly 9 million followers.

Alex DeMarzo is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at 

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