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What Is Social Media’s Role In Sports?

The two industries are becoming increasingly intertwined

2Mar

Social media and sport have been intertwined since the latter came into existence. A large part of sport fandom is talking about the game you love, and social media gives fans a 24/7 medium for discussion, with people from all over the world connected by a shared interest. The Twittersphere is ignited every match day, Facebook is awash with sports videos, and any attendee of a game will post an obligatory Instagram photo of the field. But social has a role to play commercially, from live streaming to digital marketing, and teams are starting to grapple with this seemingly limitless potential.

And, with the rise of social media’s involvement in sports, innovate startups are emerging, taking advantage of the plethora of technology available in modern stadiums. The connected arena will become the norm as more sports teams look to catch up with their competition, and we’ll only see more companies emerge as the full potential of the technology is realized.

One such young company is Snaptivity. If there’s one thing we can all agree on with selfies, it’s that they inherently lack spontaneity and are by definition not candid. Short of asking a stranger, though, it’s difficult to get a good photograph of your group of friends at a sports game without taking a selfie.

Snaptivity looks to solve this problem by using in-stadium cameras to take pictures of fans at the most emotionally charged points in the action, on their command but without their knowledge. Users input their seat numbers onto the app, and the company uses tech to isolate key moments in the competition and capture the reactions, in a similar vein to the snaps of your terrified face that you can pick up after riding a rollercoaster. The app has been used at 18 sporting events since it launched, with over 235,000 photos taken, and the company plans to expand it across different sports as it develops its technology. The app is intimately tied to social media, offering teams and venue partners a new level of exposure thanks to how brilliantly sharable the pictures are.

Social media has also emerged as a perhaps unlikely platform for live streaming of games. The giants of Twitter and Facebook have been making movements towards live streaming for some time, with the latter pushing user-generated live content to its users particularly enthusiastically. This commitment to live video is reflected in social media’s designs to broadcast live sports, with Twitter partnering with the NFL to show 10 games (for $10 million) and Facebook mimicking it with talks to host MLB games. Facebook will also stream 46 matches from Mexico’s Liga MX soccer league in 2017.

Facebook is also planning to launch an app for TVs, so that users can stream this content from the world’s biggest social media site directly. This won’t be where Facebook will benefit, though. Zuckerberg and co. are looking to create a social experience around watching live sports, taking the second-screen experience most fans already look for and packaging it all together with the stream itself. Of course, this level of engagement then affords Facebook the opportunity to earn more advertising revenue, whilst being able to offer sponsors more detailed information on who’s watching and their engagement levels.

Teams already announce almost all important information on Twitter. Athletes are well followed celebrities in their own right and many use Twitter as a remote press conference after every game, praising wins and apologising for losses. If social media’s two biggest players could introduce live streaming and create a more complete viewing experience, they could become a one stop shops for social media using sports fans.

Sports like soccer, basketball, and football are fairly far along the curve when it comes to exploiting social media. In other sports, though, the potential is yet to be properly explored. Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton believes racing, for example, should relax its existing restrictions on social media for the good of the sport. ‘If you look at football, social media is so much greater, they utilize social media a lot better in football, in the NBA, in the NFL. In F1 every time for example I would have posted a picture or a video I would have got a warning from the FIA, or notice telling you to take it down.’ Issues with broadcasting rights are the key concern for social media use in racing but, as the seventh-most popular sport in the world, it might be time it reassessed its policy.

What happens on the field, pitch, or court is just part of what makes sport so important to people. The rivalries, the lengthy discussions, the banter - sport and social media are perfectly placed to compliment each other. As sports teams become more digitally proficient, social media use will only balloon as a way of connecting more directly with fans. From live streaming to the technology in use on match day, social media has a huge role to play in sports, and the relationship between the two will only become closer as technology develops. 

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