01 April 2017
The Impact of Social Media on the Sports Product
On January 7, 2017 the sports world paused. It wasn’t because the Utah jazz edged out the Minnesota Timberwolves 94-92. It wasn’t because the Arizona Coyotes defeated the New York Islanders in an overtime shootout. No, in fact it had nothing to do with sports at all. On January 7, 2017, Tom Brady joined Instagram. What made this significant was Brady’s greatness and well-known secluded lifestyle, not the fact that an athlete joined a platform full of fans. In today’s society, as the social media and sports industries are on the rise, it was inevitable that they collide. But what exactly does that mean for the product sports have to offer?
The sports product is a very complicated one. Rather than other industries, sports doesn’t offer the consumer a material object, but rather entertainment. Though a consumer can buy a piece of memorabilia or a team related material object, it all stems from the entertainment that the team provides. A Los Angeles Dodgers hat means nothing without the baseball team. However, what sets sports apart is the type of entertainment they offer. The unique product sports offer is a community. When you go to a game, you’re going with thousands of other people with a similar interest or goal as you. But when half of the people are looking not at the game but instead at the screen in their hands, the product changes.
The clearest change is in the real life community. A study run by the USC Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism in 2010 showed that 14% of people admit to spending less face to face time with their friends since becoming connected to social media, with the percentage on the rise1. This doesn’t bode well for the people who still go to games looking for the full sports experience, even if the overwhelming majority still prefer to go out. However, for the people who stay home, they’re not missing as much as it seems. As real life and the Internet continue to merge, so do the sports communities. As of 2017, every single NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL and MLS team has an Instagram page, each with over a million followers. For the percentage of people who can’t or won’t go to games, this platform offers part of the community they’re missing out on. Columnist and analyst Gabriele Boland explains that when teams join social media, “It allows fans to have a deeper connection and experience with their teams, where they feel part of the action and up to date on the latest news”2. Social media allows the fans to connect with the teams themselves, rather than with the fans, a unique development to the sports product.
However, perhaps the more interesting change occurs in the entertainment aspect of the product. Previously, the way fans were entertained by the games were by attending them, listening to them on the radio or watching them on TV. Social media offers a new platform, and with it new methods of entertainment. Many fans that follow a team on Twitter or Instagram are usually well aware of the occurrences of a game. This is because as the game progresses, teams will release small video clips of what’s going on, like a player scoring a goal off a bicycle kick or a someone clubbing a home run. For the fans witnessing this from their couch, the isolated entertainment draws them further. They may be intrigued to tune into the game on TV or radio, or venture further into a team’s account or website. It also allows the fans to react to games in real-time, along with thousands of other people. According to data gathered by Twitter, there were 27.6 million tweets using the hashtag #SB51 during the Patriots vs. Falcons Super Bowl game on February 5, 20173. This was by far the most tweets of a live event in history, and shows that the entertainment value that sports offer is still very much present, just different.
When Tom Brady joined Instagram it had no impact on whether or not people enjoyed sports. What it really signified was how sports fans are changing without their knowing. Anyone who follows Brady is now just as close to him as they are to the community of people who go to witness him play. When Brady posts a hype video before one of his playoff games, his followers are instantly intrigued to pay attention, even if that means following along the Patriots Twitter feed throughout the game. As intricate as the sports product is it’s even more malleable, and the growing presence of social media will play a role in shaping it for the future.
1.USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, "Special Report: America at the Digital Turning Point," www.annenberg.usc.edu, Jan, 2012