How Are Sports Fans Using Social Media?

To this point in my mini blog series, I’ve focused my attention on how professionals (be they leagues, teams, or athletes) can use social media to their advantage in the sports world. This time around, however, I’m going to focus on the people who make professional sports so profitable: the fans.

Social media is a hub for a wide array of topics, but – at least in my biased opinion – one seems to dominate the social media world: sports. Whether it’s pre-game, post-game, in-game, or (to a lesser extent) on off days, the kind of buzz generated by the sports world on social media is unmatched (“social media channels see spikes in user activity for sporting events” as one site put it).

How Do Fans Engage?

There’s a certain sentimentality about the sports world on social media – I know that when I scroll through Twitter during big events it seems like everyone else is watching the same thing I am – but that doesn’t do much to give real, quantifiable numbers in terms of engagement.

Fortunately, some companies have taken a deep dive into sports fans’ use of various social media platforms to discover what trends, if any, exist. One of the most interesting findings from a 2013 survey is that, in general, more fans use Facebook compared to Twitter, but on game days fans are 1.5 times more likely to use the latter (this sums up my activity pretty much to a tee).

Some trends to look out for: according to that same survey, Google+ and YouTube showed impressive growth in popularity among fans. Given sports’ reliance on visuals, I can see why YouTube would see a spike, but I’m really surprised Google+ showed so much growth (then again, maybe I’m underestimating its potential).

Interestingly, only 37 percent of the respondents said they use Twitter to follow and discuss sports, which ranked third behind Facebook and YouTube (but, once again, Twitter was tops in game-day usage). Instagram was the least used tool in general, yet fans flocked there post-game (maybe I’m unfamiliar with Instagram’s functionality, but this puzzles me).

What are they saying?

Okay, so we have a good idea of what percentage of fans are likely to use the various social media tools available to them – but that’s only half the battle. The next question is how do fans use these tools to interact?

The New York Giants football team “reported that more than 90 percent of fans don’t attend the team’s games.” That’s a pretty staggering number, but it also begs the question: If they’re not attending games, what are these fans doing?

Chances are, they’re injecting their commentary on the games and the team’s activity, or engaging in discussions with other fans or the team itself. Another possibility, as pointed out in the TechNewsWorld article, is fans are using alternate accounts, such as fan pages on Facebook or “super accounts” on Twitter, to engage.

As the aforementioned survey found, fans also used social media as a way of supporting their favourite teams with their wallets. It showed that 7/10 fans surveyed would be “willing to take action after following or ‘liking’ a brand” and that 61 percent of fans liked or followed a brand because it offered a coupon or discount.

The Role of the Team

Even though this post is mainly dedicated to the fans, to get the full picture of their involvement you have to take into account the role each team/organization plays in all this. Conveniently, given the focus of social media monitoring this week, much of the work teams should do revolves around monitoring.

Knowing when fans are most engaged and specifically targeting their engagement around those times (i.e. rewarding loyalty) is one way to get the most out of the team-fan relationship. As we’ve learned, it’s also important to know the audience – despite what you might think, “Millennials did not make up the heaviest social media user group in 2016.”

I know that figure surprised me, and it wouldn’t shock me to hear that the majority of teams target their social media strategies to Millennials. But it provides a great lesson for any organization on social media: you can’t make assumptions about your audience, you have to know for sure who they are.

How do you get involved in the conversation about your favourite team(s)? Do you see any differences in interaction between social media tools?

Promotional Facebook post: “Teams can communicate with fans, fans can communicate with teams—the sports world is changing.”

Promotional Twitter post: More people use Facebook than Twitter to talk about sports. Surprised? You can read about that and more here:

3 thoughts on “How Are Sports Fans Using Social Media?

  1. This is a really interesting post! I’ve never given much thought to sports fans on social media, admittedly (though I do follow the Chicago Blackhawks on quite a few platforms!). I liked what you said about the sentimentality of using social media during sporting events. It made me think of Benedict Anderson’s idea of the imagined community. I tend to feel this sense of community most during the Olympics and definitely think that social media is a great way to stay caught up during the games! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your post is bang on! I wonder if the fans feel that since they have more direct access to their favourite teams via social media, they do not feel the need to show up for the games. Kinda like “That’s just my neighbour…nothing really to see here.”

  3. I follow my sports team on social media, but it’s also a great way to engage with other fans. When you’re cheering for an out-of-town sports team (go Oilers!) it’s nice to feel like you’re still part o the community and part of the excitement. Social media is a great tool for that!

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