It’s official: social media and sports are an item. From ice hockey to the Olympic Games, social media is playing a huge role in the sporting world. Networks and newspapers are showcasing social media experts, athletes are testing the waters, while policies monitoring their actions are popping up daily and fans are feeling closer to the action than ever before. Here’s a look at how various groups in the sporting world are going social.

The Athletes

Plenty was written about the impact that social would have on the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Social information and chatter throughout the competition broke records and changed the way the Games were experienced – even for the athletes. The International Olympic Committee implemented its first ever social media policy for athletes. The policy is interesting to glance over which you can do here. The key points were that athletes could not comment on personal results or mention competitors, had to refrain from using social media for commercial purposes and could only share certain images – no audio or video from within Olympic venues was allowed. Proof that social carried serious weight was displayed when discriminatory tweets saw a Greek triple jumper and Swiss soccer player booted from the Games.

Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was sent home from the 2012 summer games after making racist and right-wing comments via Twitter. 

For athletes of many sports, these rules are nothing new. The NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA have all implemented social media policies for their athletes. Players with big personalities are no doubt the most popular on social media and they influenced these policies. At the end of the day, sports teams are businesses and there’s only so much that employees can share about what goes on – both at, and away from, the office. Still, when Charlie Villenueva tweeted at half-time in an NBA game or NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski sent a picture from the driver’s seat during the Daytona 500, most people agreed – this was really cool.

A photo that NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski tweeted from the inside of his car immediately after a crash on the track.

Although athletes are active on many social platforms, Twitter has proven to be the most engaging and popular. If you’re looking for some entertaining athletes to follow, check out @BizNasty2point0 (NHL), @LoMoMarlins (MLB) or @JaValeMcGee34 (NBA). These guys interact with fans on a regular basis and post fun content that pushes the limits of their respective social media policies.

The Fans

Social media has increased the overall experience for sports fans. It’s been said that having an athlete mention or retweet you is the new autograph. People have always enjoyed interactions that extended beyond the playing field, and social is giving it to them in daily doses. It’s bringing them closer than ever before to the games and players.

Fans have taken to their mobile phones during games, whether in the crowd or at home in front of a TV. Mobile social is a great place for fans to interact in real time. Not only are they able to do so with other fans, but many team accounts and broadcasters have started posting during games. Social doesn’t sleep, so fans can keep going long after the traditional post-game show has gone off the air.

For sports fans, social media is a great thing. Information and opinions are available through more channels than ever before, and these channels run in both directions. They can be heard, interact, become knowledgable, and really connect with each other and their favourite athletes and organizations.

The Teams

Sports teams have taken to social with varying degrees of enthusiasm and skill. Team accounts are more strictly controlled than those of players, but some have broken the mold and shown strong personalities. Leaders include the San Francisco Giants (MLB), Los Angeles Kings (NHL) and the Toronto Raptors (NBA). It’s no coincidence that all of these champions employ social media teams to manage their communities.

It’s now becoming common and expected for pro sports teams to have at least Twitter and Facebook profiles that are updated regularly with fresh content. Press releases, photos of the action, during and post-game updates, and some video work are the norm. Beyond this there isn’t a wealth of social presence for most teams, but there are a few who are doing cool work. The New York Yankees released 2012 player photos that were taken on an iPhone and edited with Instagram. The Boston Bruins are one of the only professional sports teams to have an active official Tumblr account, and they’re doing a great job at it. I fully expect to see more teams expanding their social presence in the months to come – to the delight of fans.

New York Yankee Curtis Granderson’s Instagram shot. 

The Leagues

Leagues and competitions have approached social in a similar fashion to teams, even being a little more conservative in their activity. With a smaller number of social profiles to document, let’s look at the best league in social media – the NBA.

June 20th, 2012 marked a new day for social media’s relationship with the sporting world – the NBA hosted its first ever Social Media Awards show. It was billed as a celebration of the biggest moments and most trendsetting plays from the season that brought fans from across the world together. Ah, the power of social media. Throughout the season, the league focused on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram campaigns and recently launched Tumblr and Pinterest pages. The NBA is a trailblazer for social media and more leagues and organizations would be wise to follow in their footsteps.

Nominee Jeremy Lin in the NBA’s 2012 Social Media Awards.

The Television Networks

The networks are interesting guests at the sports and social media wedding. Initially reluctant to join the party, it was perplexing from their perspective to see fans and and teams broadcasting through other channels. Most Networks have come around, however, and instead of fighting social media, have embraced it. Social media offers an inexpensive medium to deliver content 24/7 – trades, signings, hirings and firings are now almost exclusively broken on Twitter. It’s also been commonplace for networks to organize “official” Twitter hashtags during live events. For networks, an active social media presence is a natural extension to add another level to their robust offering.

Social media and sports are a beautiful couple. For generations, looking at photos, sharing experiences, and arguing who’s better has been an integral part of being a sports fan. Passion for sports goes hand in hand with social media. Athletes will push the limits and give more insight into their lives away from the arenas. Teams and organizations will find a comfortable footing while experimenting on new social channels. Networks will offer even more content, and fans will become that much more invested in their favourite sports, teams, and athletes. Oh, and ticket and merchandise sales will continue to skyrocket.

To check out a list of the most popular teams and leagues on social media, check out Sports Fan Graph. Looking for a great collection of posts about social media in sports? Visit Sports Networker – they’re great. If you’re managing social content for any sports teams or organizations and would like to chat about your social presence, we’d love to do so. Email or find me on twitter @henrycabrown.

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