People who are absolutely indifferent to the sport could be met very rarely. All these people, both athletes and fans, communicate with each other. Today, social networks are rapidly evolving. This is understandable since they open for users virtually unlimited opportunities not only in communication but also realizing their potential. Social media has created a number of social networks available to online users to connect globally by sharing information, images, and videos, and even simple communication. Moreover, advertising on social networks is becoming more and more popular. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have given professional sports teams the opportunity to increase brand awareness and fan engagement. This paper examines the role of social media in the development of the professional sports.
Sports Evolution Due to Social Media
Many professional sports associations utilize the benefits of social media in order to communicate with their fans. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook contain fan-based platforms that allow sports players to connect with their fans as well as market their own brands, too (D Zinn Jr). Social media has therefore created a better channel of communication. Despite of all obvious and undeniable merits of sports, it still needs to be popularized like ten, twenty, and thirty years ago. In modern time, to replace the banners and TV programs, the Internet PR, which is the common name for all methods, appeared. Briefly, these methods can be described as a constant presence of the network of messages on the various sporting events in the information communication field and the ability of the audience to comment on the news, express their opinions and, in some cases, even create their own content on this topic.
It is interesting to see how online PR is used on the most popular platforms such as social networks. The presence of pages associated with the sport in one or another way is quite large. Among them, there are the official accounts and information pages of sports stars. Meanwhile the first are created with the participation of well-known people and even partially or fully hold by them, proxies or independent people (usually one or more fans) are engaged in putting some news. In social networks, there are communities devoted to individual disciplines, clubs, athletes, or sports development in a particular region. Moreover, the creation of such groups is almost not regulated and, if desired, every fan can create a community, for example, of FC Barcelona or Lionel Mess. The content of these pages is directly related to the position of group administration: someone simply wants to communicate with like-minded people, and someone tries to post the interesting and useful information.
However, there are not only spontaneously organized pages and groups. Often, the management of these resources is a purposeful activity of specialists on the Internet PR, the aim of which is to form a positive opinion about the person or the organization among the audience. Sometimes, the existence and the functioning of these communities turn into a political PR on the Internet since many athletes continue their careers as deputies or proxies of famous politicians. Thus, the presence of a huge amount of sports content in social networks contributes to promotion this activity. Although, perhaps, this is applied to the greater extent to evoke audience’s interest rather than the desire to do some sport in practice. However, one should not underestimate the contribution of this fan- or specialist-created communities and pages that attract attention to the brightest representatives of the world of sports.
Success of Social Media on NBA, NFL, and MLB
NBA (National Basketball Association), NFL (National Football League), and MLB (Major League Baseball) are among the professional sports organizations applying social media as the part of their success strategies and brand advertising (Bisk). The above professional leagues have fully incorporated social media to be able to reach their fans and clients all around the world. This connection is vital in understanding their clients better (D Zinn Jr). By increasing the audience in their accounts in social networks, the main sports leagues reduce the cost of advertising. This leads to an increase in financial stability that is an important indicator that characterizes the success of a modern sports club. The club needs to look for alternative ways to generate income. Social network became the source. Now, the big clubs put business goals before social networks and strive to reach them. The growing popularity is only possible due to the positive response from the fans. That is why sports pages are marked by regular social programs inviting their fans to participate in a variety of promotions on Facebook or Instagram. It is precisely the success rate of social work of the club. Regular drawings and actions in social networks make it possible to hold and constantly heat the interest of fans to the team.
Games and social networking sites are advertising space that can be used to increase the amount of sponsorship packages sold to potential sponsors. Now, eSports became as popular as never before. In 2016, it was supposed that revenue of eSports will reach 900 million; by 2019, it is expected to exceed 1.2 billion dollars (Langwell). For example, football club Liverpool is promoting its sponsor Bank Standard through applications for iPhone and iPad called Liverpool Shootout. In addition, football clubs are using LinkedIn for intercompany business transactions, such as the provision of offices for the reception. Clubs have already worked for this channel of communication with the fans since it opens new opportunities to reach the audience.
Social networks attract new partners to sport clubs. In the first place, they are interested in the possibility that the clubs have on the Internet. Many professional outfits have therefore taken the benefits of social media to their advantage to be able to attract larger audiences around the world. Amongst these, there are professional sports (Bisk). For example, NBA ambassador for such brands as Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, Curry achieved the most points of engagement for branded content on main social networks. He reached more then 2 million points of engagement. He is followed by Lillard with almost 1 million points (Karp). These social networks are not an advantageous addition to the presentation for the sponsors but a serious asset that is quite successful.
In addition to games and various recorded videos, on a page of football giants in social networks, e-commerce function is integrated. It gives fans the opportunity to buy anything, starting with tickets and ending with the T-shirts with numbers of their idols. These applications bring a good profit. On Facebook, there is an application I Am Player that allows fans to live a life of a star professional football. In the evening, one can spend up to £ 10 there. If each of the 150 thousand users of I Am Player spends the same amount in the aggregate, this will amount to half a million pounds.
Football clubs still earning by selling tickets and sports paraphernalia and the granting of rights to broadcast matches as well as sponsorship, slowly begin to explore commercial potential of social networks. This is understandable due to the fact that few sports fans can be compared to football ones by their love for their idol. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allow auditory to constantly stay in touch with the athletes. Even today, such football giants as Barcelona, Manchester United, and Real Madrid together have more than 43.5 million followers on Facebook. The club can place its ticket program and shops carry under the guise of applications on a platform of social networking, which will fall more often on the user’s eyes and increase sales potential. Active and friendly community club in a social network is a great potential for the sponsors. It is the opportunity to convey their message to consumers using non-standard and, therefore, more expressive methods.
According to Nicholson, Kerr, and Sherwood, football clubs should expand the range of its services. Therefore, the special attention should be paid to mobile services. Although many clubs and even individual players have already launched their own applications for smartphones, there still is an opportunity to use the potential of mobile networks through the application of georeferenced services, such as Foursquare. E-commerce could become an important aspect as well. Football clubs still use technical means to conduct e-commerce not in full. Even Real Madrid does not give the fans the opportunity to purchase branded products on Facebook. Any football club has not yet decided to follow the example of the company Dell that earns millions by selling computers through Twitter. Video services can be developed in order to bring a great benefit. While many football clubs have their own TV channels, there are other ways to develop this market segment. An example is the video transmission system and the digital content Cisco StadiumVision finding increasing application in team sports.
Effect of Social Media Practices on Fans
The volume of information makes users switch from individual resources aggregators. One of their types is social networks. Instead of throwing all the forces to tug users from social networks to the official site, sports leagues give them the opportunity to communicate with them on both platforms. The social network is a feedback channel that allows hearing users and responding to events in their environment. Since most of the clubs’ official websites are closed for comments, the social network is an opportunity for the clubs to receive the views of consumers and respond to their questions and requests in a format. At the official resource, it would look unsuitable. Spreading information through social networks, fans remove the need to check the site for news. It brings them the most important information wherever it is convenient on the platform where they already spend a significant amount of time.
Thanks to social media interactions, fans have been able to enjoy better personal engagement with sports stars. Facebook is an inexhaustible source of ideas and experiences for fans. For example, these include music services and the various surveys on the opinions of the fans to make things right. MLB’s All-Star fan voting process is the biggest one of this type at the moment. The number of voting fans has reached 32 million this year that reflect its high popularity among spot fans (Fisher). In general, online fans are different from those who are not accustomed to the Internet. The needed services for them are not the tickets to the stadium or the goods in the shop, but, first of all, videos and current news. Thus, the entertainment created for fans is processing a huge amount of information from social networks and using it to create messages that are of interest for the audience. In addition, online fans receive new digital services.
The activity of sports leagues in social networks relates to audience’s interest to make profit. Thanks to social networks, the majority of football fans have an ability to be in touch with their favorite players. In particular, fans believe that players should be on the social networks. For example, Ronaldo is very active on the Internet. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the first who started to use Twitter as a platform for self-promotion, and he still remains extremely popular there (Fisher). It is a good example of how a player communicates with the fans online. Additionally, when it comes to using social networks, the most important thing the fans receive is the ability to be informed of the latest football news. The availability of Wi-Fi in stadiums has also improved experiences of fans who can post and share their live impressions on social media (D Zinn Jr). The access to Wi-Fi enables fans to post on the social networks when watching the match in the stadium. Thus, fans are able to purchase products like team jerseys. This helps fans identify better with their favorite sports teams. Fans are ready to publish a tweet or a post for their team’s victory. In addition, fans can use social network while watching the game as platforms for communication and publication of the photos.
Nowadays, properly organized work in social networks on the Internet can take an important place in the development of the brand. The main principles of work in social networks with fans to expand their experiences are collecting data on fans(the monthly amount of visiting by fans, their age, sex, a number of tickets sold by them) and accommodating exclusive content (photos and videos) in accounts of the club. Moreover, modern clubs are betting on an innovative approach cooperating with SmartTV, using this technology for the dissemination of the content team. For instance; NFL created a wireless network connection for sports audience in stadiums that allow fans to live stream, connect, and share on Facebook/Twitter during live sports events on place. Such attention to fans in social networks is a manifestation of respect for them that is intended for an indestructible stronghold of sports economy.
While social networks bring only benefits, the efforts are rewording. Naturally, the revenue cannot be yet compared with other positions of income statements, but social networks present a great potential, and sports leagues are not afraid to put time and effort in them. Today, the importance of digital marketing in the world, as well as its impact on the future of the clubs from the main sports leagues, has been proved. Innovation continues to dictate its terms to the world. The indisputable fact remains that in order to maintain or achieve success including commercial, now, one must make every effort to keep pace with the times and conditions of the market that opens new horizons. Sponsors and partners of the club are increasingly interested in social networks as well. Anyway, many football clubs are still have much to learn about social networks. The major brands’ business of grand football still has not reached the proper level. In essence, they are small and medium-sized businesses. However, they have an important advantage over conventional commercial organizations in the form of a target audience that is poised to engage in the social network. Therefore, one can say that football clubs have actually won the battle for the consumer.