It’s no secret that social media is changing the world of PR. Yet one industry that seems to be unsure of this change is the sports world. Just like the rest of us, the world of sports is still trying to find its head amid this firestorm of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everything else associated with Web 2.0. It also seems that the sports industry is hesitant on how to accept this new, strange tool called social media. However, social media provides a great opportunity if conducted correctly.

The sports industry is unique in that its driving audience is the fans.  Social media has presented an opportunity for leagues, teams, players and other sports organizations to connect to their fans on a whole other level. Social media provides the opportunity to increase involvement, loyalty, support and enthusiasm, all of which are crucial in an industry relying on fan base. The best sports social media sites do the following:

  • Provide exclusive access. The Boston Celtics, who are often praised for their social media strategies, provide exclusive locker room footage for their YouTube subscribers. Sending out regular tweets with new and fun information is also beneficial. This type of access creates a valuable experience for the fans, which is essentially what sports are all about.
  • Interact. Creating contests that online followers can participate in or encouraging online discussion is a way to establish interaction via social media, encouraging participation. Or it can be through direct interactions, where organizations can respond to questions directly from the fans, or even address criticism and complaints. Establishing relationships with fans is something very crucial in the sports world.

And of course, there are the athletes who have their personal social media accounts. Fans love access into an athlete’s personal life. I don’t know why, but knowing what Shaq ate for breakfast is so enthralling. Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has a famous online following, takes his social media to new extremes by broadcasting his life on Ustream. When athletes create this “intimate” connection with their fans, people are able to put a face behind the jersey. This can creates a loyal following, even from people who are not die hard sports fans.

As with any industry, social media has also brought a new array of problems. How much information shared is too much? The NBA battles this as it has a strict social media policy, which entails that no employee (including players) can partake in social media from 45 minutes before a game until after post game traditional interviews. Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings was fined $7,500 for tweeting his excitement about beating the Portland Trailblazers in a double overtime before conducting interviews. Athletes and coaches are also constantly being penalized for saying negative things about their organization or members of the officiating crew.

What the sports world seems most concerned about, like any other organization, is a loss of control. Yes, more information is available to the public then they might actually prefer. And yes, players may say things that may reflect negatively on themselves or the organization they are apart of.  But what is important is adapting to this new realm, by creating reasonable social media guidelines to adhere to and providing social media training similar to media training.

Instead of shying away from social media, the sports world needs to take advantage of it. Social media provides new opportunities to increase fan base and establish a positive brand image, all of which is key for generating revenue in the sports industry. Besides, all these possible implications do is create a demand for great PR practitioners, and there are plenty of us out there ready to tackle these issues!

— Joani Jones, Account Executive

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