How Social Media Changed the Landscape for Sports Fans

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TL;DR: Whether your vice is sports, fashion or food, it’s hard to imagine having more information readily available at the swipe of a finger than we do right now. These platforms have provided fans with the latest information, behind-the-scenes content, breaking news as well as new avenues for catching the biggest games.

Note: I started writing this blog post before Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area with catastrophic flooding, causing damages beyond belief. Not only is Houston the fourth-largest city in the United States, but it is also home to a plethora of sporting teams: Astros, Rockets, Texans, Dynamo, Cougars and Owls. The advent of social media has allowed for members of these organizations to rally around their city and call for everyone to chip in any way they can.

Former NBA Slam Dunk Champion and Houston native, Gerald Green, sent out a video on Instagram asking if anyone in the area had a boat he could use as he wanted to do his part to save as many lives as possible. Houston Texans All-Pro JJ Watt took to Twitter, asking for donations with a goal of $200,000 in mind. Less than 48 hours later, and at the time of this writing, Watt’s total had surpassed $3.25 million in donations – $1 million of that coming from Amy Adams Strunk who owns the Tennessee Titans, a division rival of Watt’s Texans.  

All of this was made possible by social media.

The social media era has opened up new avenues for viewing sports.

No cable? No problem. Twitter shelled out $10 million to the NFL this past season to live-stream 10 Thursday Night Football games, free of charge to anyone with a Twitter account. $10 million may seem like a pretty penny to pay for 2 to 3 million viewers per game, however, with more and more people cutting the cable cord, Twitter took a risk and bet on social streaming as a medium of the future.

Take Portland’s trade of Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn: The guy who broke the news made his name on social media by tweeting out the picks of the NBA Draft before they were even announced on the television broadcast. His name, Adrian Wojnarowski or Woj for short, is so synonymous with breaking news that whenever something does happen, it’s always accompanied by a #WojBomb tag.

Knowing he had an extremely strong following (more than 2 million at last count), Yahoo!’s The Vertical decided to go toe to toe with its ESPN counterparts on NBA Draft coverage back in 2016. Rather than broadcast on television, The Vertical set up a Facebook live-stream before, during and after the draft where all breaking news, analysis of picks and insights would be provided. The move paid off as the live-stream received 3.7 million viewers compared to the tried and true ESPN broadcast, which saw 2.9 million viewers.

ESPN’s response? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This past July, the Worldwide Leader announced they signed Wojnarowski away from Yahoo! with their sights set on reaping the rewards of being the first to break the news.

As someone who has worked in the industry prior, I can safely say there is no offseason in sports. Given social media’s 24/7, 365-day coverage, the spotlight is always on. There may not be games to cover or playoffs to look forward to, but given the social landscape, fans are still wanting to hear from their favorite team year-round. And it’s up to the accounts to deliver.

Whether they’re engaging with celebrities such as Rainn Wilson or turning up the sass on opposing teams, no one delivers quite like the Carolina Panthers. With that said, their finest moment came shortly after the Fourth of July when they used a three-day period to send a string of tweets in which the first word of each post included a lyric to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. For those counting at home, that’s a grand total of 40 original tweets to plan and strategize for! Needless to say, the Panthers earned themselves quite a few new fans on this day.