The Pitch

The expansion of social media has had a massive impact on the world of sports. Instead of relying on national news websites to obtain information regarding sports teams and athletes, people are now able to login to their respective Facebook and Twitter accounts to get updates ranging from real-time game progress, to an athlete’s favorite movie. Social media has created a transparent system that allows fans to enjoy amplified engagement in the sports world; athletes to freely engage with their loyal fan-base; and athletic organizations to capitalize on essentially free marketing to reach a broader audience. But does all this have long-term potential?

The Swing

Fans are able to fully interact with the sports world through social media platforms by expressing their opinions directly to an athletic organization, or athlete, as the game happens in real time. Studies show that a majority of sports fans are on social networks while watching games, so they can weigh-in on the action. So if a fan likes or dislikes a certain play, he has the option to immediately inform the athlete or organization directly. This transparent interaction allows the fan to feel more connected to the athlete, the game, and the sport in general.

After a game, an athlete will be able to login to his Facebook or Twitter account to respond to fans, fostering a more “meaningful” athlete-fan relationship. Although some athletes might do this out of the “kindness of their hearts”, it seems more logical to assume that they do this for good PR. Whatever the incentive is, social media provides a channel for fans and athletes to share a deeper connection. In some cases, this could pay off for athletes: Tim Tebow gained popularity with the “Tebowing” meme; Jeremy Lin rode the “Linsanity” waive as long as he could; and Nick Swisher even earned a spot in an MLB All-Star Game due to support from his loyal fan base.

The Drive

Even entire athletic administrations are now capitalizing on an avenue of free marketing by using social media platforms to disseminate athletic progress. Fans simply follow the organization’s respective Twitter account to receive real-time information on individual athletes, and the team as a whole. The popularity of social media has encroached so deeply into the sports world that we are now seeing professional lacrosse players sporting their Twitter usernames on the backs of their jerseys, instead of their last names. Mississippi State even decided to repaint their football end zone to #HAILSTATE. Given that social media platforms create an avenue for free marketing, good PR, and facilitate deep connections between fans, organizations, and athletes, it might seem as if social media hit a homerun in the sports world – what more could you ask for?

The Catch

Although it might seem that the impact of social media on sports seems to only yield positive externalities, it does have vital downfalls that could cause the system to collapse. If used ignorantly, social media could be detrimental to some athletes. Social media platforms give athletes the ability to disseminate uncensored information directly to the public by allowing them to express any opinion, at any given point in time, on any subject – as an athlete myself, it is not hard to imagine that other athletes might say dumb sh*t from time to time. In fact, it actually happens a lot, to the point where athletic administrations incur costs so they can monitor their athletes’ social media use to ensure that athletes do not post anything that could potentially tarnish the athlete’s, or entire organization’s, reputation. Larry Johnson (running back for the Kansas City Chiefs) was released from his NFL contract after publically insulting his coach on Twitter after a game. Rashard Mendenhall (running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers) controversially tweeted about Osama Bin Laden’s death and 9/11, and consequently lost an endorsement deal from Champion. Chad Johnson (wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals) was fined $25,000 for merely using Twitter during a preseason game. The negativity even extends to potential college recruits losing scholarship opportunities due to inappropriate content they post on social media.

It might seem that the only downfall of social media’s impact on the sports world lies within the athletes’ ability to express their uncensored thoughts. Sure, athletic organizations are able to pay thousands of dollars to a company that could provide some censorship, but does that really solve the problem? There has been a recent drop-off in athletes using Twitter because of the negative light associated with posting something controversial – “if something has the potential to end your career, you might as well not use it at all”. It is starting to seem that the deeply driven, homerun-like baseball of social media could turn into a routine fly-out. Given the many benefits of social media on the sports world, it is hard to imagine that athletic engagement with social networks will stop completely. This then begs the question: how do you allow athletes to share a deep connection with fans on social networks, while fully restricting them from saying anything controversial? I believe solving this problem will add enough juice to turn social media’s fly-out into a homerun, and ultimately show long-term potential.

References:

http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/morgan-2013-rise-of-sports-fan/

http://www.kttape.com/game-change-social-media-in-the-sports-world-infographic/

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