Sports are going social, and it’s a winning combination

Football-twitterRabid sports fans like to talk. They like to trash rivals, they like to hype fellow revelers, they like to argue with Charles Barkley and John Madden from their living rooms and scream at referees from the safety of their seats. And that’s why it’s only natural that legions of sports fans have taken so enthusiastically to social networking.

Fantasy leagues and sports-centered social apps have continued to thrive, thanks to the insatiable need of fans to bully, sympathize, and scrutinize everything about the game—whatever that game may be. “Sports in and of itself is social,” PlayUp U.S. head of product Dennis Lee tells us. “Unless we have someone to share our victories and defeats with, it’s not as fulfilling. People want to talk to fans like them, publicly and privately.”

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PlayUp began in 2007, when founder George Tomeski was watching soccer and cricket and discussing the games with friends who were watching from their respective couches and barstools. While texting them, he realized there was a way to leverage fans’ need for interaction.

Since then, the mobile app has enjoyed success as a global network for sports, where users can publicly debate and discuss games, or privately host their own group chats. PlayUp also landed a partnership with Fordham Athletics, which will give its network a tie-in from actual to virtual reality. Lee says the deal means PlayUp will do things like host meet-ups at rivalry games or pull in public chat feeds on the Jumbotron at games. Fordham is only the first of what are upcoming partnerships with college athletic programs.

“The leagues and the schools are trying to figure this stuff out. They want to leverage their content socially, but they haven’t been able to quite get there on their own,” says Lee.

And it turns out there’s a lot to leverage. It’s this type of all-around connectivity that has allowed fans to fully submerge themselves into the game (PlayUp is now available via the Web and an iPad app is in the works). Dr. Alex Braunstein, head of search quality for app search engine Chomp, also believes there’s a lot of overlap between sports and social media. “We endear ourselves to the teams and even use terms such as ‘we’ and ‘us’ when talking about their most recent triumph or failure. It’s natural that something which creates such a deep emotional reaction yields so much conversation both in person and in social networks and social apps.” 

There are more sporting event and league-specific apps than you can probably imagine — you can see for yourself Chomp alone returns 66 Super Bowl results. But dedicated social-sports apps are hardly the only medium for this type of interaction: Twitter has become an athlete-ophile’s dream.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Shaquille O’Neal, Lance Armstrong, and Lebron James are among the most followed Twitter users. It’s a match made in heaven: voracious fans get their fill (and then some) of personal insights from the athletes they glorify, and the various leagues have another outlet to pursue from a marketing standpoint. And it’s working – engagement is ever-increasing. Social media has turned sometimes fans into obsessives.

“Rather than simply reading about players online, collecting cards, or wearing their jerseys, fans can follow their favorite players on Twitter, subscribe to their Facebook feed, or even see where they check-in on Foursquare,” says Braunstein. “I see this trend not only continuing, but accelerating in the coming year as social media continued to become more ubiquitous.” 

smccWe’ll see all of this culminate this weekend during Super Bowl XLVI, an event which will be extremely intertwined with social media outlets. Big name brands like Kia and Coca-Cola aren’t only buying ad space during the big game, they’re cross-promoting with Promoted Tweets and sponsored hashtags. Others are created second-screen app experiences, that either stream the game itself or offer complementary content (or both) complete with ad spots. Of course there’s also the NFL’s Social Media Command Center to help social media junkies in Indianapolis get the most out of their Super Bowl experience.

This genre has taken off not only because of fans attachment, but brands’ awareness – there’s a lot of market to be manipulated here. Former NFL player and broadcaster Will Overstreet recently founded Voices Heard Media, a platform for fueling this type of user to sports engagement. As an example, the company was used to conduct a poll between Washington Wizards fans and management concerning improvement for game-day experience. “The Wizards’ owner created video responses to each of the 30 suggestions,” says to Voices Heard.  

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