How Social Media and Technology is Changing Sport
The business of sport has grown exponentially over the last century. Sports clubs were typically a way for working people to socialise with their friends, often with teams linked to factories or small geographic areas. Athletes were typically playing on a voluntary basis or were paid a small stipend that was not sufficient to live off of, requiring them to have a day job as well.
Today this has changed; athletes are regularly paid millions (and even tens of millions) of dollars each year. The current highest-paid athlete in the world is footballer Lionel Messi, who receives $127 million each year. For several decades this money has come from three major sources:
- Ticket sales from live events in stadia.
- Sponsorship deals.
- TV broadcast rights deals where networks pay for the ability to broadcast games to their viewers, typically bidding in auction for multi-year contracts.
However, technology and social media are changing this by providing new ways for athletes to interact with their fans and new ways to generate revenue.
eSports is a relatively new phenomenon whereby a sporting competition is held based on a video game. Some of the biggest eSports leagues include the League of Legends World Championship, the Call of Duty World League and the PUBG Global Championship. These are competitions focused on particular fictional games, and many are first-person shooters. However, real-life sports leagues are beginning to launch their own eSports leagues. Examples include the NBA 2K League, which runs on modified versions of the NBA 2K video game, and the Formula 1 Esports Series, which runs on the official Codemasters F1 game. These leagues are used as ways to promote real-life sports to new generations of fans who get involved with the leagues primarily for their love of video games.
Social media is a great way for sports brands and athletes to connect with their fans. It creates opportunities to generate new interest in the sport, provide more engagement with existing fans, and create new opportunities for monetization. Aside from its eSports league, Formula 1 has made use of social media to reach new fans. It began publishing short 7-10 minute highlight videos of races on YouTube to attract casual viewers, as well as detailed analyses and historical footage for more die-hard fans. Drivers like Lewis Hamilton also make use of social media as a way to promote their other business interests and to let fans learn more about the lifestyle of a Formula 1 driver when they’re not at the track. Formula 1 has been heavily-praised for its social media efforts, after many years of failing to see its potential.
For years, the only way to watch your favourite sport was to either visit the stadium in person or watch it on TV. This limited your choices to a place with a TV or wherever the stadium was located. The problem with this is that fans in geographical regions that didn’t have a broadcast rights deal (such as another country) couldn’t watch the game. Digital streaming services have begun to change this, and many households now use them. Several major sports leagues, including Formula One, the NBA, MLB and the NFL, each have their own streaming services available for viewers across the world. This has been one of the biggest drivers of revenue growth for sports leagues in recent years.
The Effects of These Efforts
Based on net value and revenue, the NBA is one of the top-3 largest sports leagues in the world. This year, the league starts in October, and the Toronto Raptors are ready to defend the title they won last June against the Golden State Warriors. Despite having a strong brand based on tradition and heritage, and large major TV rights deals worth around $3 billion per year, the NBA is always looking for ways to keep up with technology.
As well as being one of the first sports leagues to launch an eSports initiative, it is also one of the most social media-friendly sports in the world. Players and teams regularly take to social media networks like Twitter and Instagram to post behind-the-scenes photos and engage with fans. These efforts have helped the NBA to become one of the fastest-growing sports brands in the world.
Sports brands and athletes are embracing technology and social media as ways to engage more frequently and more intimately with their fans, attract new viewers, and reach audiences that had previously been excluded. There appears to be a lot of potential left to exploit, with the growth of eSports and streaming predicted to increase in the coming years.