Sports have been played, enjoyed by spectators and covered by the media since well before the advent of smartphones and social media. But it’s no question that the development of social platforms has changed how we play, enjoy and cover sports. Twitter is the new sports ticker. Facebook is the new hub for fans. Who needs to catch ESPN’s Sportscenter now that highlights are put on YouTube within minutes after the play? Dump your local sports section in the paper and hop on your iPad to read sports opinions from your favorite bloggers. Nike+ has revolutionized how runners track progress, compete and interact. Sports will never the be same and it’s quite exciting.
The London 2012 Olympics from July 27th to August 12th are going to be the most covered sporting event in our world’s history. Traditional media will be there but social media and blogging will be the major reason for the media explosion. Twitter is preparing for its biggest surge in event traffic with the London Games. Outside of the Olympics, social and new media is positively (and sometimes negatively) affecting “the game” in many ways.
Athletes Break the News
Texans running back Arian Foster famously tweeted an MRI of his torn hamstring. Other athletes followed by tweeting x-rays and circumventing the media by tweeting their own injury reports. The potential problem with media at the player level is the possibility of team secrets being revealed to the opposing teams. The more important good is that this gives the players a voice… especially in a league like the NFL where showcasing individual personality is met with financial punishment. Traditional media is no longer the source… socially adept athletes are. Good for Deron Williams for being the person to break his new 98 million dollar contract with the Brooklyn Nets. If sports news is about reporting the facts, who is in better position than the guy controlling the dribble to present them?
New Careers are Being Forged
Chad Ochocinco is regarded as one of the more savvy users of Twitter in the NFL. He has over 3 million highly engaged Twitter followers. He recently organized a swarm of 200 patrons at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem (and yes, he paid). His website, which is more of a news and interview destination than a personal site, receives major daily traffic. Wide receivers, who are usually the most self-centered players on the football team, tend to make the most entertaining users of social media. In Chad’s case, his social media acumen has given him a platform to build a strong and fun brand that has lead to television deals and a ton of non-sports press.
New Media Entities are Born
SBNation.com is the best example of a new media sports entity that has risen out of this era of social media. Funded by reputable venture capitalist firms, Wizards/Capitals/Mystics owner Ted Leonsis and other sources, SBNation has taken the concept of the blog network to another level. They now have regional web sites that cover sports news and opinion items from the various regions. According to April 2012’s ComScore rankings, SBNation.com ranked #10 in unique visitors… one spot above their San Francisco-based competitor BleacherReport.com (that has some of the best hyper-targeted email marketing practices on the planet and was reportedly acquired by Turner for over $200 million in June 2012). The big dogs like ESPN and USA Today have embraced the blog network concept by rolling out their own.
Social-Powered Traditional Media
ESPN’s SportsNation is a television program that features viral sports video and interactive public polling. Sports talk radio hosts are quicker to have conversations with their listeners via Twitter than email. The newspaper industry has been slow to adapt to the social web, hence their major decline in readership. The sports section of the newsroom however has been more proactive in embracing Twitter. Most sports columnists either manage a Twitter account or have an assistant manage one for them.
The Downside: The Pressure to Provide More
There’s a downside. The convergence of sports and media has resulted in the watering down of news. Honestly, sports media isn’t the only one suffering from this. For every useful news detail tweeted, there are hundreds of useless guesses, speculations and mentions of mysterious sources tweeted by sports media types. This has given the old-school media guys something to point to when they criticize the legitimacy of sports blogging and microblogging. Personally, I’ll take this little bad with the big good. The trick for filtering the mess is to use new age curation methods like combining Twitter lists of your favorite sports content creators with a feed column platform like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.
Google+ and the Independent Sports Blogger
Depending on the amount of weight that Google chooses to place on the influence of authors, the rel=author developments could have huge implications on search rank in sports media. With quality and consistent content, independent bloggers could establish a strong voice in the sports new media landscape. ESPN, Yahoo, SBNation and Bleacher/Report have been recruiting up-and-coming blogs and bloggers for several years now. Rel=author will give the independent authors more leverage in the recruiting process. For more information on rel=author, read Sean McGinnis’s recent blog post here at C&C. Speaking of Google+, who saw Tiger Woods host a Hangout and then win the tournament that followed it!?
I wrote the majority of this piece from my hotel room in New Orleans while at NABJ 2012. With a belly full of crawfish bisque, I realized that I had to sit down and add a point about my dinner with some of the younger and more cutting edge ESPN talents with whom I shared soup and dessert. At the table was Bomani Jones (SBNation + Around The Horn), Jemele Hill (First Take + Around The Horn) and Michael Smith (Numbers Never Lie). All three are brilliant and have used social and new media to grow their personal brands. It was fascinating to hear them trade stories and notes on how to excel in the digital sports world. Keep enjoying the connection between sports and social media because it will only get stronger and more credible.