Since it's the end of the year, it's time to start looking ahead (if you haven't been already) to see what's in store for next year. The last few months we've definitely seen an increase in discussions about how teams, leagues, athletes and agencies can take advantage of social media tools and communities to reach their audiences and increase engagement. I believe social media is only going to become more important in reaching fans in 2009. But before I start with my predictions I want to share a few articles I wrote this year about sports and social media:
- Five Questions Teams Should Ask About Social Media
- Transparency and Blogging in the Business of Sports
- Social Networks Need to Provide Value Beyond Connecting
- Why Teams Should Get Involved With Social Media
On to the good stuff. Here are a few predictions I have about what's going to happen in this space in 2009. Keep in mind these are just my own predictions. I'm sure I've left out a few things and haven't covered everything in depth, so feel free to agree, disagree and/or discuss as you'd like, either on your own blog or by leaving a comment here. I'd love to hear what you think.
More Athletes Will Get Involved
As we've seen with Gilbert Arenas, who was pretty much the first sports superstar to have a very popular blog, and now with Shaquille O'Neal, who is on Twitter and has over 21,000 followers, social media tools can be effective at connecting athletes with fans, generating buzz and helping fans really get to know athletes. The funny thing is, I bet a lot of Shaq's followers on Twitter aren't even die-hard Shaq or NBA fans. But it's just really cool to be able to see quotes and updates from a celebrity, and some people who probably didn't care much about him before, now have a reason to keep up with him because they see he's a genuine, caring person (and he's got some hilarious quotes, too). YardBarker also does a good job with its pro athlete blogs. I enjoy reading what Donovan McNabb and Rajon Rondo have to say there. Overall, I think more athletes will start blogging (note: it has to be the actual athlete for it to be authentic) and using social media tools like Twitter in 2009.
Pro Teams Will Get More Involved
Many pro teams have already gotten involved with social media and blogging, as there are many benefits to be had (increase fan engagement, drive ticket sales, learn about your fans, increase reach of sponsor promotions, etc). If you don't believe that social media tools such as Twitter can help you, think about this: Dell has said that Twitter has helped them generate over $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half. In 2009, even more teams will start Twitter accounts and become active on Facebook and fan communities. More teams may hire bloggers and people who will reach out to fans online for them. The key here is to actually interact with fans--don't just promote your own content. You wouldn't go to a party where you don't know anyone and start shouting, would you? I'm a little worried that social media will become such a buzz word that people will think it is a quick fix for everything. That's not true, and it definitely takes time and resources to utilize these tools the right way.
Sports Agencies Will Start Being More Transparent and Blogging
This may be more of a wish than a prediction. Sports agencies haven't caught up to agencies in the advertising and media world in sharing their ideas and being open/honest on their websites. Many agency websites are currently static and boring--not something that people want to come back to. Sports agencies seem to be more protective of their ideas than ad agenices. To those who are worried about giving away ideas, I offer this quote from Neil Patel: "Sooner or later others are going to know what you know, so you might as well be the one to tell them.” I think that with the rise of information-sharing communities such as Sports Marketing 2.0 and LinkedIn Groups for people in the sports industry, agencies will realize that blogging and being open can be extremely valuable in helping position themselves as experts.
A great case study here is Darren Heitner's Sports Agent Blog, which does a great job at highlighting issues in the athlete representation business and discussing news relating to his agency, Dynasty Reps. Earlier this year, Darren left a comment here, saying, "If it were not for the creation of SportsAgentBlog.com, Dynasty Athlete Representation would probably not yet exist today." That shows just how effective blogging can be in helping a business build a reputation, gain influence and get new clients.
Sports Communities Online - Many Will Fail, A Few Will Be Very Successful
I don't like ending on a negative note but I think this should be said. Some people think that starting a sports community or social network is easy because there are X millions of sports fans out there who are passionate about their favorite sports, teams and players. The market is huge, right? This is much easier said than done. The bottom line is that there are already tons and tons of places for fans to interact online--message boards, team sites, fan blogs, and existing communties...plus sites like Facebook and MySpace, where there are tons of sports groups for fans to debate and interact. To be successful, a community must offer something besides the benefit of connecting--that can be exclusive content, videos, access to star players, etc. And then you still need to have partners who can drive traffic to your site. If you want a great example of how to build a community the right way, look no further than BallisLife.com, which is developing into a great community for basketball fans and players. I'll write something up about them soon, but the bottom line is that when I want to talk about basketball, that's where I go now. I don't go to ESPN, or Sports Illustrated or Yahoo.
Those are a few of my predictions for this space in 2009. I'd love to hear what you think. If there are enough people interested, I'll write a separate article with some of YOUR predictions. If you'd like to be included, leave a comment here or write a response on your own blog and I'll try to include it in the article.