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SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2011/Research and RatingsPrint All
Facebook is the social media site avid sports fans generally use most often to follow their favorite teams, according to a survey conducted by Catalyst Public Relations on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal, but when game time rolls around, fans prefer to tweet.
NBA fans flock to YouTube after games. Twitter’s popularity rises on game days.
Facebook was the most popular social media site among the fans in the study for following their teams, with usage rates ranging from 74 percent by college basketball fans to 86 percent for NFL fans. One-third of the fans surveyed use YouTube to keep up with their favorite teams, usually immediately after a game, with college basketball (41 percent) and NBA (35 percent) fans the most likely to use the video-sharing site. Twitter is used by one-quarter of fans, but it is the site most likely to be used before and during an event on game day.
The study shows that social media use increases as game time draws near, and it usually peaks with postgame activity.
About one-third of MLB and NFL fans surveyed, for example, access Facebook or Twitter for team information before the game. NBA fans surveyed visit Facebook about that same rate, but nearly half of them use Twitter before tipoff.
Once the game begins, there is little change in Facebook activity among MLB and college sports fans. The NFL’s Facebook users cut back on usage during the actual game, and NBA fans increase their use.
Twitter users, on the other hand, generate a surge of activity during MLB and NFL games. Roughly half of the college sports fans surveyed use Facebook, Twitter or both before and during the game.
The biggest postgame activity comes from avid NBA fans, with 79 percent of them turning to YouTube. Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA vice president of marketing, said more than 650 million NBA.com videos have been viewed on YouTube since the league signed a content deal with the site in 2005.
The game-day breakdown of social media use matches trends followed by MLB Advanced Media. “These conversations really mirror conversations you see in the real world,” said Andrew Patterson, new media product manager at MLBAM. “Twitter is more of an information network for fans, so it makes sense that things like stats are discussed before and during the game. Our Facebook fans seem to be more social and like to talk about the game itself more.”
Patterson said Volvo and Sprint have had subtle appearances embedded on MLB’s Facebook page this year.
The study also found that 40 percent of fans report that they are bigger fans of any given sport since they started using social media to follow their favorite team.
Brenner said internal data provided by the NBA confirms that increased fan avidity. According to Brenner, the league has aggregated one of the largest social media communities in the world, with more than 120 million fans or followers across 30 teams and its players.
“Fifty percent of our enrolled Facebook fans interact with our page in any given 30-day period,” Brenner said. “And Facebook is No. 2 only to Google in terms of referrals to NBA.com.”
Although the NHL was not part of the survey, data provided to SportsBusiness Journal by the league shows that its fans that follow a team through Facebook, Twitter or both spend up to 51 percent longer on each referred visit to NHL.com, watch three times as many videos, and are more likely to visit the NHL online store than fans who come straight to NHL.com.
“The transactional behavior of these fans overindexes in every way, by a wide margin,” said Mike DiLorenzo, NHL senior director of social media. “And in the partner marketplace, there is robust interest in leveraging our social media interest.”
Forty-three percent of the survey respondents claimed that the ads and promotions they see on social media are more relevant to them than the ads they see on TV or hear on the radio.
MySpace, Flickr, Foursquare and Scavenger were also included in the survey, but overall, use of these sites was not high enough to register statistically reliable results.
Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of corporate communications, said in an email that the study validates the league’s internal data.
“More consumption and conversation centered around content leads to fans staying longer on our websites, buying more merchandise and viewing more games,” he said.
1. American sports interests are dominated by three sports.
“What is your favorite sport?” is asked as an open-ended question on The ESPN Sports Poll, and more than 100 sports or varieties of sport are mentioned every month. But football, basketball and baseball account for 68.9 percent of all mentions, and 87.9 percent of Americans are fans of at least one of those three sports; 51 percent are avid fans of at least one. And the 11 sports listed in Chart 1 have dominated the interest for the 17 years of Sports Poll and account for 92.5 percent of preferences in sports today.
2. But Americans like variety.
Thirty-three sports properties can claim at least 15 percent of the population in their fan base. And on average, Americans follow nine sports as a fan. Few people are dedicated to one sport, let alone one specific league within a sport. There is no such thing as an “NBA fan” (a sport picked at random for illustration, in Chart 2).
Sports to a fan is like food to a human. As eaters, humans like variety. We have favorite foods and foods we eat more often than others and foods we never eat, but nobody eats just one kind of food. In the same way, sports fans, on average, carry a potential menu of nine sports.
But notice that far fewer NBA avid fans are avid fans of other sports. This suggests sponsorship strategies, like T-Mobile and basketball, that cross the spectrum of one of the big three sports are casting a wider net and may be getting greater success than those that focus on a single property.
3. The bigger the fan, the greater the competition for the person’s time.
Sports fan avidity peaks between the ages of 12-17, when we have lots of time and little responsibility. So they spread their interests over more sports. As we age, we have higher priorities in life than sports and we start to cut back on the number of sports we follow. But it gets worse. There is no such thing as a “sports fan.” We are just people with limited free time and resources, and it turns out that the bigger the sports fan, the greater the interest in activities outside of sports (movies, concerts, outdoor activities, etc.).
Chart 3 shows the differences in free time priority by level of sports fan avidity. Only true avid sports fans have sports fan activity as a high priority. But avid fans also give the highest priority scores for every one of the eight traits compared with all other Americans. And from current Sports Poll data, avid sports fans also index significantly higher than the rest of Americans on hours spent social networking, going to movies and concerts, and on other non-sports activities. So avid sports fans are also America’s most active segment of the population.
The good news, in addition to sports being a top social priority, is that avid fans are also the most frequent sports spenders and are aware of and appreciate what sponsors do more than the rest.
Bottom line: There is a LOT of competition for your fans’ time and money. While the competition for avid fans is even greater, it’s clear the greatest payoff comes from taking care of them first. That starts by thinking more about the complete fan experience.
Rich Luker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Luker on Trends and The ESPN Sports Poll.