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Volume 20 No. 42

In Depth

Finding the sweet spot in social media continues to test the mettle of sports marketers, whether the goal is brand building, reaching a wider demographic or developing new revenue streams.

No one can doubt the numbers behind sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but how do you reach those consumers? How do you keep them engaged? How do you come across as authentic? How do you build deeper ties by catering to their specific interests?

SportsBusiness Journal looks at some of the efforts in social media that have gained traction with consumers while achieving the goals of sports properties and brands. In the pages that follow, read about some of the ways marketers have put social media to work.

Louisville Slugger

Photo by: Agencies of Change

“Bat Drop”
Louisville Slugger wanted to publicize its BBCOR bats and get more engaged with its core markets of Major League Baseball fans, high school and college players, and softball players. So late in the 2011 MLB season, Dallas firm MePlusYou created a “Bat Drop” campaign for commemorative Louisville Slugger bats in whichever city won the World Series.

St. Louis defeated Texas, and the one-day race was on as MePlusYou reps spread 42 bats around the city and sent out location clues via Facebook and Twitter. The bats were hidden in such places as Busch Stadium, the Gateway Arch and in sporting goods stores.

The result? In one day, Louisville Slugger realized a 143 percent jump in Facebook “likes” and a 161 percent rise in Twitter followers.

“Once we established the fan base, we could send them information about BBCOR,” said Matt Whitaker, vice president of strategy for MePlusYou. He added that overall, the bat company has gone from 15,000 to 126,000 Facebook fans since the World Series.

Miss Sprint Cup
Facebook and Twitter
Miss Sprint Cup snaps a photo of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to post on Twitter.
Photo by: Octagon

Sprint introduced Miss Sprint Cup to report on NASCAR doings in 2008, then launched a Facebook page and Twitter presence around the program in 2010. The response has been huge, with 1.25 million Facebook followers and 45,000 on Twitter.

“We positioned her as the fan’s friend on the inside,” said Nancy Dobratz, group director for Octagon, which runs the program. “She’s using social media to report back: ‘Here’s what I see in the garage; here are insights about the drivers.’”
Monica Palumbo was the first Miss Sprint Cup. Today, three women share the job.

“It’s a soft way for Sprint to approach the fan base,” Dobratz said. “When we talk to fans, they assume she represents Sprint and NASCAR combined. It’s a great way for Sprint to show they’re part of the NASCAR community.”

Said Dobratz, “The biggest thing that we’ve learned is that you’ve got to create that connection to the fan base. Miss Sprint Cup is a voice, someone they can connect to. Fans know the Miss Sprint Cups, see them at the track, follow them on Facebook.”

“The Ultimate Sports Social Media Job”
Photo by: Comcast

Austin Schindel of Washington, D.C., is living the dream of many sports fans: He won a nationwide contest to become a sports reporter for the Xfinity arm of Comcast, and thus gets access to major sports events and reports on them via social media. His stops have included the NFL draft, MLB Fan Cave and the June 9 Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley fight in Las Vegas.

“He has been the personality behind our Xfinity Twitter handle, responsible for tweeting on a daily basis the advantage of sports fans being with Xfinity,” said Matt Lederer, director of digital and sports marketing strategy for Comcast. “We also get him behind-the-scenes access to sports events, and [he brings] content and insight into the social media space that is not done by traditional media.”

Contest entrants submitted videos about why Xfinity should choose them for the paid job. About 1.6 million Facebook followers voted for their favorites. Xfinity then gave tryouts to the top five vote-getters at various sports events and picked Schindel.

During the promotion, the official contest tab on the Xfinity Facebook page received more than 220,000 visits. The contest received more than 11,500 social media mentions such as tweets and posted comments.

Detroit Red Wings / DTE Energy

Brand building
The Red Wings charged DTE Energy’s social presence through promotions that helped the Detroit-based diversified energy provider raise brand awareness and engage with fans directly through new media channels. DTE held three ticket contests on its Facebook page. With the push from the Red Wings, DTE’s page has grown from 1,500 to more than 13,000 followers in two years.

DTE Energy also has used social networking platforms to raise awareness for its “Light the Lamp” campaign, which kicked off last year when the goal lights at Joe Louis Arena were replaced with LED bulbs. When the Red Wings score four or more goals in a home game, the icons on the team’s Facebook page and Twitter feed are replaced with a DTE Energy “Light the Lamp” logo. When the team scores four goals during a Saturday home game, fans tweet the hashtag #LighttheLamp to @DTE_Energy and @DetroitRedWings for a chance to win a four-pack of tickets to DTE Energy “Going Green Night” at the arena.

Chicago Fire / Quaker
Press release in a canister
Photo by: Chicago Fire

To drive social media around the launch of its new Quaker-sponsored jerseys, the Fire and Quaker co-branded a canister that was stuffed with a personalized jersey.

The canisters were distributed to more than 150 local, national and international media outlets, urging them to tweet photos of the new Quaker Fire jerseys. The launch had a total of 597 placements across all platforms and accrued more than 292 million impressions. The canister and jersey were written about in 60 blogs. A pair of live chats on Facebook, including contests to win the jersey, augmented promotion of the launch. The two chats attracted 55,000 engaged users.

Eddie Royal/Detour Protein
Twitter campaign
Here is social media operating at warp speed.

After the Denver Broncos upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs on Jan. 8, Eddie Royal (then a wide receiver with Denver and now with San Diego) teamed with Detour Protein to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to New England for the next playoff game. Detour Protein, based in Oakland, sells protein bars and shakes.

Royal posted a few tweets about the contest, and Twitter followers of Detour Protein soared from 2,000 to 8,000 in the week between games. An ongoing relationship with Royal enabled Detour Protein to jump on the opportunity.

“If we hadn’t done the preparation work, we wouldn’t have had the momentum to take advantage of it,” said Jeff Weiner of ESBL Social Media, which helped Detour Protein with the campaign. “So we put together a really fun promotion to send someone to New England for the game, with Eddie having access to the tickets.”

Campaigns with Royal and other NFL players have helped push the company’s Facebook followers to 55,000 today, according to Ian Davison, senior director of sales and marketing at Detour Protein.

Sporting Kansas City
Create an app contest
With 32,000 followers, @SportingKC ranks first in MLS in followers based on metro population ratios. In April, parent
company Sporting Club used Twitter to ask amateur technology developers for ideas for a game or app associated with soccer that could be played on a mobile device. The contest received more than 100 submissions and will be narrowed this summer to three finalists, who will pitch their idea in front of a Sporting Club panel to decide the winner.

The creator of the winning idea will receive two Sporting Kansas City season tickets for the 2013 season and on-field recognition at a Sporting Kansas City match. Sporting Innovations, a high-tech spinoff company from Sporting Club, will help make the winning idea a reality and aims to launch the app by the beginning of the 2013 season.

MLB All-Star Game
Player tweeting
Last summer at its All-Star Game, Major League Baseball made a major social media statement by turning the Home
Run Derby into the “Social Media Derby,” setting up on-field computer stations where players could tweet and post on Facebook during the event.

After widespread increases in followers for the league and involved players, and high levels of engagement, MLB took another huge step forward this year in Kansas City, expanding the All-Star tweeting and posting concept to the All-Star Game itself.

Players were allowed to tweet and post once they were removed from the game, using a computer station set up behind one of the Kauffman Stadium dugouts. The move was a major departure from regular MLB social media rules that prohibit any type of player engagement during a period from 30 minutes prior to game time until after the game.

“Our research has shown over and over that fans want as much connection with their favorite players as possible. So we’re trying to foster that deeper connection anywhere we can,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business.

Nashville Predators / AT&T
Photo by: Nashville Predators

Behind the mask
The campaign gave Predators fans the opportunity to design the mask of goaltender Pekka Rinne. AT&T, the exclusive cellular provider for the Predators, received strong brand exposure as Rinne made appearances at area outlets and fans submitted their designs. The contest was promoted through the team’s social media channels and blogs.

Designs could be computer generated or hand-drawn, but they had to be original. Fans, ranging from children to adults, submitted 450 entries through Formspring. More than 100,000 votes were cast. The winner was local college student Liz Guilyard. Rinne wore the mask on March 10, when the Predators beat the Detroit Red Wings. Following the game, Rinne presented Guilyard with the mask, and she presented Rinne with a framed print of her original sketch.

Phoenix Suns
When it comes to social media, the Phoenix Suns are one of the most progressive teams in the NBA. Consider that the
Suns last season launched a new website called that incorporates all of the team’s social media channels while allowing fans to post their videos, blogs and other digital content into a single site.

The site, which replaced the team’s site, is sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and represents the latest effort among the team to build a digital community to drive interest in the franchise and create new revenue streams.

“The key element is fan engagement,” said Jeramie McPeek, vice president of digital operations for the Suns. “It is their own place not only to get a lot of information but they can also voice their own opinions, submit videos and blogs. It is a place where they can share their passions for the Suns.”

To help build traffic, fans can accumulate points on the site, and enter contests and other promotions. “There is a leaderboard and the more people are engaged, the more points they will build up,” McPeek said. “Our site is a 50/50 mix of fan content and our own content.”

Social Media Awards
The NBA frequently touts its expansive reach in social media, with its more than 260 million combined global followers
Photo by: David Holloway / Turner Sports
on Twitter and Facebook when including the league and individual teams and players. The league and media partner Turner Sports last month took another step in that self-celebration, creating the NBA Social Media Awards.

Airing June 20 on NBA TV, the hourlong program honored top social media performers from around the league in 13 categories, such as the most-followed player and team, largest increase in followers over the course of the 2011-12 NBA season, most-shared video highlight, and favorite dunk.

Hosted by TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and former NBA player Rick Fox, the NBA Social Media Awards generated more than 100,000 viewers in its original time slot, and more than 104,000 combined in two subsequent re-airs later that night. Considering the show moved frenetically from concept to reality in only three months, league and Turner executives said they were pleased with the results. A second version next summer is now in the planning stages.

“The goal here is to build a one-of-a-kind annual event, and we think we’re on our way now,” said Christina Miller, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. “This is an important vehicle to amplify and celebrate the connections we’re making in this space.”

Miami Dolphins
Boat giveaway
A total of 25,000 Dolphins fans last fall entered a team contest to win a new boat, most of them directed to the contest
Photo by: Miami Dolphins
website page via Twitter and Facebook. The contest was an integral part of a new social media strategy the team launched last year in an effort to reach fans more through the interactive medium.

The 18-foot Hell’s Bay flats skiff came branded with logos from contest sponsor Bud Light and the Dolphins.

“This was by far the most successful consumer sweepstakes promotion we’ve ever done” in Florida, said Eddy Leal, a regional manager for Anheuser-Busch.

The promotion helped add hundreds of thousands of followers to the Dolphins’ Facebook page, with the current count around 1.2 million, said Wayne Partello, the team’s senior group director of marketing and content. The team has more than 140,000 followers on Twitter.

The boat proved such a big driver of social media traffic that the team plans to do it against this season, with an even bigger and better boat.

— Social media highlights compiled by staff writers Christopher Botta, Eric Fisher, John Lombardo and Daniel Kaplan, and correspondent Bruce Goldberg.

Bobby Ryan, NHL right wing

Photo by: Getty Images

The 25-year-old U.S. Olympian doesn’t take himself too seriously on Twitter. While his name has been in trade rumors for the last year, Ryan has alternated between setting the record straight on rumors and joking about his situation. He’ll tweet everything from commentary on NHL playoff games he’s not in, to photos of bad lies from his shots on the golf course.
Recent tweets:
■ When Anaheim Ducks draft pick Justin Schultz declined to sign with the team and became a free agent in late June, Ryan sarcastically tweeted: “What time is The Decision — Justin Schultz edition? Wanted to make sure I tune in.”
■ During the opening weekend of the Channing Tatum stripper movie “Magic Mike,” Ryan tweeted: “How many of you guys are gonna have to start a diet and workout program now that Magic Mike is out this weekend? Thanks a lot Tatum.”

Jim Irsay, Indianapolis Colts owner

Photo by: Getty Images
Followers of Irsay will get a healthy dose of lyrics quoted directly from classic rock songs. They also will be able to enter contests and giveaways, many of which appear to have been thought up and launched by Irsay spontaneously. But cut through the lighter fare, and you will see Irsay reacting real time to media reports, providing nuggets of inside information, and offering candid insights into his team and its future.
Recent tweets:
■ “Sitting on a corn flake..waiting for the van to come.....”
■ “Roster move!!! Signed free agent running back Mewelde Moore and released quarterback David Legree.”
■ “As much as I respect my friend Lenny Pasquarelli; the ‘One Source’ is completely wrong/We’re close on #12 n final details unrelated 2 marketing. … Someone is being fed a big breaky of BS this morning!”

Paul Allen, Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner
You never know when the secretive Allen will tweet, but when he does, it can be great stuff. Like during the NFL and NBA drafts, when he was the first of anyone to get the first few picks out.
Recent tweets:
■ “Watched possible @pdxtrailblazers draftees work out today at the PF, always enjoy the leadup to the draft... then to @powells for new books!”
■ “Dwight & Canzano get played by unnamed sources & show true colors lobbying for a sale of @pdxtrailblazers. The team is not for sale period!”
■ “Here is finally a tasty version of a 1962 Seattle World’s Fair Belgian Waffle. Would love comments. #recipes”

Allan Walsh, director of Octagon Hockey

Photo by: Getty Images

Sports agent Walsh, who represents 45 NHL players, tweets about what he is doing, whether he is at a game with his players or having a run-in with an airline. A hard-core players’ rights guy, Walsh also is known to take to Twitter to fight for clients.
Recent tweets:
■ On July 1, the start of NHL free agency: “Random thought from this morning at 6:00am in my office - don’t drop cell phone in urinal.”
■ Regarding Internet hockey rumor sites and bloggers claiming to break trade news: “Let’s say it the way it is. NHL GM’s share trade/UFA strategy with very tight circle of staff. Do you really think rumor guys have a clue?”
■ On free agency: “Just got off the phone with an NHL GM who commented on the money available within the system on July 1, ‘It’s a good year to be UFA.’”

David Cornwell, head of the NFL Coaches Association
A foe of the NFLPA’s leadership, Cornwell will take to Twitter to send barbs the NFLPA’s way.
Recent tweets:
■ “Goodell stays ahead ... TicToc curtain being peeled back on the fraud the NFLPA has become”
■ “Grew up playing ball in DC in the 70’s n 80’s if some1 threw a bow like artest did, he is getting knocked out whether he hit me or not.”

Adam Aron, Philadelphia 76ers CEO
Aron has helped the 76ers ownership group reconnect with the team’s fan base through Twitter, where he actively seeks fans’ opinions and provides insight and explanation for front-office decisions.
Recent tweets:
■ “Your @Sixers worked phones hard all night. We sold the 54th pick, because we can talk to agents of several intriguing undrafted prospects.”
■ “This seems to be popular idea, so: I will buy a beer for anyone buying a season ticket tomorrow at 215-339-7676, halftime of 2nd home game.”
■ “NBA rules don’t let me comment on all your draft, trade and free agent ideas, but I do read them all. An Interesting and exciting time.”


Photo by: Getty Images

Golfer Ian Poulter
There are plenty of golfers on Twitter that you can follow to get updates on the sport’s interpersonal relationships; explore the joys and trials of international travel; and see striking images of beautiful golf courses. But if you want all of that plus direct interaction with a pro golfer, your best bet is Poulter. His tweets demonstrate Poulter’s honesty, sense of humor and penchant for being less than guarded when interacting with his followers.
Recent tweets:
■ “TPC Sawgrass 17th hole playing a bit tougher today than the tournament. Canoe required.”
■ “The block button is in full force now. I knew that a few sarcastic tweets would get the keyboard muppets out of there box. Ha ha ha.”
■ “Nobody can play 52 tournaments a year. You have to miss quiet a few events. I play 26 a year & that’s enough or I will never see my family.”

Tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky
Stakhovsky is a midtier tennis player, but an outspoken advocate on tennis political issues that can rile many. He recently took shots at women’s tennis during Wimbledon.
Recent tweets:
■ “Don’t remember what actually WTA said after RG increased prize money...was it thank you ATP????”
■ “ ok . Independent is the one who can work when he likes, if the dates doesn’t suit him he is free to pass.”

Soccer player Yael Averbuch

Photo by: ICON SMI

Averbuch, who blogs for The New York Times, provides her followers with a firsthand narrative of the trials and tribulations of a female professional soccer player in the U.S. While her tweets are mostly soccer-centric, she is able to entertain her soccer and non-soccer audience alike.
Recent tweets:
■ “fun and relaxing weekend. back to ‘work’ tomorrow and a busy week ahead of training, coaching, and 3 games with the @NJWildcats1996!”
■ “about to start a new NY Times blog post about the role of holding midfielder...some general observations and some from #euro2012”
■ “#euro2012 has already set the record for most hair gel used in a major tournament and there’s still one game left”

Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder forward-center
The Thunder big man, who blogged during the season for, reflects on basketball, being a dad and the rest of his life, marked by his dry sense of humor and the occasional retweet. He didn’t tweet as much during the playoffs, but hey, a guy’s gotta work.
Recent tweets:
■ After retweeting a photo of himself taken by a fan at a wedding: “The guy from mens wearhouse guaranteed i would like the way I looked in their rented tux. I was skeptical.”
■ “I got my first ‘hey bro, are u Michael Phelps?’ Must be an olympic year.”

Ralph Cindrich, former NFL player, NFL player agent
The former NFL linebacker had an even longer career representing NFL players in contract work. Now that Cindrich no longer actively recruits player clients, he tells it like it was, like it is and like he thinks it will be. He’s unafraid of taking after people on Twitter and some of his favorite targets include the NCAA, other agents and certain college football coaches.
Recent tweets:
■ On Penn State: “PSU mess on Joe but few if any programs produced the quality finished product he did over the years. Class people who were good athletes.”
■ On health care: “When laws dictate health care they will dictate other parts: ‘Hey Fatso, put down that Dunkin Donut. You’re on the NO list!’ Good morning!”
■ On NFL bounty suspensions: “Settle this. Not good for fans, players, or football. Cut it down.”

Top team and athlete sites in social media

Top teams globally

Rank Team Twitter followers Facebook likes Total
1 FC Barcelona 10,547,188 33,165,123 43,712,311
2 Real Madrid 5,072,971 29,992,046 35,065,017
3 Manchester United 0 26,257,374 26,257,374
4 Los Angeles Lakers 2,602,439 14,067,971 16,670,410
5 Chelsea 1,168,194 11,329,221 12,497,415

Top U.S. teams

Rank Team Twitter followers Facebook likes Total
1 Los Angeles Lakers 2,602,439 14,067,971 16,670,410
2 Boston Celtics 630,750 6,665,378 7,296,128
3 Miami Heat 787,554 6,435,614 7,223,168
4 Chicago Bulls 490,543 6,647,636 7,138,179
5 New York Yankees 652,449 5,818,225 6,470,674

Top athletes globally on Twitter

Rank Athlete Twitter followers
1 Kaka (Brazil) 11,605,107
2 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) 11,342,542
3 Shaquille O’Neal 5,929,160
4 LeBron James 5,260,517
5 Neymar (Brazil) 4,765,791

Top U.S. athletes on Twitter

Rank Athlete Twitter followers
1 Shaquille O’Neal 5,929,160
2 LeBron James 5,260,517
3 Chad Ochocinco 3,572,382
4 Lance Armstrong 3,567,024
5 Dwyane Wade 3,510,672

Note: As of July 5, 2012. The sites tracked were those sites identified as “official sites” by the leagues and teams. Many teams do have multiple sites — official and unofficial — used to reach fans, including sites created by front-office personnel.
Source: Sports Business Resource Guide & Fact Book

The hottest realm of social media in sports right now arguably is not video or Chinese networks, but photo sharing, a far older and more primitive activity.

But thanks to rapidly advancing phone and tablet technology, and the advent of newer photo sharing destinations and tools such as Pinterest and Instagram, photo sharing volume on social networks is exploding, and sports properties are actively looking to exploit that interest.

The NBA this year announced formal alignments with Pinterest, based around the concept of digital “pinboards” and particularly popular with female audiences, and Tumblr, a more established platform based around microblogging and photo sharing. Each of the other major U.S. sports leagues also have their own official Pinterest locations, as do several dozen individual teams.

The NBA thinks sites such as Pinterest can make deeper connections with fans.
Similarly, nearly every major league website in recent months has bulked up its photo sharing and photo embedding capabilities to make it easier for fans to share online content with friends. In many instances now, sharing a photo from a mobile device to a social network is literally a one-click process.

And beyond merely sports, photo sharing volume is mushrooming far past even the most aggressive of industry projections. Facebook, for example, disclosed this year in U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission documents that it saw more than 250 million photos uploaded per day to its social network during the fourth quarter of 2011. The figure breaks down to nearly 3,000 uploaded photos per second, and Facebook still has nothing anywhere close to a stranglehold on the photo space.

Because of statistics such as that, Facebook in April bought Instagram, another photo sharing network, for $1 billion to expand its capabilities in this area.

“We have great content, and what’s been interesting is that our photos can fit in a wide variety of platforms. There’s a huge amount of versatility with photos than perhaps some other types of material,” said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA vice president of marketing. “People are so used to seeing our game on video, which is great and is no less a priority. But photography provides a very meaningful opportunity to really dimensionalize our overall story.”

Photo sharing provides several key business opportunities for sports properties beyond social media’s established strengths in viral and affinity marketing. For many leagues, a new e-commerce opportunity is established. The NBA, for example, is linking to its online store from both Pinterest and Tumblr and liberally featuring items for sale using photos.

Borrowing in part from media outlets such as The New York Times and Sports Illustrated that aggressively have celebrated their histories through vault photography, sports properties are now also using their own archives to celebrate past eras and events.

Those past moments often do not have much of a place in the news-driven, in-the-moment philosophy nearly every official league site displays. As a result, younger fans in particular now have greater exposure to celebrated moments from the past because of the photo platforms.

But perhaps most critically, photo sharing platforms also have strong reach among audiences far different than males age 18-49 that are the core of most leagues’ TV and online audiences.

Tumblr’s core demographic, for example, is women in their teens and early 20s. But their audience is broadening, as are those for many other photo sharing networks. That’s in part because a symbiotic relationship has emerged in which sports leagues and photo networks are using each other to mine new audiences.

“Sports properties have a lot of unique content you can’t get anywhere else, and there’s no question this segment is becoming more of a focus for us,” said Mark Coatney, Tumblr media outreach director. The company also has worked with several sports media entities, including SI, SB Nation and Bleacher Report. “We’re shifting into a more proactive stance in this area and we definitely see this as a growing segment.”

The influence of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as a primary source of sports information continues to grow among avid sports fans, according to the annual Catalyst Digital Fan Engagement report conducted on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal.

The 2012 study shows that sports fans, particularly teenagers and minorities, increasingly are choosing to interact with leagues, teams and athletes through social media rather than just receiving information via newspapers, magazines and radio.

The study reveals that sports with more ethnically diverse and younger-skewing fan bases, such as mixed martial arts, the NBA and college basketball, have the most engaged users, and those fans also are the most receptive to activation by corporate partners of those properties.

For example, across all sports, social media sports fans frequently engage in social networks while they watch or listen to the game. This is especially true among MMA fans, where nearly 90 percent of fans who use Twitter or Facebook to follow sports say they “most of the time” or “sometimes” log into those social networks while they watch or listen to the game or fight. That rate is just slightly lower for college basketball fans, and more than 80 percent among NBA fans.

The survey found that fan-run sites such as the Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Facebook page are gaining larger followings.
Catalyst Public Relations managing partner Bret Werner called MMA fans a rising force among social media sports fans, saying that 12 percent of that sport’s fans named social media as their primary source for information on sports, the highest rate of any of the six properties measured in this report (see methodology). With 9.64 million Facebook and Twitter fans, UFC’s social media audience is half that of the NBA, as of press time. However, the property’s reach tops the NFL (9.46 million) and dwarfs NASCAR, the NHL and MLB (approximately 3.7 million each). UFC President Dana White alone has nearly 2.8 million Facebook and Twitter followers.

Two groups that make up a considerable part of the MMA fan base are also the most receptive to brand connections with athletes in general: 69 percent of teens and 66 percent of Hispanics age 18-34 say they would be more likely to purchase a brand mentioned by an athlete on a social media site, compared with a 53 percent rate for the survey-wide total.

One of the more interesting results to come out of this year’s study, according to Werner, was the growing influence of what he called “super fans,” or regular people who run a social media site based on specific teams or athletes. For example, 17,000 people “like” the Packers Everywhere page on Facebook, posting pictures of everything from their new “cheesehead” tattoos to green and gold mailboxes.

“From a marketing perspective, the super fan is truly the white space right now,” said Werner, who said he has noticed similar interest in programs conducted over the past 18 months for clients Subway and Under Armour. “I think the sports fan is looking for different tone and voice in this medium, with an entertainment or maybe even gossipy feel. The super fans seem to be able to provide that, whereas the traditional outlets might struggle a little to create that feeling of camaraderie.”

One of the biggest followings belongs to Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry, a Facebook page with 71,300 fans as of press time. When the two clubs played a four-game series at Fenway Park July 6-8, as many as 12,000 fans were logged on to the page at any one time.

The site was created in April 2011 as a hobby by Chris Musial, a Connecticut resident who grew up in the geographic and psychological epicenter of that decades-old feud.

“I started the page because I just love baseball, I love the rivalry and everything that comes with it,” said Musial, who is a social media consultant. “These types of sites work because people are on Facebook for a reason. They physically log on to the site because they specifically want to be on Facebook. So if you post an interesting story or photo, it’ll get clicks, but that’s really not the most effective way to engage people because you are taking them away from the platform. My goal is to keep them in the community itself.”

Musial’s hobby has spawned what he now considers to be a gold mine of information. By using Facebook’s analytics tools to mine his dataset of 71,000 users, he has been able to create a template on how to build a Facebook community and keep potential customers on the page. In what has become almost a sociological study, he knows for example the optimal times to post comments, and what types of photos get the most comments. “More interaction means more eyes on the posts, and that creates more growth for your brand.”

While Musial said he does not make money directly from the operation of the site, his investment has begun to pay off, as he has been able to successfully leverage what he has learned to market his consulting services outside the sports realm.

As for other survey findings:

One quarter of MMA and college basketball fans say they use social media more often than they did a year ago to follow a game or fight that they might have otherwise missed, the biggest growth rate among the six sports tracked in the survey.

Nearly one-quarter of Hispanics age 18-34 use location-based service Foursquare to get suggestions on where to watch or eat during the game, almost twice the average of the rest of the respondents. Black fans between the ages of 18 and 34 were also much more likely than the general population to use any location-based app.

When it comes to the athletes they follow, 60 percent of NBA fans said they are most interested in hearing that player’s thoughts about the recent or upcoming game/match, the highest such rate in the survey. Fans from every other property measured in the study selected that as their top desire, too.

Celebrating victories ranks alongside connecting with friends as a key trigger for engaging in social media sports activities. More than two-thirds of fans claim they are more likely to participate in more conversations and engage in more content such as brand promotions when their favorite team is winning than when it is losing. On the other hand, less than half of fans say they use social media to “talk smack” about teams and athletes. “People who are upset about the game are less likely to go on after the game,” Musial said.

Overall, tangible benefits are the biggest motivators for engaging with a brand, as half of all respondents say they will “like” or “follow” a sport’s sponsor if coupons, discounts or contests are offered.

Survey methodology

From May 4-13, Catalyst Public Relations conducted a national online consumer survey among a sample of 1,934 sports fans age 13-64 who are members of Vision Critical’s Springboard America U.S. panel. The results here represent data from the approximately 500 respondents who use social media to follow a college basketball or football, MLB, NBA or NFL team, or MMA.

Fans were able to participate in a separate survey for a maximum of two of those sports. Fans were asked “How big a fan are you of the following sports leagues? Please respond using a 1-5 scale, where 1 means you are not a fan and 5 means you are an avid fan of that sport.” Fans who selected a 4 or 5 qualified for the survey. As an additional qualifier, those fans were later asked to indicate how many games they watch or listen to during the course of a typical season. A response of less than 25 percent of games played terminated the survey.

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.4 percent.

Which of the following social media sites do you use to follow or discuss sports?

Site NFL College football College basketball MLB NBA MMA
Facebook 71% 58% 53% 64% 62% 53%
YouTube 30% 28% 23% 26% 32% 40%
Twitter 23% 18% 21% 20% 24% 22%

How frequently do you follow each of these social media sources for each specific sport?

Social media site NFL College football College basketball MLB NBA MMA
Team 71% 74% 83% 72% 77% NA
Media (TV, print, radio, Internet) 54% 68% 78% 58% 70% 76%
League 50% 61% 75% 56% 66% 71%
Athlete 46% 57% 73% 54% 64% 76%
Super-fan 31% 40% 58% 30% 49% 61%
Celebrity/other 27% 36% 53% 28% 45% 59%
Blogger (e.g., Bill Simmons, Darren Rovell) 21% 36% 53% 22% 39% 50%

Fifty percent of MMA fans with a smartphone and/or a tablet stream video to watch a fight, compared with 35 percent among other fans who use social media to follow their favorite sports and athletes.

Which of the following devices do you own?

  Own smartphone Own tablet
Social media sports fans 68% 27%
MMA fans 80% 35%

When using smartphones or tablets, MMA fans are receptive to brand engagement.

  Overall Sports Fans MMA Fans
Access sponsor promotions via social media sites 27% 36%
Use smartphone/tablet to purchase products related to sports 20% 28%
Engage with content/stories from brands 19% 33%

Among fans using each of the social networks to follow sports, 78 percent of Facebook users have liked a brand on that site, while one-third of Twitter users have followed a brand on Twitter.

Have you ever “followed” or “liked” a brand on ...

Site NFL College football College basketball MLB NBA MMA
Facebook 78% 77% 82% 79% 76% 80%
Twitter 22% 30% 42% 26% 34% 39%

Teens, blacks and Hispanics 18-34 are most receptive to brand connections with athletes.

How much more likely would you be to purchase a brand that a favorite athlete mentioned on Facebook and/or Twitter?

  Much more likely Somewhat more likely
Total 16% 37%
Male 16% 36%
Female 11% 38%
13-17 22% 47%
18-34 19% 36%
35-49 13% 35%
50-64 8% 30%
Black 18-34 22% 35%
Hispanic 18-34 26% 40%

Seventy percent of fans say they participate in more conversations and engage in more content when their favorite team/athlete is winning.

Reasons for engaging with others for sports on social media

To celebrate favorite team’s victory 67%
Connect with friends following that sport 64%
To talk smack about my team/sport/athlete 48%
I want others to know how big a fan I am 48%

NA: Not applicable
Source: Catalyst Public Relations

Twenty-eight percent of social media users say they are on Facebook, and 12 percent on Twitter, “most of the time” while watching or listening to a live game/event. Of those fans, basketball fans and MMA fans are the most likely to simultaneously follow the game/event on social media while watching it.

While you are watching or listening to a live game/event, how often are you also following the game on:

  MMA College basketball NBA College football MLB NFL
  Most of the time Some-
Most of the time Some-
Most of the time Some-
Most of the time Some-
Most of the time Some-
Most of the time Some-
Facebook 47% 39% 37% 42% 31% 45% 29% 42% 19% 52% 22% 41%
Twitter 31% 60% 37% 53% 30% 50% 30% 53% 25% 53% 24% 51%