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Volume 22 No. 27
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Survey: Social media continues to fuel fans

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%