By Andrew Roberts Sport and social: Incredible loyalty, incredible ROI Nowhere is social as prominent as it is in sport – as Richard A...

Preaching to the converted or preaching to convert ? @ Social Media Week #smwsport #smwldn


By Andrew Roberts
Sport and social: Incredible loyalty, incredible ROI

Nowhere is social as prominent as it is in sport – as Richard Ayers the CEO of Sport Marketing agency Seven League pointed out “Sport generates passion like almost nothing else in modern life – and that passion comes to life on social media,”. Whether that be wins, losses, near misses or controversy it all plays out in stories told across the World using social media. The recent Ashes triumph, last year’s Olympics and the current football seasons sagas are testimony to this.

This is not surprising given that according to Nielsen data Sports fans are 52% more likely to own a tablet and about 60% of tablet and smartphone owners who use mobile devices for sports content do so at least once a day. Indeed Sports fans in general are also more likely to have other tech-related tools and gadgets than their non-sporty counterparts, from DVR for taping games (42%) and gaming consoles (33%) to smartphones (21%) and HDTV (20%). 
Within social Twitter is the channel of choice to discuss news and games in real time with 40% of all TV-related tweets being about sports, even though it only makes up 1.3% of TV programming. This coupled with the fact that the followings of the major stars now collectively number in the billions candidly demonstrates the power of social in sport.
The session was an interesting mix of panelists including Xavier Bidault NBA UK @nba, Abigail Sawyer @ajesawyer, Richard Clarke Arsenal @mrrichardclarke and chaired by Richard Ayers Seven League @richardayers and with a promise of debate that would connect this loyalty with ROI there was a full house at The Bloomberg Business and Enterprise Hub.
Richard Ayers kicked off by sharing a number of great examples of how Sports brands, brands involved in sport and clubs are using social to magnify their presence and create engagement this included #ASHES / #RISE for the Ashes - Twitter 1.6m of the 3.4m tweets posted about the series used the "#Ashes" and 170k #RISE – Sporting Kansas use of social feeds on their score boards and #AllStarView used by Gatorade at NFL games. He also focused on the power of the individual referencing Stewart Cink who is showing golfers how Twitter can be used successfully with his 1.1m Followers.
‘Reach, engage and monetise’ was the mantra that Richard Clarke from Arsenal follows with his mission to ‘create little Arsenal fans around the World’  - he seems to be doing a great job so far with 6m hits on the website, 0.5m mailing list, 18.5m reach via FB, G+ 1.4m, 2.8m Followers on Twitter and 100m IPB on Arsenal TV. He is also experimenting with Soundcloud and Instagram video (which he thought worked far harder than Vine) plus looking at channel specific events such as the recent Twitter takeover where 5-6 players turn up at the ground and present themselves for chats on Tiwtter eg #askgiroud live and the huge response they are getting shows how this sort of creative approach can work well. 

The best example he shared was from this Summer’s Arsenal tour of Asia where they used YouTube - interestingly its most-watched piece of content was inspired by a Vietnamese fan who ran behind the team bus for miles just to catch a glimpse of his heroes. The ‘Running Man’  was invited onto the bus and got to meet the Arsenal players, coaches and manager.
Arsenal’s marketing team knew this had the opportunity to capture the hearts of fans across the Globe and created a short video for YouTube telling the story. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny narrated the video to add a personal touch, and it has now amassed 2.9m views.

The key point that Richard raised here that was reiterated throughout the session the importance of timing – in this instance the activity was unplanned but created great traction. This point was reiterated by Xavier Bidault, NBA’s head of digital for EMEA. He explained that whilst his focus was on growth, entertainment, content and partnerships to grow their current 455 million Global fans (yes 455 million !) elements such as instant replay of key in-game plays on Twitter #instantreplay within 30 seconds of the action happening on court.

This importance of video was a consistent theme - the NBA and Arsenal have successful YouTube channels with The NBA focusing on daily updates with top plays, interviews and news from across the league, while Arsenal uses YouTube to focus on content from tours and players.

It is undeniable that content is absolutely king in sport but there was also a fair amount of debate of the degree of control and quality – Arsenal’s Clarke reinforced the importance of real time and how he prioritises immediacy of content over editorial quality – something not always popular with players or the lawyers. Indeed Ayers added that social contracts were being drawn up for players alongside traditional image rights contacts.

The types of content sports fans find most engaging was also discussed with Abigail Sawyer of The Jockey Club sharing how behind-the-scenes content was important eg The Winners Enclosure at Ascot as well as reactive content relating to events as they happen eg a photo of a 100/1 winner captioned; ‘Ha Ha, I won’. This shows the need to be agile and reactive whilst also ensuring the right tone of voice and content - in essence real time marketing.

Overall the event felt very much like preaching to the converted – as opposed to preaching to convert. Whilst the stats and methods of creating engagement and reach are fascinating and the creative examples very interesting and clever the point that Ayers continually tried to make was ignored – how does this translate into genuine quantifiable value to the clubs and associated brands who invest in sport. Only once this is clear will more time and money be spent on using social to really deliver the opportunity that we all believe it can – INCREDIBLE ROI !

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