Study shows the advantages of social media in sports communication

Lise Joern
University of Southern Denmark

Brandi Watkins
Sport Teams, Fans, and Twitter: The Influence of Social Media on Relationships and Branding
139 pages, hardcover.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 2019 (Integrated Marketing Communication)
ISBN 978-1-4985-4005-6

Sports teams are increasingly using social media to drive fan engagement and loyalty. Online social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are increasingly being leveraged to effectively reach the fan base and providing engaging content for fans. Sports teams have also found ways to use this marketing tool to create a passionate, invested fan base. Much of what makes sports as a whole so compelling to its fans is the narrative behind the club, the team and the games or competitions. Social media provides an excellent opportunity to communicate this narrative and create a unique way of enhancing and maintaining the fan-team relationship.

In her book Sports Teams, Fans and Twitter, Brandi Watkins explores how the social media platform Twitter serves as a site for professional sports teams to build their brands and relationships with fans. This study provides insights into how social media platforms, specifically Twitter, are being utilized by professional sports teams to engage fans around the globe. The aim of the book is twofold. Firstly, Watkins want’s to provide evidence that Twitter is an effective relationship-building tool. Secondly, she examines the social media content created by professional sport teams.

The book employs a multi-method design to analyse the influence of social media on branding and the relationship between sport fans and teams. Aligned with this pragmatic approach, both a survey that examines the use of Twitter and the engagement between fans and teams, and a thematic analysis of tweets produced by professional sport teams are used to collect the data.

Watkins indicates that social media aids sports teams to manage brand perceptions, generate fan interactions and enhance and maintain relationships with fans. Her study suggests that Twitter facilitates such opportunities. Each social media platform can be used concurrently for different purposes and may lead to the enhancement of team identification. The book examines why sports fans are following Twitter accounts and reveals that they are largely motivated by information, connection and the possibility to engage and converse in a meaningful way. Through social media, sports teams are providing information, discussing topics as a group and eliciting feedback, interacting with fans and also promoting and advertising the team. Additionally, the findings suggest great potential in relation to engaging fans, particularly in terms of maximizing opportunities to enhance team identification. Identification describes the emotional attachment and allegiance that a fan has to a particular sports team. By facilitating the emotional connection the fan has with the team, or the brand, through online interactivity, strong team identification can be formed.

The potential for enhancing relationships through social media is particularly promising for sport managers in the current competitive environment.

Team identification stems from a collection of meanings and experiences, which supports the idea that communication and interaction on social media could contribute to heightened identification. Fans with strong team identification provide diverse benefits to sports teams, e.g. a greater proclivity to purchase merchandise and attend games. Further, fans with a strong affective engagement and emotional connection are more likely to remain loyal to their team, irrespective of the team’s success. By exploring this increased attachment to sports teams, marketers can begin to understand the structural and individual dynamics that shape the behaviour. According to Watkins, sports teams need to focus on relationship marketing by providing value and meeting fan expectations. In particular, social media allows sports teams to focus on developing associations that are inherent to their brand, which may serve to reinforce the uniqueness of the team in the minds of the fans, differentiating the particular brand from others.

It is apparent that people enjoy communicating on social media about sports teams, and sharing content related to a sport they are passionate about. The features of social media make them particularly well suited for affective engagement with the team by creating a sense of passion and emotion. Social media provides sport teams with a site that offers great potential to make big steps in building their brands and relationships with fans.

In the context of sport and fan-team relationships, social media aid in two key functions. They can facilitate socialisation and emotional connections, and they can shape the brand image and brand experience. The challenge is to provide value and meet the fan expectations. The findings presented in Sports Teams, Fans and Twitter offer a deeper understanding of the role of social media as a strategic brand management tool. Watkins’ study contributes to the understanding of social media usage in sport and specifically the way in which Twitter is being used to communicate to, and engage with, fans. Such findings may serve as a valuable source for sports teams and organisations to formulate their own social media marketing and communication strategies. With the various advantages attributed to fans with strong team identification, including the positive financial impact for sports teams, sport managers should actively facilitate opportunities to engage with fans to strengthen their commitment. The potential for enhancing relationships through social media is particularly promising for sport managers in the current competitive environment. However, it is still important to remain aware of the ever-changing patterns of social media usage of sports fans. In conducting research in a technological setting that is constantly evolving, there is the potential risk of it becoming out-dated. However, in conducting such research, one is able to provide a foundation upon which future research can be based.

Maybe a little more attention could have been paid to the pitfalls of social media marketing. But overall the book provides valuable insights into both sports fandom and sports branding and specifically the role of social media in creating and maintaining fan-team relationships.

Copyright © Lise Joern 2020

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