Making the most of social media

Paris: No one denies that social media will play a key part in the future of sports marketing. FC Barcelona, for instance, put on 10m Facebook fans in a year, but what exactly can they do with the 15m they have? The Eurosport sponsored Sport & New Media 2011 conference debated the issue.

Kicking things off, Heather Bowler, Eurosport’s Global Communications Director standing in for CEO Laurent-Eric Le Ley, whose wife was about to give birth, set out her stall aggressively.

“They say that the one that masters the technology is the one that wins the war, and Laurent has always been very visionary in giving us the new technology,” she said. “For sports stakeholders there is so much more choice and competition. You have to be visible in a cluttered and connected world, and the ones that master the technology of the multimedia ecosystem will be the ones that stand out. If you’re not there to fill those pipelines, then someone else will do it for you.”

All that said, she then added a coda that was in danger of sounding almost old fashioned in contrast.

“We still believe that television remains, and will remain, the best and most compelling place to watch live sports,” she concluded.

She probably has a point, as research presented later by Havas suggested that social media networks were a distant fourth behind specialised sports websites and dedicated team sites etc when it came to fans looking up online sports data. There is also the slightly vexed question of monetisation.

“A lot of sports rights holders are reluctantly embracing social media, and that reluctance is due to the fact that – unless you’re team based – it’s difficult to see exactly where the revenue streams are coming from, said Ed Wooller, Head of Mindshare Sport. “Facebook credits and the introduction of a payment platform, however, will make it easier to integrate social media into the broader commercial online strategy of rights holders.”

For the moment, while news of the comparatively new Facebook credits disseminates among its users, the site is seen more as a driver. “We use Facebook as a window and magazine to move people onto our website,” comments Matteo Pastore, Director of Media Rights and Relations at RCS Sports, which has recently been staging the Giro d’Italia. “Twitter though is a way to position our brand at an international level.”Ah, Twitter. As was pointed out, fans are primarily interested in players, not in the federations, and often that means the direct route, which then creates problems for the federations in which they play. The NBA was cited as the biggest sports property in social media, with something along the lines of 120m followers across Twitter and Facebook, but the majority of people are following individual players rather than official channels and it has had some high-profile problems in policing the ecosystem. There is a definite tension between players engaging in their own rights and the need for rights holders to control them in turn.

“When they are on holidays or out with friends, then sometimes you read a tweet that you really wish you hadn’t,” comments Bert Van der Auwera, Brand Manager at Royal Sporting Club Anderlect. Anderlecht is being pro-active and training players using such techniques as hosted Q&As to show them the power of the medium. However, it remains at times an uphill struggle. “It’s difficult to manage all these private accounts,” he adds. “You google the name of a player and you can read his tweets from weeks and even months ago. Hopefully though in the coming years people will grow up and learn how to use this all a bit better.”


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