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How Twitter is Changing Pro Sports Fandom. It’s Only The Beginning.

September 16, 2012

Sports fans who have not yet turned to Twitter for real-time info on their favorite team/athletes are missing out big-time.  We wanted to share excerpts from this recent, thoughtful piece  outlining the profound ways that Twitter is changing the rules for sports media and the fans who devour this material.  One of our internal startup projects, DAZZMOBILE, has been watching this Twitter-Fandom phenomenon unfold over the past 18 months.  After these excerpts we’ll share our views on how and why we feel Twitter  is only the beginning for sports fans!

What’s amazing to me as an outside observer is how quickly Twitter has changed how we consume sports content, and how people in all parts of the sports world interact. I’m old enough to remember how ESPN and SportsCenter killed off the daily newspaper box score, but the absorbtion of Twitter has cut across multiple segments of the sports world, at something like 10 times the speed. Quickly, let’s break it down by category:

Sports Media — Twitter is the new AP Wire

Years ago when I was a daily newspaper sports writer, the most addicting thing in the world was to go to the office to read the Associated Press wires. Those (expensive!) information streams brought scores and stories to our computers from everywhere around the world, a level of information and access that you could never fit in any bundled up package of newsprint. I also remember the charge I would get when our own stories would occasionally be picked up for national or international distribution. It was this cool secret society of people who were way more in the know about sports than your average fan on the street.

Teams and Athletes — A Direct Pipe to Fans and Followers

Beyond the media’s expected embrace is the growing coolness of athletes and teams using Twitter as a direct communication mechanism, a trend that may put a lot of boring sports reporters out of business. Who needs or wants to read bland press-conference quotes when you can hear or even talk to athletes and teams directly?

While I don’t think it will really kill off the need for sports reporting the ability to teams and athletes to circumvent the media process and connect directly with their followers has changed the sports business forever, in mostly a good way. In Twitter’s short life span we’ve already gotten much closer to athletes and the lives they lead both on and off the field. It’s made things both more interesting and more complicated but unquestionably more rich and informative. And it’s only really just begun.

Sports Marketing gets a Free, Always-On way to Announce

Another field just getting started but sure to explode is the use of Twitter for sports marketing purposes. Some savvy brands, like TaylorMade golf, are already big users of Twitter to engage fans who follow athletes in the sports their products are used. Around the big golf tournaments this year TaylorMade was all over Twitter, with fan contests, links to pictures of athletes in action, interactive chats and more. No longer do brands or teams need to wait for a media outlet to stage a press event, a promotion or simply to announce something new — they can go straight to Twitter and get the message rolling.

Fans Get a Powerful, Free Way to Make Their Voice Heard — And Communicate with their Heroes

Finally, Twitter has forever changed how a large group of fans will interact with their favorite sports and athletes. Not only can you easily follow the media and athletes as outlined above, but with a small amount of skill you can also directly communicate with top athletes the world over, in a much more rich way than ever before possible — and at a sort of arm’s-length distance that makes it easier and comfortable for the athletes to participate.

The best example of this is the fact that a “retweet” has become the new autograph. Instead of standing around for an hour after the game and trying to shove a picture or a program toward an athlete to sign — how meaningful — you can now try to get that athlete to retweet or respond to your tweet, an act that usually requires either some original thinking or at the very least an honest emotion.

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DAZZMOBILE has generated research that suggests a large driver behind sports fans’ use of Twitter is its mobile superiority.  Fans can dial in to a hashtag-based stream of live updates on their favorite topics with a couple of clicks, stay tuned to these updates and add updates of their own whenever they wish from wherever they are.  The net effect is to create a stream of topical banter around the event we like to refer to as a ‘virtual Superbowl party’.   With over 500 Twitter million users, most teams are sure to have an active dialog before, during and after gametime.  Ditto the popular athletes.

It’s all good.  In fact, it’s great.

But it will get even better.  Here’s why.  We call it the ‘Birds of a feather’ effect.  Twitter is diffuse.  When fans are in fan mode, they want to immerse themselves in the experience.   They want to be where the crowd is while they enjoy private conversations with their closest fan/friends.   In short, when they can’t be at the game, they want to simulate the at-the-game experience.  Twitter just doesn’t offer this.  We have written often about our conviction that the “Birds of a feather” effect will lead to Niche Social Networks.  It’s happening.  Here are but three recent examples.  What they all have in common is that they offer a better way for birds of a feather to be together.

  • The rapid ascent of Pinterest as visual social haven for women
  • Teens bolting from Facebook into Instagram
  • Niche-enthusiast apps like StockTwits (this serves as a double whammy as this week StockTwits, originally built on top of Twitter, just spun out of Twitter onto its own,independent platform!)

Whether at the game, in the sports bar, out-of-town looking to dive in to the action remotely, or at home, fans are turning to dedicated team platforms that offer an immersive experience.   And it’s not just limited to sports fans.   If you are new to this blog, see what we’ve posted on the topic of  Second Screen / Social TV.  In short, fans will desire more than just text-based feeds.  For next-generation team-specific platforms like DAZZMOBILE’s Fandazz,  dedicated text feeds are just the beginning.  These new platforms also offer games, trivia, media clips, stats, and– most important– the ability to earn status points as a fan.  What’s more, while exclusive to a given team’s fans, these platforms also allow users to automatically and selectively share out to their mass social networks like Facebook and Twitter– the best of both worlds.

Twitter just can’t compare due to its limitations. First, it is time-consuming to monitor more than one hashtag associated with a team (it can be done, but most aren’t aware or don’t know how).   Second, many tweeters don’t understand the use of hashtags which means their banter is not picked up– leave fans feeling like they are on the periphery.  Third, at any given time a small fraction of a given teams’ fans are using Twitter–  like being far way from the stadium only able to hear the dull roar of the crowd.

Team management has an added incentive to facilitate the transition from Twitter-banter to a dedicated platform:  Because they do it every home game, teams are uniquely qualified to offer the ultimate experience for their fans.  Platforms like Fandazz offer teams  a swiss army knife of custom, team-branded experiences that make Twitter look like Dixie cups tied together with string.  And because teams control the platform, they also control the monetization opportunities… something not possible when teams let Twitter serve the banter.   We call this the Third Arena.  Teams control their arena/stadium.  They own or get a piece of  TV rights.   Until Fandazz, they were missing the biggest percentage of their fans… The Third Arena: those who cannot be at the game and may not be able to watch on TV. Even when they are watching on TV, many have added a second screen to their viewing experience.

Twitter enhanced fandom is cool.  But dedicated team social/mobile/second screen platforms are about to make it a whole lot cooler.  If you want to learn more about DAZZMOBILE’s Fandazz offering, click here.

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