Great Examples of Social Media Marketing in Sports

By Tyler Becker

If you are a sports fan and social media aficionado, you are likely well aware of how large a role Web 2.0 platforms and applications play in the sports industry.

With 40% of U.S. individuals utilizing second screen devices, it is tough to ignore the over-saturation of trending topics revolving around the big game, the star athlete, or the Twitter-revoked and tackle-taking cheerleader with weeklong glory. Sports fans are verbal, they are passionate, and they are opinionated, which presents a unique opportunity for leagues and brands to create brilliant examples of social media campaigns, contests, case studies, and even now, on-field tangibles to leverage this enthusiasm. With that, I bring you some spectacular examples of social media implementation into the sporting world.

MLB FanCave: An Offline-to-Online Content Powerhouse

Major League Baseball introduced in 2011 their Downtown Manhattan, New York based social media hub called the FanCave. The idea: two fans, fifteen big-screen TV’s, and a season-long journey to watch every MLB contest (that’s 2,430 games) of the 2011 season. With the help of over 150 visits from professional athletes, musical performances from top artists, and TV and movie star appearances, the 15,000 sq.-foot space played host to a social media content beast.

Through 300 blog posts, 200 videos of celeb skits and interviews, and most of all, good ole’ baseball banter, it all merged together and led to a sizeable social media boom: a 200,000+ “Liked” Facebook page, a nearly 57,000 “Followed” Twitter account, and over one million social media impressions.

While not every brand has the mass appeal and last minute resources to construct their very own marketing control center, the FanCave showed us that rich, engaging content can give you an edge over competitors who may not be utilizing their online space. Major League Baseball spiced up their social media presence; they threw a few curveballs with attention-grabbing videos, shared behind-the-scenes photos, and strayed away from the traditional status update.

New Balance Urban Dash: A New York City Playground 
To create some buzz around their New York City store opening, New Balance created a mobile app called Urban Dash giving New Yorkers, runners, competitors and a particular social media nerd who happened to be in the vicinity one morning the chance to compete for New Balance swag, cash prizes, and pride. The app used a mix of geo-location, social network sharing, and augmented reality, where gamers would physically race to virtually find, pick up, and deliver batons to the New Balance store.

To take note of some of the app’s social capabilities, users could work in teams and Tweet or post to Facebook the location of the baton. This added a deeper level of user-to-user interaction. A push notification system gave users tips of best routes to take along with motivational phrases to run faster and play harder.

On a personal level, that particular Tuesday morning turned out to be a mild success. While I did not officially redeem a baton, I was rewarded with a nice New Balance gift card for a valiant effort and a 2nd place finish. Just using the app, playing the game, and experiencing the online-offline campaign satisfied my social media fix. Job well done, New Balance!

ESPN Sports Bar: Serving 60,000 Daily

The social gaming industry is an indestructible force that continues to snowball. It is projected that social gaming will be a $54 billion industry by 2015, with about $6 billion coming solely from in-app purchases and add-ons. Sports and entertainment media giant, ESPN, jumped right into this social gaming mega-sphere with ESPNU College Town in September of 2010, a Sims-city type of game that has, to the dismay of many, officially ended.
However, ESPN is back with its latest social game, ESPN Sports Bar, a Facebook application for users to create, manage, grow, and share with others their very own sports bar and grill, (don’t worry under 21 gamers, while your age is in fact linked to your Facebook account upon registration, you can still serve finger foods and soda pop in your custom tavern).
 What works so well with ESPN Sports Bar is a combination of sponsorship integration, brand centralization, and mood-boosting gaming. Samsung, a sponsor of Sports Bar, has its products featured and integrated into the game. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one of several products that users can unlock by completing missions and challenges. The game also revolves around the user by allowing full-on personalizing in their bar, from colors and menu items, to employees and TV channels.

Looking at the numbers, ESPN Sports Bar has seen 582,000 monthly users and 60,000 daily. The ESPN Sports Bar Facebook page has about 130,000 “Likes” and offers tips, updates, and game announcements to an actively involved sports and gaming community.

The sports industry is at the forefront when it comes to social media, digital marketing, and applications. With so many sectors as well: teams, leagues, retail, video games, venues, athletes, nutrition, annual events, and more, the opportunities are quite endless.

Any business can certainly learn from these examples and the sports industry as well. Major League Baseball invented an offsite concept to generate great content, New Balance built awareness through a local experiential event that reinforced brand values and drove in-store customers, and ESPN connected people with a common interest, in this case through gaming. The competition for social media marketing has only just begun.

  • Robert Becker