Barely a teenager, Facebook now attracts 2 billion monthly active users and has a market capitalisation of over $420 billion. Add to this other social behemoths such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Wechat and it is estimated we now spend 40 per cent of our online time on these platforms.
I’m often asked whether social presents a major opportunity or risk to the key revenue drivers or the sports industry. So here we go: #notstraightforward!
It’s clear the biggest winners on social are the athletes and the platforms themselves. Never before has it been possible for players to communicate directly with their fan bases so efficiently and ultimately monetise these connections.
For example, in 2016, social media king Ronaldo posted 1,703 times on social media. Those posts generated 2.25 billion social interactions (likes, comments, shares, retweets and views on videos). His boot sponsor Nike was referenced, or its logo was visible, in a photo or video in 347 of the posts, which had 477 million interactions.

Never before has it been possible for players to communicate directly with their fan bases so efficiently and ultimately monetise these connections  

Social valuation platform Hookit valued Nike’s media exposure via CR7’s (Ronaldo’s) social feeds at $499million. So it’s no surprise Nike, Adidas and Puma’s ad spend is heading away from traditional TV and press to these platforms and to the athletes directly, via major endorsement deals.
The picture is a little bit more blurred for the big sports broadcasters. There is obviously no coincidence that the growth of social media has led to pressure on live viewing figures. In the U.K. both Sky (-14 per cent) and BT (-2 per cent) reported a decline year-on-year in Premier League audiences for the 2016-17 season.
There are some key factors at play here:
• proliferation of goal clips (unofficial and official)
• changing viewership habits
• piracy
Social platforms must do more to prevent illegal content posting (they are getting much better at this), but importantly must work with the industry to stop illegal link sharing, as this is rife during live matches and is currently largely unpoliced, and is the major source of stream discovery.
For rights-holders themselves, despite some medium-term concerns over media rights income, social media has created some fantastic direct-to-consumer opportunities. In USA, the NFL has led the way in exploiting social and digital platforms to increase the value of its rights. Building on a deal with Twitter last year, the league negotiated a $50-million, one-year deal with Amazon to stream its 10 Thursday night games this coming season.
Elsewhere, J-League’s deal with Perform (DAZN) is breaking new ground, OTT only, with social game clips a major component of all marketing activity building awareness and driving free-to-pay conversion.
As digital and mobile video viewing continues to accelerate, live streaming has become essential for sports distribution on social platforms. Sports fans, like all consumers, face a myriad of choices for their attention and it’s critical for rights-owners to build their presence on social platforms to help maintain loyal audiences, support tune-in and provide a content experience which meets the needs of viewers who watch much less linear TV.
Social platforms talk about “competing for time” – this is the indivisible unit that drives all media consumption. The choice for what, where and how we watch continues to change, but there are still only 24 hours in the day. If a rights-holder cannot be first to deliver its content to fans where they want to watch it, then someone else will, and social platforms tend to reward those who get there first.  

As digital and mobile video viewing continues to accelerate, live streaming has become essential for sports distribution on social platforms  

With 2 billion users on Facebook and more than 1 billion logging in every day, many rights-holders are expanding the way they use the platform to reach new and existing audiences. Video on Facebook is currently viewed 32 billion times per day, with this number expected to hit 64 billion by August 2017, with users watching more than 100 million hours of video on the platform every day.
The introduction of live video on social platforms has been a key driver in increasing the consumption of sports content. Today, one in five videos shared to Facebook is a live broadcast and over the past year, daily watch time for Facebook Live broadcasts has grown by more than four times. On average, a Facebook Live video receives 10 times more engagements than non-live content.
Developments in social live streaming have led to an expansion in breadth and depth of content delivered and produced. Initially, rights-holders looked to distribute promo content or clips and highlights after the broadcast had finished, Now properties such as the NFL, NBA, UFC and Cage Warriors are using social media to distribute live streams before and after games, real-time clips of key moments and in-play highlights of the action. 
Outside of this, sports teams and clubs are using social video and live content to bring fans extra content such as interviews, training sessions and squad announcements. Sports federations, leagues and teams that aren’t creating exclusive social content by now are already behind.
So what about sponsorship income, a revenue source already under pressure thanks to anti-bribery laws and diminishing content on free-to-air TV? 

Sports federations, leagues and teams that aren’t creating exclusive social content by now are already behind  

The emergence of in-play highlights and live streaming on social platforms has evolved to play a huge part in both the distribution of sports rights and the way sponsorships are being valued and sold – but only for rights-holders who not only invest in great social content but also the tools to measure and report, such as Grabyo, a platform that’s delivered over 20 billion social sports streams in the past year for clients such as the Premier League, BT and UFC.
With all this extra reach and engagement, rights-holders have been looking for ways to increase the amount of value for sponsors. The social platforms themselves have created sponsorship and advertising options such as Facebook Branded Content and in-stream video ads, Twitter Amplify and Instagram Stories. But for most rights-holders this value is tied in with current sponsorship agreements – few are creating bespoke social sponsorship packages or leveraging the vast amount of distribution and engagement they generate.
The only great exponents of these new sponsorship opportunities are online-only players such as Play Sports Group, Goal Studios and Diagonal View (recently acquired by Sky). Traditional rights-holders could learn a lot by subscribing to these social channels.

So what’s the moral of the story? Get down with the kids, embrace these huge audiences, create bespoke content, build bespoke sponsorship packages, create your own OTT services using social as your key marketing asset… and let’s all fight piracy as an industry collective.



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