Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Increasingly, social media is changing the way fans engage with sports content. Instead of watching the entire real-time game, for example, they now prefer to engage with bite-sized pieces of content from that game. And instead of consuming live content directly related to those games, they now prefer to engage with content such as funny videos or behind-the-scenes clips.
The end of the “live” sports paradigm
Just a few years ago, social media giants thought that live sports were the key to building audience and engagement. They saw the huge audience numbers on network and cable TV, and hypothesized that they might be able to convert a lot of those TV audience members into social media sports viewers. And for that reason, they sunk a lot of time and money into streaming live sports on their social media platforms. Remember when Twitter and Amazon were vying for the rights to stream Thursday Night Football games and when Facebook was streaming live baseball games on its platform?
Well, there has been a real paradigm shift in how fans consume content. According to a recent YPulse survey, a resounding majority (nearly 70%) of individuals in the 13-to-37 demographic agreed with the statement that “I don’t need to watch sports games live.” And, indeed, live TV viewing in this demographic is down from a high of 86% just a few years ago to just 65% in 2019. In other words, there has been a dramatic scaling down of live sports content consumption by the Gen Z and Millennial generations.
This is not to say that sports fans do not want to consume live sports content – it is only suggesting that they no longer feel like they have to watch the full game to get the full experience. Many sports fans are now “dual screening” when they are watching live anyway. As YPulse points out, nearly 80% of viewers in the 13-to-37 demographic are using multiple screens while watching a live sports event. They might be watching their favorite team on TV, but simultaneously conversing with their sports buddies via mobile, while also having a tablet nearby to check on statistics, injuries, weather conditions or player updates.
New social media paradigms
So what comes next? One big trend is the shift to “social-first” shows that are designed to run on platforms like Facebook Watch. ESPN, for example, is now airing social-first shows that you can’t find on cable TV. Another big trend is the shift toward producing social content that is only indirectly related to live events. Football fans, for example, might not watch a full three-hour game on Sunday, but they will watch short snippets of video content throughout the week leading up to the game. And baseball fans might not watch a full three-hour game on a week night, but they will certainly tune in for the latest news related to their sports fantasy leagues.
While Facebook and Twitter have been two of the primary social media platforms of choice for sports leagues, teams and athletes to connect with fans, there is now a lot of new opportunity for other social media platforms to play a role. Instagram, for example, has partnered with Serena Williams on an Instagram-only shopping experience that is designed to appeal to the younger demographic. This ties into the new shopping and mobile commerce features that Instagram is trying to develop. The idea here is simple: if you follow a certain star athlete, you will likely want to buy the same clothes or sports gear that they are using. Brands like Nike, Puma, Adidas and Under Armour should be paying close attention here.
A new playing field for social media
Overall, what we are seeing is potentially the creation of an entirely new playing field for social media companies in the world of sports. Gone are the days when people solely tuned into ESPN on cable TV and watched live sports programming on the major networks. Social-first media companies like Bleacher Report and Barstool Sports are re-inventing content for Generation Z. And social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are constantly re-thinking new ways to improve the overall sports viewing experience. For sports fans everywhere, this has to be good news.