A few weeks ago, I contributed to an e-book put together by fellow sports and social media enthusiast Jason Peck. The focus of my post was industry predictions for 2010 and given the nature of our work at Activ8Social, I decide to focus on individual athletes. I came up with three primary growth areas to keep an eye on: Promotions, Live Video, and Mobile.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a few examples and decided to point them out. Here’s my original post, coupled with a recent example of each:
2009 was a landmark year for the long overdue marriage between sports and social media, and naturally it had its share of highs and lows. Thousands of athletes, teams, leagues, and agencies leveraged online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to provide unprecedented access and up-to-the minute info to eager sports fans across the globe. Leagues and networks introduced internal social media policies, athletes such as former Chiefs RB Larry Johnson paid for Twitter transgressions, while others built up massive multi-platform fan followings that attracted corporate sponsors and marketing dollars.
As monumental as last year was, this next year is shaping up to be even bigger now that athletes and teams have established substantial followings to engage in creative new ways. Since we specialize in social media services for professional athletes at Activ8Social, I will be focusing my 2010 predictions on three topics specifically relevant to them.
Even with Facebook’s new restrictive promotions guidelines, you will begin to notice more social media contests, campaigns, and sweepstakes featuring professional athletes. These one-off promotions offer powerful sponsorship activation opportunities for brands looking to align with popular sports personalities that carry loyal and well-defined fan bases. A few recent notables include Fantazzle’s partnership with NY Giants receiver Steve Smith to promote its weekly Fantasy Football Games and Klondike’s partnership with NFL superstars Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens for their “Thicker Shell Face-off and Online Roast”. Both companies found a clever way to capitalize on athlete social media fan bases to trigger consumer interest and participation.
Social media also allows athletes to create interactive real-world experiences that truly resonate with fans such as Shaq’s “Twitter Tag” and Lamar Odom’s “Scavenger Hunt” for Lakers playoff tickets. Promotions such as these offer great ways to increase awareness and attract new supporters, but the true winners will be those who can find a way to continually entertain and provide value to their followers.
Example: Nestlé Crunch Challenge
In preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Nestlé Crunch has teamed up with 2008 gymnastics gold medalist Shawn Johnson and 2006 short-track speedskating gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno for a Facebook-led social media campaign to promote their flagship candy bar. Fans are asked to pick a side and choose whether the “crispier crispies” or “richer chocolate” are the best ingredient in their new recipe, with Team Crunchies headed up by Shawn and Team Chocolate led by Apolo.
In preparation for the campaign, two viral videos were launched pitting both athletes against each other in a series of challenges, the first of which features Shawn doing a backflip over a bobsled (see video below). Since Shawn accepted the dare, Apolo responded by skating down the luge. The Nestlé Crunch Challenge Sweepstakes and Trivia gives fans a chance to win a $10,000 cash prize, one of 45,000 free candy bars, or weekly challenge prizes including Nestle prize packs, Nintendo Wii prize packs, Amazon Kindle e-book readers, Flip video cameras, and more.
Look for increased adoption of live streaming video services such as Ustream by athletes, which is truly the most raw and authentic social media channel. Video is a natural progression for players looking to lend authenticity to their social media presence and reach the next level of fan connection. Although the relative percentage of athletes using live video services will remain small, many more will begin to experiment and find value in scripted broadcasts and “off-the-cuff” video interaction with fans. This medium’s most effective value-add to athletes is the ability to engage in simple fan Q&A via the streaming Twitter and Facebook feeds. As more prominent athlete personalities use live video to attract fans, other athletes will follow in the typical cycle of platform adoption.
Example: Spend Your Weekend with Dwyane Wade on Ustream
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade celebrated his uStream debut by giving his fans off-the-court access to his NBA life on December 19. Cameras followed D-Wade for hours as he kicked off “3 Under the Tree,” a series of three events hosted by his charity organization Wade’s World Foundation, to serve and inspire underprivileged communities during the holiday season.
Wade met with children in the South Florida/Miami area for a fun holiday event, gave fans a sneak peek at his notorious sneaker collection and prepared a special meal on camera. He also answered fan questions via Twitter at the hashtag #DwyaneonUstream, in addition to using Ustream’s social stream with Facebook, MySpace and AIM comments. Granted Dwyane Wade happens to be a very charismatic individual who excels in front of a camera, so don’t expect to see all your favorite athletes venture into the live video realm anytime soon. But this was a smart move by Wade and his PR team to create a newsworthy event out of his first Ustream experience.
Mobile is the future of social media and sports media consumption. As high-speed mobile broadband networks and mobile devices capable of live streaming video proliferate, individual athletes with global fan bases will begin to recognize the power and reach of our pocket-sized friends. By 2010, eMarketer predicts mobile subscribers to reach 4.9 billion worldwide, which is more than twice the amount of internet users.
Unique applications like the “Chad Ochocinco Experience” that offer fun ways to interact and connect with athletes are the future of content delivery to fans. There’s nothing more convenient than having one-touch access to your favorite athlete through your iPhone or Blackberry. Only a handful of players can justify having their own mobile application, but expect to see similar ones pop up for other “larger than life” sports personalities such as Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Lance Armstrong. Any big-name athlete with global appeal would be a fool to not adopt mobile.
Example: NFL and NBA Player Mobile Apps
Keep an eye out for several mobile applications centered around other star athletes from the NFL and NBA to emerge over the next several months. Just recently, the same company that developed the apps for both Ochocinco and T.O., Rock Software, announced one in the works for the “NFL’s craziest Defensive End” – Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. The application will incorporate a hunting theme given Allen’s love for the great outdoors, which should be interesting. Other NFL athletes who recently signed deals include San Diego Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips and Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett. Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh already has a personal iPhone app and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has one currently in development.
Although many industry insiders believe the Chad Ochocinco Experience is self-serving, they also agree it’s a revolutionary marketing tool that could very well be the future of sports-based mobile apps, providing fans with an in-depth look at their favorite pro athletes. The ability to follow a premier athlete’s stats, videos, pictures, Twitter feed, and other content is one thing. But these new apps take it to the next level with GPS integration as well as other cool customized elements like multi-lingual sound bites and built-in iTunes playlists. Let’s not overlook Ochocinco’s pure entertainment value when it comes to the success of his app, but I think what differentiates this new generation of athlete apps are the sleek design, unique customization of features to match the athlete’s personality, and pure volume of content.
What are some other recent examples in the three predicted areas of growth (Promotions, Live Video, and Mobile)?