Social Media and Sports Management


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The relationships between sports fans and professional athletes has traditionally existed only at the para-social level; that is, fans watch their heroes perform on the field and identify with their successes - internalizing a player's and/or team's success as a personal one. Of course, any felt relationship between the fan and athlete is typically an imagined one, and usually of much greater importance to the fan. However, as more athletes take to social media to express their opinions on a broad spectrum of topics - both sports and non-sports related - this relationship has the potential to be both more intimate for the fan and more meaningful for the athlete. Recent evidence of this is use of social media by NFL players to plead their side of the labor dispute directly to the fans, circumventing both traditional media and team management in an effort to rally fan support from their followers. Yet, it is this circumvention that places a potential strain on team owners and other sports management executives, whose management role often includes maintaining the public image of the team as well as ensuring it's financial health (not mutually exclusive roles). As players continue to publish their raw thoughts and personalities via social media, concerns about how these players represent themselves and their franchises is at the forefront of sports management issues. If teams censor their athletes they run the risk of alienating fans, but if teams allow them to publish unfiltered, their overall brand might suffer. This presentation will highlight the current state of affairs by analyzing the role of social media in connecting fans to athletes, and the potential benefits and pitfalls of this relationship for sports management executives.

Dr. Bowman (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at WVU, where he researches and teaches courses on media psychology and the role of new media in human communication. A former athlete and sports writer, he has applied both of these areas of interest to focus on how fans use and are influenced by sports media. He has published work in leading communication research journals, including Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, New Media & Society, and Journal of Communication, and he has authored a recent chapter on fantasy sports research for a Sports Fandom Anthology due out later this year.

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Social Media and Sports Management

  1. 1. "That's what Ochocinco said!" The role of social media in connecting fans to the athletes they love (and what management should do about it)<br />Nicholas David Bowman, PhD<br />Assistant Professor, Communication Studies<br />West Virginia University<br />29 September 2011<br />
  2. 2. 9/29/2011<br />(c) ND Bowman, 2011<br />2<br />WOOT!<br />
  3. 3. As team executives, we are charged with the long-term viability of our franchises.<br />In sports, viability is tied to fan base<br />Does athletes’ use of social media influence a franchise’s viability? <br />The Central Question<br />
  4. 4. How do you handle these situations?<br />'What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...'<br />@R_Mendenhall<br />
  5. 5. 'In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.'<br />@CV31<br />How do you handle these situations?<br />
  6. 6. How do you handle these situations?<br />'Hey I think the urban meyer rule is in effect right now, When the going gets tough……..QUIT.' 'All I'm saying is that he (Cutler) can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.'<br />@Jones_Drew32<br />
  7. 7. 'What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk guys he makes no mistakes.''u just never knw! They did pearl harbor so u can't expect anything less.'<br />@cappa23<br />How do you handle these situations?<br />
  8. 8. How do you handle these situations?<br />The NFL brought this fight to us - they want $1 billion back, we just want financial information to back up that request<br />They refuse to give that information to us. They think we should just trust them. Would you?<br />I am very sorry that you as fans have to endure this. Football is more than just a game for all of us. We will keep fighting...always<br />@DrewBrees<br />
  9. 9. Many sports teams and leagues maintain strict policies regarding athletes interacting with the media (and by proxy, to the fan base) <br />“cooling off” period after games<br />Restricted locker room presence<br />Statements vetted through team publicists <br />Club speaks for players via official statements<br />Similar policies regarding social media <br />Traditional PR moves; recognition that athletes are representatives of the brand<br />Traditional Media Policies<br />
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  11. 11. Social media circumventions<br />Social media programs allow all of us to become media<br />Here Comes Everybody (Shirkey)<br />Information from the Long Tail, rather than from The Man<br />“Publish first. Filter second.”<br />
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  14. 14. Why so many flocking birds? <br />Fans adore athletes<br />Three perspectives:<br />(para)Social Interaction<br />Fan Avidity<br />Fan Identity<br />Fans and Athletes <br />
  15. 15. Parasocial Interaction<br />“seemingly face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer” (Horton & Wohl, 1956, pp. 215)<br />Illusion of intimacy, often with media “characters” <br />Fans know a great deal about athletes, and wish to know more (reciprocal?) <br />4ever<br />
  16. 16. + parasocial interaction = + fandom, + positive judgment of athletes (antisocial) behaviors (Earnheardt, 2009) <br />FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Is a social media connection a para-social one?<br />Parasocial Interaction<br />Classic definition of an interpersonal relationship: <br />Does the person<br />Interact with you? <br />Have idiosyncratic knowledge about you? <br />Modify the message based on what he/she knows about you?<br />
  17. 17. Fan Identity<br />Fans view sports as an extension of self<br />At the sociological level (clubs as civic entities)<br />At the psychological (social identity theory) <br />We identify with athletes because they represent traits that we want<br />We BIRG & CORF, and we are fickle about it (Cialdini et al., 1976)<br />
  18. 18. One way to understand fandom is to understand expressive behaviors (DeSarbo & Madrigal, 2011)<br />Four ways to express:<br />On-field participation<br />Passive following (i.e. media)<br />Social engagement <br />Purchasing <br />Fan Avidity<br />Social Media<br />Time<br />Time<br />Time <br />Money<br />Analog<br />Digital<br />Digital<br />Analog<br />
  19. 19. PROS<br />Increases the “real” connection between fans and athletes<br />Strengthens fan identity with athletes<br />Provides fans with a mechanism to publicly and persistently express their avidity<br />CONS<br />Do we really want folks to “know” our athletes and interact with them (re: student-faculty relationship)<br />Fan identity can be broken as fast as it is strengthened (re: Lebron James)<br />Does fan-athlete chatter necessarily translate to foot/dollar traffic?<br />Social Media Comparo<br />
  20. 20. Athletes “actively encouraged” to tweet during Olympic Games<br />Few restrictions:<br />Not for commercial purposes<br />No vulgar language or cursing<br />First-person, diary-type formats<br />London 2012 – another case study?<br />I like this idea – it’s a start at removing the barrier between athletes and fans. I’m interested in seeing if this creates a ripple effect in professional sports…<br />
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  22. 22. Continue the discussion at:<br />Contact me at:<br />Nicholas David Bowman, PhD<br />Assistant Professor, Communication Studies<br />West Virginia University<br /><br />Twitter @bowmanspartan<br />Continue the discussion…<br />
  23. 23. Compilation of sports Twitter accounts [here]<br />Athlete Tweets live-feed [here]<br />Sports league policies regarding social media via ESPN [here]<br />Other Resources<br />
  24. 24. Cialdini, R. B., et al. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 366-375.<br />DeSarbo, W, & Madrigal, R. (2011). Examining the behavioral manifestations of fan avidity in sports marketing. Journal of Modelling in Management, 6(1): 79 - 99<br />Earnheardt, A. (2009, November). Exploring Predictors of Sports Television Viewer Judgments of Athlete Anti-Social Behaviors. NCA Chicago. <br />Horton, D. R. & Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19(3): 215–229. <br />References<br />