Tom Trudeau ’09: For sports, a new marketing frontier

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

As the sports world adapts to a struggling economy, industry executives are looking for cheap alternatives to reach consumers and promote their brands. Their latest search has led many to social media, specifically social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and Bebo. These four sites alone have a combined 330 million registered users.

Nearly every major sport has recognized the need for a presence in social media, enticed by its immensely attractive attributes. Professional sports leagues can use social media to gain access to the valuable 12- to 34-year-old age group, identify people who are deeply engaged in specific teams and leagues and benefit from an open-sourced environment.

Social media themselves only really gained the immense popularity that it has today within the last five years. As such, marketers are a long way from figuring out the best way to tap into social media’s vast potential. In fact, existing models don’t actually add any direct revenue, with most pro-sports leagues content to benefit from increased brand exposure. For example, Major League Baseball developed MLB.com “Fanbook,” an application that fuses MLB.com content with standard social-networking functions. The National Hockey League started utilizing increased exposure via social media with its official Facebook page, which allows users to share messages, photos and videos. It has since developed similar applications for MySpace, Digg and del.icio.us.

While it may be beneficial for leagues simply to provide applications that serve mostly as an off-site extension of official league Web sites, other businesses have found ways to turn a profit. Citizen Sports Network’s fantasy sports offspring, “ProTrade,” joined with Sports Illustrated to provide fantasy sports to the Facebook community. By taking existing content and services provided on a specific site and bringing them to a location with more broad-based appeal, ProTrade’s membership jumped from around 250,000 to 2 million, and its revenue increased by 600 percent.

Other new, small, sports-based companies dedicated to specific teams, sports or players, such as Watercooler, TruMedia Networks and SportsFanLive are enjoying early success. They were started to capitalize on the growing social media sites thanks to their low barriers for entry.

Bringing existing content that might otherwise never be utilized to a place that potential consumers visit on a daily basis, such as Facebook or MySpace, seems like good business. But despite the obvious appeal, some sports-based companies see social media as something that they must break in to in order to continue to reach the same consumers that they had been reaching, rather than an opportunity to target new ones.

Nike Basketball’s latest offspring, “Ballers Network,” exists only as an application on Facebook. The decision to make it available exclusively on Facebook was motivated primarily by the belief that in order to reach a certain audience, you must seek them out where they already live.

Right now, young people live on social media sites, and the sports world knows this.

Tom Trudeau ’09 is updatin’ his facebook status! LOL 🙂

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