The social media revolution has been underway for years now and its potential is unquestioned, but sports fans continue finding new ways to utilize social media platforms to consume information faster and more efficiently than ever before. Twitter, known for its ease of use and no-frills text-based posts, has become a particularly useful tool for sports fans, teams, players, and sponsors.
The "microblogging" service just celebrated its sixth anniversary, and continues to demonstrate strong growth. Twitter currently handles 1.6 billion searches a day, and has over 140 million active users who generate 340 million "tweets" daily, up 40% from nearly a year ago. So far is Twitter's reach, last year The Wall Street Journal estimated the San Francisco-based company's value to be as high as $10 billion.
The service provides information quickly and clearly, allowing users to connect with teams, players, and sponsors and share information in pithy texts of 140-characters or less. This means fans can keep updated with real-time information during games and continue to follow developments with teams and players even after a game has ended.
Statistics indicate that up to 26% of American fans use some form of social media to follow sports. The Associated Press recently reported that sporting events are most likely to account for major spikes in Twitter activity. This year's Champions League match between Chelsea and Barcelona broke Twitter records for a sporting event, topping out at 13,684 tweets per second.
Although the dizzying mass of activity threatens to make it difficult for fans to see the information they really want, developers have taken note, and developed ways to ensure that the constant stream of information makes sense and comes from reliable sources. A new app was recently developed and approved by Apple for use on its devices which promises to help fans follow games in more meaningful ways. The free app, called SportStream, sifts through Twitter feeds and delivers feeds to the user focusing on posts from the most active and trusted Twitter users. SportStream's founder, Will Hunsinger, hopes the app will enhance fans' experiences by "allowing people to connect on whatever and socialize and consume the game conversation at whatever level that they're comfortable with."
Platforms like Twitter afford sponsors unrivaled opportunities to reach audiences beyond the traditional touch points. Major American sports leagues have millions of Twitter "followers" who opt to receive information posted by a league. Individual players have also amassed large followings. LeBron James of the NBA's Miami Heat, for example, has over 4 million Twitter followers. The potential for sponsors cannot be understated: when LeBron James tweets, "Love my AirMax 2012 #swag," along with a picture of the sneakers, targeted consumers are listening.
Other rights holders, however, are less than thrilled about the instantaneous and "free for all" nature of social media platforms like Twitter. In 2009, the NHL, NFL, and NBA announced broad social media restrictions, charging that major platforms like Twitter and Facebook, by enabling users to post information in real time from stadiums and arenas around the country, infringe upon broadcast copyrights. Leagues have an interest in protecting the rights of television partners who pay billions of dollars for exclusive broadcast rights. While leagues and franchises can enforce restrictions on players, coaches, and other employees, one thing remains clear: millions of users have technology at their fingertips providing more real-time information than ever before, and social media's mark on the sports world is here to stay.