Lessons in social from US sports brands

Thought Leadership

US sport is seeing huge growth around the world. With both the NFL and NBA having regular season games in London, the exposure of American sport is growing year by year.

Broadcasters in the UK have already been picking up rights to US sports as interest has grown. NFL broadcasts have been spilt across the BBC and Sky, and BT Sport has picked up college football, basketball and baseball. Even Twitter has entered the broadcasting world, with free global live-streaming of 10 games per season.

With some big brand sports in America breaking new ground through social, here’s a look at what could lie ahead for the rest of the world.

Live streaming on social
The NFL made some big noise earlier this year when it announced it would live stream 10 Thursday night games free on Twitter. It wasn’t really a platform where people expected to see live sport. Highlights sure, but staying up for over three hours to watch a match? It turns out, yes: 2.3 million people tuned in for the debut broadcast, and even more for the follow-up.

The NFL’s ability to harness the power of the brand and forge new partnerships whilst bringing the sport to a whole new audience is one of the key reasons behind its success. TV audiences for live sport in Britain including F1, golf and cricket are all seeing declines in viewing figures. So could sports and federations take a new approach to negotiating deals and hold back rights to stream selected events, for free?

On-the-ground experience
Twitter isn’t the only platform the NFL has teamed up with. In a trial run in 2015, 70 million people watched content on Snapchat from the NFL. In August this year, NFL became the first sport to have an official Snapchat Discover channel, and this season, Snapchat Discover and NFL Media have been producing content and Live Stories for each game so far.

The nature of this partnership means in-game footage can be used in Live Stories, giving a new perspective on the action. Balanced out with live stats, fan reactions, and behind-the-scenes content, these stories genuinely add to the experience of the coverage, taking fans closer to the action and giving them an on-the-ground experience.

The US Open from Flushing Meadows had some excellent Snapchat coverage in September, and the Ryder Cup could be an ideal event to explore Snapchat’s ability to add to the experience of live sport. With big rivalries, lush scenery, big personalities, and some celebrity onlookers, it could provide clues to the future of international sporting events broadcasting coverage.

Content on demand
Ahead of the end of season finals – one of the biggest sporting events of the year in the States – the NBA introduced a chatbot on Facebook Messenger. The bot gave the option to follow a team, specific match or watch top plays or the highlights. Imagine that for County Cricket matches, from best moments to specific innings, or Rugby League’s standout tries and bone-crunching tackles.

Screen Shot 2016-10-11 at 11.11.38

Smarter search
Search for MLB on Google. That’s Major League Baseball, by the way. You should be looking at a complete list of fixtures, results and video highlights of every fixture from a given day. Pretty impressive. In a sport as sprawling as MLB, this is a great way to get a quick-look at results, links to highlights and to check out how rival teams have been getting on. MBL’s comprehensive list is an incredibly useful tool to have at your fingertips and a great way to increase audience and expand the reach of the sport.


Google shows Premier League results in a similar way, without the links to highlights.

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 10.59.56

There is huge potential for other sports if they could get a piece of the optimised search action. An obvious comparison to MBL would be cricket’s County Championship – it is played in innings, there are loads of games, and it goes on for ages. Smart search display is a great way to get the full picture of what’s been going on, and catch up on the latest action from every team. For County Cricket, it could also help to broaden the appeal of the competition and draw in new fans given the lack of televised coverage it gets at the moment. However. To make it happen, Google need to prioritise the sport in question. So for smaller sports like County Cricket, they need to make their case to the king of search to ensure their data is being displayed in this clear and succinct way.

With the big sports of America branching out and making the most of their assets, it’ll be fascinating to see how other sports respond to these technological developments in the years to come. With four years until the next Olympics, these tactics could be key to helping Olympic and Paralympic sports reach new audiences and capitalise on the peak in interest around the games. Who knows, we could be watching live track and field events on Snapchat when 2020 comes around.