Football season just ended, college basketball is about to get exciting, and baseball teams are reporting to spring training later this month, so we figured there was no better time to take a look at how sports teams and athletic brands are using social media.
With 22 percent of internet users worldwide saying that their main reason for using social media is to watch/follow sports events, it’s clear why so many sports brands and teams have revisited their social media game plans (pun intended). So, we took a look at this area of the internet to find out how sports brands were connecting with their audiences and picked a few of our favorites.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ bright orange, furry, googly-eyed mascot, became an overnight sensation back in 2018 after his recreation of Kim Kardashian’s “Paper” magazine cover garnered 6.1 million impressions on social media. Since then, the Flyers have used Gritty as a way to join topical and trending conversations in an authentic, ownable way without selling out. The team has used Gritty in all kinds of posts—everything from posting parody baby photos with a letterboard to turning him into an Oscar statue.
In its attempts to appeal to and increase viewership among a younger fan base, Major League Baseball has been all over social media. The franchise partnered with Facebook to broadcast games on Facebook Watch with unique features like real-time fan interaction. It’s also been using social media to empower its athletes to build their own brands within the franchise, liberalizing its rules around players’ usage of licensed content in their social media feeds and even supplying much of that material proactively to players and their representatives. Additionally, in a partnership with Twitter, the MLB featured one player’s at-bats each day based on who fans voted for.
Adidas’ “She Breaks Barriers” initiative is, in their words, “out to level the field.” The initiative began through social media when the brand used the hashtag #CreatorsUnite to ask female athletes about the challenges and barriers they face in sports. From there, they identified six obstacles and launched a series of partnerships that focus on providing access, removing stereotypes, and addressing the inequality for female athletes at all levels and ages. Partners include the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University, Pharrell, the Women’s National Football Conference, the NFL’s first female coach Jen Welter, and Texas A&M. Additionally, the brand partnered with Twitter to live stream female high school sports.
ESPN began posting on TikTok last March as a way to bring diverse content to a younger audience, saw real growth throughout the summer, and now boasts 3.5 million followers on the up-and-coming video platform. The network mostly posts funny sports videos and reshares content from individual teams, much of which centers around current memes and events (like this video of the viral standing broom trick). But it also doesn’t shy away from more emotional content where it’s relevant—for example, this video of a basketball court in Italy that was refurbished in honor of the late basketball star Kobe Bryant.
It’s absolutely crucial for sports leagues and brands to be on social media—it’s where the fans are (especially as fan bases get younger and younger) and it’s the best way to connect an online audience with offline events. It allows fans to feel closer to the action and the “athlete as influencer” model gives players’ endorsements more authentic value than ever before.
So, what are the takeaways for sports brands? For starters, always be authentic. Know your brand’s or team’s identity and stick with it. Interact with and respond to fans, but always listen before responding. When it comes to content, quantity is important, but not if it sacrifices quality. Use owned content whenever possible, and absolutely tap into athletes—your built-in influencers—to amplify your brand’s messages.
Do all of this and take some cues from the brands listed above, and your social media is sure to be a slam dunk (or a touchdown, or a home run).