Innovations in digital media through the years has introduced new platforms for the sports industry to better engage fans. However, the Covid-19 pandemic specifically, has exponentially increased the usage of social media as a tool in this context. With the slow return to pre-Covid sports practices, it is important to understand how the technological tactics implemented during Covid-19 will further influence the sports industry moving forwards.
During this time, more sports fans turned to social media as a way of receiving sports information and watching games. However, the sports industry needed to adapt in order to evolve with the demand of fan engagement through digital platforms.
Due to sporting events being postponed and cancelled, social media became a method to connect fans to events which were no longer accessible during this period of time. The trajectory of sports broadcasting has been consistent through traditional media outlets (television, radio, etc.) and then moving on to new digital media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, etc) but new strategies emerged during Covid-19. A more participatory experience became available, specifically allowing fans to engage in virtual ‘events’ while live-streaming the games that were still taking place. These virtual events comprised of zoom sessions with other fans, and even athletes themselves. The Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the NBA, Mark Tatum acknowledged that the NBA has been “hosting live quarantine parties on social media with current and former players”. These types of online spaces created the ability for the sports industry to maintain enthusiasm during a time when the in-person spectacle was not allowed.
Although social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter were already important to the sports industry prior to Covid-19, they became more important tools to broadcast sports information and keep the athletes in the forefront of popular culture. With lockdown came an expectation for athletes to be more present on social media as a way to promote their sport, engage with fans, and speak on a variety of societal issues. Overall, Covid-19 further introduced the expectation for athletes to become ‘influencers’ in their own right, in order to continue to promote the game. This movement will only help athletes further build their brands, audiences and therefore commercial value
So how will this impact digital media and sport moving forwards?
There is valid concern regarding whether or not these virtual sporting ‘events’ will enable spectators to actively choose watching sports from home rather than going to stadiums to watch live. However, with the availability of both options, there is more of an opportunity for more people to become interested in watching sports overall. The interactive tactics that began during Covid-19 have shown new capabilities of modern communications systems which should improve spectatorship in the sports industry. If these tactics continue even once sporting events have returned to their original state pre-covid19, there is good reason to believe the relationship between fans, athletes, and the game will be stronger than ever.
There is no doubt that the increased digital activation started during Covid-19 has probably grown audiences and brought new people to the game. Moving forwards there will now be a greater expectation on sports bodies to keep digitally engaging fans and winning the war for attention.