Let me begin with an anecdote, a worldwide trending topic on Twitter for most of the morning of April 7th: The 2012 Boat Race. This year’s contest between Oxford and Cambridge – said to be the most controversial to date – was marred by a protestor who swam in between the two boats resulting in officials having to halt the race. After restarting, further drama occurred when an oar broke and an Oxford oarsman ended up hospitalized soon after crossing the finish line. The impending disgust from some and support from others for the protestor’s actions quickly spread through Twitter. When my friend and former teammate, Will Zeng, who was a part of the losing Oxford crew tweeted a statement directed at the protestor, the New York Times, among other major publications, covered it.
Excluding my personal vested interest, what struck me most was the unlikely, and borderline contradictory, interdependency between the media coverage of one of the oldest, most traditional sporting events and the contemporary landscape of social media. But this marriage between the traditional sports community and social media is actually quite harmonious.
It‘s hard to remember a time when social media was not an available source of the latest sports news. It’s a rarity to watch an episode of SportsCenter without escaping the latest tweets from athletes (probably a LeBron James tweet about the sausage, egg and cheese he had for breakfast). We are in a period where, for better or worse, athletes can essentially circumvent their agents and other management to reach out to fans directly through Twitter or Facebook. So it comes as no surprise that Twitter and Facebook have outpaced national news websites as a preferred source of sports news, 41% to 40%. [see infographic below]
As the digital age has matured, the overarching sports community has thrived within the medium of social media, forming a symbiotic relationship of sorts whereby one synergistically feeds from the other’s success. But how exactly did this effectual coexistence arise?
One of the primary purposes of social media is to have individuals engage with one another (and brands) for informative and recreational ends. Taking this a step further, individuals are all a part of communities that require social attention. Think of your Facebook account for a moment. Your network affiliations, your groups, your lists of friends, your place of work, your school or alma mater, these are all vibrant communities living on Facebook and the recipient of numerous interactions.
Communities like these are a foundational certainty within all of sports. They are teams. And one of the most redeeming aspects of being a team member or a fan is the sense of belonging that goes along with it. It is the idea that you are in someway associated with an exclusive community, or team, and get to interact with other fellow fans. This basic precept of sport aligns perfectly with why we interact with others on social platforms. Layer these foundational elements with heated rivalries, the need for real time scores and news, obnoxious yet entertaining personalities, and continuous debate and – presto – you have the perfect confluence of two industries seemingly meant for one another.
So whether you are tweeting about the latest game, witnessing Jeremy Lin throw up on Facebook, responding to a protest, or loathing/worshiping Tebow for, well being Tebow, understand that there is a genuine reason why it just feels right to engage with others about sports via social media.