Football Goes Social at SXSW

Football Goes Social at #SXSW 2013 – #SXSWOgilvy


As we left SXSW on Tuesday, with Austin’s population transforming from an army of tablet-toting tech heads to a militia of musicians and  hipsters, my colleagues and I got into a hilariously ironic conversation with our cab driver…

[I paraphrase]

  • Driver: Every other place in the world calls soccer “football” – what does soccer even mean? You use your foot in soccer…it should be called football! American football players use their hands…it should be called “handball!”
  • Brits in the cab: Quite right! What does soccer mean?!
  • Me (the Yank): I’m going to stay out of this one…

The reason I share this is not to rub in the fact that the word soccer’s origins don’t hail from America (which I recently learned, but will pretend I knew it all along), but rather to give you an idea of the dichotomy between American Football and Association Football that inspired my core conversation at SXSW this week – Who Got Game? Brits vs. Yanks Football Showdown.

Whether you’re on #TeamFootball or #TeamSoccer, it can’t be denied that social media has transformed the fan experience in both sports. From broadcasters integrating fan commentary into their programming, to players scrutinizing officiating on Twitter (and paying for it in many instances), to the rise of the second screen, social media is quickly transforming the way all of us experience the sports we love.

During our session, Mark Ward, Head of Communications for Tottenham Hotspur FC, and I took on the challenge of discussing how both sports have been impacted by social media, and share our thoughts on how that media would change the sports in the future.

Our discussion was fun and lively (no punches thrown), and we covered everything from digital content rights to athlete education and empowerment. Here are my three biggest takeaways from the session.

1. Technology catches up to an inherently social experience. Whether you go to a Super Bowl party every year, or meet up with your mates at a local pub to watch the Spurs match on Saturday, football is social. With the introduction of social platforms and mobile technology we now have the ability to extend that experience to more people, more easily. Up until the last couple of years, this has largely been fan driven, but 2012 established a new expectation that leagues, teams, and players, need to play a role in defining the digital football experience. 2013 looks to be the year that it gets more organized, richly produced, and pervasive across all our screens.

2. Teams are critical in athlete education. One of the biggest benefits of the rise of social media in sports is access to athletes. They no longer are an unattainable figurehead – we can connect with them, get to know their personalities, and deepen our relationship with our heroes. With that access comes a responsibility. A responsibility to make sure athletes understand the benefits of social media, as well as the dangers. Teams should serve as the educators for their players, advising them on how to use social media, and ensuring they follow league guidelines.

3. Monetizing the 2nd screen is a game changer. 83% of US sports fans check social media during sporting events, which means the second screen has become a critical element of the fan experience. So far, the majority of sports have not gone beyond recreating the game experience in mobile. To truly win on the second screen, you need to provide a supplemental experience that does more than duplicate a broadcast – deeper insight and analysis, exclusive footage and camera angles, and even engagement prompts. The brands, leagues, and teams, that can monetize this screen and bring new value to the mobile experience will take the football viewing experience to the next level.

These are just a few of the topics we discussed at SXSW. What needs or opportunities do you see as critical to providing football fans with a truly social experience?

To see more of the discussion that took place, we’ve created a storify of the session:

“Who Got Game? Brits vs. Yanks Football Showdown at SXSW” on Storify

See you in 2014, Austin!