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How Social Media Has Changed The Way We Watch Sport

By Community | July 15, 2021

Over the past decade sports broadcasting has been competing with the growth of mobile viewership and second screen viewing. Beatrice Cain looks at how social media has changed how we watch sport.

With Euro 2020 viewing figures hitting a record high of 31 million viewers across England for the final on Sunday, it clearly shows that people are still watching coverage of live sport. However, social media’s impact on the way we interact with and watch live sport has been changing the game. 

The emergence of social media has provided viewers with an alternative platform to consume sports content. Today, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have created and enabled an all-new viewing experience for individuals through phones, tablets, and computers. A platform with immediate access to information regarding live sport and highlight reels. Twitter particularly has seen fan increase during live events, with many using the platform as their primary second screen app.

Simultaneous viewing, often referred to as ‘dual screening’ or ‘the second screen’, has allowed people to gain an extra viewing insight and experience in conjunction with main TV broadcasting. Millennial sports fans are watching games differently, and a large proportion not at all. eMarketer found that in 2014, only 51 percent of respondents used their smartphone while watching TV, a figure that rose sharply to 74% in 2017, a significant acceleration in second screen multitasking. 

The idea of simultaneous viewing allows fans to use social media alongside traditional viewing of live sport. Whether it be for live commentary, player updates or to follow multiple games at once, usually the case in the Premier League with multiple games starting at the same time. The rise of simultaneous viewing, or dual screening does not threaten the experience of first screen viewing, it is simply an opening to provide complementary content to enhance these experiences. 

Twitter, for me, has been the most significant social media platform in changing the way I watch live sport.

Twitter, for me, has been the most significant social media platform in changing the way I watch live sport. I often find myself following live commentary from online journalists, tweeting every few minutes providing updates and personal opinions on a game I too will be watching live. The usage of Twitter to compliment live sports has shown how users gain a higher level of engagement and increases memorability, proving how a second screen can heighten the viewing experience. But it is not just live commentary that allows many to be encompassed by Twitter, the emergence of meme culture has added another dimension.

It is a matter of minutes on Twitter for memes to be circulating, whether it be a video or picture, these are spread rapidly amongst internet users on multiple platforms and have become integral to the way people communicate online. Meme culture is particularly significant in the NBA Twitter scene, with the NBA inspiring more memes in common usage than any other sport and has now become woven into the fabric of internet discourse. 

YPulse conducted research into how young people are watching sport. 70% of 13–37-year-olds no longer feel the need to watch a live game to know and keep up with the events. This is down to social media channels providing non-traditional forms of content. Younger viewers will instead opt to watch highlights of the sport, a quicker, shorter way of keeping up to date with sports events and results. 

Social media companies are constantly searching for innovative ways to advance live sport viewership on their platforms, for example Facebook Watch.

This research aligns with the shift in ‘social first’ content produced by social media brands such as YouTube and Facebook. These platforms are creating exclusive shows designed to air online, separate to TV broadcasts. The partnership between both social media and sport, often described as a ‘match made in heaven’, shows how something between the two is working. Social media companies are constantly searching for innovative ways to advance live sport viewership on their platforms, for example Facebook Watch. A platform launched in 2017 which is currently attempting to muscle onto the sports broadcasting scene, putting social media and live sports viewing on the same platform. The service has become another broadcast competitor after obtaining the rights to numerous sports, from Women’s Basketball to surfing. 

Viewers have been enabled to consume information without delay, which is now something social media platforms are required to ensure, creating competition to keep doing so, and pressure to release the most accessible, high quality content to supply appropriate information about live sporting events.

Sporting bodies have learned to move and evolve with the ever-growing social media phenomenon, with the emergence of sporting body ownership of media platforms, such as NBL TV and AFL media, for the Australian National Basketball League and Australian Football League, after social media was proven effective in increasing millennial interaction with sporting content. 

YouTube has created a social platform for individuals to create live content or upload pre-recorded videos. Regarding how this affects live sport viewing, it has grown in significance. YouTube channels such as AFTV, run by Arsenal supporters will stream a watch-along live, where viewers will not be able to watch the game, but witness live reactions and commentary from the channel, a prime example of how ‘second screen’ viewing heightens live sports coverage. 

Phones and social media will become the primary method of watching and interacting with live sports.

It is not just social media that has changed the experience of watching live sport, the increase of online sports betting has allowed viewers to engage in dual screening, with in-play betting on the rise. Premium sportsbook provider, Kambi predicts that 65% of bets placed come from mobiles or tablets during major tournaments, such as European championships, with Euro 2016 showing that two thirds of users used a second screen to bet during the tournament. 

Social media has impacted how we interact with live sports coverage, but what heights will it go to next?

I think it is plausible to see that with more people not only watching on their phones and tablets but combining that with alternative methods of commentary and interaction, coverage of live sporting events through TV will instead become the ‘second screen’. Phones and social media will become the primary method of watching and interacting with live sports, with traditional TV broadcasting becoming an afterthought. 

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