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Sports Media analysis: Social media brings instant updates, but there are drawbacks

Third in a three-part series on sports media and changes in how fans consume sports

Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland poses on Ausopen hashtag sign during the 2015 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.
Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland poses on Ausopen hashtag sign during the 2015 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Getty Images

Eloy Vazquez Jr., a Dolphins and Heat fan living in Los Angeles, admits he has a problem.

Because of advances in technology, fans can check sports news and scores and watch live events virtually anytime and anywhere, and the temptation can be overwhelming.

“I definitely will admit that I have a problem when it comes to checking my Twitter account for the latest [sports] news,” he said. “I am ashamed to admit that I have whipped out my iPhone during a wedding ceremony.

“I have whipped out my iPhone to check the latest updates from the MLB Winter Meetings minutes before a law school final exam. Great use of my time, right?”

Vazquez has plenty of company: A 2012 GMR Marketing study said 70 percent of sports fans who use social media check their devices during a meal, 58 percent do it in the bathroom, 33 percent in meetings and 9 percent in church.

Social media’s impact on sports, and how we consume sports, has grown exponentially. Fans no longer need to wait for ESPN’s SportsCenter or the morning newspaper for the latest updates. Trades and signings are disseminated to the masses as soon as they happen.

“Instant access to news and updates are an invaluable piece to what a fan wants and what a member of the media needs,” Fox announcer Joe Buck said via email.

“That said, the opinions expressed through Twitter can have a negative effect. I believe it scares announcers into the boring middle. Not wanting to state opinion or sometimes be critical because of the response that will follow from the loud minority.

“It almost has become a game between commenters to see who can be the harshest follower or ‘troll.’ I don’t believe the opinions and snarky comments represent a solid cross section of the American public.”

THE STATISTICS TELL A STORY

To appreciate the impact of social media on sports fans, consider:

▪ A 2014 study by Perform Sports Media found that 26 percent of U.S. fans use social-media platforms to follow their favorite sport, up from 15 percent in 2011.

▪ One-third said they use Twitter — which launched in 2006 — to follow sports, trailing Facebook (89 percent) and YouTube (65 percent).

Twitter says the numbers are higher than that, citing its own study that six out of 10 sports fans say Twitter is a main source of news.

▪ From the start of this year’s Super Bowl to 30 minutes after it ended, there were 43.4 million tweets about the game. Sixty-five million people communicated about the game on Facebook, with 265 million posts.

Former ESPN president George Bodenheimer disputes any notion that it’s primarily young people following sports on Twitter.

“I see older people who are into new media and Twitter,” he said.

Still, some are resistant.

“I don’t do any of it, nor will I,” said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who turned 60 last month and doesn’t even have an email account. “I don’t read it, and instant reaction is sometimes not the sharpest. Sometimes it’s hilarious.”

Berman said he’s “not knocking” the proliferation of Twitter and social media from a sports perspective, but “it surprises me. I guess it’s the continuation of people feeling the need to be in touch all the time. And the attention span is less than it used to be. My kids are in their upper 20s and they feel the need to be connected all the time.”

Besides allowing fans to receive sports news and scores instantly, Twitter also has provided a platform for them to reach out directly to athletes in ways never before available.

Some of the tweets can be confrontational or mean-spirited. And sometimes, athletes cannot resist the urge to fire back.

In February, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin sparred with a fan on Twitter about the way he presents himself publicly.

The same month, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wrote as part of a tweet that he did “1000 abs… arm workout… 10 min straight on the jump rope… 2 hour study session.”

After a fan responded that the “ab workout won’t help find [an] open receiver,” Kaepernick shot back: “Are you illiterate or just ignorant?”

Some teams are concerned about how their players represent themselves in social media, so much so that the St. Louis Rams held an offseason social-media seminar called “Don’t Be That Guy.” Jets coach Todd Bowles recently implored his players to “lay off the social media smack talk.”

Teams in South Florida and elsewhere monitor their players’ comments on social media, and there have been occasional missteps in recent years. Just last month, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson apologized for anti-gay tweets in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher put it this way: “I just don’t want to have to make that midnight phone call where you have to say ‘take it down.’”

Some players are now delivering news on their own, without a media filter. Last year, former Yankees star Derek Jeter launched The Players Tribune, an online platform for players to share first-person accounts. Earlier this month, forward Kevin Love wrote an essay on the site to announce he would be re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

MORE NEW WAYS TO GET MORE NEWS

Amid the rise in popularity of Twitter, another trend has emerged: More and more fans are using mobile devices and tablets to check stats, sports news and watch games.

“I don’t think we’ve reached the ceiling yet on how much sports people want and how they want it,” Berman said.

A study by Flurry, Yahoo’s mobile analytics firm, showed use of sports apps soared by 210 percent between August 2013 and August 2014.

So who uses these apps?

Flurry said sports app users are 12.8 times more likely to be football fans, 2.3 times more likely to be single and 2.3 times more likely to be business travelers.

“The tripling of time spent in sports apps is tough to ignore for teams, content providers and advertisers,” Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf said in his blog.

Through mobile devices, tablets and various digital platforms, fans can watch out-of-market MLB games (for at least $109.99 per season), out-of-market NBA games ($99.99) and thousands of hours of live programming on the ESPN networks (through the WatchESPN app), and golf and college basketball on the CBS app.

And that’s just a small slice of what’s available. The Miami Herald offers eight team-specific sports apps and one high school sports app.

Heat games are available in South Florida on the Fox Sports Go Ap, but Fox doesn’t have permission to stream Marlins or Panthers games on that platform.

Several apps, including theScore, offer detailed statistical breakdowns. Bleacher Report’s team stream apps provide immediate notification when there’s news on a fan’s favorite team, and SportsManias offers a similar team-specific service.

Verizon customers can download an NFL Mobile app and watch live games for free on their smartphones, and subscribers of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket also can watch the games on their computers.

And for the first time, an NFL game — Bills-Jaguars on Oct. 25 in London — will air exclusively online, on Yahoo. (The Buffalo and Jacksonville markets will get the game on CBS.)

“This is an experiment and an opportunity to gather fan feedback on the experience,” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications, said of the online-only London game.

“It’s a game in a unique window [9:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time] that enables us to test and try something new.”

Still, some fans want more. Last month, a class-action lawsuit filed in California accused the NFL and DirecTV of violating federal antitrust laws by requiring consumers to purchase all Sunday afternoon out-of-market games, even if the customer wants to see the out-of-market games for only one team.

“The League and DirecTV offer NFL Sunday Ticket only as all-or-nothing,” the complaint alleged.

The NBA, sensitive to that sentiment, announced recently that it would begin to offer a League Pass option allowing fans to purchase games of only one team if they choose, at an undetermined price.

Some viewers have canceled their cable or satellite service over the past few years because so much programming is available now through services such as Hulu.

But a Frank N. Magid Associates poll last June determined that live sports were the biggest help in stopping cable cancellations; only 1.4 percent of ESPN viewers said they would drop their pay TV subscriptions.

“Sports and movies drove the cable business the last 30 years and I see that continuing,” Bodenheimer said.

ESPN charges cable companies more per subscriber than any other cable network, and those costs are mostly passed on to consumers, some of whom aren’t sports fans and resent having to pay for channels they don’t watch.

But ESPN has vehemently opposed being placed on a pay-extra sports tier, which would reduce its penetration and what it can command from advertisers.

In April, ESPN sued Verizon, claiming the telecommunications company violated its contract when it took channels mostly available on basic cable — such as ESPN and Comedy Central — and placed them into tiers (sports, entertainment, children’s programming) from which consumers could choose.

But there are new TV options for viewers who have considered pulling the plug on their cable service because of rising costs.

Sling TV, a service launched by Dish in February, offers streaming of ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and a few other sports channels — but not Fox regional channels or over-the-air networks — for $25 a month. Apple reportedly plans to launch a similar product.

CONSUMPTION NOT YET AT CAPACITY

So what will be the next change in how fans consume sports?

Bodenheimer doesn’t believe the ceiling has been reached for new networks.

“It’s funny,” he said. “We’ve never overestimated sports fans’ desire for product. The more we provide, the more they want to consume.”

Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson predicts that “eventually you are going to be able to see every sports event in some streaming capacity. There will be pressure outside the home to see anything you [can already] see inside the home.

“But I don’t see it materially damaging the basic structure that exists today. I see it complementing. Anyone who’s at home will be watching it on a 53-inch high definition set instead of a mobile phone or on an iPad.”

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