Play Ball! How Live Social Has Transformed Fan Engagement

By: Gina Lee De Freitas

Live social has transformed sports events, including Major League Baseball. Social media has revolutionized fan engagement, bringing the game (and its sponsors) wherever fans want to be -- including an enhanced experience inside the stadium itself.

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day 2018 is March 29. Not only is it the earliest opening day in MLB history, it’s the first time every team will open on the same day since 1968.

But what a different season 2018’s fans will experience than the ones 50 years ago. The game itself hasn’t changed much over the years, but professional sports marketing and fan engagement definitely has.

Today’s game -- enjoyed inside the stadium, in sports bars and living rooms all over the country -- is all about creating a social experience for fans. From engaging with each other to interacting with the stats and action on the field, watching a baseball game is an immersive activity (even if you don’t move from your bar stool.)

What’s at stake? Brands spent $892 million in deals to connect with MLB fans in 2017, almost 8 percent more than in the previous year. Retailers are the top spender, followed by automobile manufacturers and quick-service restaurants.

One of the major ways brands are making that connection: Live social.

Live social builds a powerful connection between fans and the game. As content about the in-progress game is shared on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, professional sports teams and brands are solidly in on the action. In stadiums, fans can see their own content projected on giant screens (flanked by advertisements, of course.) Teams produce high-quality, unique content of their own to share during the game.

Those shares and live posts extend far outside the stadium walls, making a virtual stadium -- trash-talking, advertising and all -- of any place fans may be. A 2017 survey found that 98 percent of sports marketers say social media is the No. 1 way they can leverage ad spend.

Fan engagement is enhanced by the players themselves, who build up their own personal brands with a social following. Fans 50 years ago could see their favorite pitcher on the mound either live or on television: Today they can follow his Instagram account, they can see him at home with his kids or goofing around at Starbucks.

Platforms are leveraging the popularity of live social into major deals. Facebook Watch gained exclusive rights to distribute 25 MLB games this year. And YouTube TV made a season-long sponsorship deal with the MLB, including the 2018 and 2019 World Series.

Live social builds a community, a conversation and a powerful interactive experience. It gives players and teams a way to engage in storytelling with their fans, and it extends the reach of the game -- and its sponsoring brands -- to wherever fans want to be.

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