For many, the next 17 or so weeks will find them spending their Sundays gathered around the television with friends and family, costumed in shining jerseys, cheering on their favorite team. Yes, football season is here.
Since 2007, the NFL has seen a major increase in the mix of this traditional American ritual with a new spark in engagement through social media. Whether it’s a push by the NFL execs and players to engage audiences or a pull by spectators and media outlets to get in on a piece of an already giant franchise, is the question.
According to data by IMRE sports, football currently ranks as the most watched sport on mobile devices. Of spectators who watch sports on their mobile devices, 65 percent use it to follow football. The same report shows that 55 percent of Americans follow professional football. Fans using their mobile devices will be even closer to the game this year as Sunday Night Football will now have their sideline reporter Michele Tafoya filing videos and uploading them directly to Twitter during the game.
Twitter itself is throwing its hat into the professional football ring. Hours before kickoff of the season opener, Omid Ashtari, head of Sports & Entertainment for Twitter, announced in a blog post the launch of Twitter’s new NFL-centric micro-site. The site is meant to make following and engaging with teams, coaches and other fans easy and accessible.
…And that’s just the push during the on-season. IMRE has reported that from Feb. 7 to July 23 (football’s off-season), there were 6,938,754 mentions of football in news, blogs, forums and on Twitter. Another major engager is Fantasy Football. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, there were around 14 million Fantasy Football players in the world in 2011.
In his article in PR Daily, Jackson Wightman explores the reasoning for the NFL’s popularity citing the ritualistic nature of weekly games, the shortness of the season and the set up that allows anyone to win on “any given Sunday.”
Have these reasons now attached themselves to the digital popularity of the sport? Or is it a strong social media and PR push from those in charge that has led to this rise? Is the NFL pushing hard to increase their use of social media? Or have they created the luxury of having a product so solid and in demand that the social media influence has been built up for them already? Why is it that football is getting more social and mobile media attention than other national American sports?