The recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games were truly games unlike any other. The global pandemic forced a 12-month delay, strict biosecurity measures for athletes, and – perhaps most significantly – meant there were no live crowds.
The sight of empty stadiums has become increasingly common over the past 18 months, with fans being left to cheer on from the comfort and safety of their homes.
This has seen sports fans increasingly turn to Twitter as a way to continue the conversation. Crowd DNA data shows 47 per cent of sports fans believe Twitter has provided them with a sense of collective viewing and a virtual crowd.
“Without crowds or with limited numbers allowed in stadiums, sports fans built virtual communities on Twitter,” said Twitter Australia’s head of sports partnerships Olly Wilton [featured image].
“They were able to engage with each other around live sporting events – collectively viewing results and reacting to key moments through hashtags, and Twitter event pages. As a platform that is built for conversations, fans are able to connect globally through their shared love of sport and to engage with the most relevant content.”
The Tokyo 2020 Games garnered a whopping 82.3 billion impressions globally on Twitter, with 416.2 million of these coming out of Australia.
“We’ve seen conversations and second-screen engagement increase on the platform reinforcing the genuine power of Twitter when combined with TV. Twitter doesn’t compete – it complements TV viewing,” Wilton added.
Bringing fans closer to the action
Any sports fan would know there is nothing quite like being in a stadium filled with fans, sitting within earshot of the athletes.
Even though this hasn’t always been possible during the pandemic, Twitter has provided viewers with this same excitement that being immersed in the action brings.
“Whether it was the Tweets from NBA fans being displayed on the big screens at last year’s Florida hub or F1 fans witnessing new driver lineups live on the platform, we’ve seen that the excitement of live sport can truly be replicated virtually,” said Wilton.
It is also important to applaud the role of athletes in fostering these connections; from Australian wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott sharing everything from boarding planes to cleaning up the wet courts with his followers, to Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles bypassing the ‘traditional’ press conference to address their fans directly on Twitter.
There is a high level of engagement from fans in response to this type of content – who could forget the post-match interview from The Black Ferns Rugby 7s player Ruby Tui, which blew up on Twitter and received an incredible 4.5 million views.
What an interview!
Love this from NZ 7s @rubytui 🏉
— Jo Currie (@JoCurrie) July 30, 2021
The activity of athletes on Twitter has meant fans now seriously value any direct interactions they can have with their heroes. Crowd DNA found that 53 per cent of fans would rather get a follow back from their favourite athlete than their autograph, while one in three fans believe Twitter enables them to have an ‘emotional connection’ with their favourite stars.
Footy finals time
Australian sports fans would all know that the month of September represents a very important time of year – footy finals time.
With the AFL Grand Final between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs a little over a week away and just six teams remaining in the race for the NRL premiership, excitement on Twitter is at fever pitch.
“We’re already seeing these teams spark attention on Twitter. The conversation around NRL since the start of August has seen Melbourne Storm’s Twitter handle as the most mentioned handle in the league – but the Rabbitohs #GoRabbitohs has been the most used team Hashtag. For the AFL, grand finalists the Western Bulldogs have dominated the conversation, taking the spot of most mentioned Twitter handle and Hashtag,” Wilton added.
The AFL has tapped into this, taking to Twitter Spaces with the latest breaking news ahead of the games and allowing fans to give their best tips and stories of the night.
Twitter has indicated that users can expect plenty more of these sorts of initiatives from both the AFL and NRL, who will look to engage with fans on Twitter through products such as Polls, Video, Live moments and custom emojis.
And with plenty of major sporting events still to come in the coming months, these unique opportunities for brands will remain.
According to Wilton, brands that are in touch with their audience use Twitter as a way to communicate with them at a time when they are most engaged. Using Branded Notifications, @7Olympics and @Toyota ensured fans didn’t miss a moment of Jess Fox’s races, from the heats to her gold medal win, fans received personal reminders when Jess was set to compete.
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