Something strange happened last week at the high court of American sports coverage, ESPN’s Sportscenter. King James (NBA superstar LeBron James, that is) had just announced to take his talents away from South Beach but the top story of the hour was a Uruguayan soccer player biting an Italian into the shoulder.
Ok, that is a pretty delicious story but it points to a larger trend: there is a World Cup on and (North) Americans are watching in record numbers. They are also talking about it online – and so is the entire world. Already, with the final knock-out games still to be played, the 2014 World Cup is the biggest social media event ever.
So with the futbol frenzy in full swing on the field, in the stands and on the (second) screen, let’s take a look at some of the digital trends of this truly global event and see how they fit into the social media landscape.
Social is the New Normal
Here is an interesting stat from Twitter: There have been more tweets about the 2014 World Cup, before a ball has been kicked, than for the entire tournament in 2010. Are people so much more excited about a World Cup in Brazil than one in South Africa? Maybe. More likely, there are many more active Twitter users in 2014 than in 2010.
With other social networks reporting similar growth in World Cup chatter, it’s safe to assume that social media use is no longer the domain of soccer-crazed early adopters and teenagers, it has become normal consumer behavior. This is not a new development but a mega-event like the World Cup sets a milestone: for marketers, publishers and consumers social media is no longer an afterthought but a key aspect of their work/life.
Look at Me, I’m a #Hashtag!
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that everybody has a smartphone or tablet nowadays and everybody is spending ever more time with it. If you are a bit into social media or have a teenager at home, you also know that the way we watch TV and particularly sports has changed. While the game is on, people use their “second screen” to get more information or check social media.
Just four years ago, during the 2010 World Cup, Google query volume dipped during games as fans were focused on the big screen. Most search activity happened at the end of games on desktop. This has changed completely. Most searches now happen during the game and the way large parts of the audience watch a game has fundamentally changed.
Obviously, broadcasters and marketers have spotted this trend a long time ago but at this World Cup the desire to engage with fans online seems to have reached a new level. The weapon of choice is the hashtag. It is everywhere: on the advertising banners around the fields, in commercials, on microphones, in graphics. Brands know that we are all on our phones and try to lure us into their content universe.
Content + World Cup = Eyeballs
Ok, content universe sounds a bit esoteric. But it points to a larger trend. Marketing spends for the 2014 event are being reported as hitting an estimated $1.3 billion, with an increased share going to digital. All that money not only buys you some amazing pieces of World Cup-related content but also – if done right – creates an integrated experience that engages consumers across platforms but in your brand’s universe.
Sports equipment giants like Adidas or Nike are at the forefront of these elaborate exercises in content marketing, pushing out star-studded videos like there is no tomorrow. But the broad appeal of the World Cup combined with its popularity among younger audiences is a gift for businesses, newspapers, bloggers and content creators large and small.
The growing cohort of data journalists have a field day with more or less accurate predictions. Newly formed visualization departments in newspapers can turn World Cup stats into “immersive experiences.” Restaurants can let followers vote on country-themed menus. And if you are a skilled designer, why not combine the two most popular things in the world: Game of Thrones and the World Cup.
At this World Cup, an amazing amount of content is produced with digital first in mind, often with very high quality.
The Selfie Made Man
Finally, in the midst of all the social media hype, are the protagonists of the tournament: the players. The objects of millions of articles, posts and tweets, they are increasingly taking matters in their own hand. Almost all players have Twitter accounts (bar some Iranians) many have mastered the art of the selfie – sometimes taken to a rather bizarre level.
Journalists and newspapers are still the main opinion-makers when it comes to team selection or the question of who played well and who didn’t. But on social media players and coaches have found a way to talk past traditional media filters and connect in a new way to fans. Mexican coach Miguel Herrera has become a fan favorite not only because of his GIF-worthy touchline antics but also because of his active use of social media.