At the end of last year, Manchester City became the first Premier League Club to hit 1m YouTube subscribers. In the same year, the club launched its new digital platform Cityzens, and Manchester United unveiled its in-house MUTV app.

These are just a couple of examples of a shift taking place within sport, whereby sports clubs are recognizing the increasing importance of social and mobile channels to reach their audiences.

But how serious could this digital disruption be and how should the industry respond?

The Shift from TV to Devices

In a splintered media landscape, live sport has generally done well at retaining its appointment-viewing status. Digital consumers still see great appeal in watching sports live on a big TV screen, watching twice as much sport on TV as they do online.

But ESPN, BT and Sky’s declining broadcast audiences suggest things are changing. Just as digital consumers have become accustomed to consuming TV content whenever and wherever they please, a similar transition is coming into motion for sports.

More and more people are turning to their laptops, mobiles and tablets to engage with sports content, catching highlights on-the-go via social media and augmenting their viewing through on-demand channels.

Our research shows that as many as 1 in 2 internet users are now watching sports coverage online – something Amazon will be hoping to capitalize on with its expected bid for Premier League streaming rights this year.

The Increasing Importance of Social Media

Arguably, it’s social that could pose the greatest challenge, as well as the greatest opportunity, for sports broadcasters and rights holders.

Back in 2016, Twitter announced it would stream the season’s National Football League games, and that was just the start. We’ve since seen a wealth of matches and tournaments streamed across social, with Twitter itself announcing that it has delivered over 800 hours of live streaming content across more than 450 events.

Sports fandom has already progressed towards digital and social – and this is sure to continue.

Globally, our research shows that almost a fifth of internet users are now following sports events via social, while 14% of those on Twitter say they have recently tweeted about a sports events.

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook already own the fan commentary around sports, and it’s easy to see how users could be interested in watching more sports content on these platforms, especially with the spread of video across social and mobile connections continuously improving.

Looking to the Future of Social Sports

For the foreseeable future, social media’s role will be to complement, rather than replace, traditional broadcasters.

There’s no denying the reach and importance of televised sport but there are clear signs that an online revolution is happening, and rights holders will have to become less reliant on millions paying to watch live on their TV sets.

Audiences now span a multitude of devices and platforms. It’s in the industry’s own interests to establish the best ways to fully engage their audiences, whether that’s via a YouTube channel or its own app.

Broadcasters alone can no longer satisfy the appetite for the modern sports fan.


Written by

Katie is a Strategic Insights Manager at GWI. Moving to the company 4 years ago, Katie heads up the Strategic Insights team, overseeing the production of bespoke assets for clients. Katie also writes on GWI's blog, with a particular interest in social media and marketing.

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