Social media and the rise of fantasy sports
You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to know how much sports fans love to share updates about their teams on social media. Fantasy sports have played a huge role in shaping fans’ communities and conversations on social platforms.
What are fantasy sports?
Fantasy sports are a game where participants build imaginary teams. The teams are made up of real-life players. You compete based on the statistical performance of the players you’ve selected. So, if you pick Cam Newton, and he scores a touchdown, your fantasy team earns points.
Despite popular belief, fantasy sports actually got their start in the 1960s. With pencil and paper, a few folks from the Oakland Raiders outlined the beginnings of what turned into modern fantasy football rules.
Fast forward to the 1980s, a group of journalists developed the Rotisserie system for fantasy baseball. Fantasy sports have been popular in the media since baseball’s big strike in the 80s. In 1981, when Major League Baseball went on strike. Solution? Write about fantasy baseball.
Today, football makes up 37% of fantasy teams, that’s more than 2X the percentage of any other sport. This isn’t a surprise. Americans are obsessed with the sport—over 20 million people tune in each week for televised games during the season.
Let’s take a look at how social media helped make fantasy sports into the craze that they are.
How mainstream media and social media created fantasy hype
Fantasy sports were growing in popularity before social media was a thing. When the Rotisserie system (still the most popular scoring system today), was invented by a group of journalists & covered during a big baseball strike, fantasy sports got major media attention. Fantasy exploded and mainstream media was conditioned to cover fantasy sports starting in the 80s. By the time the Internet came around in the 90s, people started moving from pen and paper to online games. This led to an even more massive increase in fantasy sports popularity. From 500k people in 1988 to a whopping 15.2 million in 2003. Why? Because people could place bets online.
What about TV viewership?
To nobody’s surprise—65% of fantasy sports participants watch more televised sports because they’re participating in fantasy leagues. 61% read more about those sports (online, on social media, blogs, on ESPN, etc.).
And what did social media and fantasy sports?
So in early 2003, we’ve got over 15 million people playing fantasy sports online. The following year, Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook. In 2006, Twitter is born.
Now, sports fans have multiple platforms where they can share with other sports fans and fantasy players. They can update each other. Talk strategy. Poke fun. Whatever suits their fancy. The point is — they can share. Social media makes fantasy sports a global, connected community.
Fantasy draft companies
So, a couple of business savvy folks jump on this opportunity. A few companies start popping up where online players can join, and play a variety of games, with people all over the world. These online platforms allow users to place bets, with actual dollars (or whatever currency).
Check out all of the different games you can play on one popular platform, FanDuel. These are all variations on the payout—not necessarily changes to the typical Rotisserie scoring system.
With the surge in social media engagement came a surge in fantasy sports. By 2016, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) estimated that 57.4 million people were playing in fantasy leagues. To put that in perspective: it’s nearly 20% of the US population.
How Top Fantasy Draft Companies Use Social Media
Fantasy draft sites emerged with the rise in fantasy sports popularity—particularly, the popularity of fantasy on social media.
Let’s take a look at how a few of the top-rated fan sites are using social media to engage with fans and prospects.
DraftKings is a fantasy sports site that hosts daily games for all major sports—including golf and martial arts. It was founded by three VistaPrint executives (Jason Robins, Matthew Kalish, and Paul Liberman) in 2012. Let’s look at some of Draftkings best social media strategies.
1. They hold contests and use sponsors
We’ve written before about how holding contests is a great way to generate engagement and build a follower base on all of the major social media networks.
Check out the example below. Draftkings is holding a contest, with Papa John’s as a sponsor.
Why is this an amazing social media strategy?
- They’re working with affiliates like DK live (news site with 24k followers on Twitter). This expands the reach of this post by 24k people.
- They’ve tagged their sponsor. Papa John’s has nearly 600k followers.
2. They give their followers valuable advice
The best content is helpful content. Sports fans love analyzing players and games, this helps them choose better fantasy players. In the post below, DraftKings is sharing updates on lots of players, “position-by-position.” They know an intricate analysis will resonate well with their audience.
Why is this a great social media strategy?
- Again, they’re tagging other profiles of affiliates (people that helped them create this video). These profiles have a large number of followers. Patrick Mayo (@thePME) has over 40k followers.
- The photo. They’re using a popular player (Kansas City quarterback, Patrick Mahomes) to capture a viewers attention. Check out some of our content on perfecting your social media image game.
FanDuel is ranked #1 by RotoGrinders. It’s a fan-fave, and they’ve got over a million likes on Facebook, 200k+ followers on Twitter, and 38k followers on Instagram.
Let’s take a look at what FanDuel is doing right on social media.
1. Polls and questions
One of the best ways to increase social media engagement is to ask a question. It might seem super basic, but asking a question, particularly one that’s relevant to your audience, spurs excitement.
Check out this question FanDuel asked their Facebook audience.
What about this post works so well?
- They’re asking questions about a popular topic. These players and the team (Kansas City Chiefs again) garner a lot of attention.
- Again, they’ve created a unique image — featuring both players, running right at the viewer.
- They’ve branded the image with their logo at the bottom right. Which is a great strategy, considering this post got 20 shares on Facebook alone.
- They’ve used hashtags. We’ve written a lot on how powerful the right hashtags can be for your brand. Check out Ritetag to find popular hashtags in your niche.
2. Embracing other current trends in social media
Football isn’t the only trending topic on social media during the fall season. There are tons of other topics that are relevant to the sports-enthusiast audience.
One such topic—cryptocurrency. If you haven’t heard about how popular crypto is on social media, check out our post on the topic.
3. They get nostalgic
Everybody loves an oldie but goodie. And no one is more fond of the past than a sports fanatic obsessed with their favorite childhood quarterback. Check out this post featuring all-time faves Dan Marino and Drew Brees.
What makes this post awesome?
- First, it’s a throwback. Football fans love both of these guys.
- Second, it’s an excellent image. Each QB is positioned in action, against a branded team backdrop.
- Third, the copy is asking a question. This is a throwback and at the same time a poll. FanDuel #FTW.
How your business can win with fantasy sports on social media
We’ve seen a few posts from two top-rated fantasy sites. But, fantasy sites aren’t the only business that can benefit from sharing fantasy/sports updates on social media.
Other businesses that can benefit from these fantasy sports on social media strategies include:
- Sports bars
- Sporting goods companies
- Subscription shaving companies
- Gyms, fitness boot camps, etc.
- Ecommerce stores catering to the sports industry
- Any business that markets primarily to men
Which brings us to our first recommendation for succeeding with fantasy sports posts on social media:
Know your audience
Do you run a mixed martial arts studio? Do you have an ecommerce store that sells sports t-shirts and hoodies? You have to understand for WHOM you’re posting to maximize engagement.
Check out this post from Buffalo Wild Wings, celebrating the successes of some fantasy players. Not only do they know their audience loves fantasy football, but they know that they’re increasing engagement when they celebrate the success of fantasy players (plus, followers become more engaged knowing they might win something like this).
One of the best ways to get to know your audience is to use an analytics tool that can aggregate data from all your platforms. Sprout Social does this, and it’ll help you spot which platforms work best with your audience. You can also get even more granular with features like tagging and listening to help you determine which sports, types of posts, etc. are most successful.
In addition to knowing your audience well, you’re going to need to give them great content on the regular. Consistency will build your follower base and increase engagement across all your primary social networks.
To assist you with consistency (and to save you a ton of time) you can plug your social profiles into Sprout and schedule posts to go out when you want them to. Here are some tips for social automation:
- Reshare your top posts. Not back-to-back, but share a popular video or blog from this week again the next week.
- Use analytics to pinpoint the best times of day/days of the week to share your stuff. For example, you might find that your users are more engaged during games, so you could make sure your game time posts are your best.
- Both FanDuel and DraftKings are posting on all the major social platforms. Use social media management tools to help you post across ALL your social channels.
You can’t leave your engaged users out to dry. If they respond to your posts, ask questions, etc.—you should respond. You don’t need to like every comment and reply to everyone, but it’s nice to show your appreciation and be, well, human. Get involved in your own conversations!
In this post, Dick’s Sporting Goods is directly engaging their audience by asking them to pick fantasy players according to jerseys (that they just so happen to sell). Directly asking a question is one of the best ways to engage with followers and encourage them to engage back.
Pending changes to fantasy sports
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) together with the Federal Wire Act (which existed before UIGEA) made online betting illegal. But, a clause was put in that allowed for betting on “games of skill” — a loophole for fantasy sports.
In 2009, FanDuel and DraftKings used that loophole to create online platforms with cash prizes. In 2015, the two companies were so popular that they attracted the attention of regulators — so they ended up having to spend millions, going state-by-state, to stay legal. FanDuel is legal in 40 states, DraftKings has 41.
There’s a chance the issue of legalized sports gambling will go to the Supreme Court. This means that fantasy betting sites would have to compete with horse-race gambling, casinos, etc. But, when polled, most fantasy players said that they’d still spend their money betting on fantasy sports and wouldn’t want to spend the money elsewhere.
All-in-all, the huge interest in fantasy sports isn’t going to dwindle. Even if regulators crack down on online gambling, it’ll only mean more opportunity for fantasy enthusiasts to bet their money.
You don’t have to be a fantasy sports site to benefit from the popularity of fantasy sports on social media. Remember:
- Know your audience and share things that are relevant to them.
- Don’t do all the work yourself. Save your energy and time by scheduling a lot of your content.
- Use similar strategies to the examples we’ve highlighted to drive engagement on your social media networks.
What are some of the sports strategies that have worked for your business on social media?
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