Communication in sport in the age of individualism

Do we turn on the television because of an athlete or a club? Where do we look for up-to-date information on current topics? Sport and communication are inseparable concepts gaining new meaning in the age of social networks. They represent an ideal partner for each other to pursue their interests, and at the same time the ‘personality’ of sport and the ‘personality’ of social networks coincide in a common denominator addressing the public, connecting society, arousing emotions. In the age of individualism, clubs and national teams are facing a great challenge.

 Sport has the power to create an extraordinary degree of belonging. It arouses emotions in us that we may not have known existed. We share our tears of happiness or tears of sadness with athletes. Let us remember our recent Slovenian performances at the Olympic Games. Lets remember how close we were to the basketball finals. How happy we were for Primož Roglič’s gold medal on the chronometer, how we were holding our breath when Janja Garnbret climbed. We can connect with athletes in an amazing way, feeling their suffering or joy. Recently, in a conversation with one of the Slovenian sports journalists, the question arose as to why Slovenians prefer Roglič to Pogačar? Leaving aside for a moment the fact this it is only a feeling and opinion, which is not based on empirical evidence or research, my answer is that because we saw Roglič suffer, while we do not have such experiences with Pogačar, despite his exception abilities.

The emotional component we are talking about is often the result of a set of communication activities, taking advantage of moments that happen in sport, even in the case of defeats, through which we get to know the athlete, their story and, often unconsciously, connect with them or the team. So, lets consider how and why this result occurs.

To begin with, lets ask ourselves, why do we communicate at all? Why do we want to publish in a newspaper, or on television? Why do we publish something on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Because we want more people to hear/read about it and later change their thinking or behaviour that coincides with our goal. The aim of communication is greater reach and engagement. And who offers all this the moment you click the application? Social networks.

And how are social networks involved in sport? 

Let’s think. Where do we find most of the key information in the world of sport? On Twitter. Who publishes this information? Most often, journalists who share the news on their Twitter profile before publishing an article in the medium they are reporting on. News of the transfer, the result, the success, as well as the scandal are revealed on social media, and they are available to us as soon as we open Instagram or Twitter. The days of waiting for team announcements, press conferences and the like are over. Of course, this does not mean that press releases and press conferences are over only that their role is different. They serve more to confirm and explain something that we have basically been able to read on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. They have become a formality intended more for two-way communication with journalists than for one-way presentation of information, as in most cases journalists already have this information.

Social networks have, thus, become a key source of information and as such also drive the media world, forcing traditional media into adaptations and at the same time offering everyone the opportunity to become a medium themselves. And at this point, we include athletes in the debate.

The driving force of sport is the individual, and the driving force of the individual is social networks.

What is the main reason we turn on the television to watch a sport event? Are we watching a basketball game because of Luka Dončić or the Dallas Mavericks? Are we watching the Tour de France because of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar or because of Jumbo Visma or the UAE team? Some perhaps because they watch the Tour de France every year. Perhaps. But I dare say they are a minority. Crowds in front of small screens are attracted by individuals. Their life, journey and success, which in the end also means success for the team. And when we ask ourselves why this is so, the answer is straightforward because today we can know more about the individual than ever before. Because with the help of social networks, everyone lets us into their private world. Everyone’s dream of accompanying someone they have a special interest in also in their private life is fulfilled.

Social networks are a communication channel that is open 24/7. On social networks, the reputation of a brand is built and destroyed be it an individual or an organisation. They are an extremely important factor in creating public opinion. With the help of social networks, entertainers are significantly gaining in power, offering their uncensored voice and attracting a wider audience. For entertainers, social networks are a goldmine, but they can also be a big trap and a guillotine at the same time. Or, in fact, a guillotine with the help of social networks can be a goldmine and that infamous saying ‘every advertisement is a good advertisement’ applies?

The potential for achieving the heights of an individuals reputation and popularity has never been so strong and, at the same time, there has never been such a strong, accessible and massive possibility for criticism and control. The new reality, however, more than ever highlights the importance of an appropriate and professional approach to communication in sport. All of this puts clubs or other sport organisations represented by superstars in an unenviable position. Clubs or organisations can quickly get lost in the flood of information and waste their opportunities. In a previous blog about the ‘superstar’ effect, we talked about how much power individuals have compared to the teams they play for, and how, for example, PSG and Manchester United reacted to the recent football transfers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

What can clubs and national teams do? 

The same as the sponsors of these individuals do. The biggest mistake is to get into competition with individuals or, worse, to limit individuals, because federations and clubs can almost never leave as winners, so to speak. Instead of competing, they should strive to cooperate. They must take every opportunity to improve their communication with individuals to use them in a variety of activities, to take followers behind the scenes. They can create interesting audio-visual and graphic elements that build the reputation of the organisation and the individual. Social networks are their own communication channel where only the sky is the limit. Ultimately, they are a channel where clubs can also get closer to athletes. They publicly defend them and show their affection and gratitude. The effects can be reciprocal. Communication between clubs and organisations must catch up with the quality shown by athletes on a day-to-day basis. Even if the athlete himself appears in an ad, this is an advantage for the team in which they perform it increases the visibility of the individual and, thus, the possibility that someone will want to follow them even when defending their team’s colours.

But this requires a departure from institutional thinking and a shift to creativity, free-thinking and playfulness. It is necessary to identify the added value of communication that goes beyond the official announcement of the event and the publication of the result. This requires a team a creative, a social network manager, a designer, and a cameraman. Content can be created quickly that may be of marketing interest to the sponsor in question, and produce exceptional communication stories, increase reputation and generate additional revenue. I believe that there are opportunities for this in Slovenia as well despite being weaker in terms of capital compared to other countries.

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