Top Digital and Social Media Trends In Sports for 2022

Sports industry trends for 2022 directly from sports industry experts. Trends revolve around the growing importance of digital and social media - from athletes as brands to new fan engagement methods, a dynamic year awaits!

2022 over collage of sports images to indicate social media trends in sports 2022

In the last year, digital and social media content has proven to be more critical to the sports industry and content consumption equation than ever before. 2022 will be no exception to the social media trends we’re seeing in the industry of sport. 2022 is the year we’ll see sports referred to more and more as ‘sportainment’. 

Gen Z sports fans are making their voices and interests heard loud and clear on digital platforms. Right behind them are even younger fans who may never even live in households with a TV. For all of these digital-first followers, the trending demand for short-form videos and photos will be the future of sports: lighter, more mobile, but just as action-packed and exciting to them.

At the same time, athletes around the globe are coming into their own as true marketing influencers with their personal brands jumping to directly engaging with fans. Their deep connections with their followers on social media drives engagement, revenue and overall value for their sports teams and leagues across business areas. This is happening as they’re building their own lucrative personal brands in tandem. The authentic digital media they share and create is gold to any sports brand, and it benefits the athlete as the creator and their team – all parties benefit: athletes, fans, and organizations.

Because of this, sports organizations realize that the digital media they shoot and share with athletes to engage fans is incredibly valuable to their broadcast and sponsor partners, too. And they don’t even need to produce all of this content themselves — they’ve found that fans are quite willing to create their own original content to partake in the action! Brands recognize that digital advances such as Web 3.0, NFT collectibles, and the Metaverse and immersive experiences will become the next level of attraction, as the opportunity to deepen fan interaction grows every day. And all of these new touchpoints provide more granular data — leading to innovative ways to grow and maximize their per-fan revenue.

As 2021 comes to a close, we heard from innovators across the sports landscape about what trends and shifts are top of mind for them in digital and social media and how they think these trends will alter the face of sports in 2022. 

Sports properties looking to attract younger fans and find new revenue opportunities have many choices to put the latest and differentiating strategies in place while transforming their organizations from TV-first to thinking and acting digital-first. Fan engagement continues to decentralize from a single place to many digital places.

Many thanks to these experts! Reach out to us on Twitter @greenfly with your own predictions for how the dynamic world of sports will evolve in the coming year. 

Digital Trend #1: Regular Athletes Become Brands

Alec Palmer, Manager, Social Media, Los Angeles Kings

“As we continue to navigate this digital & creative explosion, athletes are taking their spot firmly at the forefront. We’ve seen historical changes in collegiate athletics, a massive cultural shift in professional sports, and a complete embrace of digital mediums as the best way to connect directly with fans. Over the next few years, we’re going to see new generations of athletes rise through the ranks who have been raised with a solid affinity for digital. This, combined with the positive shift of society’s opinions on athletes as “brands,” will help transfer the power to the athletes for the foreseeable future. 

Fans crave an authentic connection directly to their favorite players through content, social, and other digital mediums. They want to know the story behind the numbers – who the athlete is beyond just their sport. Teams and organizations at all levels should be preparing to become their own mini “agencies” to help support and tell the stories of their athletes. It’s a time of transition in sports, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting times to get involved. I can’t wait to see how this industry changes over the next few years!”

JB Greer, Director, Player Marketing (Baseball), Octagon

“This has become somewhat of an evergreen statement, but it’s more important now than ever for athletes to be creating and posting their own content. As a consumer, there are more content options available at our fingertips right now than ever before, and there are thousands of athletes and influencers competing for the same marketing deals and dollars. There are two main ways for athletes to compete for this marketing attention: 1) Be the best player on the field OR 2) Post the most engaging and consistent content. The athletes that command the most marketing dollars will check both boxes, but creating content is becoming just as important as on-field performance when competing in the marketing arena.”

Margaux Gill, Founder, Margaux Brie Marketing

“There’s going to be a shift in athlete marketing. Athletes will begin to see more value in community and intentionally transform their audience into one. Inspired by successful “creators” in other industries, athletes will actively engage at a level we don’t currently see, and they will find unique (and lucrative!) ways to monetize.”

Arielle Moyal – Veteran Sports Marketing Professional in the NBA, MLB and NCAA

“With the evolution of digital media, everyone gets a fairer shot to stand out. However, the future of this space is going to be more about control. That, in my opinion, is the digital media trend that will change significantly in the coming years. Athletes are going to keep breaking away from traditional forms of expression and revenue, while simultaneously keeping ownership of the way those stories are told and those businesses are created, versus leaning on others to create for them. 

You can see some of this individualization and diversification, while maintaining narrative control, happening now; 1) seen in intimate player content like UNINTERRUPTED or Player’s Tribune, 2) examples like Azzi Fudd signing an NIL endorsement deal with Steph Curry’s SC30 Inc, 3) there’s Jimmy Butler’s Bigface coffee brand in a partnership with e-commerce company Shopify, 4) USWNT players Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe, Meghan Klingenberg, and Tobin Heath announcing gender-neutral online clothing brand re—inc, and many more examples.”

Jonah Ballow, Founder, Head of Content Strategy + Production, HEARTLENT Group 

“We are witnessing a seismic shift in college athletics. NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) is opening the door for college athletes to strike sponsor/influencer deals with brands without sacrificing eligibility. While the universities are connected to the contracts, the athletes are now presented with expanded opportunities to generate revenue that will go directly into their pockets. As we embark on this new frontier, marketers need to ensure these deals are not strictly transactional. College athletes can build meaningful relationships with brands that could result in financial support to foundations, helping their teammates, and setting themselves up for future success at the next level. We’ll begin to see the arms race between the major football and basketball universities. However, as a digital creator, I’m excited to fuel college athletes with engaging content for their owned platforms.

Additionally, the universities will need to invest heavily in their creative departments and begin to build out a studio presence to allow their athletes a place to generate content (podcasts, vlogs, social media).”

Dr. Caleb Mezzy, Assistant Professor – Sport Management and Business, Neumann University

“In 2022 and beyond, we will continue to see athletes focusing on their identity outside of the sport and how that is displayed digitally to set themselves up for success after their playing career ends. Given the ability to build a brand online, we are seeing athletes leverage their personal brand by launching companies, monetizing their name, trademarking phrases, selling merchandise, and immersing themselves in new industries. The blend of digital and data is enabling opportunities for players to collect email addresses, cell phone numbers, and sell NFTs, shirts, and wine. All of this amplifies the stories being told and brings audiences together around the digital landscape.”

Digital Trend #2: Fans and Sports Properties Seek Deeper Experiences

Devin Dismang, Director of Athlete Partnerships, STN Digital

“I think there will be a significant uptick in user-generated content as well as social media teams actually engaging with their audience. TikTok has really showcased the importance of a social media team having a personality/voice to interact with their audience (and even discover new audience members) has blown open social strategy across the board. Look at examples like the Detroit Lions on that platform. Even though their team performance on field is lackluster, they get highly showcased as ‘what to do’ on the platform. And with platforms pushing for fans to create more outside of a photo from their phones, this allows teams and fans to interact with one another even more.”

Karim Fathi, Vice President, Digital (Americas), SPORTFIVE

“Blockchain technology continues to drive the exponential growth of web3. In the Web 2.0 era, tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon have traditionally cooperated with creators (i.e., athletes, celebrities, influencers, etc.). As web3 enters mainstream adoption (from creating to owning), various sectors in the sports industry will also reach new heights of disruption. From ticketing, merchandise, collectibles, and memorabilia, NFTs were just the tip of the iceberg. I expect 2022 to bring a wave of DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) where investors can purchase stakes in sports teams, leagues, and even eventually athletes (see WAGMI United), to team specific crypto tokens (see Socios), to even solidifying/further incentivizing the fan engagement journey.”

Keith Stoeckeler, Founder, Head of Strategy + Operations, HEARTLENT Group 

“Over the last few years, I have been thinking about how to merge the digital and the physical to create interesting and useful experiences, like something you can scan at a ballpark or arena (or it scans you). It could be a poster that has unlockables embedded that are revealed once you scan your phone over it. The unlockable could be a video, a coupon or offer, or something unique like a seat upgrade which goes away once it’s been accepted and used. The unique factor now comes from NFTs and having ownership of something that unlocks opportunities and access. A ticket stub is one thing, but I get more excited about the idea of possessing a digital memory of a game in the form of an NFT that allows you access because you’re a verified owner.

The teams and athletes that embrace these kinds of ideas and experiences will win in 2022 and beyond.”

Digital Trend #3: Brand Sponsors Enter New Realms

Katie Lavin, VP Marketing, Events, and Communications, National Lacrosse League

“Sponsorship will be led by non-endemic and luxury brands. We see this trend with brands like crypto.com as well as Gucci and Vans. Digital sponsorship deals will be built on data, delivering custom content, and CSR efforts.

Social media advertising revenue will be instrumental in the success of new and emerging platforms. However, there is going to be extra scrutiny and skepticism about the safeguards and efficacy of paid media (ads, etc.).”

Amir Zonozi, President and Cofounder, Zoomph

“In 2022, the majority of brands will spend more of their advertising budgets on social over television. 2021 was a big year for rights holders to embrace themselves as media companies — their investments into their social assets will deliver the biggest ROI.”

Mike Metzler, Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Conviva

“eCommerce and social media have been slowly mixing the past few years, and I believe that we are going to finally see a big shift in 2022 in time and money spent by brands activating this with influencers and creators, especially in regards to Live Interactive Shopping experiences on social platforms.”

Sports Trend #4: Demand for Digital Media Rights Outpaces TV Broadcast Rights

Daniel Kirschner, CEO, Greenfly

“One of the biggest changes for sports teams and leagues is the realization that digital content will be just as or more important than the TV broadcast. Younger fans don’t watch full games and don’t watch TV. So creating content that is designed for social media (and not just TV clips) is creating the need to build out a new function whose mission is to capture short-form content before, during and after sports events to build a digital media inventory.”

Game-changing ideas are happening across the industry, and we’re excited that Greenfly is helping to lead the way. Ready to drive more revenue in 2022? Download our free ebook on leveraging digital media to provide more value to broadcasters and sponsors.

Or, reach out to us on Twitter @greenfly with your own predictions!

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