Social Media and Sport

Social Media and Sport
Social Media and Sport

Thinkstock, 141245827 

Prepared by: Chris Hume, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Australian Sports Commission
Evaluation by: Danielle Warby, Social Media and Content Production Expert (June 2017)
Reviewed by: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Australian Sports Commission (June 2017)

Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for more information concerning this content.



Social media platforms provide highly accessible communication channels for sports administrators, fans, athletes, coaches, and educators. Through harnessing peoples’ desire to belong and linking communities and networks of interest across the world they have changed the very way in which millions of people engage with sport, and society.

Australia has readily adopted the use of social media with over 12 million Australians using Facebook daily, and 17 million active members registered on the platform (which is approximately 70% of the population). Additionally, there are over 15 million Unique Australian Visitors (UAVs) to YouTube each month, 5 million Instagram, and 3 million Twitter users, as well as a host of other social media platforms being used [source: David Cowling, Social Media Statistics Australia: May 2017. Social Media News, (June 2017)].

Given this kind of take up social media is an increasingly important tool for sports organisations and athletes. It provides the opportunity to make and broadcast news, promote brands, manage media messages, and engage directly with fans and participants in a two-way communication cycle.

However, due to the potential impact on sponsorship, marketing, and funding opportunities it is also important to understand what factors can negatively impact on social media, including inappropriate posts or messages, and how to mitigate future risks. 

Key Messages

  1. The use of social media platforms is rapidly increasing within the sport environment.
  2. Sport and its participants need to understand both the benefits and potential negatives of social media usage.
  3. Sporting organisations should develop strategies and policies specifically to manage the use of social media platforms.


Fans love to talk about sport, and social media provides a 24/7 avenue for doing so with people all over the world connected by shared interests. It can also be an inexpensive marketing and communication tool which enables clubs and organisations an opportunity to engage with current and prospective members and fans; enhance their level of community engagement; increase levels of participation; and over time improve sustainability via new income streams. Websites may be difficult and expensive for smaller clubs to maintain and require members to visit the website in order to be updated. But a Facebook profile can be a low-cost alternative where members can be automatically updated regarding any changes, upcoming events, or merchandising opportunities. 

Almost all major sport teams, competitions, and events have social media accounts and/or #hashtags associated with them. These are displayed and featured prominently in order to drive engagement and create relationships with audiences. Increasingly grass-roots clubs are also employing these techniques to supplement recruiting efforts and promote club activities to their communities.

Social media has already been extremely disruptive for the sports broadcasting and marketing industries by allowing a direct relationship between individuals and organisations. However, the move by both Facebook and Twitter to broadcast live video content has the potential to create a seismic shift in the industry. There are both negatives and positives for different groups out of these changes so it is important for organisations to understand and consider how they can be effectively harnessed. 

Organisations and individuals also need to consider how to manage their social footprints and brands and, in particular, how to mitigate the potential risk of athletes, employees or volunteers causing reputational damage by posting regrettable or inappropriate comments on their profiles. Many of these risks can be mitigated and avoided with an appropriate level of user awareness, effective risk management, guidance, and sound administrative practice.

Latest reading: 

  • SPORTEL chief executive urges companies to work together with social media. Liam Morgan, Inside the Games, (16 March 2017). SPORTEL chief executive Laurent Puons believes there are both positives and negatives to the growing influence of social media on the sports rights market and urged companies to work together with entities such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Shared experience: live sport and the move to social. SportsPro, (17 February 2017). SportsPro looks at the role that social media is playing in telling stories and interacting with fans at live sport.
  • 7 Trends That Will Change Social Media in 2017Digimarcon, (16 January 2017). Before you finalize your social media strategy for the year, it’s important to look at what’s ahead to ensure that you’re allocating your time and efforts appropriately. In this blog post, we’ll dive into what happened in 2016, what we think social media managers should expect in 2017, and how to plan for these changes.

Brand Awareness and Development

Social media, as a fairly recent phenomenon, has given the sport sector great opportunities to expand their reach to new audiences that were previously difficult to engage with. As such the advent of social media platformsincluding Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedInhave allowed sport to develop more sophisticated forms of marketing and advertising, brand sponsorship, and individual interactions on a wide range of platforms.

  • Sports teams are getting more exposure on social media than they are on TV. Carolin Roth and Lucy Handley, CNBC, (22 March 2017). March Madness – the main season for U.S. college basketball – generated $1.24 billion of TV ad dollars in 2016 according to Kantar Media, making it the second most valuable post-season sports tournament in the U.S. And while advertisers in the sports arena always want to go where the eyeballs are, they may want to shift their attention to social media, which has the potential for greater reach than TV, according to one expert.
  • How the NFL, NBA & More Use Social Media to Expand Brands Overseas. Bob Wallace, Tackling Tech, (19 January 2017). Where once expansion meant building stadiums, adding teams and landing broadcast TV contracts, the NFL, NBA, and others have turned to social media to reach fan followings in foreign countries.
  • First-Ever Social Media Ranking of International Sports OrganizationsAround The Rings, (7 December 2016). Burson-Marsteller, a leading global strategic communications and public relations firm, and its specialised sport consultancy, TSE Consulting, have published the first-ever “Social Media and Olympic Sport Ranking,” which gives an overview of how international Olympic organizations are performing on social media.

With greater access to the internet via mobile devices, along with the immediacy of producing and sharing content globally, the use of social media has enabled many sport organisations and individuals to reach new markets and develop broader and larger fan bases.

  • What The Social Media Revolution Means For Sports Fans And Rights Holders. Tom Burrows, Sport in Law, (14 September 2016). This is an extract from the ‘Media Rights’ Chapter of the Sports Law Yearbook 2015/16 - UK, Ireland and EU, an eBook publication by LawInSport & British Association for Sport and Law.
  • IOC Launches #Olympicpeace Digital CampaignIOC media, (24 June 2016). The #OlympicPeace digital campaign communicates the Olympic Movement’s vision of building a better world through sport – by inspiring the spirit of unity, hope and peace for a better tomorrow. 

There are real efficiencies and potential cost savings for smaller organisations/clubs using social media as their online presence. Traditional websites may be difficult to maintain and update and cannot be used to ‘push’ content. It may be better and cheaper to have a Facebook page that can be quickly updated and more easily ‘push’ content to their members/fans on a regular basis. 

Additionally organisations, particularly large ones, are using the digital environment to disrupt traditional ‘media’ services.  

Unfortunately, the reality is that social media content can also be damaging to organisations and individuals. Therefore it is important to exert ‘positive’ control over content and the entities/individuals that are aligned with their sport/brand. To achieve this aim, there has been a concerted effort for organisations to develop policies and guidelines for employees’, athletes and participants with regard to their professional and personal use and obligations toward their social media usage.

  • Social Media In Sport: Top Tips. Rosie Duckworth, National Law Review, (19 January 2017). It seems there is seldom a time when social media is not in the spotlight one way or another and the sporting world is no exception.
  • Developing a Social Media Strategy Guide for Elite Athletes. A. Geurin, Sport & Entertainment Review, 2016, 2, 70-76, 2016 West Virginia University. Social media use is increasingly common among elite athletes, who often maintain their own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube accounts in order to market themselves and communicate with stakeholders. Several researchers have identified potential benefits for athletes who engage in social media use, including control over the information shared about themselves (Lebel & Danylchuk, 2012); building their personal brand and developing brand equity (Parmentier & Fischer, 2012); and developing and maintaining relationships with fans, sponsors, and potential sponsors (Hambrick & Kang, 2015).
  • AIS helping protect athletes from cybercrimeAustralian Sports Commission, (11 July 2016). The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has joined forces with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to help more than 2000 of the country’s finest athletes be aware of the pitfalls of social media and the dangers of cybercrime. 
  • AFL's new recruits urged to be wary of social media ahead of first season. Ben Lisson, ABC news, (11 January 2016). More than 100 of the AFL's newest recruits have been urged to be wary of social media ahead of their first season in the competition.

Social Media Strategy

In order to effectively use social media it is important that individuals and organisations are willing to invest the required time, effort, and willingness to build skills. One of the best initial ways to do this is to create and maintain a social media strategy. The strategy is generally different to a Social Media Policy, although they can work together. Social media policies focus on risk identification and mitigation, outline appropriate and inappropriate conduct in the online environment, and indicate what is required and/or expected by athletes, coaches, administrators, and volunteers. A social media strategy on the other hand, is designed to indicate how an organisation will deliberately engage with social media, build an audience, and have positive interactions. As with any strategy the main steps are to define your goals; how you will measure success; and what actions you will take. Once you have your strategy in place you can then implement it and follow up with an iterative review and refine process.

  • Social Media In Sport ... Friend or Foe? State Volleyball NSW. Article provides a brief overview of how SVNSW is engaging with the volleyball community using social media.
  • The NFL's Social Media Strategy. Mike Ozanian, Forbes, (3 October 2016). The NFL is exploring how to partner with Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Amazon to engage football fans outside of traditional broadcast television. In the current episode of the YES Network’s Forbes SportsMoney, sports consultant Marc Ganis provides his insight on the league’s strategy.
  • Insight Into Clemson Athletics’ Social Media Strategy. Jessica Smith, Social Sport, (1 January 2016). Clemson Athletics’ approach to social media this year has been on fire. It’s evident that their social media isn’t a siloed, but a team effort, through all the stellar, real-time content they have been able to push out. 

The effective use of social media can assist sports to connect to new audiences, raise team and individuals profiles, potentially leverage new income streams and over time support enhanced capability, capacity, and sustainability. In order to maximise the potential of social media organisations and individuals need to understand:

  1. who they are attempting to engage with;
  2. what outcomes they wish to achieve;
  3. how they will control usage;
  4. how they will measure success and/or failure; and to
  5. promote positivity as much as possible.
  • Social Media v’s Athletes. Gearoid Towey, Crossing the Line Sport, 11 April 2017. Provides an overview of some of the benefits and negative impacts that social media can have for athletes. Argues that social media is here to stay and therefore needs to be managed, not eliminated.
  • Social media and sport with Dr Ashleigh-Jane ThompsonRadio Live NZ, (3 July 2016). Heather talks with Dr Ashleigh-Jane Thompson on the pros and cons of sports and social media.
  • Social media 101: Leveraging social media for sports marketingPursuant Sports, (23 February 2010). This article provides a clear and simple overview of how to best leverage fan engagement. Similarly, individuals within the sport sector need to appreciate who they are attempting to connect with and what they are trying to communicate by using social media avenues to promote work outcomes or personal views.

Some useful resources to develop a strategy and ensure better interactions include:

Good Practice 

As with any form of promotion or marketing using social media takes time and dedication. Too often sport sector organisations and individuals set up social media accounts but don’t put in the time to develop an audience or to respond to or remove comments. Some tips to help include:

  • How I work out the best time to tweetDanielle Warby, blog post, (10 January 2017). Provides a personal overview of two useful—free—apps to schedule Tweets so you can increase engagement (and not overwhelm your followers). 
  • The Biggest Social Media Science Study: What 4.8 Million Tweets Say About the Best Time to Tweet. Kevan Lee, Buffer Social, blog post, (4 May 2016). Social media timing is so hard to pin down exactly that it definitely pays off to do your own experiments and pay attention to the data about when your audience is most receptive. Provides information analysing 4.8 million tweets but also suggests methods/products to analyse your own Tweets and see what schedule works best for you. 
  • [A guide to using] YouTube & Twitter. Sports Community. Provides basic information on these social media platforms and some suggestions about how clubs can engage with their community on them. 
  • A guide to using FacebookSports Community. Provides basic information on these social media platforms and some suggestions about how clubs can engage with their community on them. 
  • How to evaluate your Facebook pageBerArt Visual Design, infographic, (2012). 

Social media gives individuals within sport instant access to their fan base and when managed correctly the ability for them to build a larger one. Social media can give a voice outside the traditional media outlets to showcase their personality and passion. Many people within the sector are now using social media platforms to seek new marketing opportunities, promote research, improve communication lines, and enhance existing coaching techniques. Some examples of how these are put into practice include:

Coaches also use social media to discuss performances with their athletes, to promote performances, and to share new ideas and resources. In 2013 Sports Coach UK surveyed 1000 coaches to see why and what social media they used to interact with their athletes. They also produced a handbook (PDF  - 540 KB) that covers the best uses for technology in the coaching environment.  

A number of sport science journals also use social media to highlight recent research and advances in sport science:

Measuring Success

The success of social media engagement is also starting to have an impact on sponsorship and marketing agreements. In 2015 Barcelona FC, one of the world’s largest sports clubs on social media, recorded over 61 million web impressions of the Qatar Foundation’s sponsorship of the club’s shirts [source: Cave, A. & Miller, A., The importance of social media in sport, Telegraph UK, 23 June 2015]. However, how these brand impressions and reach impact can be harnessed is still not well understood. Increasingly the focus is not just on being seen, but on how to target and deliver fan engagement and value to sponsors and the organisation itself.

  • Can Football Clubs Succeed At Monetizing Their Social Media Following? KPMG Football Benchmark, (10 October 2016). KPMG’s Football Benchmark team analyses the correlation between a club’s social media followers (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and commercial revenues at the most popular clubs on those platforms.
  • Omega Won The Olympics In Terms Of Value Social Media Brand Value Generated. Taylor Bloom, SportTechie, (25 August 2016). Dallas based social media intelligence platform MVPindex tracked, measured, and valued all US Olympian’s mentions of sponsored brands during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Using the Engagement Value Assessment™, MVPindex was able to discover which brands earned the most social media marketing value among Olympic athlete ambassadors on social media.
  • Ronaldo Generates $176 Million In Value For His Sponsors On Social Media. Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes, (8 June 2016). Cristiano Ronaldo signed a five-year contract extension with Nike that kicked off last year and is worth $13 million a year. It is the most expensive athlete sponsorship deal in all of soccer, and it is an absolute bargain for the $31 billion-in-sales sportswear giant. Ronaldo generated $36 million in value for Nike on social media alone via his own accounts through 59 posts over the last 12 months, according to a study of the top-paid athletes by Hookit, which tracks sponsorship value in social and digital media. All of Ronaldo’s partners got a total of $176 million in media value from his promotional work on social platforms. 

Social media policies/guidelines

The purpose of a social media policy is to provide guidance on the use of social media at work and at home. Social media policies focus on risk identification and mitigation, outline appropriate and inappropriate conduct in the online environment, and indicate what is required and/or expected by athletes, employees, and volunteers of the organisation. It is important that people understand the difference between making representations on social media platforms on behalf of the organisation and the personal use of social media.

  • Social Media v’s Athletes. Gearoid Towey, Crossing the Line Sport, 11 April 2017. Provides an overview of some of the benefits and negative impacts that social media can have for athletes. Argues that social media is here to stay and therefore needs to be managed, not eliminated.
  • 8 digital skills we must teach our children, Yuhyun Park, World Economic Forum, (13 June 2016). Digital intelligence or “DQ” is the set of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of digital life. These abilities can broadly be broken down into eight interconnected areas: digital identity; digital use; digital safety; digital security; digital emotional intelligence; digital communication; digital literacy; and digital rights. While the article is focused on how to teach these skills to children they are equally important for adults. 
  • Assessing the Integration of Twitter into the Strategic Operations of Sporting Organisations, Campos, Carlos J.; Anagnostopoulos, Christos; Chadwick, Simon, Choregia, Vol. 9 Issue 1, (January 2013). Twitter, a social media application, has opened up communicative avenues for many stakeholders in the sports industry. The purpose of this paper is to assess how sporting organisations' social media content helps them achieve their strategic goals in terms of engagement and persuasion. 
  • Examining the Development of a Social Media Strategy for a National Sport Organisation, Thompson, Ashleigh-Jane; Martin, Andrew J.; Gee, Sarah; Eagleman, Andrea N., Journal of Applied Sport Management, Vol. 6 Issue 2, (Summer 2014). The application of technology and the rise in social media has not gone unnoticed in sports and has become a vital tool for sport marketers as sport consumers' media consumption grows. 

Mitigating risks 

While effective use of social media avenues can provide positive outcomes for the sport sector, an informed social media policy and targeted education can be the first line of defence in mitigating risk for both individuals and organisations when things go wrong. A well-written social media policy can:

  • Provide employees/volunteers/athletes with guidelines for communicating in the online world. These should clearly articulate organisational expectations on what is right or wrong to say or do online and the consequences of posting obscene, defamatory, threatening, harassing, discriminatory, or hateful content to or about another person or entity.
  • Provide clarity around organisational values and culture for consumers, employees, and the public.
  • Allow the organisation to give responsibility for content creation/control and approval.
  • Reduce risk and legal exposure for the business. 
  • Ensure problems are proactively prevented rather than impacting on the organisation and requiring reactive responses.
  • Provide clear guidelines and parameters to ensure the organisations brand is enhanced and that its reputation is not inadvertently damaged. 

Sports Business Insider presented a seven-part blog written by Steven Woodgate (2012) related to social media that explored a number of key themes pertinent to sport and its participants:

Example policies and guidelines




  • Social Media Policy templatePlay by the Rules. All clubs and associations should have a Social Media Policy that promotes guidelines for responsible social media use and outlines how offensive or discriminatory comments will be dealt with and disciplined if appropriate. The real effect of a social media policy is to let all your members know their rights and responsibilities in any social media forum, including if they make comments or posts that contradict your club or association's code of behaviour or conduct.
  • Good Practice Guidelines on the use of Social Networking Sites by ASA Clubs and Club Members (PDF  - 182 KB). Swim England, Wavepower 2012-2015, (September 2012). 
  • Social Media Safeguarding GuideParkrun, (March 2017). Social media is a brilliant way to interact with parkrunners, make announcements, and share inspirational stories from around the world, but, just like in the ‘real world’, there are guidelines and standards to hold yourself to in order to stay safe.
  • Social media policy. Upwey Tecoma Football & Netball Club

Case studies

Sochi 2014 and London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games

The London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Olympic & Paralympic Games were deemed to be the first 'social media games'.

  • Get set for the socialympics. Sydney Morning Herald, (17 July 2012). London 2012 is shaping up to be the biggest Olympic Games in history, thanks in no small part to new technology. The city will play host to 10,500 athletes and 11 million visitors later this month, but more viewers than ever before will be watching, sharing, blogging, and tweeting from around the world. 

In a similar, almost prescient, vein it was suggested that athletes should be careful when engaging via social media.

This was particularly pertinent for the Australian Olympic team, some of whose members were disciplined prior to the Games for what was deemed to be inappropriate usage.

After this issue surfaced in 2012, there was debate regarding the pros and cons of athletes using social media before and during the Olympics, however, at the time, no official policies or guidelines were developed to manage these situations.

Once the games began and in particular during the first week, the Australian swimming team was not as successful as had been predicted and a number of reports suggested that social media had a significant negative impact on the athletes:

  • Aussie swimmer blames social media for failing to bag gold in 100m Olympic final. Trevor Mogg, Digital Trends, (31 July 2012). Shortly after the race, 20-year-old Seebohm came up with an excuse never before uttered by an Olympian, but one which certainly reflects the technological age we now live in. You see, according to Seebohm, she messed up because she stayed up too long the night before the big race responding to messages of encouragement on Twitter and Facebook.
  • How did Australians follow the London 2012 Olympic Games. Australian Communications and Media Authority, (April 2103). At the conclusion of the London 2012 Olympic Games, a report was produced to look at audience behaviour. How Australians were part of a significant and ongoing global change in how people follow major events like the Olympics, with greater multi-screen viewing for convenience, and to connect with others on social media.

After the events of London 2012 many sport organisations developed social media policies and guidelines, including the International Olympic Committee and the Australian Olympic Committee. This was done in order to ensure that host cities and organisations were prepared for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. In the lead-up to the games there was commentary regarding the role of social media and potential control and oversight by the organising bodies:

The 2012 and 2014 Games clearly demonstrated the increasing influence of social media and the need for organisations and individuals to ensure that it is the positive elements that are adhered to in the future. There is no doubt that social media will continue to play a significant role in future mega-events.

Tom Viney, the Australian Football League (AFL), and the power of social media

The potential impact of social media reactions to influence decision making, particularly disciplinary decisions, was debated after the successful appeal of AFL player Tom Viney to a controversial two match suspension. Viney was initially disciplined after an incident that left Tom Lynch with a broken jaw. After the tribunal hearing there was extensive coverage via social media with the hashtag #freeviney trending on Twitter and a number of AFL players, including Viney, commenting upon the decision.  

It is not known whether this level of additional coverage or support via social media encouraged Viney and his club to appeal the decision, however, it was referred to the AFL Appeals Board. After hearing submissions the Appeals Board overturned the original decision. This in turn led to more coverage through social media.

While there was no strong suggestion that the social media storm played a role in Viney’s successful appeal, it is worth noting the immediacy and the power of reactions that both on and off- field decisions can have upon the fan base.

Alcohol and sport 

With the rise of social media sports fans (consumers) can follow and engage with their favourite sports and sportspeople directly via platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Sports sponsors now have the opportunity to put their brand or products forward in the social media environment – which is generally not regulated by legislation or voluntary practice. Because of the existing evidence base regarding the public health implications of alcohol consumption and the impact of traditional alcohol marketing researchers have also started to focus on how social media advertising of alcohol can impact consumers. 

  • An examination of how alcohol brands use sport to engage consumers on social media. Westberg, Kate ; Stavros, Constantino ; Smith, Aaron C T ; Munro, Geoff; Argus, Kevin, Drug and alcohol review, (20 November 2016). This study undertakes a qualitative content analysis to examine the social media activity of alcohol brands sponsoring the three largest spectator sports in Australia: Australian rules football, rugby league, and cricket. Four sport-related social media strategies are identified through which alcohol brands solicit interaction with consumers, often involving co-creation of content and social activation. These strategies act as 'calls to action' and through the association of sport and alcohol encourage consumers to engage in competition, collaboration, celebration, and consumption.
  • Social media blurs lines between alcohol and sport, researchers claim. RJ Whitehead, Food Navigator, (23 November 2016). An Australian study into how alcohol companies use sport to sell their products via social media suggests that businesses go beyond simple promotion by encouraging their audiences to create and share their own booze-boosting content. 

Two particularly influential reports on this topic are summarised below: 

Merging sport and drinking cultures through social media (PDF  - 4.9 MB). Smith A, Westberg K, Stavros C, Munro G and Argus K, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (2015). There is considerable evidence about the public health implications of alcohol consumption. There is also significant research on the potential impact of traditional alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport. This study identifies and explores how alcohol brands are using social media to connect sport’s identity, culture, and camaraderie with alcohol consumption. It also identifies the main strategies used by alcohol companies to achieve interaction and social activation with consumers. The focus was primarily on the major alcohol brands sponsoring the Australian Football League (AFL), the National Rugby League (NRL), and Australian Cricket during the latter part of 2013 and throughout much of 2014. The social media platforms most commonly used by the identified alcohol brands were Facebook and Twitter, but the complementary use of other forms of digital media, such as applications (‘apps’), to increase consumer engagement was noted. YouTube also featured in links from Facebook and Twitter to showcase advertisements created by the brands, having sport-relate themes that were used to promote their products.

The real-time communication offered by social media during the broadcast of sports events was used to create a shared experience and camaraderie among consumers. There was also the potential for significant ‘second screen’ experiences by consumers who engaged in conversations via mobile devices (Twitter, Instagram). These experiences engaged consumers throughout an event, either in or away from the sport stadium. Four main strategies were identified that used the association with sport to create opportunities for alcohol brands to interact with consumers, and to immerse the brands in the sport consumption experience. These sport-alcohol-social-media strategies are described as ‘calls to action’ because they seek to stimulate consumers to actively engage with the brand, rather than passively receiving a brand message. The calls to action are: (1) call to compete – leveraging the competitive nature of sport, this strategy attempts to engage consumers through promotional competitions often displaying both sport and alcohol branding; (2) call to collaborate – this strategy actively pursues a higher level of engagement with consumers through co-creation of content, using sport as a common language; (3) call to celebrate – using sporting victory and shared camaraderie, this strategy seeks to embed alcohol as an integral part of celebrating sporting achievement; and (4) call to consume – beyond celebration, this strategy seeks to normalise alcohol consumption as part of the overall sport experience. 

The results from this exploratory study highlight an emerging practice of alcohol brands to engage with a new (possibly younger) generation of social media users; a generation that views social media as an integral aspect of their social identities. The framework of social activation strategies used by alcohol brands in leveraging their associations with sport, and the messages they embed to maximise the effectiveness of these strategies, suggests that existing regulatory policies will struggle to interrupt the cultural blurring between drinking and sport. Because conventional advertising is unidirectional, it can be more easily controlled by codes of practice. However, social media actively seeks to diffuse messages and engage the consumer in the co-creation of content, making this medium invulnerable to most forms of existing marketing regulation.

Breaching the code: Alcohol, Facebook and Self-Regulation. Carah N, Brodmerkel S and Shaul M, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, (28 May 2015). This report builds on other studies of the activity of the top twenty alcohol brands on Facebook in Australia during 2012 and the number of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Board about the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code. This report examines content posted by alcohol brands to Facebook following a landmark decision that upheld a complaint in 2012 to determine compliance with that decision. This report poses three key research questions: (1) are the breaches of the code seen in the 2012 ruling more widely evident on Australian Facebook pages of alcohol brands; (2) are alcohol brands complying with their own self-regulatory codes in light of the decisions by the ASB and ABAC in 2012; and (3) are the current regulatory codes appropriate for regulating alcohol brand activity on Facebook? This study found a total of 76 regulatory breaches which included:

  • content which encouraged, normalised and even celebrated excessive alcohol consumption;
  • use of highly inappropriate or offensive language;
  • vilifying comments;
  • sexist sentiments;
  • content implying that alcohol consumption causes a significant change in mood or environment, and social prowess;
  • images of consumers who appear to be under the age of 25 (the age recommended by alcohol advertising codes in Australia).

The study also examined Facebook content not currently covered by advertising codes, including the use of consumer participation that may prompt consumers to promote excessive consumption. The report makes seven recommendations for researchers, policy-makers and the industry to consider.

More information about ethical considerations in sport sponsorship is available in the Clearinghouse Alcohol Sponsorship & Advertising is Sport and Ethical Sponsorship & Advertising in Sport portfolios. 

Further resources and reading


  • Best practice: Social media and electronic communication with young people (PDF  - 503 KB). England Netball, (2012). This information gives advice, guidance and recommendations for coaches, volunteers, officials, umpires and designated officers.
  • Good practice guidelines on the use of social networking sites by ASA Clubs and Club Members (PDF  - 182 KB). Swim England, Wavepower 2012-2015,(September 2012).
  • Good practice guidelines on the use of social networking sites by British Gymnastics (PDF  - 436 KB). British Gymnastics, (2012?). There has been a growing awareness in sport of the increasing communication by adults and young people on the rapidly developing social networking sites and how this media has become a feature of social communication.
  • Social Media. Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation. An outline on social media, provides links to club social media case studies and tips to get the most out of a club’s social media page.
  • Social MediaAustralian Government. Business focused index page which links to further information including more about social media tools, the pros and cons of social media, and a free social media template and guide to start the planning process. 
  • Social Media ToolkitPlay by the Rules. The toolkit contains information on how to best use social media and to help clubs understand social media. It includes draft policies/guidelines, articles on social media issues for sport and webinars/videos.
  • Social Media – What is it? How can Clubs use it?Sports Community. Provides basic information on what social media is and what are the most common ways to use it for community clubs. Additionally links to information relating to using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter platforms. 
  • Team App. This is a free platform for sporting clubs to create their own smartphone app.
  • Social Media GameplanSport New Zealand. Provides a nine-step guide for NZ sports organisations starting off in social media including: analysis; appraise your audience; assess your resources; define your objectives; evaluate your options; make a plan; implementation; watch and learn; refine and improve; checklist; and sample policies, plans, and guidelines in the appendix. 


  • Engagement is key to successful sports sponsorshipThe Telegraph, (15 June 2015). Brands can use sport to drive awareness of their goods and services, but if they can also entertain customers they are on to a real winner. 
  • Five Lessons For Entrepreneurs From The World Cup Social Media Frenzy. Kayson De Mers, Forbes, (19 June 2014). The social frenzy surrounding the 2014 World Cup reflects the genuine excitement felt by fans and players alike.  
  • How Sports Fans Engage with Social MediaMashable, (4 October 2013). Social media plays a larger role than ever in the lives of sports fans around the world.
  • IBM’s Cognitive Social Media Command Center is bringing Wimbledon to you. Mark Lelinwalla, Tech Crunch, (30 June 2016). Most tennis fans would salivate over the chance to witness Serena Williams attempt to win Wimbledon and tie Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slams, pulling within two of Margaret Court’s 24 for the most major singles titles in women’s tennis history. But for those unable to make the trip to London to witness the tournament, which is currently in full swing, IBM now offers a new way to experience the event via Wimbledon’s official smartphone apps and website.
  • Social 'n sport. Jessica Smith, WordPress. A look at social media + digital wins and losses from teams, leagues & others in the sports industry. Do social media hubs add value?
  • Social MediaSport Information Resource Centre (SIRC), (June 2014), e-newsletter provides links to articles relating to Social Media Training for Athletes; Developing a Social Media Policy; Leveraging Social Media for your next Event; and Spectator Engagement.
  • Sports and media ethical case studiesMoody College of Communication, Texas, (2011). The Texas Program in Sports and Media worked with Dr. Scott R. Stroud and graduate students Andrew Ishak and Danee Pye in the summer of 2011 to create a series of ethical case studies on topical issues prevalent in the sports media of our day.
  • Sport in the age of social mediaSports Pro, (December 2015). In this special report Facebook, Twitter, social video tool Grabyo, 'influencer network' Ball Street, and more explain how partnerships are shaping the sports industry's presence online, how user behaviour is changing the rules, and how social's homegrown stars are helping brands get closer to fans. 


  • Acceptance, motivations, and usage of social media as a marketing communications tool amongst employee of sport national bodies. Andrea Eagleman, Sport Management Review, Volume 16, Issue 4, (November 2013), p.488–497. This study examined the role that social media plays within NGBs in the United States including employees’ acceptance of social media, motivations to use social media, and the organisation's current usage of social media. An online survey was distributed to NGB employees in the spring of 2012, and results revealed that contrary to studies on other sport organisations, NGB employees reported high levels of acceptance and motivation to use social media regardless of demographic factors. Additionally, NGBs seemed to use social media as a communications tool to a greater degree than as a marketing tool. Implications for international and niche sport organisations are presented in the conclusion.
  • Attracting Facebook 'Fans': the importance of authenticity and engagement as a social networking strategy for professional sports teams. Pronschinske, Mya; Groza, Mark D; Walker, Matthew, Sport Marketing Quarterly; Morgantown, Volume 21.4, (December 2012), p.221-231. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between the page attributes found on team Facebook pages and user (i.e., fan) participation. An econometric model is developed and tested to determine the impact of page attributes on the number of Facebook ‘fans’ from a census sample of 114 professional sport teams. Results indicate that page attributes signaling authenticity and user engagement have the greatest impact on attracting and maintaining a Facebook fan base.
  • Digital-Branding and Social-Media Strategies for Professional Athletes, Sports Teams, and Leagues: an interview with Digital Royalty's Amy Martin. Khalid Ballouli & Michael Hutchinson, International Journal of Sport Communication, Volume 3 Issue 4, (December 2010). Amy Martin is a marketing executive and social-media consultant who works with athletes, celebrities, and corporations to help build their brand through digital integration and social-media strategies. Because of her past experiences and current responsibilities, Martin is in a position to comment on many issues related to digital marketing, social networking, and sport communication.  
  • Look Who’s Talking—Athletes on Twitter: A Case Study. Ann Pegoraro, International Journal of Sport Communication, Volume 3, Issue 4, December 2010. This case study investigated athletes’ use of Twitter. Athletes, in particular, have engaged in tweeting at a fast pace, which raises the question, What are they saying? This case study investigated the tweets of athletes over a 7-d period. The findings indicate that athletes are talking predominantly about their personal lives and responding to fans’ queries through Twitter. The results indicate that Twitter is a powerful tool for increasing fan–athlete interaction.
  • Managing brand presence through social media: the case of UK football clubs. McCarthy Jeff, Rowley Jennifer, Jane Ashworth Catherine, Pioch Elke, Internet Research, Volume 24, Issue 2, (2014), pp.181-204. UK football clubs are big businesses, with committed communities of fans, so are an ideal context from which to develop an understanding of the issues and challenges facing organisations as they seek to protect and promote their brand online. Clubs agreed that further development of social media strategies had potential to deliver interaction and engagement, community growth and belonging, traffic flow to official web sites and commercial gain. However, in developing their social media strategies they had two key concerns. The first concern was the control of the brand presence and image in social media, and how to respond to the opportunities that social media present to fans to impact on the brand. The second concern was how to strike an appropriate balance between strategies that deliver short-term revenue, and those that build longer term brand loyalty.
  • The Positives and Negatives of Twitter: exploring how student-athletes use Twitter and respond to critical tweets (PDF  - 163 KB). Blair Browning & Jimmy Sanderson, International Journal of Sport Communication, 2012, 5, 503-521. Through 20 semi-structured interviews this research explored how student-athletes at an NCAA Division I university used Twitter and reacted to critical tweets from fans. Analysis revealed that student-athletes used Twitter in 3 primary ways: keeping in contact, communicating with followers, and accessing information. With respect to critical tweets, student-athletes reported various perceptions about them and diverse strategies for responding to them. The results suggest that Twitter is a beneficial communicative tool for student-athletes but also presents challenges, given the ease with which fans attack them via this social-media platform. Accordingly, athletic departments must be proactive in helping student-athletes use Twitter strategically, particularly in responding to detractors.
  • Social Media and Sports Marketing: Examining the Motivations and Constraints of Twitter Users. Witkemper, Chad; Lim, Choong Hoon; Waldburger, Adia. Sport Marketing Quarterly; Morgantown, Volume 21.3, (September 2012), p.170-183. This study examined what motives and constraints influence Sport Twitter Consumption (STC) in regard to following athletes. Furthermore, the study attempted to cultivate a reliable and valid model through which researchers and practitioners can measure Twitter consumption-related motivations and constraints. The proposed combined model consisted of 12 items with four measures of motivation (i.e., information, entertainment, pass time, and fanship) and 12 items with four measures of constraints (i.e., accessibility, economic, skills, social). Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) method with a convenience sample of 1,124 respondents was employed to analyze the conceptual framework and elements of the scale. Motivations for STC among the respondents were positively and significantly related, whereas constraints were negatively and significantly related to their Twitter consumption in regard to following athletes. Results and future implications for practical and theoretical sport marketing research are also discussed.
  • Sport and social media research: A review, Filo K, Lock D and Karg A, Sport Management Review, Volume 18, Issue 2, (2015). The emergence of social media has profoundly impacted the delivery and consumption of sport. In this review of 70 journal articles, social media in the field of sport management is looked at from a relationship marketing perspective. The findings illustrate the role of social media in cultivating relationships among and between brands and individuals. 
  • Strategic Use of Facebook to Build Brand Awareness: A Case Study of Two National Sport Organizations. Ann Pegoraro, Olan Scott, Lauren M. Burch, International Journal of Public Administration in the Digital Age, Volume 4, Issue 1, (January-March 2017). The purpose of this study was to apply branding theory and frameworks to the use of Facebook by National Olympic Committees in two countries, Australia and Canada over specific time periods related to three Olympics Games. These Facebook pages were examined to determine the types of brand-related post content and communication style utilized as well as the consumer response to these posts. The two organizations generally used Facebook to broadcast product related brand attributes such as information about athletes and teams. There was also a significant difference in Facebook post use and focus by two organizations indicating some international differences in using Facebook for branding a sport organization. The results also provide practical implications for non-profit sport organizations using Facebook to build positive brand images, promote fan engagement and ultimately create brand ambassadors. 
  • Understanding fan motivation for interacting on social media. Constantino Stavrosa, Matthew D. Mengb, Kate Westbergc, Francis Farrelly, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 4, (November 2014), p.455–469. Social media provide fans with an additional means to engage with their team and are a valuable forum for sport organizations to better understand fan motivations and strengthen fan relationships. Based on an analysis of eight National Basketball Association (NBA) team Facebook pages the findings of this study indicate that fans exercise four key motives as they draw value from the social media enabled connection to the team: passion, hope, esteem and camaraderie. Further, and in light of our understanding of these motives, they identify how this platform can be used to facilitate interaction, a key construct in relationship marketing. 

Clearinghouse videos (access restrictions explained in the Client Service Model)

  • Technology in sport, social media engagement, Sean Callanan, Sports Geek, Our Sporting Future 2015 (23/10/2015). Digital and social media platforms are powerful tools in modern communication. Sean Callanan shows how fans and athletes are connecting locally and globally via digital platforms. See how teams and peak sporting organisations are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to build engagement boost attendance. Sean also looks at new platforms like Snapchat and Periscope with campaign ideas to improve your story telling with fans. (available to Clearinghouse member groups B and C)
  • Market innovation, Tim Oberg, Parkrun Australia, Our Sporting Future 2015 (22/10/2015). From humble beginnings in April 2012, Parkrun has grown to be one of the largest and most significant community health and wellbeing initiatives Australia has ever seen. Parkrun’s use of technology and social media has seen it attract a quarter of a million members in less than five years with no marketing budget. But how has this come to be? During this session delegates will find out about Parkrun’s beginnings in Australia, how Parkrun events happen each Saturday morning and how it recruits and retains volunteers. (available to Clearinghouse member groups B and C)
  • Social Media and Sport Research, Greg Blood, Emeritus Researcher, Smart Talk Seminar Series, Australian Institute of Sport, (19 May 2014). Researchers now need to have a good understanding of social media in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in their fields of research and to promote their research outcomes. The recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) World Conference on Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport included a session on social media. (available to all Clearinghouse for Sport members)
  • Social media, Vanessa Brown, Surf Life Saving Australia, Play by the Rules Forum (18 April 2012). What would you do in your sport if you have no social media presence and/or begin to lose control? What can you do to take back control?  (available to all Clearinghouse for Sport members)
  • Social media, Loren Bartley, Impativ8, Play by the Rules Forum (19 April 2012). Sport is inherently social, however many sports have chosen to steer clear of social media due to the bad wrap it receives. Sport can learn a lot from the many businesses that have achieved positive results by joining the social media revolution.  (available to all Clearinghouse for Sport members)

Related Clearinghouse for Sport portfolios

Is this information complete?

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.

Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.