Social media has changed the world as we know it. One world in particular that is being drastically effected is the sports world. And, just like the rest of us, the sports world is still trying to find its head amid this firestorm of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everything else associated with Web 2.0. It also seems that the sports industry is more hesitant than others on accepting this new, strange tool called social media. However, social media provides a great opportunity if conducted correctly.

The sports industry is unique in that its driving audience is the fans.  Social media has presented an opportunity for leagues, teams, players and other sports organizations to connect to their fans on a whole other level.  For instance, providing up-to-date Tweets allows fans to have instant access to any relevant information. The Boston Celtics, who are often praised for their social media strategies, even provide exclusive locker room footage for their YouTube subscribers. Fans thrive upon inside access. This type of access, and also interaction, creates a valuable experience for the fans, which is essentially what sports are all about.

Social media also provides an opportunity for two-way communication, and the best sports social media pages are the ones that are interactive. This entails being the first to respond to questions directly from the fans, or even address criticism and complaints. Or this can be done by creating contests that online followers can participate in. Putting in this extra effort also shows they value their fans and supporters. Creating personal interactions via online conversations also creates the feeling that people are apart of something. This increases involvement, loyalty, support and enthusiasm, all of which are crucial in an industry relying on fan base.

And of course, there are the athletes who have their personal social media. Fans love access into an athlete’s personal life. I don’t know why, but knowing what Shaq ate for breakfast is so enthralling. Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has a famous online following, takes his social media to new extremes by broadcasting parts of his life on Ustream. When athletes create this “intimate” connection with their fans by allowing access into their personal lives, fans are able to put a face behind the celebrity. This also creates a loyal fan base and following, even from people who are not die hard sports fans.  You no longer know them as a jersey, a number, or face on the highlight reel, but as a person.

Like with any industry, social media has also brought a new array of problems.  While the positive aspect of social media is transparency, the negative aspect is also transparency. How much information shared is too much? The NFL battles this as it has a strict social media policy, which entails that no employee (including players) can use social media networks from 90 minutes before kick off until after post game traditional interviews.  The NBA has a similar policy, except the time starts at 45 minutes before a game. Why? Because they believe players must respect their obligations to the media, or rather the league’s obligations to the media. Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings got fined $7,500 for tweeting his excitement about beating the Portland Trail Blazers in a double overtime before conducting traditional interviews. Athletes and coaches are also constantly getting penalized for saying negative things about their organization or members of the officiating crew.

What the sports world seems most concerned about, like any other organization, is a loss of control. Yes, people may say bad things about your organization. And yes, players may say things that may not reflect so well on themselves or the organization they are apart of.  But what is important is adapting to this new realm.  Some of the sports organizations are, especially by creating reasonable social media guidelines to adhere to and providing social media training similar to media training.

Instead of shying away from social media, the sports world needs to take advantage of it. Social media provides new opportunities to increase fan base and establish a positive brand image, all of which is key for generating revenue in the sports industry. Besides, all these possible implications do is create a demand for great PR practitioners, and there are plenty of us out there ready to tackle these issues!