The world of professional sports is a constantly evolving entity, with a loyal fan base and extensive corporate involvement.

So what happens when you combine open lines of communication with athletes on an entirely public forum AND  virtually no rules to govern 24-hour-a-day live access?  What you get are endless possibilities to promote, manage, and reach out and touch the fans, the curious and the corporate.

Here is a list of some of the most notable athletes, figures, and sport franchises, along with a breakdown of how they are faring in the social media world.

1. Lance Armstrong. Perhaps the most well-known athlete internationally, Lance is an early adopter to social media platforms. At any given moment, you can see him in action — on YouTube, Facebook, his website, and Twitter. What makes him extra-special is how he interacts with fans. For example, while on the Tour, he would actively post live shots of his progress, and even post pictures of some of his crashes. Armstrong is affiliated with Nissan, Radio Shack, Trek and Nike (to name a few), but the brands themselves take second place to his own personal brand of Lance Armstrong. Actively engaging both fans and the public, he does not shy away from controversy, but always keeps open communication with his fans.

2. Dana White. The man behind UFC, Dana adores the fans. He uses Twitter as his main source of outreach. On any given day, you can expect to see Twitter contests, banter with fans, and on a fight weekend you almost anticipate Twitter-crashing with all the tweets he is sending out!  Dana makes himself accessible to the public and regularly refers traffic back to the main website.

3. Steve Nash. Steve is a great example of both athlete transparency and leveraging his relationship with his fans. He is spread out across all of the most popular platforms (Facebook, YouTube and Twitter), but his brand management is not as “loud” as some other athletes. He acknowledges his sponsors, but takes a more subtle approach vs. plastering the sponsoring brands on his web outlets. He also regularly re-tweets fans, and even did a YouTube video pleading with fans to vote for him for the All Star game. Given that he is one of the more diplomatic and humble players in the NBA, fans ultimately respond to this, which only takes his brand even further!

4.  The NBA.  The first of the “Big Three” professional sports entities, the NBA is present on all three primary platforms — mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. When you break those down individually and peel back to the core of the contents, the NBA definitely keeps content fresh and available. Where the NBA fails is how the engage the fans.  Fans continuously comment on Facebook, reply on Twitter, and try to engage with the league – and typically with no response.  They do, however, support and encourage their players  (who tend to have a more active relationship with fans) over the governing brand itself.

5.  The NFL. When comparing the NFL to the other professional sporting organizations, they tend to use this medium as a platform to redirect fans back to the website.  Though active on both Twitter and Facebook, the NFL does not appear to have a YouTube channel for broadcasting content.  They also fail on the engagement front, with little to no responses to fans on the platforms they are active in.  For example, the NFL on Twitter will only respond to recognized NFL accounts vs. the fans.  The players themselves do make their presence know,n which is the saving grace for the NFL.  However, when you’re sitting on a gold mine of this level, you need to dig a little deeper to access it.

6. The NHL.  The NHL is trickier to analyze in the forum when compared to the other major sports organizations, simply because they’re not quite at the substantive fan base that the others are. However, being that they are young to the social media style of engagement, they seem to be taking a more proactive approach with the focus on customer engagement. With regularly updated material on all three platforms, the NHL spends most of its energy re-tweeting and engaging fans on Twitter. They also take advantage of fan lists as a means to engage.  Where the struggle with the NHL comes in is the distinct lack of player presence on any of the platforms.

What I’m most curious to see is how these individuals and brands keep up with the ever-evolving environment. Four Square, for example, seems like a gift to business for marketing, engagement and research.  With other emerging technologies, I’m interested to see how quickly the fan base moves to simultaneously adopt as well as how they will take advantage of the gift of social media.

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