Pushing the boundaries: Social Media, MLS, and the rise of Snark

Richard Clarke is a sports digital consultant, who blogs at MrRichardClarke.com and tweets @MrRichardClarkeHe is also the Digital and Social Media correspondent for SportBusiness International.

Either I am suffering from an acute attack of the frequency illusion* or “snark” is everywhere right now.

Admittedly the issue has dominated the last few months of my life as I built up to a presentation at SXSW entitled EPLvMLS: Storytelling in Soccer.

Managing content teams at clubs in the Premier League and Major League Soccer was very different, my goal was to offer insight and contrast.

Social media tone was a major area. One example I used was this exchange between LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers last year. It was not the “Welcome to our stadium, good luck today” stuff, neither was it “banter.” It was over the serious issue of injured players.

As it happened, just a few hours after the talk last Saturday, the two teams would meet again and another incident would lead to the sort of social media ‘snark’ you just do not see in the Premier League, English football or even English sport.

LA Galaxy defender Jelle van Damme was sent off in the first half after collecting two highly contentious bookings. The Dutch defender thought Diego Chara and David Guzman had exaggerated contact. He posted this tweet.

Then the Galaxy went light years further with this.

Now, remember that MLS is fighting for attention among the established leagues of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. They have always used engaging, envelope-pushing digital and social methods to reach their targets audiences. As a ‘challenger’ brand, this attention-grabbing route is smart and that experimental culture was one reason I was drawn to the League.

But then, overall, snark is more prevalent among US sports teams. LA Kings, of NHL, pioneered the approach during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and, since then, NBA teams have regularly taken social media lumps out of each other. This is part of a digitally-enlightened approach cited as a major reason for basketball’s relative success at retaining a younger audience.

In those terms, the LA Galaxy’s tweet was a success. Engagement was high, media exposure was huge and even a superstar like Alex Morgan expressed her delight.

However last month, the NBA introduced a new conduct policy for teams that included the avoidance of such spats and generally adopting a more respectful tone. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated have reported that MLS will “address” the LA Galaxy tweet.

Many supporters will cry #spoilsports, but it is important to remember that social media accounts are effectively the voice of the club these days and increasingly monetised by partners. In addition, a team’s playing staff will not want a self-inflicted disturbance around game-time.

That said, “club vanilla” is not a flavour the fans will stand for long, especially with fan-created content improving in terms of quality, access, production and aggregation.

As ever, the answer is resonance with your audience and skilful storytelling techniques conveying a consistent, compelling narrative.

And a little headline-snatching spikiness – just now and then – doesn’t hurt either.


* The frequency illusion (aka the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon) is “the syndrome in which a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere”


Meet Richard Clarke at our Digital Sport event on Monday 27th March where he’ll be hosting one of the panel sessions. You can book your ticket below;

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