Social Media & Sports – 2012 Predictions (Part 2 – UK)

Thank you to everyone who read and shared the first part of our 2012 series, looking at what the year ahead could offer from those who work in the industry in Spain and the US.

It was really pleasing to see your own comments on what will be big this year and that the article was published on the website ‘Social Media Today’ where it was shared hundreds of times.

This week we’ve brought together some more great social media and sport people, this time from the UK, to share some of their thoughts on what opportunities they expect the next few months to hold.  They come from a variety of people who cover sports as diverse as Cricket, Football, Rowing and Rugby.

I’d like to thank Mark Segal (ITV), Steven Dent (ECB), Tom Hines (RFU), Chris Hughes (Sine Qua Non International) and Mike Dunphy (MD Media Consultancy) for contributing.  They’re a brilliant group of people who we can all learn a few things from.


Tom Hines (@Hiiino) is Digital Editor at the Rugby Football Union, working on digital and content strategy for the RFU’s online communications. Established and developed the RFU’s presence in social media.

“Let’s start with a safe bet, while the planet’s finest are setting records in east London this summer, the social sphere will generate a record amount of noise around a single sporting event. Sports fans will get unprecedented Olympic access from athletes, journalists and volunteers alike (sorry BOA, but you can’t control 70k of them!).  It will be one of those events that throws so much into the social sphere that what works will quickly find its way into other sports.

More broadly, there are a handful of significant trends set to hit in 2012, but the two that will have most visible impact for fans are Social TV and online Stadium-Based Services.

New devices and software will start to put social media at the heart of the home-viewing experience. I think we can expect broadcasters to roll match specific hash tags at the start of all games and events, instantly creating a way for brands to engage with very focussed groups of sports fans for the duration of an event.

As wifi and 3G coverage improves in stadiums, the sharing of live match experiences through social media will become easier and sponsors and organisers will focus more on harnessing these opportunities. The eager ones will troop off to live events with tablets and promo staff to capture data and social sign-ups. The integration of offline content, like programmes, with social media and online commerce should also make a step change.

Finally, a couple of personal thoughts around social and sport for me in 2012: firstly how, as a Governing Body, the RFU can best use social media to increase participation; and secondly what would an organised F1 assault on social media look like? The sport is ripe for it and 2012 may finally be the year they nail it.”


Steven Dent (@Steven_Dent) is the Social Networking Executive for the England & Wales Cricket Board, looking after all the England team sites on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“2011 saw social media and sport take a massive step forward. More sports stars than ever are jumping on board, realising the power of interacting directly with their fans for the first time in this social media age. I can only see fan engagement growing in significance in 2012. With Facebook’s changes to Pages highlighting more openly the level of engagement or ‘talking about this,’ community managers will start to place more emphasis on increasing their one on one engagement with sports fans. Sport has always had the benefit of passion and emotion to call upon it’s fans, but the next step is listening and responding to those messages to truly be social.

2012 will a be a year where we see increased efforts to transfer engagement from offline to online. The in ground/in stadium audiences, or those following more remotely, will be actively encouraged to involve themselves in online activities in more creative ways using mobile devices and Facebook apps. As a result the amount of touch points fans can have with sports will increase. In turn that will mean an increase in stadium Wifi and interactive locations around sports stadiums to ensure fans get involved. Geo-location and near field communication (NFC) will start to become commonplace for fans as they absorb more of the experiences around sporting events.

With the speed of advances in technology and new social ideas emerging all the time, 2012 is going to be another year where digital media takes a step forward in the prominence of sporting organisations. It’s an exciting year ahead, and I for one can’t wait!”


Mark Segal (@segalmark) is a freelance football journalist writing for a number of national magazines and websites. Formerly football editor of Teletext and ITV Football, he is now production manager  of the ITV website.

“At some point in 2012 you will be able to see live, real-time stats on your television while watching a sporting event. I expect internet-connected TVs to move into the mainstream during the year and a number of companies are already developing products which will immerse a viewer even deeper into the game they are watching. The opportunities are endless with live stats, extra replays and even Twitter streams being available for a user to see while watching the game.

Sports fans will be the big winners in 2012 as clubs look for ever more ingenious ways to reach out to them. Thankfully the days when organisations took to the social media sphere purely to make money are now gone and most realise the medium is a great way of building a more rounded relationship with their supporters. The phrase social media stadium will be heard a lot more as clubs follow the example of the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona in making the voices of their fans heard on matchday.

On a more cautious note I expect more sports stars to get into trouble in 2012 for what they post on Twitter. Social media training should now be essential for those in the public eye, but a more grown-up approach from sporting bodies would also be a welcome development.”


Chris Hughes (@chrishughespr) is the Head of PR and Communications at Sine Qua Non International with extensive experience in the motorsport arena. Chris also works with Olympic gold medallist and triple rowing World Champion Zac Purchase.

“For much of the sporting world, 2012 will be the year when social media becomes a naturally integrated element of a wider communications and marketing platform. Sports teams, athletes and event organisers have spent sufficient time exploring and experimenting with social media to know which platforms work best for them and what approach will engage and grow their respective fan bases. There will always be new tools, new apps and renewed focus on a particular area (it’s widely believed that 2012 will be a breakthrough year for mobile), but social media is no longer the shiny new toy that it has been for the last couple of years.

The impact of social media on global sporting events has been witnessed already, from the 2010 Football World Cup to the Ashes to Formula One; social media is now a fundamental, unavoidable part of fan experience and engagement.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will, however, be the first summer Games to take place with such widespread understanding, adoption and, perhaps most importantly, expectation of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. As a result, London 2012 will be the fastest moving, most openly debated Games in Olympic history, which opens up a raft of opportunities for athletes, as long as the powers-that-be do not interfere.

Willingness to embrace social media during London 2012 is not going to be widespread with confirmation this week that the tens of thousands of Games Maker volunteers will have to conform to stringent social media restrictions. Quite how these restrictions will be monitored across 70,000 volunteers is another matter entirely.

The IOC has at least recognised the importance of social media for athletes with a set of guidelines already established to give athletes an element of “controlled freedom” when it comes to online posts. The stipulation is for first person narrative rather than third person commentary, and there will inevitably be stories of wrist-slapping for contravention of the rules, but it is far better to encourage social use rather than try to impose a blanket ban from the outset.

The influx of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls to Twitter has already begun and follower numbers are increasing. London 2012 could well give our home heroes the chance to shine online and what an exciting prospect that is. Much like the Games itself, the athletes are looking to establish a legacy for themselves long after the closing ceremony and public engagement through social media will be a key factor in achieving that.”


Mike Dunphy of MD Media (@mdunphy) who works with numerous football clubs and agencies including Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid.  

“The convergence of social, location and mobile will become the opportunity for clubs and associations to engage productively with fans in 2012. Those who still live in the world of “pc websites” will be left further and further behind. Those that are embracing mobile optimised services will now be in a position to have more than enough traffic to commercially exploit in an empathetic manner. However, there are still opportunities for traditional mobile plays in the developing world.

 The most interesting things I am looking at are around taking mobile and social network followers to the next level. Of course there are opportunities to do more with Facebook in the “pc website” world, such as having Facebook stores, but we must not forget the Facebook traffic that is not on the fixed web, maybe over 50% for some brands.”


Some great insights I’m sure you’ll agree.  If you’d like to add your own then please do so in the comments below.

About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 681 posts

Dan McLaren launched Digital Sport (formerly UK Sports Network) back in January 2010 and has worked in the digisport industry with adidas, We Are Social, Copa90 and Pulse amongst others. He's now a freelance social media guy living in the East Midlands and podcast host with the Digital Sport podcast on Audioboom, iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

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