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“Social media drives ratings. The idea that you can just do a TV spot is done.” — Stephen Master, Nielsen Co. vice president and head of sports practice

“Social media drives ratings. The idea that you can just do a TV spot is done.” — Stephen Master, Nielsen Co. vice president and head of sports practice

'Charging into the future'

Speakers at the 2011 Kellogg Sports Business Conference address the growing influence of social media in sports marketing

By Sara Langen

2/23/2011 - With the advent of mobile technology, online live streaming video and social media, today’s sports fans don’t watch the game the way their dads did.

“We have people commenting in [online] communities, watching TV …. The entirety of that experience is very powerful,” said Kyle Ragsdale, SB Nation vice president of business, at the 2011 Sports Business Conference. “We want to be where fans are. Step one is just acknowledging the shift.”

More than 160 students, alumni and industry professionals attended the Feb. 12 conference, themed “Charging into the Future: The Changing Face of Sports Business,” at the James L. Allen Center for Executive Education.

Although traditional broadcast television still has an audience, the way viewers consume sports content has changed vastly in recent years, Ragsdale noted during a panel discussion. The discussion quickly turned to the role of social media in sports.

“Social media drives ratings,” said Stephen Master, panel member and Nielsen Co. vice president and head of sports practice. “The idea that you can just do a TV spot is done. You’ve got to have a multi-platform strategy or you’re not going to resonate with consumers.”

Understand your viewers so that you can engage them, Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman urged. Once you know what drives them and how to interact with them, you can’t be afraid to confront them on their own turf, he added. With new media, being timid is not an option.

“You’ve got to be able to be candid,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to challenge someone’s view. Now more than ever, you really need to be in touch with the people in touch with your product.”

New technologies have also given sports businesses the opportunity to take their strategies global, said George Pyne, keynote speaker and IMG Sports and Entertainment president. In emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India, his company has been able to introduce and own some sports. The biggest barriers are working with local entities, he said.

“One of the things that’s challenging in China is working though the governmental systems — figuring out who’s empowered to make decisions,” he said. “That’s not just for sports, but for everybody.”

Other keynote speakers included Jennifer Lynn Storms, Gatorade’s senior vice president for sports and event marketing, and Jim Delany, Big Ten Conference commissioner. Other panel discussions focused on the economy’s effect on sports business and the global expansion of sports leagues and businesses.