Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016. (Supplied: Work In Sports Blog)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

  • Sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now

DUBAI: Whether you are playing or watching, sports are best enjoyed in person. But with social distancing measures in place since earlier this year, like many other activities, sports have gone virtual.

In May, when ESPN aired the final two episodes of its Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” 20 of the 30 trending topics on Twitter were related to it. That night saw more than 1.5 million tweets about the final episode, bringing the total volume of tweets about the series above 11 million. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016.

In fact, sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now. “In the last couple of months, we have built a concentrated community that started allowing us to engage with different pillars of fitness and health,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. These pillars include everything from fitness motivation and health, lifestyle and workout tips to stunts and street performances, such as parkour and freestyle football.

A 2020 study in Saudi Arabia found that 73 percent of people on Twitter are football fans, with 85 percent of them using Twitter to follow along while watching a game on TV. The respondents also said that they use Twitter to follow the official accounts of players (27 percent), to check out the latest video clips (38 percent) and to view pre-match news and post-match analysis (28 percent). The football fandom on the platform is evidenced by the 91 million tweets related to the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season just this month.

According to recent research by Twitter, football is the most popular sport on the platform in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the SPL season was marked by a three-day Twitter campaign that was launched on Oct. 19 under the hashtag روح_الدوري# (“The League’s Spirit”). The first day of the campaign saw Twitter’s account in the Middle East invite comedians to share their takes on the best SPL commentary moments. These were shared through voice tweets, which add a more human dimension to conversations and which allowed the comedians to incorporate their own personal style in the commentary. Although the feature is currently being tested on iOS devices, everyone on Twitter is able to hear voice tweets and reply to them.

FASTFACTS

Sport and Social Media

- 73% of Twitter users are football fans.

- Sports is one of the top three content categories on TikTok.

- 520% more Instagram Live videos were produced from March-July 2020, compared to 2019.

The focus for the second day of the campaign was Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The comedians created their own VAR moments through humorous video content shared on the platform, which illustrated real-life scenarios in which VAR could come in handy — for example, to settle a challenge between friends or to find out who really spilled the popcorn. “Fans have always turned to Twitter to be part of the action in real time. We’re seeing the passion and energy of the football stadium now surging online. Twitter is where fans, players, experts and leagues weigh in with a range of viewpoints. With humor being a key element of Twitter conversation in Saudi, the روح_الدوري# campaign brought levity to a much-anticipated event in the Kingdom,” said Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter.

More than 170 million people follow fitness-related accounts (e.g. weightlifting, cycling, yoga, etc.) on Facebook, and more than 120 million people follow similar accounts on Instagram. Based on an index of Facebook and Instagram’s top fitness partners, 75 percent more Facebook Live videos were produced during the months of March through July in 2020 as compared to 2019, while 520 percent more Instagram Live videos were produced during the same months as compared to 2019. These numbers have resulted in the company capitalizing on the rise of sports and fitness content by building a team to focus on fitness, introducing products to help fitness businesses build an audience and generate revenue, and planning a Fitness Summit, where Facebook will share the latest product tips and best practices with fitness organizations. 

Even for fans that consume sports content on more traditional media like TV, social media platforms are almost always a part of the experience as a second screen. For instance, Snapchatters in the US send Snaps and Chats to their inner circle (29 percent), watch friends’ Stories (28 percent), post their own Stories (20 percent) and check out Discover highlights and shows (26 percent) while watching sports. Moreover, approximately 30 percent want sports leagues to use Snap to go behind the scenes, share news and player interviews, and tap into augmented reality (AR) that recreates the sporting venues they cannot visit.

The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most socially active and engaged regions, as well as one that loves consuming sports content. Social media plays a huge role, whether it is for clubs like Al-Ahli, celebrities like Mo Salah or independent social media fitness star Walid Yari. And with 26 to 33 percent of people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa and Egypt saying that they use social media to follow sports news and events, it is time for brands to start paying attention. The sports industry is already realizing the power of social media, but advancements in technologies such as AR, accelerated by post-pandemic digitization, present new opportunities for growth.


Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Updated 30 November 2020

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

  • Founder of Unitas Communications says Kingdom has ‘set a precedent’ in its handling of both events

LONDON: According to one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, Muddassar Ahmed, Saudi Arabia has “not only done an admirable job but has set a precedent for other nations to follow” with regard to its handling of Hajj amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Hajj pilgrimage during the pandemic was a brave one, all the more so because it is a religious occasion that hundreds of thousands of people spend their lives preparing for,” Ahmed, the founder of Unitas Communications, told Arab News.

“To tell people making a once-in-a-lifetime journey that their plans must be put on hold cannot have been easy. But it was without a doubt the right thing to do. In our religion, the protection and preservation of life are of paramount value,” he added.

Ahmed, one of the UK’s top 1000 most influential people, also praised the Kingdom’s handling of the G20 summit last month after deciding to go fully virtual, calling it “absolutely the correct course of action.”

“In both instances, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for other countries to follow. We can contrast its proactive, forward-thinking and compassionate approach, as well as its own COVID-19 statistics, with other countries’ track records,” he said.

Countering extremism as a British Muslim

Ahmed is not only known for his role as a communications expert, but also as a leading figure in the Muslim community in the UK, countering hate speech and the rise of extremism as an advisor to the British government on anti-Muslim hatred.

“As a born-and-bred British Muslim, this is not just important to me on a policy level but on a deeply personal level. I have dedicated my life to improving relationships between Muslim and other communities and I believe that, through Unitas and other projects I have dedicated myself to, we have made tremendous progress in improving the image and position of Muslims in Britain and the West,” Ahmed, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims worldwide three times, said.

Before founding Unitas, Ahmed was an activist campaigning against the Iraq war and founder/host of East London’s Radio Ramadan shows.

“I soon realized that adversarial campaigning only went so far. I was concerned by the growing divide between Muslims and wider society, between the Islamic world and the West, and I wanted — I needed — to help heal these divides, to bridge these allegedly irreconcilable narratives,” he explained.

Soon after, he teamed up with fellow East Londoner and childhood classmate Shiraz Ahmad to give birth to the world’s first public relations agency dedicated to bridging the gap between the Islamic and Western worlds: Unitas Communications.

One of the group’s first clients was the National Health Service, which needed to access hard-to-reach minority communities in East London.

It was not long before their work earned the attention of people invested in efforts to do the same. A few years after the start of the Iraq War and after the 7/7 2005 London terrorist attacks, community cohesion in the UK was at an all-time low.

The UN’s Alliance of Civilizations then reached out to Unitas to “see minority and Muslim communities have the training and develop the skills necessary to engage effectively and constructively in wider British society.”

Ahmed and Unitas’s work is not restricted to the UK alone, with the group and its founder earning praise and recognition from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the City of New York.

Brexit and what is to come

While many businesses have been critical of Brexit and its potential consequences, Ahmed looks to the bright side of matters and instead calls it “an opportunity for Britain to reset its narrative on the world stage.”

“I have every confidence in the ability of the British nation to reinvent itself,” he added, explaining that “Unitas operations extend across continents in order to connect people, cultures and ideas and to make communicating effective and impactful.”

With regard to what the future holds for Unitas in such uncertain times, Ahmed remains optimistic.

“The future will see Unitas continuing to work with leading international brands and expanding its presence across Europe and the Middle East and deeper into Southeast Asia. But I should also say that a major priority for us has always been the US. We’ve had major American clients, like the National Football League and the US State Department,” he said.

“We will continue to choose clients who contribute to making the world a more understanding place, and we will engage those relationships to improve the world, to leave things better off than where they were when we started.

Because this work isn’t just a business to me or my team. It’s a moral calling.”