Digital Engagement In Sport: Lessons From Lockdown


Whether you’re a die hard sports fan or a more casual supporter it’s safe to say that we’ve all missed live sport during lockdown. Due to this distinct lack of entertainment many of us turned to social media to fill the void.

For all marketeers out there, this unique environment produced some interesting results; with social apps seeing increased engagement across the board. Instagram in particular rocketed with a 25% increase in April alone and TikTok made history by becoming the most downloaded mobile app in a quarter... ever.

So, with 44% of people spending longer on social platforms what was catching their attention and what lessons can the sports industry learn now that live sport has begun to make it's long awaited return?

The new way to stay informed

Social media provides us with a world of content at our fingertips. We use them for inspiration, distraction and entertainment (who doesn't love a puppy video..or 3) but when looking to stay informed on current affairs social platforms have historically lost out to "traditional" media sites. However, at the height of lockdown 48% of people took to social platforms to stay up to date with current affairs. 

People have begun to spend more and more time on "news" related topics, somewhat predictably people spent 57% more time on stories featuring "coronavirus" in the headline along with a significant increase in click-through rates on Facebook for pandemic related content.

We have seen that during lockdown, more so than ever before, social media platforms were serving as people's first port of call for updates on current affairs. As a result it's now even more important that sports franchises take ownership of being the first to distribute their own news.

With social platforms becoming a one stop shop for news like content there's a real opportunity for franchises to use their multiple channels to engage their viewership in a new way. 

Producing and sharing more informative on-brand content consistently, quickly and easily will offer franchises the opportunity to more successfully engage fans with the added bonus of capturing more revenues as well.

Authentic video content on the rise

With the world of live sport on pause and content libraries running low, associated brands have had to get creative in engaging their audiences via social media.

This has come more naturally to some than others as stars realise that hitting the right tone is essential when creating engaging and relatable content - it’s hard to relate to our favourite athletes sharing their HIIT workout from their home gym (with private pool) whilst we’re sat refreshing Argos’ website for out-of-stock dumbbells. However, for those that have got it right it's transformed them into people that we can actually relate to and invest in.

Footballers have seen the highest return on this new approach. The Premier League's 2020 social engagement is up 146% despite fewer posts. A study by Redtorch has attributed this to footballers’ focus on creating more "lifestyle" content. We’ve seen our favourite players accept a number of weird and wonderful challenges (#ToiletRollChallenge), share videos of their ropey lockdown haircuts and have a bash at TikTok’s most popular dances. And England’s Lionesses have been at it as well increasing their engagement from 33.7% to 55.3% - a roaring success (pun very much intended). This personal content has seen football stars achieve an 82% increase in social media video views.

But it's not just Jesse Lingard turning up the heat in his kitchen, rivalries have turned to friendships in the shape of Nadal and Federer over Instagram live and Formula 1's Charles Leclerc, George Russel and Lando Norris swapped their cars for online racing sims on Twitch. And whilst the amount of video content published by teams and athletes has been down by 18%, views per video have increased by 35%.

Achieving these levels of engagement, however, doesn’t have to be limited to the lockdown bubble. 73% of people say that they plan to consume just as much video content when ‘normality’ resumes and Cisco predicts that video content will account for 82% of consumer internet traffic by 2021. Along with this authentic, personal content we've celebrated our favourite sporting memories with a number of re-share, re-wind and re-capture trends which have allowed us to delve into our favourite sporting moments (we made a pretty good one for the British and Irish Lions if we do say so ourselves...) but we shouldn't stop here. 

With video recognised as an increasingly popular and effective medium for engagement it is crucial that franchises invest in their digital infrastructure and look into how they can use video to not only engage fans but to create new opportunities for branding, sponsorship and merchandising. By transforming the way that sports franchises interact with their fans there is a real opportunity to produce more fun, dynamic and authentic content that will produce an even more engaged, responsive and loyal audience. 


Prior to lockdown eSport was already a high-growth industry in its own right and with the absence of live sport, this popularity has sky rocketed. What better substitute for our sporting ’fix’ than being able to experience the court, field or track (other settings are available) first hand?

Streaming site Twitch reached an all time high for hours watched and streamed in the first quarter of 2020 as we have enjoyed watching our favourite athletes and celebrities compete virtually. Motorsport lead the charge with Formula 1 hosting the virtual Grand Prix on it’s official Codemasters title, the Premier League’s Invitational saw its clubs most popular players compete against each other and celebrity fans on EA’s ever popular FIFA and we’ve seen one of our own, Wolves FC, prepare to take on the infamous 24 hour de Le Mans on rFactor 2.

These unique events and the inclusion of some of our favourite celebrities and sports stars has opened up traditional sport to an even broader audience - and the world has taken note. Ireland have even formed a governing body which is set to increase awareness and education around eSports with the goal of inspiring future talent. Popular brands are getting in on the act too, directing their attention to eSports and investing in sponsorships and advertisements that sit alongside its content.

With this acceleration looked set to continue, there’s a real opportunity for franchises to get involved. A great success story can be seen in F1’s eSport Series which is now into its third year. In 2019, the series boasted an audience of 5.8 million, seeing an impressive uplift of 76% year on year. By cementing their position at the forefront of the e-racing wave F1 is a fantastic example of an already popular brand tapping into a new breed of fans who have been introduced to F1 via the video game, rather than the other way around.

By encouraging this kind of investment and engagement in eSports there’s potential for franchises to continue to close the gap between eSports and "traditional" sports fans. Keeping eSport front and centre, as part of your on-going digital strategy, could achieve huge increases in digital engagement and viewership from this new and tech savvy audience.

What now?

We’ve had the unique experience of a captive and hungry online audience during lockdown and as this begins to lift there are a number of lessons which we can take forward into our “new normal”. 

Our desire to consume content on our favourite social media platforms, and use these spaces as both a source of information and of entertainment is at an all-time high. This demand should be met by producing and sharing informative on-brand content consistently, quickly and easily to ensure you're the first to share important moments with your audience. It’s also clear that we gravitate toward authenticity with no airbrushing, no scripts, no studios - just real people, sharing their real experiences. This is even more impactful when consumed via video, with the appetite for this sort of content being clear. This relatability, when paired with new and innovative platforms and events, has increased our connection to our favourite teams and stars and in turn has increased franchises’ ability to capitalise on this ever closer relationship.

Embracing these huge opportunities should allow sports franchises to cement and extend their relationships with their fans whilst creating even more opportunities for branding, sponsorship and partnerships.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on our take on "Lessons from Lockdown", get in touch via our website or contact us on LinkedIn.

If you want to find out how Azzuu can help you to achieve even closer relationships with your fans, and ensure that you are producing and sharing informative on-brand content consistently, quickly and easily then we can't wait to hear from you - request your demo here

Written by Tamsen Ziegler


Key sources:

Alphabet Invester Relations: 2020_Q1_Earnings_Transcript.pdf?cache=712d537, BBC Sport:, Business Insider:, Cisco:, Digital Sport:, Econsultancy:, Forbes:, Global Web Index:, HEC Paris:, Redtorch:, Sensor Tower:, Sports Pro:, Sports Pro:, The Drum:, The Drum:, The Guardian:, Variety:, We Are Social:, YouGov.