A multi-stage exploration of social media strategy in professional sport: The case of the New Zealand Breakers

This post is a copy/paste of an accepted 20-minute presentation that I co-authored with Katherine Bruffy of Unitec and Michael Naylor or AUT that will be presented at the 2013 SMAANZ conference in Dunedin, New Zealand.


Katherine Bruffy (Unitec)

Olan Scott (ECU)

Michael Naylor (AUT)



Social media has transformed the way in which sport organisations and consumers can connect. Historically, communication between sport organisation and consumer has been through the traditional/mass media (e.g., newspaper, television) which situates media organizations as gatekeepers to, and editors of content (Arsenault & Castells, 2008). Further, communication has typically been one-way, thereby disconnecting the consumer from sport organisations (Mahan & McDaniel, 2006). With the proliferation of social media sites, consumers and sport organisations have a new platform for interaction.  Both iterative communication and gatekeeper bypass are possible (Mean, Kassing, & Sanderson, 2010).

Social media is therefore an increasingly important tool for sport organizations to communicate with various stakeholders (Scott, Bradshaw, & Larkin, 2013) and the fit of social media within wider strategic processes in sport is of interest. Various social media sites are now widely used to communicate promotional offers, news, and as a public relations tool (Hambrick, 2010; Lowe & Laffey, 2011).  While Instagram, Youtube and other social media sites are gaining traction, Facebook and Twitter remain the focus for most sport organizations in attempts to engage fans.

A four stage, twelve month project was conceived and has commenced focusing on the New Zealand Breakers (NZB) social media strategy for the 2013-2014 season:

  1. Reconnaissance
  2. Strategy Formulation
  3. Strategy Implementation & Content Analysis
  4. Strategy Evaluation & Fan Feedback

The four stages sit within a mixed method, action research framework in which the implementation and evaluation of the strategy are the result of collaboration between the research team and the sport organisation.  The project has been designed to explore, inform and evaluate the NZB’s social media strategies.  The social media of interest are Twitter and Facebook.

Stage one (June/July 2013) is a reconnaissance intended to synthesise past NZB social media activity, the activity of other sport organisations in New Zealand and around the world as well as relevant scholarly and practitioner literature.  During stage two (August, 2013), the reconnaissance stage findings will be used to inform the 2013-2014 season strategy.  For the duration of the season (stage three; October to April 2014) the strategy will be implemented and monitored.  Finally, the fourth stage (May, 2014) represents an evaluation in which data will be gathered from fans, sponsors and Breakers marketing staff through a questionnaire and interviews.  The focus at this stage will be evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy implementation.

We propose to review stage one and two as well as progress to date through stage three at the 2013 SMAANZ conference.


Presentation for EASM 2011 – September, Madrid.

Exploring ways in which social networkers contribute to online groups: A case study of one Facebook group’s discussion of Australian broadcaster Channel 9 during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Olan Scottab, Ryan Bradshawb, & Paul Larkinb

aGriffith University, b University of Ballarat

The World Wide Web has transformed the way in which media companies, sport organisations, and consumers interact. For example, the traditional mediated sport product was once confined within the boundaries of programming, formatting, audience interest, and contractual agreements (Mahan & McDaniel, 2006). Historically communication was typically one-way, disconnecting the consumer from the sport and media entities (Mahan & McDaniel, 2006). However, the emergence of the ‘Internet era’ has allowed sport organisations and consumers to bypass the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ role the mass media once had (Arsenault & Castells, 2008; Mahan & McDaniel, 2006). In addition, the recent advent of social networking sites has provided a new interactive platform for communication and continuous accessibility between the consumer and sport product (Mean, Kassing, & Sanderson, 2010).

One of the major engines behind the advancement in social communication capabilities is Facebook (Kushin & Kitchener, 2009). Facebook is a social networking website that connects individuals and groups from all over the globe (Barnes, 2006). Once connected, individuals are able communicate with one another via public forums, instant conversations, and email. Social networking websites such as Facebook have allowed sport fans to collaborate with their favourite sporting entity, athlete, and/or with other sport fans to organise, mobilise, and voice their support or displeasure with specific sporting or media entities via online discourse (Kushin & Kitchener, 2009). Furthermore, the absence of a “gate-keeper” provides individuals with the opportunity to post un-edited, user-generated content relating to social or political issues.

A recent example of this cyber group forum was seen during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The Winter Olympics is a quadrennial event in which athletes from around the globe compete in a variety of sports. This global event was exclusively televised in Australia by the broadcaster Channel 9. The evening program was hosted by Australian television personality and former Channel 9 CEO Eddie McGuire. During the coverage, a Facebook group titled ‘Eddie McGuire is ruining the 2010 Winter Olympics games’ was created. The backbone of this group was a common dissatisfaction of the commenting and interviewing style of Eddie McGuire and the general broadcast coverage of the games provided by Channel 9. 

Despite its rising popularity, little research has examined the use of social networks as a tool for mediated campaigns and democratic-styled lobby groups. Thus, the aim of this study was to explore personal opinion comments posted by Facebook users on a group’s discussion board. To achieve this, the publicly visible commentaries from the group “Eddie McGuire is ruining the 2010 Winter Olympic games” were analysed. In total, there were 814 pages of text included in the examination. The data set included all posts present on the discussion board between the 16th of February and the 3rd of March, 2010.

Through a textual analysis of Facebook users’ comments, a grounded theory approach was used to identify and quantify salient themes (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This analysis netted 42 themes which were further grouped based on belongingness into 17 themes. Some of these themes were: non-expert commentaries, alternative offerings, and dissatisfaction with the negative focus of Channel 9. Each theme will be presented at the conference with an illustration on how each theme was used by Facebook users.

Implications for this study are twofold. Firstly, this study sheds light on how internet users utilise a social networking website to “virtually protest” current events. The results demonstrate that individuals are looking beyond recreational use and harnessing the capabilities of social network websites to express themselves and engage others in issues they care about (Kushin & Kitchener, 2009). Secondly, this study highlights the loss of the gate-keeping role the media once had and the relatively unregulated nature of the internet as a communication medium (Arsenault & Castells, 2008; Mahan & McDaniel, 2006). The emergence of World Wide Web has afforded users greater control over the information posted on social network websites, diminishing the mediating role that a producer or editor formally had.


Arsenault, A., & Castells, M. (2008). Switching power: Rupert Murdoch and the global business of media politics: A sociological analysis. International Sociology, 23(4), 488-513.

Barnes, S., B. (2006). A privacy paradox: Social networking in the United States. First Monday, 11(9), http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1394/1312.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago; Il: Aldine De Gruyter.

Kushin, M., J., & Kitchener, K. (2009). Getting political on social network sites: Exploring online political discourse on Facebook. First Monday, 14(11), http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2645/2350.

Mahan, J., E. III., & McDaniel, S., R. (2006). The new online arena: Sport, marketing, and media converge in cyberspace. In A. A. Raney & J. Bryant (Eds.), Handbook of sports and media (pp. 409-434). Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Meân, L. J., Kassing, J. W., & Sanderson, J. (2010). The making of an epic (American) hero fighting for justice: Commodification, consumption, and intertextuality in the Floyd Landis defense campaign. American Behavioral Scientist, 53(11), 1590-1609.