How social media can impact sporting decisions

Social media and sports have long made a formidable team. From fans changing their profile picture to reflect their favourite teams, to blow-by-blow live updates, sports have an incredibly strong presence on social media – so strong, in fact, that studies have been done around how sports fans engage with social media (see this Mashable infographic as an example).

However, the power of social media has been elevated to a new level, as it has impacted major sporting decisions – from sportsman being punished for their posts on social media to bans being enforced due to viral reactions to their on-field antics.

The latter is especially interesting, as it ties in with negative brand perceptions.

Let us present you with two similar scenarios, which yielded different results:

In 2011, AC Milan played against Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League. Notorious bad-boy, Gennaro Gattuso, got into a heated exchange with Tottenham coach Joe Jordan, and grabbed him by the throat. After the game, Gattuso ran up to Jordan and headbutted him. He received a four-game suspension for his aggression.

Fast-forward to this year’s World Cup match between Italy and Uruguay, where Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez sunk his teeth into the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. Suarez received a record nine-game international ban and a four month football ban.

So, what’s the difference between Suarez and Gattuso’s punishments?

Simply, the outrage at Suarez’s transgression was on a global level. While many might argue that Suarez is notorious for biting, Gattuso was equally notorious for losing his cool and doing silly things. Suarez’s controversy spurned a backlash from fans, pundits and fellow footballers on social media. The call for punishment was so extreme that FIFA had to respond in kind.

Just like brands fear #BrandMinus and have become extra careful about what they do and say – both on and off social media – sports people will now have apply the same principles, because they’re brands just as much as anything else.

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