According to the “Navigating the next generation fan: How football is social” report, 64 percent of young sports fans find social-based coverage more engaging than TV broadcast, while 52 percent prefer to consume their sports news through social channels.

Twitter and Reddit may host the most sports chatter, but they are generic connection platforms that aren’t solely dedicated to fans. The digital social media market for sports fans is fragmented. It seems counterintuitive that one of the most dedicated and passionate groups doesn’t have a devoted home in the digital world where they can connect. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the sports fandom segment to discuss some of the motivations and opportunities in this unique market as it relates to providing avenues for connectivity.

A passion for connection

Whether they agree or disagree on the team, sports fans want to connect with one another and share passions.

As Daniel Wann, a professor of psychology at Murray State University and an authority on researching sports spectators, once said, “When we look at motivation for following a sport team, group affiliation is one of the top ones. Identifying strongly with a salient local team where other fans are in the environment — that’s a benefit to social-psychological well-being.”

The takeaway is that fans want to experience a community, a place where they can discuss something that’s vitally important to them, with other people that “just get them,” or rather, are up for some friendly and well-informed competitive trash talk.

Social fragmentation

Many fans use Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit to discuss their teams, but these platforms  lack a cohesive framework for putting fans together. Some sites are even hyper-focused to supporters of specific teams, like I Am a Trailblazers Fan and Broncos Country. But there currently just isn’t one digital gathering place for followers of any of the top national sports verticals throughout the U.S. to connect.

Social media has transformed the way fans take in sports and sports information. The industry has shifted from requiring a TV to consume broadcast or attend a game in-person, to having access to the latest plays and stats in the palm of our hands. Not to mention sports fandom resonates globally. You don’t need to be a local team to inspire die-hard fandom. There are Futbol Club Barcelona fans in Cleveland and New England Patriots fan groups throughout Asia. The globalization of fandom makes it especially attractive for innovation.

A marketer’s goldmine

It’s the feverish support that makes sports fans an attractive audience for marketing. There are tens of millions of sports fans in the U.S., alone and the number is steadily increasing.

A recent McKinsey study debunks the “millennials aren’t sports fans” angle, and instead shows how this age group is comprised of fans, but they’re using streaming and other methods to follow their favorite teams and players. Another study validates that “57 percent of young sports fans would rather watch goals immediately as they go in on social media, instead of waiting to watch them on a later – and longer – broadcast.” It’s a shifting marketplace that’s ripe for reinvention and new ways of thinking about what being a “fan” really means.

For marketers, emerging social media channels and innovation presents opportunities to develop sponsor communications that can drive sales. One example of this is the NFL’s partnership with Twitter, enabling brands to latch onto a more immersive and mobile-oriented user experience with live videos, sponsored content, behind the scenes sneak peeks and weekly updates. Social media is increasingly being leveraged by marketers and brands to personally connect fans with athletes and create live in-game interactive experiences that drive engagement and awareness.

“There is a learning aspect of watching sports fans on any given platform or channel, and there is the entertainment aspect of it,” said Henri Holm, CEO FANDOM SPORTSin a recent interview with Forbes. “It all rakes in so many eyeballs. And that changes the entire advertising landscape. Advertisers will follow.”

Holm launched a publicly-traded sports social app this month that connects traditional sports fans with each other, creating provocative content around games and allowing users to connect and earn rewards for engaging with like-minded brands. From a marketing perspective, through the platform, brands will be able to advertise and engage with users by showing short and engaging ads in addition to IRL experiences. For example, the company sent a highly-engaged beta user on a free trip to the World Cup in Russia in 2018 utilizing advertiser dollars and in-kind travel services for flights, meals and tickets.

The takeaway

 There is a significant market opportunity in the confluence of sports and social. While seemingly intuitive, a social media platform dedicated to sports fans of every vertical is a novel idea. Emerging public companies, are working to change the way fans interact, which is inevitably the way that this unique industry is headed. Fans need a platform that will alter the social sports landscape by pulling sports passions together into a single social umbrella. Buying into an emerging public company is an opportunity to leverage both social platforms and the massive sports fan market. It’s like buying into Twitter or Instagram at an early stage, when the platforms were just starting out and their enormous promise was only understood by a select few.

Steve Singh, the founder of Thinking North, is a long-time venture capitalist with more than 33 years of experience working in the financial and investment sectors.