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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Social media sports predictions for 2011

By Ryan Corazza
Special to ESPN.com

Last week, I dipped into all the ways teams, athletes and leagues began to leverage social media for revenue in 2010.

3D TV
If 3D television spreads to more households, sports teams must improve the value of seeing games in person.

A lot of the strategies are still largely untapped by the majority of sports entities, and it's why 2011 might be shaping up as a year many take stronger, more serious steps to monetize their brands via social media.

With that in mind, and a peek at a few other facets, here's a look at what might be in store for sports and social media in the new year:

Enhancing the in-stadium experience

In 2010, teams and leagues dipped their toes into the geolocation pool. The Nets experimented with a ticket promotion via Gowalla; the NHL offered exclusive content and deals via Foursquare; the NBA and MLB allowed for check-ins via their mobile applications.

But 2011 could bring a larger geolocation focus for teams and leagues.

With HD and 3D broadcasts enhancing the home-viewing experiences -- and ticket prices turning some fans off -- teams will need to make the in-stadium experience more enticing to combat fans opting for the couch instead of the stands. Offering exclusive content and features to fans checking into a stadium via their smartphones is a start. But by also offering deals and discounts on merchandise and concessions, fans might see more reasons to choose the live setting.

Leagues can bring what fans are getting in their living rooms to stadiums to combat this trend, as well. MLB's At Bat app allows for live video and highlights of other games. In 2010, some NFL teams adopted FanVision, which offers video highlights of games to those inside the stadium on Sundays. More additions along these lines could be increasing in 2011.

Another technology teams and leagues could also look to utilize in the new year at stadiums is QR codes. QR codes -- essentially a two-dimensional bar code found on physical real-world objects -- are scannable via smartphones and can offer consumers deals and information.

Teams could stash QR codes insides program guides at the stadium with a scan allowing for cash off concessions, merchandise or more.

Lastly, a move to make Wi-fi free and available for in-stadium fans will allow for an easier integration on a lot of the aforementioned tactics -- and please fans looking for Internet speed comparable to what they're getting at home instead of 3G networks.

Building out for revenue on Facebook

With Paciolan expecting several of their sports clients to hop on board their partnered Facebook platform with Buddy Media -- one where tickets can easily be purchased and shared with friends -- Facebook is set to become a more viable place for revenue in 2011.

Other Facebook platforms such as FanAppz that allow for deeper fan engagement along with coupons and sweepstakes might also gain more steam as teams and leagues see the worth from a business end.

It's possible we'll also see the emergence of new ideas and strategies for revenue on Facebook, Twitter and the like in the new year to go along with the two mentioned above.

Social gaming

Tying into the above sector, the New York Jets created a social game for Facebook entitled Ulitmate Fan which launched in September -- believed to be a first for an American team or league. ESPN has ESPNU College Town, but this is still largely an untapped market in the sports landscape.

Part of the stumbling block here is cost and time. It's easy and painless to start up a Facebook page or Twitter account. But a social game involves cost to get it started, as a developer is likely needed -- the Jets used Arkadium for theirs and ESPN partnered with recent Disney acquisition Playdom -- to build and help conceptualize the game.

But with a chance at meaningful revenue via the purchase of virtual goods -- according to analysts, a market worth an estimated $835 million in 2010 -- don't be surprised if more sports properties make branded games part of their social packages in 2011.

iPad
Sports entities will need to keep up with the increasing popularity of iPads and other tablets.

In-house social media positions

As social media has moved from the edge of business and marketing practices to more of central focus, several teams have already created social media positions on their payroll. It's possible teams and leagues will continue to hire more social media talent in 2011 as business and revenue streams keep emerging and more brainpower is needed to make it all hum.

Tablets

The iPad led the charge in 2010, but 2011 is shaping up to be a year where more tablets -- including a reported new one from Microsoft -- will enter the marketplace and compete with Apple.

And as more consumers digest content on these devices, teams, leagues and athletes might make tablet-specific applications more of a priority going forward, much as they did for the smartphone mobile market in the past year or two.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and web designer based in Chicago who also contributes to ESPN Insider's NBA Rumor Central.