By Nick Spooner, CEO, Salmat Digital

Australians love their sport and right now this passion is at an all-time high. We had Cadel Evan’s heroic victory in the Tour de France, Sam Stosur’s incredible US Open win, the NRL and AFL Final series’, Davis Cup Tennis and of course the Rugby World Cup. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper without reading about Darren Lockyer’s retirement or Harry Kewell joining the A-League – Aussies just can’t get enough of their sport.

Sport is a serious money making business. Australian sports stars are some of the most recognised faces in the country and as the popularity of these stars and the sports grows, so do the opportunities for brands to leverage off their widespread exposure in a sports-mad country like ours.

When Evans finally put on that yellow jersey and Stosur collected the trophy for winning her maiden Grand Slam title, their sponsors cheered while other companies clamoured to secure a ticket aboard their phenomenal success train and get their brands associated with Australia’s latest sporting heroes.

Australians also love social media. We are the biggest users of social media in the world and it is playing an ever-increasing role in the way we interact with our sporting teams and heroes. Marketers should take note of both the popularity of sport and social media by creating dedicated online channels for fans to meet, discuss and network with each other and their favourite players. Fans want to consume as much information as they can about their favourite footy team or player, and technology and social media can give them access to information and insights that previously wouldn’t have been possible.

Social media is increasingly the source of breaking news well before it has been reported in the media, with sports stars occasionally choosing to make major announcements in a short Tweet rather than hold a formal press conference.

By being able to get news direct from their hero and then be given the opportunity to directly respond, technology has closed the gap between fans and the people they admire. Fan mail has been modernised through social media – I wonder how many of Cadel Evans’ 118,000 Twitter followers sent him a congratulatory Tweet when he won the Tour de France – and can be effectively used to promote upcoming events and tournaments.

You may recall the highly successful 2000 Olympics campaign where Telstra provided a SMS and Fax number to send athletes ‘best wishes’. Through social media, similar promotional campaigns can be carried out that incorporates new and traditional channels.

As the Wallabies compete in the biggest rugby tournament in the world, Australian Rugby Union has developed a campaign for fans to send messages of support using social media. The key to this initiative is integration, so each of the various social media forums. Twitter (#OneTeam2011), Facebook and YouTube are brought together in one place through a specially created microsite on the official website of the Australian Rugby Union. Fans can choose their preferred method of interaction and with many thousands of messages already sent, this simple campaign has quickly built up an online community that will continue to grow, and hopefully continue to engage with the team, and by association the sponsors, long after the tournament has finished.

Sports websites have also gone through a functionality revolution and now have interactive features that have enhanced the user experience. is the most visited sporting website in Australia with more than 2.5 million visitors a month and its Facebook page has 350,000 fans. Also well supported is the official NRL website with 1.5 million visitors a month and more than 380,000 fans on Facebook. This doesn’t even take into account the online activity of the clubs and individual players of these sports, who also experience a high level of traffic to their own pages.

The success of these sites can be attributed to their ability to tailor the functionality of the sites to meet the needs and expectations of their audiences. While each site is successful, they have different attributes that are meaningful and relevant to the fans of their respective sports. Developing a successful online and social media campaign requires lots of planning and effort to build momentum. You must have sufficient resources and time to regularly monitor and keep the site relevant and interesting.

Technology has changed the meaning of being a ‘fan’ of a sporting team. It is no longer limited to those that cheer from the stands, now it is anyone that ‘likes’ them on Facebook, or follows them on Twitter. The sporting industry is waking up to the power of this new digital paradigm. The key for marketers and businesses is to jump on board or be left behind by this new avalanche of sport-mad digital Aussie fans.