With more than 430 million active users each month, Reddit has emerged as one of the most influential websites in the world in terms of driving conversation.
The sports industry has quickly taken notice, with leagues and teams trying to figure out ways to reach not only their existing fanbase on the platform, but how to do so in some of the ways unique to Reddit.
“It creates a unique opportunity for sports organizations – from teams, to leagues, to media outlets – to engage with fans authentically and dynamically, in a way they couldn’t anywhere else,” Alexandra Riccomini, Reddit’s senior director of business development and media partnerships, wrote in an email.
Founded in 2005 by University of Virginia roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, Reddit has already carved out a unique niche among social communication platforms.
Whereas apps like Instagram and TikTok are geared towards multimedia posts, Reddit uses conversations to drive engagement. Its “ask-me-anything” forums, known as AMAs, emphasize long, open-ended responses for an audience that Riccomini describes as being, “just different” from other platforms.
Bolstering that claim is the fact that the crossover between Redditors and other social media platforms is rare. According to Comscore US, which evaluates media across numerous platforms, 16% of Reddit users are not on Facebook, 39% are not on Twitter, 41% are not on Instagram, 53% are not on Snapchat, and 61% are not on Pinterest in 2019.
“Reddit enables sports properties to go into tremendous depth; comments can be long and conversational, and users respond to that,” Riccomini wrote. “Our audience is just different. Not only do we have significant unduplicated reach… but our audience just talks and acts differently.”
While Amanda Lordy had interest in using Reddit in her personal life, she’s also taken it to her day job as NASCAR’s managing director of digital content.
In the early stages of exploring the platform from a NASCAR point of view, Lordy was struck at the high amounts of engagement and passion of Redditors. Given NASCAR’s protective ownership of its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, she quickly realized that that same approach could not be taken on Reddit.
“I kind of look at Reddit like we’re guests in someone else’s house and r/NASCAR’s having us over for dinner,” Lordy said. “We want to be respectful of that community and what they’ve built. And understand that we’re just one user among many others, rather than being the ones that are owning the conversation.”
While they are vastly different profiles, Lordy sees NASCAR’s Reddit approach closely mirroring its growing TikTok reach. On each platform, she never knows what type of content will resonate with its respective audiences – but on Reddit, she doesn’t mind deferring to Redditors for content purposes.
With more than 418,000 followers on the NASCAR subreddit, Lordy often goes there to determine the best course of action for the league’s official account. What Redditors have been wanting to see from NASCAR are two major themes: behind-the-scenes and nostalgic posts, Lordy said.
One of their most popular posts brings fans off the racetrack with a video of a morning car test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Another brings followers back to the 2002 Daytona 500 as they rewatch driver Sterling Martin exiting his car during a red flag.
At roughly 16,520 karma, a score given for posting and commenting on the platform, Lordy stays away from just letting metrics judge NASCAR’s Reddit presence. Despite being considerably smaller than the NASCAR subreddit, Lordy has seen growth in the league’s karma, with upticks in comments, responses, and positive feedback overall.
“As long as that continues, we’ll continue to do things on Reddit,” Lordy said. “We don’t look at this platform as necessarily something that we’re getting value out of. I think it’s a great place to be able to hear from fans directly. They’re talking about things that maybe we don’t see on other platforms, but it’s less to me about the value Reddit can provide to us and more about what we can provide to a group of very passionate NASCAR fans.”
The NFL has forged a unique path with Reddit, joining the platform in January 2019 and agreeing to a wider digital content and advertising deal with it in September 2019. The league, referenced by Riccomini as the “first partner to test a brand-new type of content and advertising relationship,” began the formal partnership by participating in a series of AMA discussions during the 2019 NFL season.
NFL Media has often used Reddit as the testing ground for new ideas, Patrick Crawley, its director of digital programming, said. The department is currently trying to expand its Next Gen Stats offerings and is fine-tuning them based on Redditors’ responses – specifically, what they are liking and other areas of improvement.
Having the Reddit audience be the voice of reason has been important in having it accept the NFL on there, Crawley said. One post that the league found early success with was a compilation of catches that didn’t count for some reason or another. That video came together as a result of the league posing the question on Reddit: what were their favorite catches that did not count?
Crawley and his team compiled the responses and eventually converted it into a unique highlight – bringing them all together for Redditors to watch as a whole.
“Once we saw a really good response to that, we thought, ‘okay, this is a community that activates around these things and makes it their own,” he said. “It’s more of a conversation between the Reddit users and us, not us just pushing what we want to push onto them.”
The dialogue between the NFL and Redditors is also living on in the form of AMAs. To date, some of the league’s most popular posts on Reddit have featured personalities ranging from former legends Devin Hester and Demarcus Ware to Nicole Lynn, an NFL sports agent at Young Money Sports who represents players like Jalen Hurts and Quinnen Williams.
More investments into AMAs is one way for the NFL to continue growing on Reddit, Crawley said. Evidence of that came during Super Bowl Week when the league hosted an open AMA, which is more flexible than a traditional AMA.
Crawley and his team went to Radio Row, frequented by many players, asking them open-ended questions from Redditors about their Super Bowl experience. The open AMA allowed NFL Media to get interactions with players like Saquon Barkley, DeAndre Hopkins, and Russell Wilson. It also convinced Crawley that the league needed to revisit this experiment at future events.
“They were just fantastic with that experience, so I think that pushes us in a new direction as well to kind of stretch the boundaries of what an AMA can be and what we can do with current players,” Crawley said. “That’s another exciting opportunity that we’re really happy to keep pursuing.”
Besides the NFL, only two NFL teams have created official accounts on Reddit: the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. Similar to the Dolphins, which joined Reddit in February, the Ravens’ presence is relatively nascent, dating back only to October 24, 2019.
Past seasons have seen the Ravens create and execute content ideas based on responses from the team’s subreddit, Cassie Calvert, Baltimore’s social media coordinator, said. As of May 1, the Ravens’ subreddit has more than 89,500 followers.
Every Christmas season, the Ravens host their annual “25 Days of Giveaways” program, where they hand out prizes to fans who follow their official social media channels. This past year was the first time that the team incorporated Reddit, and Calvert saw many positive responses from their online community.
“I wanted to be careful because the Reddit audience… they’re very much about their community,” she said. “As a brand, I wanted to be careful about how we jumped into that because it felt authentic and not forced.”
With many people at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Calvert saw a chance to further the Ravens’ Reddit presence through their players. In conjunction with the subreddit, Ball So Hard University, the team has hosted its first two AMAs, featuring fullback-linebacker Pat Ricard and running back Justice Hill.
With Ricard, the response was so overwhelming that what was supposed to be a 15-to-20-minute activity lasted nearly three hours, Calvert said. Hill’s AMA also went longer than expected and was active for more than two hours.
Encouraged by the AMAs’ popularity, Calvert is looking to not only bring more players into the mix but other essential parts of the Ravens’ business as well.
“This quarantine has kind of been a blessing in that players are – just like the rest of us – looking for things to do at home,” she said. “Now that I’ve seen a good response from [the AMAs], I want to continue it during the season. I also want to incorporate some of our reporters and other staff as the audience asks for different things. Obviously, players are ideal, but we’d also incorporate some of those other people that we have at our disposal that are unique to fans as well.”
While other teams are increasing their Reddit content, the Arizona Diamondbacks have long advocated for a less-is-more approach on the platform. Instead of AMAs, it has been getting involved in discussions and making comments to show the team’s interest in being involved with the Reddit community, according to a team spokesperson.
The team spokesperson also said that the Diamondbacks, unlike some of their other social media platforms, have used Reddit as a support system. Past Reddit posts range from fans asking about the backpack policy at Chase Field to inquiries regarding ticket policies.
With no official confirmation on when MLB can begin its 2020 season, it has caused the Diamondbacks to reduce its Reddit presence even more, the team spokesperson said. The lack of live baseball, coupled with the nationwide quarantine orders, has led the team to shift its attention to TikTok.
“So maybe the resources we would have dedicated to Reddit in the past, we’re now dedicating a little bit more so to a new platform [like TikTok],” the team spokesperson said. “It’s about seeing what works and what doesn’t, now that we feel like we have a pretty good grasp on what is successful on Reddit.”
Despite the cancellation and postponement of most nationwide sporting events, Reddit continues to see an uptick in official sports organizations engaging on the platform, Riccomini said.
As professional sports itches closer to a return, Riccomini is excited to work with properties on content sourcing and observing how engagement on Reddit drives content that leagues and teams can use.
Ahead of Super Bowl LIV, NFL Network ran a Reddit poll asking users who they thought would win the Lombardi Trophy. It was then brought into NFL Network’s live coverage through Reddit’s partnership with Tagboard, which pulls in social content for broadcasters.
Beta partnerships are also another growth opportunity for Reddit in sports. Its new polling feature was done alongside the NFL, and Riccomini anticipates more sports partners will get involved in Reddit’s live-streaming product, r/pan.
While it remains to be seen if other teams will adopt Reddit similarly to the Dolphins and Ravens, Crawley thinks that the consistent uptick in sports properties officially joining is no fluke.
“Reddit represents a passionate fan base, and so I think there’s always going to be opportunity for its impact to deepen and grow,” he said. “It’s going to be just a really exciting place to see fandom continue to grow and expand in new ways – and we’ll be looking for as many opportunities as we can to expand with them as they continue to take that step.”