Mario Balotelli is one of the most controversial footballers on the planet. The Italian striker, known to the footballing world mainly for his unpredictable behaviour, has always had the knack for getting his name in the headlines- and this past weekend was no exception.

On Sunday, the former Man City and Liverpool striker, who now plays his football in France League 1, scored a fantastic overhead kick to put his Marseille side ahead against Saint-Etienne. What followed next was a, perhaps, unusual form of celebration…

The 28-year old followed his goal by running over to a nearby cameraman, who passed over the players iPhone allowing Balotelli to film a “selfie-style” short clip of himself and team-mates celebrating- which was then immediately uploaded to his Instagram story.

Although this is an unusual celebration, the Olympique de Marseille striker isn’t the first player to upload a celebration to social media during a game. In 2015, former Roma and Italian striker Francesco Totti took a selfie of himself smiling with celebrating A.S. Roma fans after scoring against the clubs biggest rivals SS Lazio on his 40th appearance in the Derby Della Capitale.

Millions of people around the world had eyes on Totti’s selfie, and this social-media success was replicated by Mario Balotelli’s actions over the weekend. The Insta-story accumulated over 2.5 million views across his own and Olympique de Marseilles Instagram accounts in less than 24 hours.

The Balotelli story highlights the increasing role that social media is playing in the world of sport. Let’s take a look at a few examples of just how this is:

In recent years, social media has become a vital platform for which brands to market themselves. But it’s not only businesses that have noticed the integral need for social media marketing. Individuals from a range of industries – including sport – have begun to invest in their own personal social media brand.

During 2018 two of the biggest names in sport, Neymar Jr and Paul Pogba announced their own emoji sticker apps to add more fun and excitement to conversations across social media. But when Paul Pogba announced this news, it caused quite a stir with both fans and the media. There were critics claiming the Manchester United and France centre midfielder was not focusing enough on his performances on the pitch, especially when his domestic club was going through a poor run of form.

Although critics voiced their opinions, it didn’t stop Pogba’s personal brand from growing exponentially on social media. The more publicity he received – both positive or negative – the more it helped promote the app and made people more aware of its existence. Pogba continues to make his presence felt through social media by posting daily content to his 33.5 million Instagram followers.

What does the future have in store for social media and the world of sport?

Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have become the main way for which sports teams to interact with their fans. Sports teams around the world – especially in football – have been posting short videos or even going live on social platforms throughout the 2018/19 season. This includes the showcasing of training sessions, interviews, social influencer takeovers. Additionally, players have been posting short videos or streaming live as part of a post-match summary helping to build a sense of unity between clubs and their fans.

According to data from YouTube, over a quarter of sports fans are now streaming sports content to their mobile devices.  This is especially prominent for the millennial generation, with 65 percent of sports fans consuming streamed sports content on mobile.

Before streaming video hit the internet, fans had pretty much two choices for live viewing. They could either buy a pricey ticket to attend the event or watch limited sports showings on traditional TV. With social media streaming and OTT, sporting fans have a much more affordable and convenient way to access sports content- be it international or local.

The ability for fans to now have the option to watch several live events simultaneously via multiple screens from anywhere they choose, has really shaken up the viewer experience.

In the Football streaming world, Amazon was the first company to agree on a deal with the Premier League, allowing 10 matches to be shown on Amazon Prime on two separate days for three seasons which will start at the beginning of the 2019/2020 campaign. Furthermore, the last couple of UEFA Champions League finals have been live streamed for free on YouTube.

The introduction of sports streaming on social media could be a potential threat to the big broadcasting players such as SKY, BT, and ITV. Could there be a future where the middleman is cut out and teams live stream themselves? Here, teams and leagues will be able to control their own messaging, build deeper relationships with fans, all while holding onto the full subscription price. 

As social media becomes more ingrained into different aspects of life, it is clear that big broadcast players must adapt if they wish to continue to play a prominent role in the future. Those broadcasters who can’t keep up with the user-demand for fast and interactive viewing experiences may risk losing the game forever.