Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo topped 30 million Facebook “likes” this week.

The Los Angeles Lakers have 7 million more fans/followers on Facebook and Twitter combined (11 million) than the city of Los Angeles has residents (4 million).   

Earlier this year, Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was named the second-most influential person on Twitter, beating out Oprah and the President of the United States.

There’s no question that social media has had a global impact on media and marketing, but in few arenas does it seem a more natural fit than sports, an industry based on fans.

Teams, leagues and athletes have capitalized on the social media boom as a way to reach fans more directly than ever before.

When the Red Sox launched their new Spanish-language website last week, in partnership with MLB Advanced Media, the team also opened up Facebook and Twitter accounts in Spanish. With 300,000 Spanish-speaking fans on the team’s Facebook page, the rollout seemed a natural progression.

“We had a group that had indicated a level of interest there, and it seemed like it was the right time to evolve our social media outreach into this next phase,” Red Sox senior vice president of public affairs and marketing Susan Goodenow said. “We have put a lot of emphasis as a team on social media over the last 12 to 18 months because we realize it’s a way for us to engage in an ongoing conversation with our fans.”

Going bilingual opens up the opportunity to reach even more fans. So it’s surprising more teams haven’t made this move, especially given professional baseball’s reach into Latin America and the dominance of social media. But the Red Sox are just the seventh major league baseball club to have both Spanish-language Facebook and Twitter accounts. (A few clubs have just one or the other.)

Considering the prevalence of social media use among both U.S. Hispanics and users in Latin America, appealing to this audience through these networks would be an easy and effective way to engage fans. A recent report shows that Latin American users are more active on social media than European users.

The impact of that international reach became quickly apparent to the Orlando Magic after the team launched its Spanish-language Facebook and @El_OrlandoMagic Twitter account just over a year ago.

“Once we opened the accounts, we really realized it reaches more than the Hispanic community here in Orlando,” Magic Spanish web services coordinator Adly Santiago said. “It reaches to Spain, Latin America, the Caribbean. We create conversations between those fans from different areas, and they start engaging.”

Like the Red Sox in MLB, the Magic are one of the few NBA teams to have a Spanish social media presence. With only a few Spanish-speaking players using Twitter – in any major professional U.S. sport – team accounts also can help fill that void.

“I really try to ask players questions, and then translate it into a news story for the website [which the team also posts on its Facebook page] or quotes for Twitter, so the fans can have that access,” Santiago said. “I’ve done Twitter chats where I translate what players are saying. I want to be more interactive with our fans.”

In other words, the strategy that has made the NBA successful in the English-language social mediasphere – to engage and inform its fans – translates almost effortlessly. Other teams and leagues are learning that lesson, or at least they should be.

Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz

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