India's Pradnya Gadre and Reddy N Sikki Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The inaugural batch of students from the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) ‘Star Creation Programme’ will graduate later this month.

Social media has hugely impacted fan engagement in sports in different ways over the years with platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter becoming important tools for athletes to promote themselves and attract new followers, as well as create more participation and engagement.

Realising this vast potential, in September 2019, the BWF — the world governing body for the sport — partnered with one of the world’s leading digital and social consultancy agencies, Seven League, to deliver its ‘Star Creation Programme’.

The initial goals of the programme was to assist in the global growth and popularity of players and badminton as a sport. With this primary thought in mind, top players such as India’s Reddy N Sikki and Chirag Shetty, Chinese Taipei’s Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han and Canada’s Michelle Li and Australian Gronya Somerville were roped in to receive weekly social media consultancy sessions from Seven League experts.

Among the goals of the practical social media tutoring course was enhancing their social media skills and understanding, growing their social media followers, generating a better engagement with fans while building their own personal brand and inspiring the next generation of players and fans.

As a result of the new programme, Canadian Michelle Li has seen her post output increase by more than 170 per cent, at the same time doubling her total interactions with fans.

“I now feel comfortable in what I’m publishing and look to interact more with my fans,” Li admitted.

Indian mixed doubles player Reddy too has increased her followers by a huge 166 per cent while her personal interactions have risen by 130 per cent. “It has inspired me to be creative and interact with the fans. The programme has also helped me gain knowledge and grow my social profiles,” the 27-year-old Indian said.

A doubles and mixed doubles specialist, Reddy won the Brazil and Russia Open Grand Prix title in the mixed doubles event partnering Pranaav Chopra in 2016. She and Chopra also won the gold medal at the South Asian Games.

Shetty saw a surge in his own output by 35 per cent throughout the programme. He now plans to interact directly with fans outside of tournaments. “I had a really good time and highly recommend it to my fellow athletes so they can interact in a much better way with their fans.”

A doubles specialist, Australian Somerville won eight Oceania Championships titles, six in the women’s and two in the mixed doubles. As a result of the programme, Sommerville is now working with a commercial partner to create sponsored content and runs paid online fitness classes.

“The programme was really helpful and Seven League was able to offer heaps of insightful up-to-date information and strategy on how to improve my social media profile as an athlete and (the team) was willing to assist me in anything I wanted to know or improve on,” she noted.

The programme has had success over in Chinese Taipei too as their men’s doubles pair of Lu and Yang has improved their online interactions by 54 per cent with all their content being captioned in English and Chinese with a wider audience appeal and reach.

“Everything has been great and I’m very appreciative of the programme. Not only on social media, but also digital in general and the content shared in our WhatsApp group I have replicated on my channels,” Lu disclosed.

“It has been really useful to improve and grow my channels. I hope you can always be there for me,” Yang added.

The next batch of star players to join the next Star Creation Programme will be announced shortly as BWF continues its successful partnership with Seven League.