2010 is a big year for the world of sport. Later this month, the Super Bowl will air, next month the Winter Olympics will begin and in June, the World Cup kicks off.

One player will be taking part in all of these events: social media.

This weekend, Adweek and Brandweek detailed how sponsors for two of the biggest events in sport and media — the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics — are ratcheting up their activity levels.

Social media is a no-brainer for sponsors looking for cost-effective ways to harness their sponsorships. Super Bowl and Olympic sponsorships don’t come cheap and amount a brand pays for the sponsorship deals themselves doesn’t represent the true cost because brands have to develop programs that ‘activate‘ against their sponsorships.

That’s where social media is playing an increasingly important role. Popular social destinations like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter come with built-in audiences and give brands a way to reach millions upon millions of consumers. Those destinations, coupled with mobile technologies and tools such as blogs, offer brands and their athletes a way to engage directly with fans on a global basis in ways never before possible.

Make no doubt about it: this is powerful stuff and it’s only getting more powerful. That’s because more and more brands are moving beyond the experimentation stage with social media and are finally integrating social media into their campaigns. As Adweek notes:

…compared to efforts around the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, social media initiatives are more integrated with campaigns and less often add-on components.

An example of such a campaign comes from Panasonic, which will use the Olympics to introduce the world to its 3D entertainment tech. It’s running a blog tracking some of the athletes it sponsors and is encouraging fans to produce their own online content. One lucky participant will win a trip to Vancouver, where he or she will be able to chronicle the Olympics on-site courtesy of Panasonic.

Of course, integrating social media into a broader campaign will mean that execution gets more complex and costly for brands, even though, as Adweek points out, social media still only represents a fraction of overall marketing spend at these primetime events. As more and more brands turn to social media, standing out will be even harder.

That means that, just like the athletes who are competing, brands will have to bring their ‘A‘ games. Those that have planned, prepared and practiced are the most likely to perform.

Photo credit: a4gpa via Flickr.