Author: Jamie Watson, Strategist BBH London & BBH Sport
Imagine if your brand’s fans, or at least customers, had not even looked at a competitor since they were 8 years old.
They sing songs about your brand, they know everything about your history, they talk about you to their friends in the pub and spend vast amounts of money on your products – no matter how unhappy you might make them.
Well for football teams this is a reality. Jealous much?
So it must be easy when it comes to social & online content for football clubs? An engaged fanbase of millions who simply want more content? Well maybe, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is doing it well. And amongst those that are, a social media arms race seems to be appearing. Because of this besotted fanbase, there is a pressure to perform.
So let’s have a look back at who put in a social media shift during the 2014/15 season, and see if there are any lessons we can learn from their performance:
1) Integrated Team of the season – Southampton
(Disclaimer: I’m a lifelong Southampton supporter so please excuse the shameful bias.)
Southampton are the one club that I follow on every platform. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, their socialised website and even Snapchat. And what impresses me most is not just the fact that they are on all of these channels, but the individual channel roles they all have. YouTube is in place for more premium video content, with highlights from games, live streams of U21 games, player interviews and additional content (more on that later). Twitter provides live updates on games for fans not there. Facebook provides a more official platform, whilst pointing to other channels. And then there’s Snapchat where Saints ran a treasure hunt campaign to give away their new shirt, behind the scenes game-day content (complete with MS Paint scribbles) as well as funny snippets from the players.
So, Southampton, well done on a strong team performance this season.
Learning: Have a presence across every channel but be specific to that channel
2) Backroom of the season – Manchester City
Due to the billions of dollars of that have been poured into the sky blue side of Manchester in recent years means that Man City have now developed a global fanbase of millions – and a couple of trophies to boot. So how do you keep said fanbase entertained? You give them more.
Head over to Man City’s YouTube channel for a wealth of content. There’s tunnel cam giving fans a truly unique insight as the players go through their pre-match rituals, pump each other up and try not to scare the mascots. Other content includes interviews with other staff members discussing players, a freekick masterclass with Lampard, showboating sessions as well as leaning on their Man City ‘family’ by borrowing New York FC’s David Villa to go head to head against the likes of Silva & Augero – pulling in a new fanbase. This variety of content appeals to hardcore City fans who will sit and watch a 2 hour training session to young fans watching SuperFrank’s masterclasses to a broader football audience who love to watch a bit of showboating (see the success of multiple showboating instagram accounts).
Learning: Give your hardcore fans more. More behind the scenes, more insight, more of what they love.
3) International team of the season – Manchester Utd
One of the challenges that the big clubs are facing is how to satisfy their global fanbase. Clubs such as Man Utd have a truly global fan base, selling 1.5m shirts worldwide and having a Facebook fanbase of 65m. The problem is the vast majority of these fans will never go to Old Trafford to see a game. So clubs are using online content to help these global fans connect with the club no matter where they are in the world.
Last season Man Utd used Google+ to bring their global fans to Old Trafford and put them in the front row. Through Google+ live stream of fans watching the game onto the digital hoardings surrounding the pitch.
Through shirt sales & global sponsorship deals clubs have to think of more ways to keep these fans loyal and engaged with the club – no matter where they are.
Learning: Engage with your audience, not just your customers
4) Personalities of the season – Arsenal
The image of flash, greedy and arrogant millionaire footballers doesn’t do players or the clubs any favours. A few years ago the only exposure we had to players was awkward post match interviews or press conferences – social media has opened up a new window into the lives of players.
Many clubs are using this to show their players in a different light – I like to call it footLOLs, but that’s just me – whether it’s Arsenal pranking their stars or playing up to their reputations as part of Paddy Power/Stonewall’s homophobia campaign.
Southampton have also been in on the act (I warned you). To announce the launch of their new kit Southampton invited comedian Tom Davis to star as Dr Barry Gale, a ‘colour and pattern psychologist’ in an Office-style mockumentary. This content shows players personalities, appeals to a broader audience and reflect content on the platform – not just other clubs YouTube content.
Learning: Don’t be precious – be funny, be real and be human.
So there we have it, a few highlights from the season gone by. A strong season for the likes of Arsenal, Man City and Southampton. It will be interesting to see whether other Premier League heavy hitters such as Chelsea or Liverpool can match their performance next season, or will we see a surprise from one of the smaller teams next season? And what about the clubs like Newcastle and Hull whose relationship with their fans can currently be described as ‘rocky’ – will they use social media to get back in the good books of their supporters?
But as for this season, the winner is…
Fans from any club in any country are the real winners. Every day they get to enjoy seeing entertaining, unique and insightful content (though not all at the same time!) from the clubs they love – and ones they hate.
And can brands compete? Well, in all honestly they can’t right now – no brand has the type of fanbase I described up top. But they can definitely learn.