Football Goes All Digital

Posted on 21. Jul, 2011 by in Digital Marketing, Stats & Trends, Thoughts

Emirates Stadium

Image courtesy of Ben17_34 (Flickr)

As a football fan you can’t escape it. Whether it’s Arsenal in the Premier League advertising on their (electronic) advertising hoardings to find them on Facebook or Yeovil Town’s manager using Twitter to scout pre-season signings, football is becoming immersed in all things digital.

Roll back to the turn of the millennium; you were participating in fantasy football through the newspapers. The majority of us mere mortals would have relied on club magazines, newspapers and pull outs to provide us with the season’s fixtures and your club’s website was an additional source of information, something many clubs felt they had to do. Roll the clock forward to 2011 and with the new season just weeks away (or sooner if you are up in Scotland) every club from Liverpool FC to Partick Thistle, bar the odd exception, are reaching out to their fans digitally and in some clubs cases pushing digital innovation to the next level.

Fan and Club Interaction

The biggest clubs in Europe have embraced social media with Barcelona leading the way on Facebook just like they do on the pitch with over 18m likes of their official page. Football Marketing release a Social Media ranking table for football clubs on a monthly basis for those that enjoy the numbers and want to see how your club is doing. Of course like any other brand using Facebook and Twitter, football clubs are doing so with a variety of approaches, with clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United setting the pace with fan interaction by posing questions and encouraging responses. On the other hand clubs such as Spurs and Aston Villa use Facebook to broadcast news as opposed to encouraging fan engagement. Inevitably fans still get involved and comment anyway.

When it comes to Twitter research, conducted by Energise 2.0 it was found that that clubs were using Twitter as a broadcast service and not using it to directly engage with fans bar the odd exception. Perhaps the biggest thing to consider when looking at what football clubs actually use Twitter is that out of the English Premier League only two clubs do not have an official Twitter account, newcomers Swansea City and most surprisingly of all Manchester United. The latter obviously finding that Facebook is enough for them.

Rio Ferdinand Twitter

Of course it is not just clubs that use Twitter to engage with fans, it is the players too. @Charlie26Adam, @JackWilshere, @joey7barton, @sneijder101010, @tim_cahill, @WayneRooney…. The list is ever growing. Some players did dabble for a bit and decided it wasn’t for them, Kevin Davies and Darren Gibson being two prominent examples. However for those that have been and gone there is one player that has embraced it with both arms; step forward @rioferdy5. Not one to stay away with controversy with the odd tweet or two, the Manchester united player understands what power Twitter can have and how in the public eye he has to respect the fact he has responsibilities. He will be the first to tell you it is a #movement – you just have to look at last week when Rio suggested that the Community Shield competition should be replaced with a #premierleagueallstarsteam game it took off and quickly became a UK trend with media heavyweights such as the Sun, 5 Live and Talksport all talking about it. These guys have the power and Rio Ferdinand certainly knows how to use it.

Beyond the Social Realms

This is not to say that the football digital revolution has stopped at social media. We know all about the advances in bringing news, video, scores and more by organisations such as Sky Sports but there is a lot more going on that is pushing the thinking of football clubs. Manchester City are not just splashing the cash on the pitch but have invested heavily on their site and what they do for their season ticket holders with a new digital membership scheme. Membership cards will allow fans to watch 3D content with augmented reality, a first for any football club. What’s more each card contains a QR code, an augmented reality marker and internal RFID chip (radio frequency identification). Throw in an iPhone app co-created by fans, a HTML 5 website and they are taking advantage of the technology if it is available.

Every top club provides video content, something the average company can learn from. On top of this, their ecommerce in some instances rival any online retailer and even surpass many. Beyond those measurements it is not only the clubs using the most innovative technology available. The Football Association recently revealed they are testing new technology called Digital Replacement Advertising and trialled it in a friendly against Ghana, allowing existing stadium advertising hoardings to be digitally replaced in live TV broadcasts. The current idea behind this is that different countries will be able to see different adverts, for example those in China would see different advertising to those watching in Sweden with the basic concept being more money in advertising revenue.

But who says this is where it will stop. As internet TVs become common place, synching Facebook (or whatever the latest social network will be) with what you are viewing could allow you to see personalised adverts based on your likes a distinct possibility.

It is clear that a number football clubs and their brands are understanding and taking advantage of the benefits of social media as well as the latest technologies available to them;  something which a number of other industries and brands could learn from.